A PANTO director insists this year's show will go on – oh yes it will.

The cast of Aladdin have been holding virtual rehearsals ahead of shows at Witham Public Hall this Christmas.

The Essex Theatre Company's Gary Sullivan has been in the director's chair at the venue for the past 13 years.

"We had to rehearse on Zoom during lockdown and when the restrictions changed we could rehearse at Vestry Hall," he said.

"Now we're back on Zoom."

This year's panto comes with a nine-page risk assessment to make sure everyone is safe.

The venue's capacity has been cut from 281 to 72 to allow social distancing, so more shows have been added.

And the run – starting on December 18 – can be moved to New Year if there is a Christmas lockdown.

Gary said: "We are doing 16 performances instead of ten.

"We've got a very small cast of 16 people who are all committed to the show if we have to take it into the New Year.

"We've had six people buy tickets today. It seems people are hoping everything works out, because there aren't many other pantomimes around to be honest.

"Performances run right through the Christmas period apart from Christmas and Boxing Day."

The group start working on the panto as early as February.

Gary said: "I write it, put together the cast and we start to rehearse.

"Then we put together the dances and music.

"Generally we get a big following because we invest a lot of time and energy into the show.

"We hire a professional set and musical backing track so the audience gets a full-on, near to professional experience.

"The only difference is we're not paid – we do it for fun."

Gary hopes Aladdin will be less eventful for him than last year's show.

"We were doing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," he said.

"I turned up on Christmas Eve, fell over and broke my hip.

"I was in hospital for nine weeks so I didn't get to see the rest of the shows."

NHS nurse Stuart Crawley is playing this year's Dame and Alannah Pettigrew, from Braintree, stars as Aladdin.

Halstead's Yasemin Gorgun plays Princess Jasmine and mum Jenny is the Sultana.

Gary said: "I've got the most amazing pantomime dame and the jokes are just hilarious.

"There's a lot of slapstick, special effects and flashing pods when the Genie appears."

Aladdin is billed as "two hours of wacky, bouncy, family fun".

It runs from December 18-28 and times vary.

Tickets are £15 (£12 concessions, £48 family) on 01245 360821 or at tickets2c.co.uk.