Audiences for panto could be thinner this year



For the second year running, pantomimes across the country might not be the box-office saviours their producers need them to be.

A new survey by the Audience Agency suggests there will be a serious problem in finding audiences this year, despite the general relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions.

According to the agency, people remain reluctant to attend live events. Participation in the arts over the past 18 months has stifled theatregoing to the extent that only 17 per cent of the agency’s poll group are about 80 per cent certain to attend a panto, against around 23 per cent in a typical year.

Though this is not the wide rift between the percentages that might have been likely six months ago, it still presents theatres with a “serious challenge”, says the agency, since major booking factors for panto such as school and group visits are likely to be diminished.

Contrary advice and opinions about the progress of Covid-19 and its variants has sent many mixed messages over the past few months, leaving many families not only undecided about a panto booking, but reluctant to attend theatres at all.

Recent data suggests people still feel uneasy about attending cultural events in general; the overall proportion of the population “happy to attend” has fallen by one per cent – from 29 per cent to 28 per cent – since June, when expectations would be of an increase in those willing to attend. The percentage currently uninterested in attending a show has almost doubled, from 11 per cent to 20 per cent.

The increase is mainly among those who in previous surveys have said they wanted to wait until a significant reduction in Covid cases before attending a theatre. These people are “hardening up” their stay-at-home views.

Though many respondents reported feeling better now about the risk of catching Covid than six months ago, many have clearly not listened to the measures theatres have been taking to reduce possible exposure.

Between 40-50 per cent of respondents wanted crowd management, hand sanitiser and mask wearing – all carried out by most theatres already, though mask wearing cannot now generally be compulsory –

while 41 per cent wanted only doubly-vaccinated or negatively-tested individuals to be able attend, something most theatres wouldn't even attempt, under current laws, to enforce. Almost 40 per cent of no-shows also continued to prefer social distancing; almost all theatres have socially-distanced performances for those uneasy about sitting close to others.

The results come from the agency's fourth survey of audience attitudes, taken online in the middle two weeks of September, and while they randomised the poll by race, gender and the usual factors, it doesn't appear to take into account the fairly specialised audience for panto – mainly families and groups – so the results include responses from those who wouldn’t normally attend a pantomime anyway.