The socially distanced production of Jack and the Beanstalk will be the only pantomime in the city this year, after both the Key Theatre and New Theatre cancelled their productions due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Tickets are on sale now for the production that will run for 25 shows across 13 days between December 12-24.
Organisers have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that the production is Covid-secure for both the cast and the audience. The auditorium will be disinfected between every performance and will be operating at a reduced capacity. Audience members will also be seated in their own groups, with a maximum of six per table.
Other safety measures include a reduced showtime of around one hour 20 minutes, with no interval, to prevent crowding, temperature checks on arrival, pre-ordering options, one-way systems and all of the cast and crew will be adhering to social distancing measures throughout rehearsals and the performances.
The cast is led this year by, former star of pop group Flintlock, Mike Holloway, as King Crumble and he will be joined by a host of others, including ex-Skins actor Mitch Hewer - a Cresset panto regular - as Jack. The production will be smaller and more intimate than previous Cresset pantos, with the children’s ensemble unable to be involved this year. The cast insist, however, that, despite a late re-write, the panto will still have the same magic this year.
Writer/Director Stuart Morrison said: “The last week, since announcing the show, has been really mad, we had to pull it all together really quickly.
“Normally I’d be moaning about all that work but this year I’m not, I’m just happy to be doing my job.
“The play was all written at the start of the year but then we went into lockdown and after that, I thought there’s no point committing to something until we know what we are actually allowed to do. This meant I rewrote it all last week, which was interesting.
“I think people won’t really notice much difference. There’s going to be the obvious things like the children not being in the show but we’ve got some dancers, which we wouldn’t normally have, so those gaps have been filled.
“It will be slightly different but you will still feel like you’ve been to a panto.”
The panto will be extra special for Vanessa Boland (Fairy Liquid). She is from Peterborough and started out her career as part of the children’s ensemble in Aladdin, at The Cresset, 15 years ago.
She added: “I think in some aspects it may even be nicer. People are going to be sitting at tables, which is going to bring a cabaret feel. They can sit with their families, have some snacks, watch the show and have a really good time.
“For me, being in Peterborough is lovely. All my family are here and it’s the first time I’ve been back at The Cresset in years. It was so lovely to walk through the doors again, I remember when I used to do dance classes here.”
As part of the restrictions, traditional shouting and booing from the audience has been replaced by the banging on tables and the stamping of feet. The show, however, will be enhanced by support of local businesses, who have offered a lot of extra technology to help improve the staging and production of the show.
The main aim this year has been to protect the traditional panto feel, as well as maintaining a sense of humour during what has been a tough year for many.
Victoria Jane (Princess Isabelle) said: “We’ve got to follow the rules but we don’t want to take the experience away from everyone.
“We won’t be ignoring the pandemic but instead poking fun at it and having a giggle. We have to remember that people booking the tickets are excited to go back to the theatre, so we really want to keep it as magical and special as possible.”
This sentiment has been echoed by Phil Norton (Dame Trott), who said: “Every panto needs a good blend of jokes everyone knows, some surprises and reference to local or topical events.
“I wrote a line in one of my other pantos, ‘what do we do if we’re in danger? We go to Dominic Cummings’ mum’s house.’ There’s clearly a lot we can joke about this year and we’ve got to or we’ll cry about it.”
The overwhelming feeling from the cast though is joy. Joy at the fact they will be able to put on a production this year and bring some festive cheer to the people of Peterborough.
Richard Mann, (evil henchman Fleshcreep) added: “We all feel like kids in a sweet shop. Personally, I feel very honoured and lucky to be one of the few people in this industry that is actually getting the opportunity this Christmas. We owe it to everyone else to hit this hard and have a great time.”
Stuart concluded: “It’s so nice for us all to come back to our real love and passion and to be able to bring a little bit of christmas cheer at the end of what has been a really bad year for a lot of people.
“We all adapt but when you get the chance to go back to your real vocation then the true you comes out. It’s good for your mental health, how you feel and just good all over.”