• Brooke Patricia


Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Despite being a frequent flyer, I’m still the girl who packs three LBDs that look the same, but forgets her toothbrush. I recently sat on yet another meticulously over packed suitcase, attempting to zip up from a break I’ve never taken before: two weeks in self isolation.

Often times, the royal we gets the back-to-work blues after a retreat, especially when it involves a luxury hotel. I just had the outright blues because, like so many others in the arts, I had no creative job to return to.

Fortunately, I tested negative for COVID-19. As a strong believer in mindfulness and the law of attraction, this was the first time I’d asked the universe for a non-positive outcome. I phoned a friend, who I’d just left in London, to share sheer happiness and gratitude.

You know those pivotal scenes in British vintage films where the rotary dial phone rings? A glamorous movie star dashes to answer in it, her fur-trimmed gown sweeping behind her, hair in curlers ready to be rolled out like a red carpet. Then the caller drops the brass handle and dramatically throws her manicured nails across her shocked red pout.

Our conversation was the virus version of that when my friend said that almost all pantomimes have been cancelled in the UK, and others scaled down.

Much has been controversially debated over the impact of COVID-19 on show business, and this is just one example. But it’s big and, with Christmas fast approaching, it’s also timely. Theatre halls right across the country won’t be decked with boughs of holly this year. They will be empty and their devoted inhabitants not as jolly.

As this is a blog about leading a life that is abundant in all areas, what I’m writing here is intended to reflect that. My observations are not meant as criticisms to any person or profession. They are my personal thoughts, from the perspective of a New Zealander who has spent the majority of the past five years in the UK.

My thoughts go first and foremost to the now over one million victims worldwide who have lost their lives to COVID-19, their loved ones and those working on the front line. I recently spent time in Palmerston North Hospital, thankfully for completely different and curable reasons. I’ve also had a stint on Shortland Street, a New Zealand prime-time soap opera centering on the fictitious Shortland Street Hospital. I much prefer being in a pretend hospital over a real one. But I fully understand and appreciate that those working on the front line have the most essential jobs of all. They are saving lives. For real.

Yet I also believe that every profession plays a purposeful role on the world’s stage. I was disappointed to read that Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer and member of the UK Conservative Party, appears to regard artistic jobs as unviable. In doing so he has kicked legs that are already on bended knees, when they stand to be proverbially broken.

Pantomime is not only a great British tradition for all the family. It’s also an art form on which so many creative workers and theatres are financially reliant. For a lot of theatres, particularly in the provinces, it generates funds that help to enable a successful programme for the following year, or even stay open.

Consider the following statistics reported by Peter Latham in The British Theatre Guide.

In its Strategic Report of 29 February 2020, the revenue of Qdos Pantomimes, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, was £41,330,991 (up 2% on the previous year). Its profit was £2,849,717 and its net assets £16,385,763. The report picks out the pantomime at the London Palladium as being “the most lucrative yet.”

In its annual accounts to 30 June 2019, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group (which owns the London Palladium) announced a turnover of £41,203,735, a profit of £1,955,986 and net assets of £14,698,645.

These are the two companies which will benefit from Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden’s Operation Sleeping Beauty. The attempted kiss of life, for the pantomimes selected for funding, means seats unable to be sold because of ‘social distancing’ will be purchased by National Lottery, thus relieving the production’s box office.

Pantoland at the Palladium was chosen to launch the new initiative. It will follow in the glass slippers of other shows and mix pantomime titles this year, but still feature the star headliners, and spectacular sets and costumes, that it is renowned for.

Any news of financial aid for the sector is welcome within it. But due to the announcement of Operation Sleeping Beauty being made so late in the year, almost 200 venues forced to cancel or postpone their pantomime have only just learned that they could have received financial support had they decided to proceed. Those who did so anyway prior to The Palladium have worked exceptionally hard to deliver a pantomime regardless of the associated risks.

So, some of the biggest companies in pantomime and theatre generally have received government support, despite having the reserves to see them through COVID-19. It is the smaller theatres and those involved in the shows that need it the most, and thus are struggling the same. These are the theatres that help to keep communities both entertained and connected. For some, their stage doors will remain permanently shut.

In September, dozens of pantomime dames marched on Westminster, as part of a day of global action highlighting the plight of the live events industry. Under the slogan "red alert", the #WeMakeEvents campaign saw venues in 25 countries bathed in red light, to draw attention to continued uncertainty as to when concerts and shows can resume, and where this ambiguity positions artists. However, whilst participation in the parade was encouraged, roading was not blocked off for it. Yet, where I was living in London, part of the main road was closed to enable social distancing. Such significant emphasis on the latter must surely be organised by powers that be, with consistency. My friends in industry are all socially responsible despite the challenges they’re facing, but some didn’t want to risk their safety for this particular parade. Isn’t that the whole point of spurring people to stay safe in the first place? Remember that those who are whipped often rebel when they’re forced to run a different course from their competitor.

Following Rishi Sunak’s perspective on the viability of the arts as a whole, I was even further disappointed to read of his suggestion that artists retrain. If everyone working in the arts and entertainment industry went on strike, like NHS nurses do, the impact that the current situation has had on the sector would become immediately and directly apparent. That’s in an ideal world, which it clearly isn’t. It would pose a host of complications and possibly cause more harm than good.

But just take a moment to really imagine the world without radios, TV’s, games consoles, wall decorations, books (fictional at least), magazines – and souls.

On stage, actors are probably remembering around two and half hours of words – and possibly music and movements of some description – that aren’t their own. If you are making a night of it by taking in dinner and a show, remember that theatres help to support surrounding restaurants by drawing customers in this way.

In addition, every time you take pride and pleasure in seeing yourself or someone dear to you learn or hone a craft online, remember that the very tools being gained are the product of entertainment and creativity.

I agree, however, with Rishi Sunak’s perspective regarding the changing business model of the arts. It’s always been that way. I think the digital age offers endless possibilities to create new ways of creating, especially for those who can swipe right and swipe their bank card. It certainly offers improved efficiency when used to its full effect. But pantomime, like Shakespeare, is like chocolate to a diner. The sundae special changes. Tried is true.

Already we are seeing a large resurgence in cabaret, and emphasis on one person shows – theatre that is conducive to the times, but also timeless. It’s no coincidence, then, that many artists who have immortalised themselves continue to make holidays a real getaway.

Live theatre provides something smarter than smart technology. It provides immediate, interpersonal interactivity. The artist and the audience are on a journey, together. Pantomime is especially interactive in that the audience delight in partaking, keeping their hard working actors well on pointe. And work hard they do. They make two shows a day, almost every day, look like a principal boy’s walk down.

Escapism is a medicine unto itself.

The very first show that I remember seeing as a child was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at The Palmerston North Opera House. The venue was later knocked down for commercial purposes. But it was enough to put a big smile on my five-year-old chocolate smothered face.

For many people, a pantomime – or at least a fairy tale – is their first experience of theatre. It’s also often a first contract for those who have invested their time, money and their own fantasises in their education. It must be disheartening to work towards your professional debut, only to have it taken from you. Likewise, shows like Snow White provide work for actors who are big in talent but small by inches and centimetres. For some, it may be the height of their working year, and one they eagerly anticipate.

The world isn’t always like a Disney fairy tale, least of all now. But it takes all sorts to make one. What kind of a world are we currently living in? My greatest fear is not the virus but rather what it is doing to people.

One of the key themes of every pantomime is that good triumphs over evil. I certainly hope this eventuates off the stage when it can’t be on it.