Portsmouth's Groundlings theatre bosses left 'shocked' after Kings Theatre announces same festive panto

AN HISTORIC theatre has raised concerns about its future after a fellow city venue caused ‘shock’ when suddenly announcing it will be showing the same production for its Christmas bonanza.

By Steve Deeks
Monday, 29th June 2020, 12:05 pm
Updated Friday, 17th July 2020, 7:19 pm

Groundlings Theatre bosses say they are furious after fellow Portsmouth establishment, the Kings Theatre, revealed it would be showcasing Dick Whittington instead of Peter Pan.

Managers at The Kent Street theatre, recently taken over by newly formed charity The Groundlings Theatre Trust from Richard Stride, say they think the move creates an ‘inappropriate rivalry’ as Groundlinsg had already planned to stage Dick Whittington.

Kings Theatre CEO Paul Woolf has rejected the accusations, though, after insisting the two theatres are ‘not competitors’ with its change of panto due to financial necessities.

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The Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, Portsmouth. Picture: Sarah Standing (021019-7981)

But chiefs of Groundlings Theatre fear they will be unable to compete against Southsea’s Kings Theatre on Albert Road, which received confirmation of a £3 million loan from Portsmouth City Council earlier this year

Groundlings Theatre announced it would stage Dick Whittington in January with bosses claiming they have since been blanked by Kings Theatre following the latter’s panto change.

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A statement from Groundlings Theatre said: ‘The announcement of a rival production presents a number of potential risks to the new charity who are frustrated at the lack of consultation by the Kings and continued silence.

Chief Executive Paul Woolf at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth. Picture: Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

‘This is despite Groundlings Theatre manager, Tobias Robinson, having written two weeks ago to the Kings CEO Paul Woolf but yet to receive a response.’

Mr Robinson said: ‘It would seem obvious to consider what shows other theatres are producing and to liaise accordingly so we were not only shocked at the announcement but also disappointed at the lack of communication.

‘The coronavirus pandemic means every organisation is facing unprecedented hard times so it seems senseless to announce a rival show that splits audience potential.

‘It will be a difficult decision for many people over whether they are confident to see a show – the decision by Kings to produce the same show is creating a rivalry that is not wanted and is inappropriate.

The cast of last year's Groundlings Theatre panto - Jack and the Beanstalk Picture: Sarah Standing (021019-7937)

‘Groundlings Theatre is not only a new charity without reserves but is a far smaller company and at a complete disadvantage in this situation.

‘We are confident of our production but cannot put the same budget into marketing and promotion and due to our new formation the money we make from panto is designed to protect our organisation in the new year.’

Kings Theatre boss Mr Woolf defended the decision to change the festive panto from Peter Pan to Dick Whittington - with him insisting the two theatres are not competitors.

He told The News: ‘We are not competing with them - it’s like comparing a park football team to Manchester United. We have never been competitors.

‘We are a 14-storey, 1,400-seater Edwardian theatre and they are a cabaret style theatre with tables and chairs.

‘The experience at the two theatres is very different. Their audience is not our audience.’

Mr Woolf said the decision to change the festive panto from Peter Pan to Dick Whittington was taken due to the ‘risk’ of the ‘highly expensive’ Peter Pan production on the co-producing partner following lockdown.

He said: ‘We decided to produce our own panto and take all the financial risk as it was not fair on our partner as the costs and risks were so high (with Peter Pan).

‘We looked at the cycle of pantos and we picked Dick Whittington because it was not on the cycle. It never crossed our minds about Groundlings Theatre.

‘In the past we have both had the same panto, like Cinderella, and neither suffered so I don’t understand why they complain now.’

The Kings Theatre chief said he did not reply to Groundlings Theatre contact because the ‘email was very aggressive’ and he did not ‘want to get drawn into a fight’.

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