Super Sup-paw-ters: Town Wall Tavern and local knitters back Belgrade’s relaxed panto

Posted on 31 December 2019

Members of staff at Coventry’s Town Wall Tavern pub have been getting into the giving spirit of the season this Christmas by lending their sup-pawt to the our relaxed performance of Puss in Boots, working with panto Deputy Stage Manager Graham Baird to raise money for specialist equipment.

Taking place at 10.30am on Thursday 9 January, our relaxed panto is specially adapted to provide an open and welcoming environment for those who may enjoy or benefit from a more laid-back performance style, including those with Autism Spectrum Conditions, sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities or dementia.

Differences include small changes to light and sound effects, the house lights staying on over the audience, and the option of a pre-show familiarisation session. Audiences are asked to be aware that other people may need to move around, make involuntary noises and/or come in and out of the auditorium during the performance.

Craig Hollingsworth, Joanna Thorne and Iain Lauchlan unboxing sensory equipment

Earlier this year, staff at the Town Wall Tavern embarked on a sponsored 26-mile walk, using the money they raised to purchase specialist sensory equipment for audiences attending the relaxed pantomime. The walk was followed by a raffle and auction at the pub itself, raising a combined total of almost £3000.

Equipment purchased for the show so far includes three sensory dens, which can be blacked out to help combat the effects of sensory overload, as well as a number of bean bags, lap pads, weighted blankets and shoulder wraps which can have therapeutic benefits or help improve the comfort of people with certain conditions.

Craig Hollingsworth, Joanna Thorne and Iain Lauchlan put up sensory den

Puss in Boots Deputy Stage Manager Graham Baird said: “Since we started presenting relaxed performances at the Belgrade, we’ve always tried to learn and build year after year. After last year’s Sleeping Beauty we really wanted to address triggering issues. Deb, the glamorous hostess of the Town Wall Tavern, her staff and regulars, wanted to help out, as everyone knows someone who is affected by SEND issues, be it family or friends.

“My initial target was £1000 to buy sensory dens and weighted blankets, but thanks to the generosity of the pub regulars, and the hard work – and strenuous walking – of the Inn-famous Five – Deb, Kate, Pete, Jamie and Ady – we raised almost £3000. This has enabled us to buy not only the dens and blankets but a whole range of equipment for the relaxed performance, as well as sensory aids and tools which will become a staple resource for our audiences over the years to come. We like to think of it as our gift from Cov to Cov.”

Daniel Teague and Joanna Thorne with Twiddle Muff

Following the success of a similar event last year, on Thursday 19 December, we also hosted a public knit-in, calling on local knitters and needle-crafters to help make twiddle muffs for our relaxed performance. A twiddle muff is a knitted sensory aid that can be held by audience members during the performance. Each one is handmade with bobbles, buttons and attachments that can be soothing or help to occupy restless hands, enabling some audience members to better relax and enjoy the show.

Taking place from 11am-7pm, the all-day drop-in was organised in partnership with our resident Craft On – Needlecraft for Wellbeing group, which meets at the theatre Thursday. The event was a huge success, with knitters arriving throughout the day to lend a hand, as well as enjoying mince pies, hot drinks and a visit from the Puss in Boots cast. A total of 30 twiddle muffs were completed on the day, with more taken away to be finished at home and returned to the theatre ahead of the show.

Peter Watts, Miriam Grace Edwards and Craig Hollingsworth with Twiddle Muffs

Niki Lee, who runs the Craft On group, said: “Our weekly knitting group at the Belgrade Theatre not only offers a chance to talk and socialise for people who may not work or have many other opportunities for social contact, but as a mindful activity, knitting is also great for the soul, for mental health and just for helping people to feel good. Being easily accessible by bus, the Belgrade is an ideal location for us, ensuring that even those without their own transport are able to attend.

“We’ve always enjoyed using our knitting sessions to do good in the community, and have donated items ranging from blankets to bunting to a variety of organisations and causes, so we were delighted to be able to support the Belgrade’s relaxed pantomime again this year, as a thank you to them for hosting our group all year round.”

The cast of Puss in Boots with the knitting group

Special thanks also go to the Monday Knitting Group at Caffe Isa in Mold, who donated an additional 12 twiddle muffs by post.

Featuring all the amazing sets, colourful costumes and seasonal silliness that make a trip to the Belgrade panto an unmissable festive treat, Puss in Boots promises to make Christmas in Coventry the cat’s pyjamas. Tickets for this thrilling adventure tail are selling fast, so there’s no time to paws in getting hold of yours!

Puss in Boots shows at the Belgrade Theatre from until Saturday 11 January, with the relaxed performance taking place at 10.30am on Thursday 9 January. Tickets are available to book now.

Iain Lauchlan with twiddle muff