UK’s best pantomime? Our visit to Chippy Theatre
“Chippy”, as the locals call it, has been hailed a ‘real Cotswolds town’, as yet unchanged by the effects of tourism on this idyllic part of the English countryside.
Visit the Cotswolds tourist information website and it will tell you that Chipping Norton’s claim to fame is being the highest town in the Oxfordshire hills. We think it may in fact be the town’s theatre, which has an interesting story to tell and an even more interesting programme of shows and events.
We’re not far from Shakespeare country, so it’s not surprising to hear that the theatre was created by two actors from the famous Royal Shakespeare Company, who converted the building from an empty Salvation Army Citadel back in the 60s. The Theatre began as a true community resource, with town residents each contributing £1 towards their new meeting place.
And residents are still just as invested today, particularly when it comes to the theatre’s annual pantomime. This year’s Puss in Boots runs over two months, with a total of 96 performances. That’s why we’re here in fact, because Chippy Panto is really something special and it’s one of the longest running pantomimes. “People travel quite far to see us” we were told by the enthusiastic team, “we even have audience members from Australia who time their visit so they can come to our panto!”
When we arrived at the theatre, the whole venue was in full panto mode. The bar had been converted into the panto dame’s pub, The Marquis of Carabas, and during a brief glimpse backstage we found costumes and props in all sorts of unusual places. And glitter! “We’re finding it everywhere” said one staff member, “Panto just sort of takes over everything!”
We spoke to Ian Crowe, who plays the pantomime Dame Pat M'Bloomers, to ask why panto is such a Great British institution: “There’s so much in panto – songs, jokes, dance, stories, audience participation – it covers everything. That’s why I think it has such a broad appeal across the generations.” Where else can all the generations watch and enjoy together? For many, it's their first theatre experience. “It’s also a chance to escape the mayhem of Christmas planning, and spend a few precious hours together as a family.”
There are still tickets left for a handful of performances of Puss in Boots. Or why not come back for one of the venue’s other family shows, or check out the Chipping Norton Literary Festival in April?
Puss in Boots runs at The Theatre Chipping Norton from November 13-January 12, 2020.