The Mercury Theatre Colchester’s Board of Director and senior management team today announced that due to the COVID19 pandemic, they have no choice but to make the difficult decision to postpone this years’ pantomime until 2021.
The Essex based theatre joins the ranks of many other regional theatres making the same devastating announcement due to ongoing uncertainty around the government’s plans for reopening and social distancing in UK venues.
The Mercury, whose record breaking 2019 pantomime, Cinderella, took place in a festival tent style venue last winter while their building was closed for redevelopment, was looking forward to reopening their newly refurbished theatre this autumn with a season of unforgettable shows, topped off with a sparkling panto to remember. However, while the building work is still on schedule to finish in time for the Christmas season, the uncertainty as to when theatres can reopen safely and the financial implications of a socially distanced opening has now forced their hand.
We are devastated not to be able to put on our annual Mercury pantomime this festive season. Like many other regional theatres, panto is not only our financial mainstay, but also an event that our whole community look forward to and enjoy. We love seeing our auditorium packed with smiling faces as families and friends enjoy this wonderful Christmas tradition together, but the safety of our audiences and staff, both on and off stage, must be our top priority. To open with social distancing measures in place would mean reducing our capacity to around 25%. Unfortunately it is impossible to produce a show of the quality and standard that you have come to expect from the Mercury on a quarter of the income. Without the clear guidance our industry has been crying out for, this year, we are sorry to say the show cannot go on.Tracey Childs, Mercury Executive Producer
We have not taken this heart breaking decision lightly. The magic of pantomime comes from the shared experience; a packed auditorium full of friends and families who can interact with the all-singing, all-dancing performers on stage. But under the government’s current social distancing guidelines there is no way we can deliver this. Pantomimes take months, if not years in the making – usually by August sets have been built, actors have been cast and costumes have been fitted. Postponing until next year seems like the most sensible and safe option in these circumstances. The plans for our 2020 panto will move to 2021, and we will continue to focus our energy on ensuring that we can open our new building safely, with a launch party and opening season to remember.Ryan McBryde, Mercury Creative Director
The Mercury Theatre is a registered charity that relies on 74% of its income from ticket sales and earned income to carry out their work on stage and within the community. Besides the ticket and sales income, pantomime audiences also donated over £10,000 last year to the theatre’s Mercury Rising capital campaign. Over-night the organisation has lost more than £2.3m in projected income.
Last year’s pantomime engaged with over 31,860 people from the East of England and beyond. As well as in-house audiences, the Christmas production also saw associated outreach projects connect with local schools, the local military community, and patients and staff at local care homes and medical facilities, and the recording has since been streamed to provide entertainment to those in lockdown over the Easter weekend.
To run the Christmas show at a social distance would reduce the theatre’s capacity from 530 seats to just 125 tickets per show. The Mercury team believe that part of the joy of pantomime is watching alongside friends and neighbours, and that such small numbers in the theatre would feel less magical for everyone involved. It would also be financially impossible. The Mercury produces everything in their pantomimes every year. That includes making the sets, props and costumes. It is a huge investment of time, money and talent. In fact, to break even on the cost of creating this show, socially distanced tickets would need to increase to around £100 each!
Tracey Childs continues:
“While we understand how disappointing this news will be for our beloved audience, we would ask anyone who regularly attends our pantomime to consider supporting us during this uncertain time. Whether that’s gifting the Mercury the equivalent cost of your interval ice creams, your ticket price, or more if you are able, donations are desperately needed now to secure the future of your local theatre. Thank you!”
For an easy way to support your local theatre during these difficult times, text PANTO followed by any amount (eg: PANTO 10 to donate £10) to 70085*, or visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk/support for other ways to give.
The Mercury remains grateful to Arts Council England and Colchester Borough Council for their continued support during this challenging time.
The Mercury’s 2020 pantomime, the title of which had not yet been announced, was set to be particularly special as it would be their inaugural panto in their newly redeveloped building. The £9.9m Mercury Rising redevelopment project, which has been partially delayed by lockdown, will see the theatre building extended, modernised and made fully accessible, with more seats in their auditorium and more fit-for-purpose community and creation spaces.
For more information and to read a full statement visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk.