Bognor’s Regis Centre starts the great pantomime countdown

The cast for this year’s show Jack and the Beanstalk got together to meet and to set the ball rolling.

The Regis Centre panto company by Wayne Humphrey
The Regis Centre panto company by Wayne Humphrey

For Hazel Latus, who runs the venue, it’s a hugely significant moment at a time when things do remain challenging. Sadly, inevitably, there was no panto last year, but as Hazel says, the signs are good for 2021 – even if bookings aren’t quite where they probably ought to be at this point in the year.

“I suspect people are going to get to the end of September, beginning of October and say ‘Right! What are we doing for Christmas?’”

It could well be the year of last-minute booking with people wanting to be absolutely certain that shows are going to be able to go ahead before they buy their tickets.

“But we are confident. We are going to do panto this year, and we will make sure that it is Covid safe.”

The show will run from Wednesday, December 8-Sunday, January 2 and comes from the venue’s traditional panto partners, Spiller Pantomimes.

“Panto classic Jack and the Beanstalk tells the story of Jack, his brother Silly Billy and his mother as they attempt to beat the evil giant in the sky and save the village.”

Hazel is promising “a spectacular pantomime featuring a superb cast, brilliant scenery and costumes, amazing special effects and lots and lots of laughs”, the first time Jack and the Beanstalk has been performed at the Alex.

“Pantomime is so important to us,” says Hazel. “It is the spirit that it brings, the fabulous children that come into the theatre, the families, the people of all ages. It is often the children’s very first experience of theatre and you want to give them a good introduction.”

Inevitably, a good panto is crucial to venues financially: “Often it is bringing into the theatre people who wouldn’t necessarily come and see other shows, and you hope that they will be picking up leaflets and brochures and maybe coming along to other things later. The bars do well during pantos. Ice cream sales are good during pantos. It really sets the theatre up for the year.”

But above all, it is about the great atmosphere that panto brings, uniting the community and offering them plenty of laughs together at the end of a very difficult year for everybody.

“I like to work with acts that I have known, people who are team players. The people we have are amazing, and that’s why we have a lot of them back. They are people that work well together, and you know that when you have got a great atmosphere back-stage then that is going to spill over onto the stage as well. I like people who are wonderful back-stage and then you get a wonderful atmosphere all round. It is all part of the spirit of the show.

“For a good panto, I think you have got to get the humour right. I think you have got to get the scripting right so that you have a show that stays just the right side of ridiculous. It needs colour and it needs fantastic costumes.

“It needs everybody on the stage including the children. I am really hoping that we will be able to have the children on the stage as well because apart from bums on seats with all their friends and families, it is such a big part of the whole atmosphere of the show.”

And that’s why last year’s empty stage was “horrid”, Hazel says: “It was dull. We were closed for everything. It was just incredibly sad more than anything. When panto is in and everyone is there and working so hard, there is just such an incredible buzz in the theatre.

“ When you go back-stage, it hits you right away. But when there is nothing on, it is, well, just so sad. There is just nothing sadder than an empty back-stage area…”

Tickets from the venue.