Ugly Sisters shouldn’t mean Ugly Posters – the challenge of designing for pantomime.

It’s only August and already a dark cloud hangs over far far away. In a world of dastardly giants, wicked witches and rat kings galore, it’s not the terrible evil deeds that deserve pantoland’s biggest boos. It’s the panto posters. And with plenty of weeks still to go until the jeers of ‘it’s behind you’ ring out across the country, I’ve already found the worst offender.

Pantomime, it’s a British institution. Like delayed trains and queueing, the great British pantomime is a staple of the festive season for millions. It’s often a young person’s first ever experience of the magic of live theatre and is sure to create memories and traditions that last a lifetime.

Whilst some companies have elevated the humble panto into an ultra-glitzy art form of its own, complete with West End standard marketing, there are sadly some ‘professional’ producers who are still opting for creative which is as cringe worthy as some of the worst panto jokes that have thankfully been consigned to the dark abyss of many TV careers.

Now, of course, not all panto supremos fall into this trap. The industry’s leading panto producer Qdos and their in-house team consistently manage to strike the right balance between glitz and function. And without wanting to sound like the panto baddie and before we hear those familiar boos and hisses, there are numerous other great examples of wonderful design for pantomimes large and small. But sadly, a lot of truly brilliant productions, with razor sharp scripts, dazzling effects and the odd talented TV personality thrown in for good measure, are being let down by panto posters that look like they’ve been designed by the losing team on The Apprentice.

Give Me Magic NOT Tragic

 

About as subtle as a pantomime dame performing I Am What I Am whilst Daisy the Cow does a tap dance, the worst offenders often feature a badly photoshopped head of a CBBC presenter, stuck to the body of another CBBC presenter who played the part last year. They probably didn’t have time to alter the costume for this year’s star so the designer was instructed to ‘just do some photoshopping’. So now you have a Frankenstein’s monster of children’s entertainment slung onto a background with some sparkles chucked in for good measure. Combine that with some text that looks startlingly like a Year 3 student’s first attempt at using WordArt and Ta Da!!! You have a panto poster. Yes, it’s more monstrous than the old hag from Snow White but the poster doesn’t really matter because we’ve got an actual mini horse on stage for 3 seconds before the interval so that’ll shift tickets.

 

Not the actual poster but a surprisingly accurate mock up of 2017’s worst panto poster.

Get straight to the punchline

 

The mini horse brings me onto my next bugbear. Info overload.

A good poster should give me what I need in a glance. I want to know what the show is, who the main stars are, functional information like venue, box office number/website, the dates it’s playing and then I want a call to action that can lead me to interact further with whatever the poster is promoting, all within the time it takes me to glide slowly past it on an escalator.

I most certainly don’t need to know the entire CV of the reality TV star paying Aladdin, nor do I give a damn about the company supplying Percy the mini horse. That information is not relevant to me, as I have no intention of hiring either the reality TV star or Percy the mini horse. Although if pressed I’d probably choose Percy because he’s probably more house trained.

Sadly panto producers and their respective designers seem hell bent on throwing as much information at me as they possibly can. I’ve seen posters list all four local dance schools providing the children’s chorus, the full names and recent career highlights of almost every cast member, a comprehensive list featuring the majority of the creative team, every ticket option and price, the star sign of the director’s cat.

It’s unnecessary clutter, none of which will have any effect on my decision to book a ticket or not. And by the time I’ve read it all, I’ve gotten trapped in the teeth of the escalator at the top and am currently causing a right scene.

Our work for Times Square Panto hopefully demonstrates a balance between including enough information so the viewer doesn’t go away either too uniformed or too overloaded with information.

 

Hope for a happily ever after

 

It’s very frustrating to see the art form that is pantomime represented so poorly by posters that have clearly been designed by someone who watched a YouTube tutorial once on Photoshop for Dummies. Whilst some producers have clearly looked at the mighty Disney for inspiration and as such have created pantomime marketing that’s as glitzy as the productions themselves, some sadly are much to reliant on patrons returning year after year because ‘they’ve always gone to the local panto’ so really put any investment into high quality creative.

Yes, producing live theatre is an incredibly volatile business and producers are consistently facing greater challenges to bring quality panto to the stage every year. It’s clear that for some producers, securing a mildly recognisable face to play Cinderella is of greater benefit than paying a professional designer to create a decent suite of marketing material. Some might argue that an approach such as this is more likely to get bums on seats but I disagree. You could have Harry Styles headlining, but if the posters look like GCSE IT coursework, you’re not gonna gain much kudos.

If panto is to continue flying the flag for Great British theatre, it needs to stand up alongside the beautiful designs gracing billboards on theatres across the country. Otherwise it will perpetuate a reputation that sadly precedes even the best of panto productions.

Jonny is a designer, presenter and creative director of Jonarc.

You can follow him on twitter | @imjonnychambers

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