Panto's bumper year...oh yes it was

OH yes it is. The dames have finally hung up their frocks, the make-up has been put away for another year and the Ipswich pantomime season has come to an end.

OH yes it is. The dames have finally hung up their frocks, the make-up has been put away for another year and the Ipswich pantomime season has come to an end. JAMES MARSTON assesses the success of these major money-spinners for the town's theatres..

WHAT a thrill, what a time - this year's panto season has been one to remember.

The New Wolsey's production of rock and roll pantomime Beauty and the Beast received rave reviews and the Regent's production of Cinderella was even plugged on national TV by the king of light entertainment Bruce Forsyth.

The build-up began back in November with a number of events and promotions aimed at selling tickets.

As the New Wolsey announced particularly high pre-booked sales, the Regent's panto star Letitia Dean hit the small screen in Strictly Come Dancing - and stayed in the competition right up until just days before her performance.

But was this a bumper year for panto? Have the audience figures matched expectations? And are theatre bosses disappointed or over the moon?

Most Read

Hazel Clover, Regent manager said: “I think it has been a fantastic year for pantomime across the town and it's been a very good year at the Regent we are pleased to say.

“In terms of the box office we have a significant net surplus of more than £81,000.”

Grossing nearly £480,000, the Regent's production of Cinderella took nearly £50,000 more at the box office than the 2006-2007 production of Snow White.

Hazel said: “I think pantomime is a crucial part of the calendar of any theatre. It is often the first production children see. It has music, comedy, drama, spectacle and colour and the traditional audience participation.”

The production, which included miniature ponies and pyrotechnics, was boosted by the appearance of Strictly Come Dancing Star Letitia Dean as the fairy godmother.

Hazel said: “Letitia's appearance on national television helped raise the profile of the pantomime, the theatre and the town.

“She did so well in Strictly and managed to combine her pantomime commitments.”

Judy Terry, Ipswich borough councillor with responsibility for culture and leisure, said the profit would be used to invest in the theatre and cut the subsidy - currently about £400,000 a year.

She said: “The profit means we can reduce the subsidy for 2008-2009. Without making a profit it would be hard to justify the improvements we have planned for 2008. On-going investment is a crucial part of any successful business.”

Hazel and the theatre's management team are currently choosing next year's pantomime and an announcement is expected within the next two weeks.

Hazel said: “We have asked our customers what they would like to see and we will announce the 2008-2009 panto shortly.”

On the other side of town, Sharon Jenkins, marketing and press officer at the New Wolsey, said the theatre is delighted with the 2007/2008 run.

She said: “Beauty and the Beast ran for 75 performances with a total capacity of 30,000 people. We have sold 99 per cent of tickets which equates to about 29,500 people so it is almost a complete sell out.

“It has been the most successful pantomime we have ever had and last year we managed 98pc attendance.”

Sharon said the audience had booked earlier in the year than previously.

She added: “We opened on 80pc back in November which was an astonishing figure, we normally open somewhere between 65 and 70pc of seats sold.

“We can only assume the increasing popularity of the pantomimes we produce and maybe the fact that people liked last year's show and wanted to make sure they got their tickets, or there are people who hadn't managed to get tickets last year.”

Running from November 29 to January 26, the New Wolsey's production had the longest run of the town's two professional shows.

Sharon said: “We are now looking at the possibility of extending the run next year by a week. It is a long run but even now we are still getting calls from people wanting to come along. We need to be sure that an extended run could fit into the rest of the New Wolsey schedule.”

Sharon said she thought the appeal of the rock and roll pantomime stretched the generation gap.

She said: “I think it's a good night out. There's an energy to rock and roll pantomime and the audience leave the building energised and on a high.

“It's wonderful to see and be in the foyer when people are leaving to go home. I think people are attracted to that and prepared to pay for it.

“Traditional pantomime is seen as a family event for young children and parents to enjoy. While our production caters for those elements with the dames and the slapstick and the costumes the music and the way the show is presented also appeals to an adult audience and we have had a lot of adult groups come to see the show.”

Though Beauty and the Beast is not known as one of the most popular of the pantomimes it remains a good story, Sharon said.

She added: “The scene changes are fantastic and the sets are impressive. We have had great audience feedback as well. It was back in 2001 that we put on the first rock and roll panto and we did 48 performances. The Wolsey rock and roll panto has grown considerably since then.”

Along the A14 in Felixstowe the Dennis Lowe theatre company produced Aladdin at the Spa Pavilion.

Director Sylvia Lowe said: “This was the 42nd pantomime the company has produced. It's part of the fixtures and fittings of the Spa Pavilion. It was a lot of hard work but very rewarding to see people enjoying themselves.”

Assisted by her daughter Suzie Lowe, Sylvia said she had reduced the length of pantomimes in recent years.

She said: “The pantomimes had been three hours including a 20-minute interval. Now they are two hours with an interval. I think it's more comfortable to be a bit shorter, children get fidgety if it goes on too long and its better if people come out of the theatre wanting more rather than thinking it went on too long.”

Sylvia said more than 6,000 people had been to see the show's 14 performances.

Sylvia said: “I'm not sure whether it was because Aladdin is a popular pantomime but we got several more bums on seats this year. Last year we had just over 5,500. We have people who come from all over the region to see the show

“We have updated them over the years but we put on the more traditional pantomime and I think people know what they are getting - the costumes, the audience participation and the story line.”

Sylvia said the company would be producing Dick Whittington for the 2008-2009 season.

Did you see a pantomime in Ipswich or Felixstowe? Which was your favourite? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Pantomime first arrived in England as entr'actes between opera pieces. It eventually evolved into separate shows.

Aladdin

Babes in the Wood - often combined with Robin Hood

Beauty and the Beast

Cinderella

Dick Whittington, first staged as a pantomime in 1814, based on a 17th century play.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Jack and the Beanstalk

Mother Goose

Peter Pan

Puss in Boots

Sleeping Beauty

Snow White

The leading male - principal boy - is traditionally played by a young woman.

The pantomime dame - often the hero's mother - is usually played by a man dressed as a woman.

There are often risqué double entendres, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases. They are meant to be over the heads of the children in the audience.

The audience takes part with calls of "he's behind you!”and "Oh, yes it is!" or "Oh, no it isn't!"

The audience is always encouraged to "boo" the villain, and "awwwww" the poor victims, such as the rejected dame, who usually fancies the prince.

The pantomime horse or cow is played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.

The good fairy always enters from stage right and the evil villain enters from stage left.

The members of the cast throw out sweets to the children in the audience.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter