Monday, 20 January 2020

Pantomime proves to be most popular yet

THE Christmas pantomime in Henley is likely to have been the most successful to date.

The Kenton Theatre in New Street hosted 25 performances of Sleeping Beauty between December 13 and 28.

The show was staged by Bear in the Air Productions, whose owner Heather Simpkin wrote, directed and produced it.

Theatre manager Max Lewendel said the attendance figures should be slightly higher than the previous record of more than 4,400 set by last year’s production of Dick Whittington.

Many performances after December 20, when the town’s primary schools broke up, were sold out.

Mr Lewendel said: “We’re still discussing the figures with our accountants but it looks as though we did really well and enjoyed our best sales so far.

“As soon as the school holidays started, we were consistently running out of seats apart from the odd one, which was never going to be taken as nobody goes to the pantomime on their own.

“People were saying how great it was and personally I loved it. It honoured the pantomime traditions yet in other ways it was quite progressive and the actors and singers were of a very high standard.

“I can’t believe it was written, directed and produced by the same person and I hope we’ll be working with the same people next time.

“We’re thankful for the community’s support and incredibly proud of our front-of-house staff, who did a great job during a very busy period.”

The theatre is already in talks with the production company about returning in December and extra dates could be added.

However, this would depend on the outcome of talks with Henley Children’s Theatre, which traditionally has booked the theatre for a week-long run of its own pantomime after the professional production.

The Kenton has suggested moving the children’s panto to February, which the children’s theatre director Muffin Hurst says isn’t feasible because it would be during term time.

Mr Lewendel said: “We could have sold a lot more if we’d had the capacity. We’ve already started taking bookings for two nights so that our biggest supporters can get their favourite seats.

“Nothing is confirmed yet but we’ll definitely do at least 25 performances of some kind — the exact number will have to wait until Henley Children’s Theatre reaches an agreement with our board.”

For the second year running, the theatre staged a “relaxed” performance for people with conditions such as autism. The auditorium lights were left on low, loud noises were softened and members of the audience were free to come and go as they liked.

Mr Lewendel said: “Last year was a bit of a learning experience but it went really well this time. More than half the seats were sold and although it brought our averages down, it was worth it to make the performance more accessible.”

Mrs Simpkin, of Fair Mile, Henley, came up with the idea for a Kenton pantomime in 2012 and ran it for several years before it was taken over by Immersion Theatre Company, which ran it until last year.

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