KNITTERS far and wide have been busy putting their needles together for this year’s festive production of Beauty and the Beast.

Back in 2011, when someone in the production team of The Georgian Theatre Royal’s pantomime – The Adventures of Sinbad – suggested that the audience might like to throw knitted bananas onto the stage, no one could have predicted that knitting would become such a prominent feature of the historic venue’s legendary festive production or that thousands of people from across the world would join in the activity.

In the following decade, audiences have enthusiastically thrown all manner of objects onto the stage – apples, doughnuts and pom-pom snowballs to name but a few – and other knitted items have been used to decorate the Theatre such as the 2,500 brightly coloured leaves that adorned a three-storey-high beanstalk in 2015 and the giant patchwork blanket that covered the audience during Sleeping Beauty in 2018.

The items themselves are knitted by people in the community who unfailingly respond to the Theatre’s annual call-out but in recent years – as news of the phenomenon has spread – contributions have been received from all over the UK and as far afield as Finland, the US and Australia.

Clare Allen, the Theatre’s manager and writer and director of this year’s pantomime, said: “We are always amazed by the generosity of those who contribute these beautifully crafted knitted objects. Each one is obviously made with love and we really appreciate the time and effort that people put into producing them.

“We get many hundreds of contributions each year from complete novices through to seasoned knitters. All are welcome and each one is cherished.”

Just how embedded the tradition is within the community is illustrated by the intense interest and speculation as to the identity of each year’s knitted ‘object.’

“When I first arrived at the Theatre as a newcomer to the town, I was stopped in the street one day and asked what ‘it’ was to be for the pantomime this year. I assumed they meant the title of the show but it turned out they wanted to know what they would be knitting!” said Clare Allen.

The request for knitted hearts to be used in this year’s production of Beauty and the Beast actually goes back to March 2020 when many of the regular knitters asked for something to be working on as a project during the first lockdown. As it turned out, the pantomime was postponed for another 12 months and so people have had plenty of time to get crafting and the Theatre has received lots of wonderful contributions.

The hearts have come in all colours and sizes and – thanks to features in several national knitting magazines – some have travelled many miles. One particular batch featured blue hearts decorated with exquisite crocheted Yorkshire white roses. Others have featured little faces or sport sparkly stripes.

Some people choose to concentrate their efforts on producing a single item whereas others contribute many dozens. Over the years, there have been some outstanding individual efforts. Pam Myers from Richmond was crowned champion knitter for two years running when she knitted a total of 246 apples for Snow White and an even greater number of leaves for Jack and the Beanstalk.

“I really enjoy knitting for the pantomime,” said Pam. “I started knitting when I was at school and have done a lot over the years. I enjoy knitting for good causes and previous projects have included trauma teddies for ambulances. I am also a member of the Richmond WI and many of us enjoy knitting socials at each other’s houses.”

Jen Capewell is one of the Theatre’s regular band of dedicated volunteers and also a keen knitter. She devised and road-tested the current heart pattern, which is available from Box Office and the Theatre’s website:

“It was great to have something to do during the various lockdowns and many of us decorated our windows with finished hearts during these periods just to spread a bit of love. The current heart theme really does sum up the warm, communal feeling of pantomime, which we all missed so much last year,” said Jen.

When all the festive fun is over, the Theatre always tries to find new homes for the knitting. The lightbulbs from Aladdin went to the RSPB nature reserve at Saltholme, which has been taking knitted props for the last five years to enhance displays around the site.

Local nursery schools and playgroups also find that the knitted objects can be very useful to support various learning and recreational activities. Some are used for matching, counting and sorting colours, and others are used during imaginative play or for arts and crafts initiatives such as sewing, threading and creating faces.

“One of the great things about our pantomime is that it involves the whole community,” said Clare Allen. “We run an annual children’s arts and craft competition, host many schools and community groups, and over the festive season our shows are enjoyed by all ages from tiny tots to great grandparents. All come together to enjoy this great family tradition but nothing embodies the community spirit as much as the knitting!” she added.

The closing date for knitted hearts is Saturday, November 27 via The Georgian Theatre Royal, Victoria Road, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 4DW.

Beauty and the Beast runs at The Georgian Theatre Royal from 3 December 2021 to 9 January 2022. Tickets cost from £12 to £22 and are available from the Box Office on 01748 825252 or via the online booking service on the Theatre’s website:

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