York “tentomime” on tenterhooks as Great Yorkshire Pantomime team meet tomorrow

How the Great Yorkshire Pantomime tented palace would look on Knavesmire, York

GREAT Yorkshire Pantomime producer James Cundall and director Chris Moreno will meet tomorrow morning to “discuss our options” for the Easter holiday run, in light of the ongoing Lockdown 3 restrictions.

Billed as “a dream come true”, Aladdin is booked into a luxurious heated tented palace – a giant big top on Knavesmire – from March 19 to April 11 with an audience capacity of 976 in tiered, cushioned seating, divided into pods of three, four, five or six seats, with a minimum purchase of two tickets.

The 36 performances of Cundall and Moreno’s “tentomime” will be 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.

The Great Yorkshire Pantomime production of Aladdin promises “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”.

The imposition of the open-ended Lockdown 3, however, leaves question marks over whether Aladdin can go ahead, given that no date has been set by the Government for the easing of strictures, with only speculation that it could be “some time in March”.

It would need a return to Tier 2 regulations in York for socially distanced rehearsals to be able to take place, followed by the performance run. Hence tomorrow’s exploratory meeting for Cundall and Moreno to consider where the panto-land lies.

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.

Creditors, among them the Royal National Theatre, claimed unpaid debts of more than £5 million pounds from companies run by Cundall globally, including in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore, where he produced such shows as Cats, The Phantom Of The Opera, Matilda and War Horse.

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.

There had first been talk around York last autumn of a “tentomime” show to be staged at Knavesmire in December, but the Great Yorkshire Pantomime then settled on Easter, with the “stellar cast” yet to be announced .

Moreno has form for such an enterprise. “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 recalls. “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. It’s going to very exciting with the capacity of 976!”

Speaking to CharlesHutchPress on December 11, before York’s change of Tier status and subsequently the third lockdown, Moreno was in buoyant mood. “We can’t go on for the rest of our lives waiting for things to happen,” he said at the time, when he was also working on Sleeping Beauty And The Socially Distanced Witch, a show on a much smaller scale written and directed by Chris for the Grimsby Auditorium for a run from April 6 to 14.

“Aladdin is going to be different from anything I’ve done before, because, we’ll have to adhere to Covid-safety rules with all the safeguards in place, but it will be as near to a 100 per cent typical pantomime as possible,” Moreno revealed.

“Even with 21 performers on stage, 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.”

Whether such magic can take to the tent air this spring, watch this space for an update tomorrow.

This is why Castle car park in York will be closed on Saturday…

The poster image for Eye Project, the short film for the Castle Gateway project, being shown on Clifford’s Tower, York, on Saturday

EYE Project, a new short film made by four York artists, will be shown in a free outdoor screening on Clifford’s Tower, Tower Street, York, on Saturday evening.

Created as part of the Castle Gateway consultation project, the film recalls the history of the Castle Gateway, where the River Ouse and River Foss meet, while also celebrating its future possibilities. 

Emanating from the site of the former York Castle, the area covers the length of Piccadilly, the Coppergate shopping centre, Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of Yorkshire and runs through to St George’s Field and the Foss Basin.

Artists Rich Corrigan, Jade Blood, Julia Davis Nosko and Mat Lazenby worked with hundreds of young York people and InkBlot Films to “explore the ways we can shape and influence the future of Castle Gateway through a major development of the site”. 

Overseen by Kaizen Arts Agency and English Heritage, Eye Projectwill be shown from the Castle car park between 5.30pm and 8.30pm on Saturday as part of this weekend’s York Residents Festival.

The public will have an opportunity to have a say about the area’s future during the screening by using #eyeprojectyork. 

Andrea Selley, historic properties director at English Heritage, says: “Any consultation process is interesting but this one has been particularly so: listening to the views that young people have about that the Castle Gateway space and seeing the passion and creativity of their ideas has been fascinating and insightful.

“Clifford’s Tower, centred so prominently in the city centre, is an apt place to project such a creative community-led project and we’re pleased that the tower has been part of this.” 

The poster for Conflux, one of three Castle Gateway project commissions

Rebecca Carr, Kaizen Arts Agency’s artistic director, says: “We aim to bring York residents into this conversation who wouldn’t usually engage in a traditional consultation. This project is presenting different ways to share ideas; it creates another way to explore the place, while at the same time activating the site, and beginning to shape it into the place we might want it to be.

“People sometimes feel as if their voice isn’t heard, or their opinion is not valued, so we’re really excited to be part of a team that aims to change that.”

Eye Project is the third in a trio of art commissions to be presented as part of City of York Council’s consultation on Castle Gateway, using art to reference the past while looking to the future of the iconic city-centre site. 

Another of the commissions, Conflux, an hour-long audio walk collaboration between Hannah Davies’s Common Ground Theatre and Hannah Bruce & Company, can be downloaded and experienced until December 2020, with more details at cgtheatre.co.uk/portfolio/conflux/.

Councillor Darryl Smalley, City of York Council’s executive member for culture, leisure and communities,says: “Throughout the My Castle Gateway project, we’ve looked to innovate and bring fresh ideas to capture the views of residents, businesses and visitors about how the area can be regenerated for the next generation. 

“It’s fitting that the car park will be closed for the day [Saturday, January 25] to showcase these ideas from York’s young people, along with local artists, because one of the key features of the masterplan is to relocate Castle car park to St George’s Field with a new purpose-built multi-storey car park. 

“I would urge people to come along and see the short film to discover the heritage behind the Castle Gateway site and the ambitious opportunities that lie ahead for the area.” 

The project is funded through Leeds City Region Business Rates Pool, a scheme that allows local authorities to retain growth in business rates for local investment. Public funding comes from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with further support from City of York Council, York Mediale and the University of York music department.

Please note: Castle car park will be closed on January 25 for the Eye Project event.