A small Portsmouth theatre has said it is "shocked and disappointed" that a larger venue in the city has announced the same pantomime, fearing it will split audience potential during an "unprecedented hard time" for the industry.
The 180-seat Groundlings Theatre, which is on the Theatres Trust’s ’at risk’ register, put tickets on sale for its production of Dick Whittington in January.
On June 5, the Kings Theatre in Portsmouth announced on Facebook Live that due to Covid-19, it was postponing its production of Peter Pan and would instead be putting on Dick Whittington.
Tobias Robinson, Groundlings Theatre manager, 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, particularly at this time when the theatre world and arts industry is so vulnerable.
"The coronavirus 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 the Kings to produce the same show is creating a rivalry that is not wanted and inappropriate."
Robinson argued that Groundlings was unable to put the same budget into marketing as the Kings Theatre and said the venue is relying on money made from the production to protect the organisation’s future.
He added: "Groundlings Theatre is not only a new charity without reserves, but is a far smaller company and at a complete disadvantage in this situation."
Groundlings Theatre Trust chair of trustees Helen Gibbs added that the theatre was "incredibly shocked and disappointed at the news".
Chief executive of Portsmouth’s Kings Theatre Paul Woolf strongly denied that there had been any malicious intention behind the programming decision.
He told The Stage: "Groundlings is a cabaret style venue, it’s got 100 seats, and with social distancing maybe 30, and they’re comparing themselves to a 1,400-seater theatre.
"It’s not comparable, it’s like Manchester United and a park team. No one’s not going to go there. We’ve had people on our live Facebook events who have said they’re going to go to both.”
He said that when the theatre had decided to put its panto on, it was one of the only theatres in the UK that had “committed to a panto”.
“Everyone else had cancelled their pantos, so it didn’t occur to us to go looking at who was doing what, because no other theatre was putting on a panto,” he said.
Woolf added: "They’re making it look like they’re having a fight with us - and we’re not fighting with them."
According to Woolf, both theatres put on a production of Cinderella in 2018, and "neither was impacted".
The chief executive added: "We have done so much work in our community, we’re a massive part of Portsmouth and we’re not trying to do other venues down.
"At most they’re talking 1,000 seats [across the whole run], and in a normal year we have 40,000 people come to our panto. In this year we’re forecasting 24,000 with social distancing, if we’re allowed to open. We’re not in the boxing ring with them - we don’t see them as a competitor."