Shropshire panto legend Paul says shows will be back bigger and better
"Pantomime is a very positive form of entertainment, so I do try to stay positive."
Anyone familiar with Paul Hendy will know all about his cheeky grin and cheerful demeanor.
He has spent this week trying to put on a brave face, despite the heartbreak of the panto season being cancelled. Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury was officially cancelled on Tuesday, with Aladdin at The Place in Oakengates, Telford, falling by the wayside 24 hours later.
TV presenter-turned panto guru Paul has produced the Shrewsbury pantomime for the last decade, so he's feeling particularly upset.
"It’s a little bit sad and disappointing that we’re not doing the pantomimes, especially in Shrewsbury. I’m from Telford originally so it’s very much my home panto, so I’m particularly disappointed not to be doing it.
"We’ve built a reputation over the last 10 years and I think people have been impressed by the high standards and the production values.
"People look forward to it and I think this year especially, people needed pantomime.
"Maybe it was inevitable, but it’s still quite upsetting. For some people, it’s their Christmas."
He added: "But I think it’s the right decision in terms of health and safety."
Paul's company, Evolution Productions, produces pantomimes all over the country.
"It’s looking as if none of them will happen. We’re looking at possibly doing some smaller pantomimes with reduced audiences in one or two theatres that allow for social distancing. Pantomime is something that lifts the spirits so it has been particularly upsetting.
"It’s not possible from the health and safety aspect but it’s also not economically viable to put the shows on. It costs an awful lot of money to put them on. If you can’t fill up the theatre, it doesn’t pay for the shows.
"Our industry does seem to have been forgotten about. When theatre’s return it’s not like opening a pub or a coffee shop. Shows take a long time to put together. You’ve got to get the cast together, build the set, make the costumes."
Paul, who made his name presenting some of the biggest TV shows in the late 90s and early noughties in including Don't Try This At Home and Wheel of Fortune, launched his theatre company in 2006.
Several plans had been put in place for this year's show, but all the effort won't go to waste.
"We had already cast Brad Fitt and Eric Smith from BBC Radio Shropshire, started preparing the set and the costumes, but it will be used next year."
Paul's panto career has been littered with awards, with Shrewsbury also sharing in the glory. Theatre Severn's Cinderella production won Best Ugly Sisters at the Great British Pantomime Awards in 2015/16 and the Dick Whittington show won a hat-trick of gongs at the following year.
Paul added: "I think it’s been 10 years at Theatre Severn. I love it there. I’m a local lad. I was born in Telford and all my family still live there. I’m proud of the Shrewsbury productions we’ve done, people genuinely have a warmth for pantomime. We’ve got a great dame in Brad Fitt, and he has great chemistry with Eric, another of our regulars.
"People have been going to watch the panto every single year. A lot of people are upset that it won’t be on.
"I loved Cinderella. Brad was brilliant as Buttons. David Jack is a great theatre manager and we just work so well together.
"It’s such a wonderful theatre, I’ve got so many fond memories of sitting in the audience there.
"It would have been nice if people could have been able to go out and have a laugh, so it’s sad for that not to happen. But we will be back, bigger and better than ever. People will be waiting for something big.
"It’s the laughter I always remember. There’s nothing better than hearing all those people laughing. Sometimes you’ll see three generations of the same family. There aren’t many forms of entertainment that produce laughter from people from four to 94.
"Seeing people having a good time together and entertaining people. That’s what it’s all about."
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