As a kid, All-In Productions’ Daniel Burgess and the other children at the Hemsby village pantomime would abandon their seats, run to the front and sit on the floor as close to the performers as they could.
“That memory stuck with me. The enjoyment was higher because of that permission to bend the rules a little bit and just let children be children,” he recalls.
Known for making theatre for people who don’t normally engage with the arts, the company was keen to build on the success of their accessible shows for children. They met with Adam Taylor, executive director at The Garage in Norwich, about where they might go next.
“We started talking about how theatre isn’t geared for toddlers and babies. They couldn’t see anything because there was an adult sat in front of them, which you get at most conventional theatres. So let’s get them sat in the round, very close to the action, where they can see everything that’s happening.
“Kids get bored because they’re not engaged and you end up feeding them sweets or buying a light-up wavy stick to keep them quiet. We took that panto device of shout-outs and inclusion to the nth degree and made them part of the storytelling. We knew the original My First Panto was going to be Cinderella so we’ll have the audience help the Fairy Godmother turn the pumpkin into the carriage, to be guests at the Prince’s ball…”
That approach is something that’s stuck true with all the My First Circus, Play and Panto productions including Rapunzel which runs at The Garage in Norwich from 29 November - 12 January and Little Red Riding Hood which runs at The Workshop in King’s Lynn from 16-29 December.
Theatrical convention isn’t the only thing they’ve tossed out the window.
Daniel says: “When I come to attack a traditional fairytale or story, I ask how we can retell that in a 21st Century way because our values as a society are ever-changing and it’s good to reflect that.”
“Traditional Disney films from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s don’t sit right in 2019. Those early films see women very much as an object and how you need a man to be happy. I don’t want to be telling those tales to young people.
“I think it’s about looking into the mirror of society and acknowledging where we are now. It’s important to me to have good role models for young girls and boys in our time – does Rapunzel have to end up with the Prince in the end? I’m mindful we don’t go for a Disney or Hans Christian Andersen telling, but that we find a middle ground that allows people to be inspired by the characters without patrionising anyone.”
Daniel believes these differences helps My First Panto stand out in the crowded Christmas show market.
“You’re not going to see anything of this nature anywhere else in East Anglia. It’s a wonderful opportunity for families to play and make memories together.
“We work hard to deliver shows to the high standard audiences have come to expect. They’re getting a new musical effectively with a brilliant composer in Lloyd Gorman and amazing actor-musicians that can be seen on the TV, on the West End and on tour around the country.
“It takes a lot of effort, but the love for the series and the idea we had all those years ago is the thing that keeps us pushing forward and striving to make something bigger and better for the next year’s audience.”
My First Panto: Rapunzel, co-produced by All-In Productions and The Garage runs 10.15AM, 1.15PM and 3.15PM, 29 November – 12 January. Little Red Riding Hood runs 10.15AM and 1.15PM at The Workshop in King’s Lynn from 16-29 December.
There are BSL interpreted, relaxed and audio-described performances of both shows.
Give Rapunzel's hair some flair in our colouring competition. The winning look will be recreated on stage and earn its designer a family ticket to the show of their choice (subject to availability). Just download the picture here and send the finished design to us by 17 November. Include the entrant's name, age, their parent or guardian's name, a contact number and email address.
What else is coming up at The Garage over the next few months? Browse our autumn season line-up today.