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.