Oldham Coliseum's massively successful annual pantomime has become the latest victim of the show-killing pandemic.
Artistic director Chris Lawson announced today that the theatre's production of Aladdin will be put back to 2021 (Nov 13-Jan 8), even though he is currently working on an autumn season that is intended to go ahead. The move comes as Oldham has been revealed as having one of the country's highest coronavirus infection rates.
The Oldham panto, which has one of the longest runs in the calendar, has become such a regional institution that tickets go on sale for next year's show on the opening night of the current panto – and in most years the theatre has taken thousands of pounds on that day, a full year in advance. The show's popularity has continued for generations and this will be the first missed Chrismas in many years.
Chris Lawson said: "It is simply not possible for us to stage our pantomime with social distancing in place. The high quality panto you’ve come to expect from the Coliseum requires significant investment – an investment we cannot afford to make if we’re only able to sell a small percentage of our seats.
"The Government has stated that it cannot give theatres any indication of when they can reopen without social distancing until November at the earliest – the month our panto was due to open."
He added: "Our first priority as an organisation is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, audiences, cast and crew, and our second priority is to ensure that we as a company are here to create the magic of theatre in Oldham for years to come. We feel that trying to stage Aladdin as planned this Christmas would put both of these priorities in jeopardy."
The annual panto contributes a large proportion of the Coliseum's box-office income and plays to tens of thousands of people, many of them children. The theatre has been working on the show for months and as Lawson says, the postponement decision was taken with "a heavy heart".
"In a year that is incredibly financially challenging because of our extended closure, we cannot commit to investing money in making Aladdin, knowing that we might not be able to open the show for our audiences," he said.
"This would be financially catastrophic for us as an organisation and we cannot risk our future and those of the staff, artists and creatives we support."
The theatre is moving all sold tickets to the new dates in 2021 and will be in touch with ticketholders.
Meanwhile the theatre has renewed its plea for supporters to make a donation to running costs.