Artistic Director

The Little Mermaid - Hull Pantomime - Sarah Beth

Christmas, coronavirus and… panto in Hull?

By | Artistic Director, Blog, News, Panto
The Little Mermaid - Hull Pantomime

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?

Nigel Taylor dressed in yellow with a blue baseball jacket and fish hat with his hands on his hips

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?

Marc Graham as Hull panto dame Pattie Breadcake, in a sparkly top and pink dress, with blonde wig and crown.

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.

Paul x

Artistic director Paul Smith speaks into a microphone with script in hand

Paul Smith: Goodbye to Darley’s

By | Artistic Director

Artistic director, Paul Smith, pays tribute to Darley’s, our home of almost a decade, as Middle Child prepare to find a new space in Hull, following Goodwin Development Trust’s decision to sell the building.

Middle Child company members sit outside Darley's in 2011

Middle Child company members outside Darley’s in 2011.

Wasted hours, before we knew
Where to go, and what to do
Wasted hours that you make new
And turn into
A life that we can live
– Arcade Fire


Holes in the floor, the smell of stale beer and foundations built out of nothing more than dreams of what could be. We fell in love instantly. The imperfections working only to make you more perfect. We were kindred spirits; rough around the edges, off the beaten track, needing someone to see what we could become rather than focusing on our flaws. 

And so, with a blend of practicality and kindness from SomewhereTo and the Goodwin Development Trust less than a year into being a theatre company we had a home. 

A single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub. And it was the best of times. It was the best of spaces. It was all we needed. In that single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub we dreamed of changing the world. We grafted and we worked for free and we argued and we laughed and we made so, so many mistakes. But throughout what fuelled our ragtag bunch of Uni mates was an unshakeable belief in what was to follow.  

The building typified everything we felt about the world at the time. It had rebellion in its bricks. It had to – it was on a council estate in the ‘Number One Crap Town’ in the country. But the magic of this city was always obvious. Well before City of Culture this was a city of culture. And we simply wanted to do our bit. To have an impact in a city we love. Our dream was simple. Why shouldn’t a dilapidated pub on the Thornton Estate in Hull be a place where incredible art is made? Why shouldn’t it be a place where ideas are tested, dreams are dreamed and people come together?

And so, making it up at every step of the way, we cracked on with doing our little projects in our little room. We were tiny and poor but felt huge and lucky. And in that room, over the years, things happened. Plays, pantos, rehearsals, parties, workshops, funding bids, romances, relationships, revolutions. We celebrated successes and forgot failures. We dreamed and we dreamed and we dreamed and we dreamed.

A young Asian male sits on a chair in the middle of a room, smiling, script in hand

Nima Taleghani in rehearsals for Mercury Fur, 2015

You said we’re not so tied together
What did you mean?
Meet me in the stairwell in a second
For a glass of gin
Nobody else will be there then
Nobody else will be there
Nobody else will be there then
Nobody else will be there”
– The National


Dusty tables, empty bins and that sign. “For Sale By Auction”. On the wall hangs a framed picture of our first successful funding bid. £8,850. The space filled only by the ghosts of what went before; another quiet place in a quiet industry. But you can still imagine it, if you try hard enough. Six months ago that feels like six years. The full building now, not just a single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub. A National Portfolio Organisation now, not just a ragtag bunch of Uni mates (though we’re still around). A now dusty theatre library with over 2,000 plays free for anyone to borrow remembers when you came in and discovered that play that felt like it was speaking directly to you. Dusty desks remember when you came in to work and cracked that big idea and rushed into the office to excitedly tell everyone. Dusty walls, if wiped, would still shine with that glorious pink lovingly splattered by our city’s amazing volunteers. The dusty rehearsal room stands stoically, like an industry veteran remembering its finest performances but knowing those days are lost to the cruel relentlessness of time. 

Without being able to say goodbye, we get ready to say goodbye. The rebellious bricks that inspired us to carve out a life are unshakeable in their duty. 

We are older now, all of us. We dream differently. We do differently. The world is different.

Perhaps there was a day where we outgrew each other, but neither of us wanted to admit it. Perhaps parting like this was inevitable. But it is unavoidable that when saying goodbye we focus on the best times. And, even as I type this with a tear in my eye, I know that you’ll live on. Perhaps even stronger in our memories than in reality. There you don’t age. The drains don’t smell as strongly, the water doesn’t taste as metallic and someone always remembers to put the bins out. There we did all the things we wanted to do.

Two men in fancy dress stand on stage and point at a cheering audience

Lock In Festival, 2018

Darley’s. It was our space.

Not Middle Child’s, but ours. Hull’s space.

You came in and you lit it up. You made noise, you borrowed books, you changed the world. It was a place where anyone was welcome and where anything felt possible. We’ll never forget that. 

But things change. And soon, we will find a new home. We’ll fall in love with imperfections all over again, and we’ll argue and we’ll laugh and we’ll make so, so many mistakes. But we won’t ever stop dreaming. We won’t lose our unshakeable belief in what is to follow. 

Some time in the future, we’ll welcome you all once again into a new space. It’ll feel different. There’ll be inevitable comparisons. But we will do all we can to make it a space that welcomes you; a home for dreamers who know they can change the world. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we start over again and we’ll dream and we’ll dream and we’ll dream.