By Paul Smith, artistic director and joint-CEO
Somehow it’s already that time of year. You know the one? Where we dust off the rat puppets, cobble together an under-rehearsed yet well intentioned finale and let our dame, Marc Graham, run wild on Hull audiences. But it’s not quite the same this year, is it?
Nothing’s quite the same. Instead of excitedly planning this year’s family Christmases or work parties we’re sat wondering what’s going to be left
“It’s just Christmas” some people say, but really it’s about more than that isn’t it?
It’s about seeing family and friends. About seeing kids’ faces light up. About belting out some Wizzard with strangers on Whitefriargate, while dressed as a Christmas pudding. And for us at Middle Child it’s about panto. Usually it is, anyway. But not this year. This year we haven’t said a word about panto.
That much loved tradition that is, frankly, a bit odd, but a lot special. Where else in this stressful, anxiety-inducing world do adults and children alike come together to share in such unbridled joy? To cheer and boo, laugh and cry, hope and dream together, all while watching a dame dressed as a milk bottle tearfully sing to two actors bent double in a cow costume?
We love panto.
For us it’s what all theatre should be: totally devoted to its audience, woven into the fabric of local communities and able to magically transport us away from the real world, into one of magic and wonder.
But this year it is the very nature of panto that makes it so challenging to realise. The things we love about it have become a barrier to it happening at all: being together in a space with loved ones and strangers, being noisy, being close, singing along, dancing together, avoiding the dame’s eye contact, being dragged up on stage, flashing our wands, rustling our sweets, elbowing granny to wake her up and reliving our favourite moments together in the interval.
It’s about connecting with other human beings through a story that is ridiculous and silly and soppy, but full of searing hope and belief.
It’s everything we’re already missing.
So why haven’t we said anything about panto? Why haven’t we been bombarding you with posters and trailers and ticket offers?
I guess you know why.
In every good panto there’s a moment where all looks lost and we have to dig deep to believe we’ll get to the ending we’re all hoping for.
We’ve been stuck on that plot point for a while now, hence the silence. Honestly? We didn’t want to say it out loud. That panto can’t happen for us how it usually happens and has happened for the last eight years, from our beloved Fruit to the last two brilliant years at Jubilee Central.
We’ve had an inkling for a while now.
The nature of our show is proudly intimate. It matters that you (yes, you) are there with us. If you shout out we will hear you. We will respond. Your voice matters. You being in that chair matters. So, frankly, right now a live panto simply isn’t an option for our humble show. The production usually ‘pays for itself’ and without your support, there is no panto. We don’t use celebrity casting to bring in audiences. We rely on word-of-mouth. We rely on the hard work of our incredible local cast and crew. We rely on you, coming together and having a great night out.
So I guess this is us saying it out loud.
Panto can’t happen for us how it usually happens.
But that’s not the end of the story. Like all good panto heroes we’re refusing to accept defeat when the odds seem stacked insurmountably against us. We’re trying to find a way up the beanstalk, to the ball, through the enchanted forest. But there are challenges lying in wait and the ending is truly uncertain.
So what we want to do at this point is be honest with you. Tell you how it really is.
We aren’t going to be able to bring people together in a space to do panto this year.
We’re really sad about that.
Like, really sad.
But, we’re trying to do something else. Something digital.
Which, as I’ve said before, isn’t what we do, so we’re linking up with some brilliant people who do.
It’s something that we think could be really special.
It won’t be the same.
But we really do think it could be really special.
Thing is, we’ve never done anything like it before.
And we’re excited about that, but we’re also a bit scared.
Will it work? Will you like it? Will the internet be able to handle Pattie Breadcake?
And then there’s the virus, which is making it even more difficult.
Giving us even more to overcome.
Causing unpredictable twists and turns at every stage and in every detail.
Making us ask what happens if we tell you what we’re trying to do but then, for whatever unforeseeable reason, it can’t happen like we hope it can happen.
So this is where we are.
We would like to make three promises to you:
1/ We are trying really hard to bring you something special this year to combat the gloom. Something you can enjoy for free from the comfort of your own home which will help us celebrate Christmas together again.
2/ We are doing all we can to make it happen, even if we don’t know what is around the corner.
3/ As soon as we can, we will tell you more.
All we ask, is that you keep the faith and don’t give up hope. In us, in panto and in being together again.
This story isn’t over yet.
Big love and stay safe.