Panto Presents at the Sick Kids Hospital

It’s a magical time of year, and for families, a traditional time to go to the theatre together to see a show. Four years ago, we started a project to take the magic of panto into the Sick Kids Hospital so that children and families in hospital over Christmas could experience the magic of live performance.

Panto Presents is a unique partnership that we at Capital Theatres have developed with Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children Edinburgh. We curate and create a programme of packs, workshops and bespoke performance for the children, family and staff over the festive period.

We start by creating bespoke panto packs for each ward full to the brim off props, toys, books, specially made stickers and colouring books. These items inform the workshops we run and some of the content of the show we create, and we consult closely with the hospital on what we can and can’t include because of strict restrictions due to infection control on the wards.

As part of a research on the panto story we’re presenting each year, we often pull up as many versions of the original story we can find. This year it is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ so we pulled the first official version of the story, written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740, but we also researched earlier folklore versions that appear. For example, in Sweden, the beast is a black bear, in Italy, the beast is replaced by a snake and even as far back as ancient Greece parallels can be found between the story we know and love and the story of cupid; who’s love could not look upon his face.

The wealth and breadth of the stories presented all sorts of opportunities for exciting content for our packs. Flowers and in particular roses feature heavily in the stories, not least of all the classic Disney version, but bringing organic material of any kind in to the hospital is a no go ( there are members of ECHC team who have ended up laminating petals in the past) so instead we searched high and low and eventually found beautiful light-changing roses that are designed to sit in water. These lights create a soothing atmosphere, are durable, waterproof and link perfectly to the story. So we included two boxes in every pack! This is just one example of the time and care that goes in to selecting, adapting and creating the packs.

The next step is always to devise a number of different workshops around the panto that can work in the hospital. Luckily we have wonderful artists and actors who have either all worked on the project with us before or who have experience working in an NHS setting. We always want to provide a wide range of different arts forms and ways to engage with the story, so we have delivered rose making, storytelling, castle decorating and drama sessions in the ward playrooms, at bedside and even working with children in isolation.

We get such good feedback from families about these engagements. Our castle decorating workshop was a particular success this year, so much so that A&E have incorporated their decorated castle into their reception as a permanent feature for the holidays! Our drama workshops are always a special event, as the hospital is particularly keen on getting children out of bed. This year we had a great time making monster faces, playing drama games and creating a pop-up book – just like the one in our packs!

One of the most exciting bits of this project is always working on writing and directing our bespoke pantomime which we create only for the hospital and we take in to perform on the wards. Our show this year features original songs, vintage costumes and even a few shadow puppets!  Every year is a big challenge but it’s always made worth it by the wonderful responses we get from the children and their families, this year including a wonderful family who were in for the Christmas season with their daughter and after the performance and a few photos, told us we had made their Christmas!

Our final performance at the Hospital took place on Monday 17 December as part of ECHC living calendar, where we wished everyone a very merry Christmas.  

Catrin Sheridan, Learning & Participation Coordinator, Capital Theatres

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