The National Theatre in London is to reopen next month with a season that includes a pantomime production. It is only the second panto in the theatre’s history. Dick Whittington, written by comedian Cariad Lloyd and Jude Christian, will be staged in the South Bank venue’s Olivier theatre, which is to be significantly remodelled as an in-the-round space to fit a socially distanced audience of almost 500.
Lloyd and Christian’s pantomime was produced at the Lyric Hammersmith in London in 2018 but will be updated and will be directed by Ned Bennett. It is cheering news for panto lovers after many theatres in London and around the UK have either cancelled or postponed their productions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Theatre says the show, which the Guardian’s Brian Logan hailed as “a winning London fantasia” in 2018, will explore “ideas of community and togetherness which feel even more prescient in 2020”. While the National traditionally stages a large-scale Christmas production – such as Treasure Island and Pinocchio in recent years – it has staged only one pantomime before. In 1983, in the Lyttelton theatre, a traditional Victorian version of Cinderella was presented with Christmas music and carols.
Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, said he was delighted and relieved to be reopening the theatre. “Pantomime is an essential part of the living fabric of our nation, and it is devastating that so many theatres across the country have had no choice but to postpone their pantos this year because of the unprecedented financial impact of the coronavirus. We’ll do all we can to keep the flame alive.”
The opening production in the National’s new season is Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ previously announced sequel to their hit play Death of England, about football and national identity, which starred Rafe Spall and ran in the Dorfman earlier this year. Death of England: Delroy is a monologue starring Hamilton’s Giles Terera as the best friend of Spall’s character. Williams told the Guardian earlier this year that the new play’s hero asks himself: “How British am I as a black man?”
The National’s new season will feature Covid-19 safety measures that have become familiar to audiences who have been returning to live theatre in England. These include staggered arrival times, paperless tickets, pre-ordered drinks and face coverings.