Aladdin slain! Great Yorkshire Pantomime’s Easter run is called off but “tentomime” will go ahead on Knavesmire at Christmas

How the Great Yorkshire Pantomime tented palace will look on Knavesmire, when Aladdin is staged in December

THE Great Yorkshire Easter Pantomime is off, but York’s first ever “tentomime” in a Knavesmire big top will go ahead in the Christmas season instead.

Producer James Cundall and writer-director Chris Moreno made the decision to call off Aladdin’s March 19 to April 11 run at a meeting to “discuss our options” this morning.

Afterwards, Moreno said: “Sadly, we are going to have to postpone the show until Christmas. The way the Government is, with the pandemic lockdown, and the way things are looking for the next few months, I just don’t think we can get there in time to go ahead.  We can’t take it close to the wire and then be forced to cancel it at the last minute.”

Moreno would have needed a return to Tier 2 regulations in York for socially distanced rehearsals to be able to take place in March, followed by the performance run.  

“If there were any certainty, it would be different, but that’s not the case, and so I’ve also had to cancel Sleeping Beauty And The Socially Distanced Witch, which I was writing and directing for the Grimsby Auditorium for an April run.”

Billed as “a dream come true”, Aladdin would have played in a luxurious heated tented palace to an audience capacity of 976 in tiered, cushioned seating.

The 36 performances of Cundall and Moreno’s “tentomime” would have been socially distanced and compliant with Covid-19 guidance, presented by a cast of 21, including nine principals, and a band on a 50-metre stage with a Far East palace façade, projected scenery and magical special effects.

Moreno has confirmed the Great Yorkshire Pantomime production this winter will still be Aladdin at the same York Racecourse location, with the promise of “a beautiful love story, a high-flying magic carpet, a wish-granting nutty genie, the very evil Abanazar and a magic lamp full of spectacular family entertainment”.

“It will run for at least five weeks,” he said. “Dates have been discussed and are now booked in and will be confirmed this week, and we’ll have tickets back on sale within the next two weeks.

“Hopefully, there’ll be an even bigger cast and it’ll be an even bigger venture at Christmas when it’s a much bigger competing world for pantomime shows, so that’s why we’re looking at doing an even bigger show.”

Steve Wickenden: Popular dame in four Three Bears Productions’ pantos at the Grand Opera House, York, from 2016. Will he be in Great Yorkshire Pantomime’s “starry cast” for Aladdin? Wait and see! Picture: David Harrison

Casting will be announced later.  “But it will definitely be a starry cast,” asserted Moreno. Likewise, the capacity may increase, subject to Government Covid strictures in place at the time. “We’ll be reviewing that as the year progresses, but the vaccination roll-out appears to be going well, and if we’re in a position to increase the capacity, we would look to do that,” he said.

Moreno has form for such a “tenterprise”. “I did a pantomime at, would you believe, the O2 at Greenwich, with Lily Savage as Widow Twankey in Aladdin, A Wish Come True,” he recalled. “That was in 2012 in a purpose-built tent in the grounds, when we had 1,900 in there, in the days when you didn’t have to socially distance.

“It was the same sort of tent that we’re planning to use in York: a ‘pavilion palace’ that’s totally different from a circus tent.”

Hence the capacity may yet rise above 1,000. What is certain, however: “It’ll be a big stage to fill, as it’s 50 metres wide, and we’re thinking that instead of a single flying carpet, we should have two for a  battle between Aladdin on one and Abanazar on the other,” said Moreno.

Both producer and director are vastly experienced in staging theatre and musical theatre productions. Cundall was the Welburn impresario behind the award-winning but ultimately ill-fated, loss-making Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, mounted in a pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park in York in 2018 and 2019 (as well as at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, in the second summer).

He was awarded an MBE for services to the entertainment industry in the 2019 New Year Honours list, but by October that year, his principal company, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, went into administration after the smaller-than-expected audiences for the second season of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre shows, especially at Blenheim Palace.

Moreno has produced, directed and written more than 120 pantomimes. He once owned and ran the Grand Opera House, in York, where later Three Bears Productions, the production company he co-produces with Stuart Wade and Russ Spencer, presented four pantomimes from 2016.

Moreno was the director and writer for Aladdin in 2016-2017, Beauty And The Beast in 2017-2018, Cinderella in 2018-2019 and Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs in 2019-2020.

The confirmation of Aladdin’s winter run means York will have three professional pantomimes going head to head: the Great Yorkshire Pantomime at Knavesmire; Qdos Pantomimes presenting Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House, from December 11 to January 9 2022, and York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions staging Cinderella from December 3 to January 2 2022.