Leading Scottish theatre pulls plug on Christmas panto over threat of social distancing restrictions

The plug has been pulled on one of Scotland’s leading Christmas pantomimes due to uncertainty over whether social distancing restrictions will be in place at the end of the year.

The Tron Theatre in Glasgow, which has led criticism of the restrictions on venues ahead on an official “reopening” date next week, said it was “impossible” to press ahead with plans for its festive show in the face of possible audience curbs.

The production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, hit theatre-maker Johnny McKnight’s latest show for The Tron, has been called off for the second year in a row in the face of growing concerns that social distancing rules will make it impossible for live entertainment to return in meaningful form in Scotland this year.

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The theatre’s management say they would only be able to sell up to 16 tickets for performances in its 230-seat auditorium under the current government guidelines, which are much harsher than for bars and restaurants.

Theatres in England are able to open at half-capacity from Monday and are planning ahead for the end of social distancing, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said is on track to happen at the end of June.

Theatres, promoters and nightclub bosses have warned that venues will be forced to remain closed until the Scottish Government’s insistence that two metre social distancing be enforce, compared to a one metre rule for the hospitality sector.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a wide-ranging review of social distancing measures this week, but the results are not expected to be known until early June.

An announcement from the theatre said: “In non-Covid times, planning and contracting for the large-scale production would be fully underway by this point in the year.

The Tron Theatre says it can only have 10 audience members at shows under the current Scottish Government guidelines. Picture: John Johnston

“Ordinarily, our panto breaks even on the proviso that is sells in excess of 90 per cent of tickets across over 60 performances.

“Despite positive moves to ease restrictions and the re-opening of other sectors, theatres remain in an impossible position because of social distancing rules. “With two metre social distancing restrictions in place, the auditorium capacity is between 10 and 16, with a maximum of five people on stage - severely compromising the quality of the audience experience. Even with a reduction to one metre that number grows to only 60.”

Sam Gough, executive director and joint chief executive, said: “This isn't a decision we've taken lightly but our reliance on ticket income to deliver the all-singing, all-dancing, high-concept pantomimes our audiences know and love, make it impossible for us to commit to staging The Wonderful Wizard of Oz this year.

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“The audience experience when we have to factor in any kind of social distancing restrictions would be terrible and the financials simply don't stack up.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has had to be called off by the Tron Theatre for the second year in a row.

“It would be irresponsible of us to proceed when there is still uncertainty about when we might be able to re-open at full-capacity. The risks, financial and experiential, are just too high.”

A spokeswoman for the government said: “We do not underestimate the severe impact this pandemic has had on the performing arts.

“We want the performing arts sector to be able to reopen fully and plan future activity with confidence, but we must continue to move very carefully to ensure continued suppression of Covid-19.”

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