Horsham's Capitol already eyeing up "biggest and best-ever panto"

Horsham’s Capitol is keeping spirits high with the promise of the town’s “biggest and best-ever” pantomime later this year.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 7:00 am
Matthew Effemey, operations manager at The Capitol
Matthew Effemey, operations manager at The Capitol

They are also planning a celebration of the venue’s 85th anniversary in June.

Of course, everything still remains uncertain at the moment, but for the Capitol – in these dark times – it is all about hope and positivity.

Matthew Effemey, operations manager at The Capitol, said: “Positivity is what we need to get through this, and I have got a fantastic little team to work with. If I am not positive, they won’t be, and we need to keep everyone positive and just keep reminding people that we have got a fantastic venue here. We are not going to go anywhere. We will be ready to welcome people in when we can.

“We have got the 85th anniversary in June and at the moment any milestone is worth celebrating! We will definitely do something around that anniversary. We don’t know what it will be. Social distancing will determine what is possible. But we will certainly do something and involve the whole town.”

Like theatres across the country, the Capitol was forced to shut again on Christmas Eve: “Throughout December there was lots in the media and we were slightly prepared. It was almost like a case of ‘How long are we going to last?’ Some people were thinking we might be able to go right through. But fortunately Santa’s New Sleigh had its last performance on Christmas Eve. That’s when it was due to stop and it was completely sold out and we had great feedback and we had the whole run. And the great thing is that the producers are coming back next year to do another show with us in the studio. We hadn’t worked with them before. It has been lovely to find new relationships and it was lovely to have a sold-out show.

“We also had A Christmas Carol and it was going really well. It was not completely sold out, but it was certainly doing beyond our expectations, but unfortunately A Christmas Carol did get curtailed a few days short. It was due to finish on December 29. But it was quite magical having the last show on Christmas Eve. It was very emotional. It was quite an evening, quite sombre knowing that we were going into lockdown.”

As Matthew says: “Financially Christmas is huge, for us in particular because we produce our own panto. A lot of pantos are bought-in pantos which makes life easier for the venues, but you don’t make nearly as much money.”

All of which makes this year’s panto even more important than ever: “We are going to concentrate on making it the biggest and best panto that Horsham has ever had. It is going to be Aladdin which is always a popular title, and we are going to do our very best to make sure that it is incredibly special.”

As for the months until then, the venue is delighted to have received £182,000 in cultural recovery funding and is making as much use of the furlough scheme as it can. The cultural recovery fund scheme has been extended to include April and May, so for the moment the focus is on looking at the start of the next financial year.

“This lockdown is slightly more challenging than the other ones because they haven’t really put a time scale on it. This one is all about the vaccinations and how quickly they can be done. We did have lots of shows booked in for January and February and March, and we are pushing them back. I don’t think any have cancelled at the moment, but we are just holding fire and waiting because we don’t know when new dates are going to be possible. Looking at my diary, there is not a huge amount before May. In May, things might be possible and then into the summer with social distancing. We are hoping that the autumn might be back to something possibly approaching normal and then we are putting a lot of work into the pantomime.

“I don’t think shows will be allowed until after April and then it is a going to be about whether they are socially distanced or not. And that means a massive headache. We will do the best we can with it and we will have shows on offer that are socially distanced, but at the end of the day we know that the financials are not brilliant with socially-distanced shows and we know that they are so much harder to manage logistically. But we will just have something on offer as soon as we possibly can.”