Fife panto scrapped as theatre bosses re-think festive programme

Plans to stage a panto at Kirkcaldy’s Adam Smith Theatre this Christmas have been shelved amid continued uncertainty over COVID restrictions at indoor shows.

By Allan Crow
Friday, 2nd July 2021, 3:22 pm

OnFife has also postponed a return to shows at its four theatres this autumn because of social distancing restrictions for indoor events.

The moves come after a 15-month closure of the venues – Adam Smith, Rothes Halls, Carnegie Hall and Lochgelly Theatre.

Theatre bosses are now looking at a different festive programme based around just two venues as it looks to bring live entertainment back for the first time since the pandemic struck in March 2020.

Jack And The Beanstalk in 2019 was the last panto staged at the Adam Smith Theatre (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

The decision was also taken to allow a major £3m refurbishment of the Lang Toun theatre to progress uninterrupted with a view to getting it re-open on 2023 - in time for the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth.

Hopes had been high of an autumn programme being delivered across the four theatres run by OnFife.

But, bosses at the charitable trust say continued uncertainty over social distancing restrictions makes such a move impossible.

And the next update from the Scottish Government, due on August 9, comes too late for them to make any concrete plans.

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy

Given that lack of clarity, bosses moved this week to shelve plans for a late 2021 re-opening of the refurbished auditorium at the Adam Smith for panto and local theatre groups’ annual shows, and there will be no shows scheduled before December at Rothes Halls or Carnegie Hall.

From October, OnFife hopes to utilise Lochgelly Theatre as its main venue for shows which have been booked - and for any community groups which want to return to the stage.

That will also allow it to give some clarity and certainty to its own staff as well as theatre promoters looking to bring shows to Fife.

And the closure will also enable it to carry out upgrades to the venues as they remain dark.

“The continuing closures at Carnegie Hall, Rothes Hall and Lochgelly Centre, will allow theatre upgrades to be carried out on lighting and rigging. Investing in this now means we won’t need to close the theatres to carry out this work in the coming years,” said Michelle Sweeney, director of creative development

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Bringing theatres back after 15 months of closure was always going to be challenging, but the complexity of the operation has now been laid out in detail by the trust.

OnFife was keen to stress Christmas wasn’t cancelled - a headline no-one wants - rather it would be different this year.

It is planning a ‘Fife Christmas’ which will include a promenade performance within and outwith Carnegie Hall, and also take in some shows already booked for Rothes Halls.

But the challenges facing OnFife run much deeper, and are much more complex, than simply re-thinking its panto plans.

Michelle said: “It’s sad to have to be making these decisions again and we share the disappointment of all our customers who had hoped to be back enjoying the fantastic buzz and excitement of live in-person theatre experiences with us again.

“But with an update on whether social distancing constraints will be lifted – which is such an important factor for theatres – not due until August, and so much uncertainty in the interim, we needed to bring clarity on the way forward for theatre promoters, local amateur associations, our communities and our own team members."While social distancing remains, a quality programme is not feasible either financially or in terms of audience expectation of a great theatre experience, which revolves around a bustling theatre environment.

In an update to stakeholders this week, she added: “We want to work with Fife Council to develop a ‘Fife Christmas’, which is similar in approach to the current hugely collaborative GoFife Summer Programme.

“This would be a ‘Christmas in Fife’ offer promoting the full package of events and opportunities available across Fife and across all cultural venues, irrespective of who runs them.”

One of the big unknowns is just how quickly audiences might return - when will people be comfortable to again sit in a packed auditorium?

The evidence from the re-opening of libraries is not good.

The trust scored huge success with its click and collect service in lockdown and forging strong links with users, but that didn’t translate into a rush back when libraries and museums returned to full operation earlier this summer.

“We are concerned at the lack of data on audience returns to theatre,” said Michelle.

“What we do know from our experience of reopening both our libraries and our museums is that customers are slow to return, even with significant promotion.

“There is no reason for us to believe that theatre audiences will be any different, which is an added pressure on likely ticket sales and producing a sustainable programme in advance of Christmas.”

Consolidating its programme - and its theatre staff - into one venue allows OnFife to bring some clarity to its operations which have been in limbo since March 2020.

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