With Most Pantomimes Canceled, Another Blow to U.K. Theaters

After a monthlong national lockdown, the government introduced a tier system of restrictions; in third tier areas, where the coronavirus risk is considered to be very high, theaters were ordered to remain closed until at least Wednesday, with tier reviews scheduled every two weeks. On Monday, the government announced that all London theaters would close on Wednesday, when the city enters the highest tier of restrictions. At the time of writing, all 10 of Qdos’s planned openings had been further postponed to later in December, with three scheduled to open in early 2021.

“Christmas is about 28 percent of our annual box office,” said Dan Bates, the chief executive of Sheffield Theatres, a group of three venues in the north of England that fell under the fiercest tier restrictions at the beginning of the month. For around 80 percent of their Christmas audience, a pantomime is the only time they’ll visit the theater all year, he added.

The largest of the three theaters, the Lyceum, has been closed since the first national shutdown in March. “Sleeping Beauty,” the pantomime that should have opened there this month, was canceled in July. Instead, the plan was to stage a trimmed, 70-minute version of a pantomime in the smaller Crucible Theatre.

“We’ve got to plan to be ready” for whatever happens with the local pandemic restrictions, Bates said. In the event the theater remains closed through the holiday season, the show will be filmed and put online.

“It’s like waiting for an exam result, seeing which tier you’re going to be in,” Bates said. Each time the theaters “announce a plan, it’s fairly guaranteed that it’s going to change,” he added.

Theater makers have attempted to innovate their way out of the crisis with live-streamed, open-air and even drive-in pantomimes. The BBC will screen its own “virtual” pantomime — “Cinderella” — on Christmas Eve, starring Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Anya Taylor-Joy.