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Pantomime postponed at Eden Court in Inverness

By Val Sweeney

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Steven Wren and James Mackenzie-Blackman. Picture: Gary Anthony
Steven Wren and James Mackenzie-Blackman. Picture: Gary Anthony

Bosses at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness have taken the “incredibly difficult decision” to postpone its money-spinning pantomime this Christmas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It follows talks with pantomime producer Imagine Theatre, which will stage the show – Cinderella – next year instead.

Eden Court chief executive James Mackenzie-Blackman acknowledged it was a huge financial blow, but said it was for the safety of customers and staff – although he also revealed the café and bar, along with the cinema, could reopen next month.

The possibility of staging some live performances before the end of the year is also being explored.

Mr Mackenzie-Blackman said generations had enjoyed pantomimes at Eden Court over the past 44 years.

“The importance of this decision has weighed heavily on my shoulders for many months,” he said.

“I have wanted to wait as long as possible before deciding, but we can now not delay any further and have to face the reality that there are too many factors that make the delivery of pantomime impossible.”

Beauty and the Beast, Eden Court 2019 Panto
Beauty and the Beast, Eden Court 2019 Panto

Possible festive alternatives for families are being explored, although they will not be on the same scale as the pantomime.

“We are mulling over loads of options and keeping within public guidance as well,” Mr Mackenzie-Blackman said.

“One thing we are hopeful of is we might be able to do shows in the studios for wee ones and families.”

He also said producers were currently facing issues around insurance, which stopped them from getting shows on the road.

“The outlook is really tough because of the willingness of producers to bring shows to us continues to diminish,” he said.

However, the theatre is hoping to programme its own work in coming months.

“We are returning a couple of people from furlough to deliver an interim artistic programme, so we can provide opportunities for artists to get back to Eden Court,” he said.

The café and bar, and cinema, are set to open next month.

Mr Mackenzie-Blackman said it was a tough balancing act given the restaurant trade was associated with pre-show dining plus the costs of opening up the building.

About 86 per cent of the 147 staff are still furloughed compared to 13 per cent of the UK workforce and 51 per cent in the performing arts.

The theatre has begun talks with staff on how it can continue to save money, although it is keen to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Steven Wren, director, co-writer and dame of the Eden Court pantomime, was sad not to be spending Christmas in Inverness.

“The Eden Court staff have become true friends over the years and the Highland audiences are just the very best,” he said.

“I can guarantee that when Cinderella finally gets to the ball in 2021, it’s going to be one giant party for all of
us performers and most importantly, our loyal audiences.”

Customers who have booked tickets for Cinderella will be contacted by Eden Court.

Tickets will be valid for Cinderella 2021 with the same seats, while those unable to attend can claim a gift voucher or full refund.

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