Christmas pantomimes are a decades-old tradition but this year’s two main productions sold quicker than usual, amid rave reviews, according to leading figures from both productions.

Pantomimes at the Manoel Theatre and Gozo’s Astra Theatre both reported strong sales and sell-out performances, with tickets sold out faster than previous years, according to two of the theatre scene’s leading ‘ladies’.

And a lot of that success is being attributed to a young generation of talented actors, singers and dancers who have received training in drama schools.

“There was a lot of magic this year and we sold out quicker than we ever expected,” said veteran actor Alan Montanaro, who plays the Dame in the MADC production of Beauty and the Beast at Valletta’s Manoel Theatre.

Describing pantomime as synonymous with Christmas, Montanaro stressed the importance of the genre to introduce new generations to the theatre.

“Pantomime is often the first time children go to the theatre. It’s an introduction to theatre and, as such, an important genre.”

Calling the cast and crew “A-team of creatives”, Montanaro said the strong sales reflected the high standards of this year’s production, written and directed by Chiara Hyzler.

The future of quality theatre in Malta is on track

“I’ve been doing panto for years now so audiences kind of know and expect my loud (but lovable), naughty (but nice) dame persona ‒ but the support cast of talented actors, singers and dancers are quite fantastic and ones to watch. The future of quality theatre in Malta is on track,” he said.

Edward Mercieca, who played the part of Widow Twankey in FM Theatre Productions’ rock and roll pantomime Aladdin at the Astra Theatre agreed standards were continuing to rise.

“After 25 years, Malta is reaping the benefits of having a generation of children who have grown up in the theatre world,” he said, explaining this had led to increasing numbers of young performers and crew members forging theatre careers both in Malta and overseas.

“And the consistently high level of quality shows people are willing to spend money on cultural events,” Mercieca said, adding the company was faced with calls to put on more shows after closing on December 30.

The cast of nine in FM Theatre Productions&rsquo; <em>Aladdin </em>acted and played instruments. Photo: Facebook/FM Theatre ProductionsThe cast of nine in FM Theatre Productions’ Aladdin acted and played instruments. Photo: Facebook/FM Theatre Productions

Describing ticket sales as “very good”, with several performances at the 1,200-seat theatre sold out, Mercieca said this showed the rising popularity of theatre in Gozo, adding that, despite their long-standing popularity abroad, actor-musician pantomimes such as Aladdin were still a relatively new concept for Malta.  

Echoing Montanaro’s words, he stressed the importance of pantomime in helping to introduce younger audiences to the theatre.

Meanwhile, Manoel Theatre acting CEO Edward Zammit said the theatre season had seen a “strong autumn and beginning of winter”, with productions such as Grease and The Band’s Visit selling out as well.

Commenting on the strength of this year’s pantomime season, he said that, while it always did well, this year’s MADC panto sold “even quicker than usual”.

Reports of strong sales across the board suggest live theatre managed to successfully buck the trend of consumers increasingly watching their wallets this winter in the face of the rising cost of living.

Dating back to 18th-century England, pantomime has evolved over the years to combine music, acting, humour, audience participation and satire.

The MADC production of Beauty and the Beast will continue until January 7.

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