Still no confirmation of Wicksteed comedy line-up as theatre bosses apologise for shambles

Ticketholders had previously complained they couldn't get a refund after events were moved - with top comics pulling out of a major show

Friday, 27th August 2021, 1:23 pm
Updated Friday, 27th August 2021, 1:26 pm
The original line-up is in tatters

Bosses at Wicksteed Open Air Theatre have apologised for a ticketing mess caused by rescheduled events - but there's still no word on who will be performing at a comedy gig next year after several stars pulled out.

John Bishop, Kettering's James Acaster, Rob Beckett, Al Murray, Judi Love and Tom Davis were all on the bill for a huge Comedy in the Park event, which was due to take place this month but was moved to June 2022 despite Covid restrictions being lifted.

Last week this newspaper revealed four of the six had either pulled out because ticketholders were not being refunded or distanced themselves and said they had not been booked for the new date, leaving just Bishop and Acaster on the bill.

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Wicksteed Open Air Theatre's website is now not selling tickets to the event and is instead offering people the chance to 'register' for it. Their website confirms John Bishop will be performing, joined by a 'host of other top name comedians', but makes no mention of Acaster who is yet to say anything publicly about the rescheduled hometown gig.

His agent has been contacted for comment on whether he is still performing at Wicksteed Park next year.

A statement released by Wicksteed Open Air Theatre on Wednesday (August 25), five days after they were approached by this newspaper, said they were "working hard to resolve any issues" and hope to announce the final line-up in due course. They said full refunds would be offered if the event was cancelled but did not believe that would be the case.

The popular Comedy in the Park event is being run under the Wicksteed Open Air Theatre banner, promoted by M&B Promotions. Both EasyTicketing and M&B Promotions are run by the same sole director - Pamela Murray who is based at an accountancy firm in Coventry. The previous director, Melissa Austin, resigned in May.

A number of big name comedians had also been booked to perform at other Comedy in the Park events around the country, with Wicksteed Park forming just one of several gigs.

When asked on social media by a fan if comedians were booked for next summer's new dates, Katherine Ryan said: "I'm not rescheduled." Nish Kumar said: "Me neither." Dara O Briain said: "Neither am I."

Al Murray, who was due to perform in Kettering, said: "Snap." Desiree Burch said: "Me neither." Ed Gamble also said he had not been rebooked. Bafta award-winning Tom Davis, who had been due to play the Wicksteed gig, also said: "I'm 100% not involved. The whole thing has been woefully handled. Sorry to anyone who has lost money due to this, bad form from organisers."

A Rush of Laughter Comedy Management said on social media: "As some of you may be aware, A Rush of Laughter was acting as an external comedy booker for M&B Promotions and the Comedy in the Park gigs. We terminated this agreement three weeks ago after it became apparent M&B Promotions and their sister company have been refusing to refund customers for the Comedy in the Park gigs they themselves had cancelled. AROL does not approve of or condone this sort of behaviour and is now working with other agencies and some of the venues to get everyone refunded.

"Going forward neither AROL nor any of its acts will be working with M&B Promotions or EasyTicketing again."

Music events including gigs by Craig David, McFly and UB40 were also moved to next year with fans originally told refunds were not an option for those or the comedy event.

The Wicksteed Open Air statement, posted on social media without the ability for people to comment on the post, also issued an update on whether people could now get a refund after they moved their ticketing to a new company.

It said: "Our ticketing terms and conditions were put in place to safeguard our company during a great period of uncertainty. EasyTicketing is not the only company who have a policy of not refunding rescheduled dates. Lots of bigger promoters and ticket agents have a similar policy for rescheduled shows.

"That being said, in May of this year we appointed a new director to take over the day to day running of M&B and help us move forward positively. We have now moved all our ticketing over to Gigantic who do offer refunds for rescheduled shows.

"We appreciate that this will not help people who have bought tickets for Wicksteed Open Air Theatre shows via EasyTicketing but encourage anyone who can not attend the event due to exceptional circumstances to get in touch with us directly.

"We will respond to everyone who wishes to contact us but ask you to be patient as we are a small team. To get in touch directly please email [email protected]"

And after Wicksteed Park themselves were inundated with complaints theatre bosses made it clear the shambles was nothing to do with those at the park.

The statement said: "We apologise for the confusion and inconvenience that rescheduling our events caused. The majority of ticket holders have been incredibly supportive and understanding of our position which we greatly appreciate.

"The decision to reschedule the Wicksteed Park Open Air Theatre dates rests with us and has nothing to do with Wicksteed Park’s owners or any of the artists booked for the events.

"We ask that all ticket holders refrain from contacting them directly. We are working closely with our partners to resolve any issues."

Wicksteed Park, who are not organising the events but are being paid for the use of their land, last week apologised to local people and said they are 'reliant on the revenue'.

A spokesman said: "We would like to apologise for the uncertainty and confusion surrounding events due to be held at Wicksteed Park by M&B Promotions.

"As the venue booked by the promoter for the events, we are also seeking clarity on the situation as we are relying on revenue from them to help with the park’s recovery.

"The events are not our events but we accept that by agreeing for them to be held at the park we have given them our support.

"We are liaising with other venues due to host M&B events, and which appear to be in a similar situation to us, and are working to try and find out as much information as possible, which we will share as soon as we can."

The rescheduled dates for the events due to take place this year are all on subsequent days next year: 80s in the Park, June 2; McFly, June 3; Comedy in the Park, June 4; UB40, June 5 and Craig David, June 6.