Monday, 17 February 2020
THE Henley children’s pantomime is to remain at the Kenton Theatre in Henley after the two sides agreed a deal.
Muffin Hurst, who runs Henley Children’s Theatre, has been given a four-day run in December and January to stage Babes in the Wood.
She says the new arrangement is “far from ideal” as it will mean only three days of performances and the production will have to be scaled back and ticket prices may have to go up.
The group has had an annual booking at the New Street venue over the Christmas period since 1969 when Ms Hurst’s grandmother ran it.
But late last year Ms Hurst was asked by the theatre trustees to move her production to February so it could extend the run of its own professional pantomime.
Ms Hurst said this was not feasible as the show would be during term time so the children would not be available and their extended families would not have time to see it.
The Kenton then proposed charging her more than £9,100 for a five-day run for this year’s production when she had been paying £3,675 for her usual week-long booking.
For the following year and going forward she was offered a shared five-day slot with the Kenton’s show, including two days of shared performances.
Ms Hurst, from Hambleden, rejected the offer and considered moving her show elsewhere, saying she was being “priced out” by the Kenton.
Now the two parties have agreed that the theatre’s own panto, Cinderella, will run from December 12 to December 29 and the children’s theatre will stage its show from New Year’s Eve to January 3.
Ms Hurst said: “It’s nice to have come to some conclusion. I don’t think it’s a brilliant conclusion, and I’m afraid I’m a little bit lukewarm about it, but faced with the initial fait accompli they had given me several months ago it’s definitely better than that. It’s the best of a bad lot.
“We’re down to four days this Christmas and you have to remember we need one day to get in and do dress rehearsals. That leaves us with three days performing, which limits the number of times we can perform.
“Next year they hope to put it down to three days and that puts us down to two days to perform so then it becomes a little bit more of a problem. However, I was keen to get something sorted for this year.”
Ms Hurst said she was not allowed to reveal how much she would be charged for her four-day slot but said the amount had come down “considerably” from the original proposal.
“It’s still a great deal more than I had been paying,” she said. “It will have a knock-on effect financially and I guess I’ll have to look at it after that to see if it’s viable.
“It’s going to make the pantomime a little bit more tricky this year. It presumably means we’ll have to have a slight increase on the ticket price.”
Ms Hurst said she understood that the Kenton wanted to use more of the Christmas period for its own panto and she hoped her show would stay there for years to come.
“Honestly, I can see myself doing that but I would hope we have a better arrangement,” she said.
“We have stuck around 50-plus years now and I have seen very many trustees and chairmen of trustees come and go over that time. We, however, remain.”
Ms Hurst said she was grateful for all the support she had received from the community.
In a joint statement, Chris Tapp, the theatre’s chairman of trustees and Ms Hurst said they were pleased to announce they had reached a mutual agreement.
“Both companies look forward to welcoming audiences for their 2020 festive productions,” it said.
“The Kenton Theatre is delighted to report it had both a joyful and profitable Christmas season.
“The Bear in the Air production of Sleeping Beauty was the Kenton’s most successful pantomime yet, followed by the 50th annual pantomime for the ever popular Henley Children’s Theatre’s Puss in Boots.
“This historic building has an important place in Henley, bringing children and families together for traditional entertainment.”
Mr Tapp has said previously that it has become more difficult for the Kenton to achieve break-even so it’s important to extend the run of its panto.
10 February 2020
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