How We Helped Move Pantomime Online

Fairytale Revolution

Anna Spearpoint as Tink, Louise Beresford as Captain Hook and Nicole Sawyerr as Wendy.  Photo by Emily Aboud

Pantomime is one of the great British Christmas traditions and our friends at Theatre503 have a fantastic track record of producing family friendly pantos which always hit the spot. But as the pandemic’s shadow loomed over Christmas 2020 the Theatre503 team were faced with the challenge of reaching their loyal audience within the limitations of social distancing and the prospect of further restrictions…enter stage left, Chocolate Films

.Chocolate Films was tasked with live streaming this season’s aptly named pantomime with a twist, ’The Fairytale Revolution’. The stereotype subverting script was written by gifted duo, Anna Spearpoint and Louise Beresford, who also starred in the show alongside Nicole Sawyer. Working in partnership with the talented production team, our brief was to harness digital technology and filmmaking skills to convey the energy and dynamism of live theatre.

Getting Set Up

In mid December, the Chocolate Films team consisting of myself and fellow filmmakers, Jackie Read and Aziz Vora, started working with the cast and crew during the technical rehearsals. Our first task was to set up all the equipment needed to capture and transmit the show. Three cameras were positioned in the theatre, the feeds of which were sent to the Black Magic vision mixer set up in the Theatre’s lobby, enabling all the team to distance from each other. As the name implies, within the vision mixer all the different camera inputs are combined and can be selected in real time.

Throughout the project all members of the cast and crew followed strict Covid-safe working practices, including wearing masks and regular sanitisation. The number of people within the theatre was kept within safe limits to ensure social distancing could be maintained. Even on stage the cast was limited to three actors playing all the parts, which meant the versatile performers had to pull off some speedy costume changes!

Creative Practice

During the all important final rehearsals the show’s director Emily Aboud was able to view the pantomime on a monitor, just as the future audience would be seeing it. Viewing the show in this way enabled Emily to select camera angles and make decisions about framing and camera movement. She was also able to feed back to the cast and make adjustments to the performance.

Whilst wishing to retain the spirit of live theatre, Emily was keen to use the opportunity that filming provided by adding some quirky in-camera tricks to enhance the story. These included using a camera on a stabiliser to film a model dragon in flight, dramatic camera tremor every time the villain appeared and the simple, but effective, use of blue film to create an underwater scene. Rehearsing these tricks and camera movements with the cast and crew was invaluable as timing was of the essence for the live shows.

Giving the Gift of Christmas

After a week of filmed rehearsals the first live-streamed show had a huge audience of 9000 school children across the borough of Wandsworth – a far cry from the original capacity of 63 seats. Over the following week there were a further five live streamed shows, which were watched on over 500 devices. Precise viewing figures are impossible to gauge, but we do know that the audience stretched beyond London to other parts of the UK and even reached pantomime fans as far flung as the USA and Trinidad! Thanks to the magic of live-streaming the New York Times applauded “The Fairytale Revolution’s all female take on Peter Pan.”

Working with Theatre503 to bring their irreverent pantomime to people at this challenging time was an absolute pleasure. Although it can never replace the unique atmosphere of theatre, live-streaming is a great way to enable wide audiences to safely enjoy the magic of theatre…oh yes it is!


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