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Panto act moved to circus tent ‘for first time in England’ after crumbling concrete threat | UK News


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For panto comedy double Madame Cheri Trifle and Philippe Philoppe, the prospect of bringing the house down this Christmas was a little more literal than they’d like after crumbling concrete was detected in their panto venue in Redhill, Surrey.

“I’ve never had to think about concrete so much,” comedian Phil Reid told Sky News, dressed in his blue dungarees as Philoppe in a break from rehearsals.

“Now I’m like ‘ooh how’s your RAAC?’ It’s all a little bit bizarre,” he laughs.

Seven weeks ago, they were told nobody is allowed into the Harlequin Theatre because reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) has been used in its roof.

Not wanting to ruin Christmas, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council set about scrambling to find alternatives, which is how they’ve ended up with, they believe, England’s first panto in a circus big top.

The leader of the council, Councillor Richard Biggs, says they don’t know how long their theatre will be out of action for.

“At the moment, all we can do is keep it shut until a survey is done and unfortunately there’s only a certain number of surveyors,” he explains.

“There are lots of schools with this concrete in and schools have got to take priority for the surveys, so we’re in a queue.”

Cllr Richard Biggs
Cllr Richard Biggs says there is a ‘queue’ to address concrete issues

While schools and hospitals have made headlines, many other public buildings have been found to contain RAAC, a faulty concrete with a short lifespan.

The Theatres Trust is aware of 11 theatres currently closed because of RAAC, including Forum Theatre Romiley, Motherwell Concert Hall & Theatre, Whitchurch Civic Centre and Midlands Arts Centre.

Read more:
Rise in hospitals confirmed to be affected by unsafe concrete – full list
Over 40 more schools and colleges identified as having collapse-prone concrete

While the concrete has also been identified at the National Theatre, The Hexagon, Warwick Arts Centre and Camberley Theatre, it says they haven’t closed as either mitigating measures are in place or it isn’t in public areas.

But theatres in Northampton and Southend that had closed due to RAAC have since been able to reopen.

Simon Blashford
Simon Blashford

The timing couldn’t be worse – coming after COVID lockdowns, on top of increased running costs for venues – for regional theatres. To have to close their doors at Christmas will have a severe revenue impact, with pantomimes their big box office earners.

Redhill’s temporary fix might be a tent but it’s a happy ending for the cast who weren’t sure if the show could go on.

Simon Blashford, who plays Madame Cheri Trifle, said it’s taken a Herculean effort.

“I know how hard the team have been working and I’m just blown away, I’m quite humbled.”

While finding an alternative venue has been a challenge, at least now when the curtain comes down after each performance at Redhill’s big top, they know there’s no chance of the ceiling coming down with it.

Beauty and the Beast: The Big Top Panto is on in Redhill Memorial Park between 8 – 31 December.

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Written by: radioroxi

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