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The Revellers Society at South Mill Arts: Covid brings down the curtain on week-long show after just two performances

There might be no panto in Bishop's Stortford this Christmas, but actors and audiences are booing and hissing the Covid-19 'baddie' that has brought the curtain down prematurely on the week-long stage production at South Mill Arts.

Cabaret-style variety show The Revellers Society was scheduled to open at the South Road venue on Wednesday (Dec 16), the first of a seven-night run.

But the first night had to be cancelled when one of the cast of seven was told by track and trace to self-isolate because she had been in contact with someone who had the virus.

The cast of The Revellers Society, which opens tonight (Wed) at South Mill Arts. Picture: Vikki Lince
The cast of The Revellers Society, which opens tonight (Wed) at South Mill Arts. Picture: Vikki Lince

Writer and director Ian McFarlane rewrote and restaged the show for Thursday night – by which time Bishop's Stortford had suffered an unfavourable review in the Government's reassessment of Covid tiers, with the whole of Hertfordshire being placed under the tightest tier 3 restrictions from 00.01am on Saturday (Dec 19), meaning indoor entertainment venues such as 'the Mill' could not open.

So having come together on stage for the first time only on Monday, Friday night will be the closing night for the "decadent and bawdy" show that features comedy, song, dance and audience participation. There is a capacity, socially distanced audience of 58 compared with the auditorium's usual 299.

Ian is the man who wrote and directed 2019's Sleeping Beauty panto at the former Rhodes Arts Complex. With The Revellers Society he has conceived a stylish and sophisticated show with a cast that includes two of last year's Sleeping Beauty actors – Aaron Kavanagh and Joel Macey – as well as musical director Laurie Denman.

Laurie Denman as Gleblii von Vonvallavitch
Laurie Denman as Gleblii von Vonvallavitch

The most experienced member of the cast is 67-year-old New Zealand actor and singer Peter Land. He has appeared in Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company productions with Sir Michael Gambon, Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Peggy Ashcroft as well as in musicals including Phantom of the Opera and Cabaret in the West End and Ruthless! in New York. He was married to award-winning choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne until her death in 2018.

In the creative spirit of the showbiz industry, the coronavirus restrictions have not stifled the opportunity for creative solutions.

"Cabaret-style theatre has the capacity to immerse the audience in a different world, giving them the connectedness they crave. It is also an inherently flexible form that can adapt to social distancing regulations," said Ian.

"The Covid-secure performance conundrum has been solved by building the necessary precautions into the world of the show itself. The cleaning of the spaces, providing sanitiser, social distancing... all are part of the performance, with the aim of making guests feel confident in escaping reality for a short while."

Alexandra Kind as Vivian Archer, "mistress of a thousand voices"
Alexandra Kind as Vivian Archer, "mistress of a thousand voices"

Paula Holland, operations director at South Mill Arts, said: "In line with the latest Government announcement that all of Hertfordshire will be moving into tier 3 as of Saturday, with a very heavy heart we have to announce that we will be closing South Mill Arts from 20 December. We will reopen for permitted activities in January.

"All December shows, events and films have now been cancelled, and our box office will be in contact with all ticket holders affected shortly. The Uncle Funk live recorded screening will still be going ahead.

"Thank you again to everyone who has supported and visited us, and to all of our staff and volunteers for their hard work and dedication in making 'The Mill' safe and enjoyable during these unprecedented times.

"We look forward to welcoming you all back as soon as we can after this interval, and wish you all a safe and happy Christmas."

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