THE PANDEMIC has put a lot of strain on many businesses over the past two years, and for the Theatre Royal Windsor it’s been no different.

After a challenging start to the year, the Edwardian theatre, on Thames Street, finally opened its doors on June 21 with award-winning actor, Sir Ian McKellen, in Shakespeare's classic play, Hamlet.

With its successful run, followed by Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, also starring Sir Ian, the theatre has ended on a high with its family pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.

And as the year draws to a close, co-theatre director Jon Woodley, who runs the business with his wife Anne-Marie Woodley, looks back at what has been a difficult time for the business.

“It was an incredible feeling to open again after a horrible 2020,” Mr Woodley said.

“We had a big gap where we were uncertain on what we could do so when we re-opened with our first performance back in June the atmosphere felt through the building was incredible.”

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And Mr Woodley explained this year’s pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, has had an “amazing reaction” from audiences.

“Panto is magical, enjoyable and generational with so many families giggling away together at the same thing,” he said.

Royal Borough Observer: Jack and the Beanstalk performers have entertained families throughout the festive period. Picture: Theatre Royal WindsorJack and the Beanstalk performers have entertained families throughout the festive period. Picture: Theatre Royal Windsor

Mr Woodley recalled that without the support of their audience members throughout the pandemic, the theatre would be in a very different place.

He explained many residents donated their purchased tickets to lend the theatre a helping hand during its closure.

“We were overwhelmed by the support we received," he said.

"Lots of people wrote into us to offer their help and it was the kindness of the community that kept the theatre going.”

The theatre director said people have missed coming to see shows in person.

“I think partly that shared experience is good for the soul,” he said.

“There’s nothing quite like live entertainment, it’s a really important part of life and society and for us to offer that calibre means we need the support from our community.

“We rely on people coming to see the shows here and we’re so lucky there are so many people who support us regularly.”

Mr Woodley expressed his thanks to everyone who helped the theatre throughout the pandemic.

He said: “We missed you so much when we had to close our doors so we are doing our best to repay your kindness by making sure we are one of the best British theatres and that we put on great shows all year round.”

Looking ahead at plans for 2022, Mr Woodley explained they'll be putting on a range of “fantastic productions”.

When Jack and the Beanstalk finishes its run on January 9, the theatre will welcome audiences to watch Willy Russell’s iconic musical about twins Mickey and Eddie, Blood Brothers.

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Mr Woodley added they’ve also got a big announcement in January for their upcoming season.

Reflecting on the pandemic, Mr Woodley said: “It’s so sad to come into a beautiful building like this when it’s dark and everyone is on furlough, these places are so much fun and to see them empty is just wrong.

“It’s been a very hard time and we are so lucky to have opened in such a strong way."