Panto Changed My Life – Artist Cleo Pettitt speaks to The Elgiva

Photo © Leigh Richardson

Cleo Pettitt is a set and costume designer for theatre, working around the world in places as diverse as Alaska and Bermuda, as well as the UK, from her base in London.

Having trained as a teenager in scenic art at the Royal Shakespeare Company and later the Birmingham Rep., Cleo went on to study design, gaining a BA in Theatre Design. Although her formal training was in Theatre Design, Cleo apprenticed as a scenic artist and worked for many years in that genre. She found herself drawn to the theatricality of a larger canvas as a backdrop to scenes which tell stories – what journeys were people on, what were their tales?

Cleo has been a regular designer of panto at Watford Palace, Greenwich Theatre and, of course, The Elgiva; she has twice been nominated for ‘Best Set Designer’ at the Great British Panto Awards (in 2016 and 2019).

Inspired by the threat to theatre in the wake of the global pandemic, Cleo has reworked of a whole wealth of her past designs for panto over the years into paintings, all acrylic on canvas. These will be exhibited at The Elgiva in December 2020 and aim to keep the art, the joy and the pure escapism of panto in people’s lives at a time when we need it more than ever. After its time at The Elgiva, the exhibition will continue as a touring show.

The Elgiva spoke to Cleo to find out a little more about her latest inspiration.

Growing up in Stratford-upon-Avon,  theatre was always part of my life but panto did not exist! I did get a good training in design though, and an apprenticeship in scenic art. When I finally saw a panto it changed my life and I knew that the combination of theatricality, art and illustration was the way forward for me.

For over a decade now I have been the in-house set and costume designer for Watford Palace and Greenwich Theatre, as well as for numerous other venues, and have also designed many sets here at the Elgiva Theatre.


During lockdown, as theatres closed and became under threat, I began to hatch a plan of how to bring the joy of panto back into people’s lives in the only way I could think of – by putting my designs onto canvas as paintings.

I’ve done seventeen, only because that was how many fitted on the wall space with pleasing symmetry! I could go on and on and probably will after this exhibition is up.



It’s been a pleasure revisiting these designs as each one holds special memories. Quite a few were originally for the Elgiva, including Cinderella, Snow White and the Wizard of Oz.  As I painted them, I put them up around my flat until I was surrounded by the glittering, colourful world of pantoland. It has been a great comfort;  a real escape from everything out there. We all need the theatre, never more so than now, so I’ve created little pieces of panto for people to take home and treasure.



This exhibition is free to view in the foyer during theatre opening hours.

Book for the exhibition launch with the artist herself – two opportunities on 5th December at 4.30pm and 5.30pm. These events are free, but ticketed to ensure safe social distancing.

Available from The Box Office:
-Original paintings:
        Acrylic on canvas
        40cm × 80cm/40cm × 60cm
-Limited edition, hand-glittered prints

30th November 2020