Culture secretary warns panto season – one of the jewels of the queer calendar – is under threat from coronavirus

Richard Cawley (left) and Richard Westcott are the 'Ugly Sisters' in a production of a Cinderella pantomime at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings. (Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images)

Britain’s culture secretary has warned that pantomime – a world of drag queens, tinsel and wine-soaked audiences shouting “look behind you!” – is under threat due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After months of uncertainty, the government on Sunday (July 5) announced a £1.57 billion support package to help protect the futures of theatres, galleries, museums and other cultural venues blighted by lockdown.

However culture secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Monday morning (July 6) that “slow and baby steps” will be taken and the relaxation of social distancing guidelines, such as on planes, has only been taken in “exceptionally limited circumstances”.

He admitted that while hopes remain gingerly high for eventual theatre reopenings, pantomime is unlikely to return for the holidays.

The secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport later told BBC Breakfast: “I would love to be able to announce that pantos can return, but I have to say it will be quite challenging to be able to get to that point.

“Because if you think about a panto, and we all love going to the panto for the joy of it, but it also supports local theatres, you’ve got granny through to grandchild all packed in together, you know how kids are encouraged to shout and scream at panto season, there’s lots of sort of interaction.”

Dowden stressed he is working with Public Health England officials to assess the risks of opening drama spaces, although, he conceded his department has “to be realistic about the challenges of getting us back to that point any time soon”.

The news struck a chord with pantomime fans, eager to get a dose of the perky performances after months of dread and paranoia.

Deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, Angela Ryner, dealt a broadside against the government’s mishap-riddled coronavirus response, which she described as a “pantomime” in itself.

The pantomime is ongoing given some of the shocking advice currently coming out of No10 on a variety of pressing and urgent issues facing the country,” she tweeted

Dowden’s comments also drew criticism from New York Times European culture editor Matthew Anderson, who skewered the culture secretary for mentioning the British tradition.

Numerous Twitter users sought to remind the journalist just how important pantomime is, especially for young people and queer performers.

Pantomimes have long been a cornerstone of queer culture and as a crucial pathway for young queer actors and drag performers to break into the industry, with many theatre groups staging slapstick comedy sets to raise money for LGBT+ charities.