ONCE upon a time in a magical land called Whaplode Drove a beautiful princess was put under a spell by a wicked fairy.
Or at least she will be – and presumably go on to be rescued by a handsome prince – so long as plenty of people turned up for auditions for this year’s forthcoming production by the Elizabethan Centre Dramatic Society, Sleeping Beauty.
Yes, it’s preparation time for panto season – oh, yes it is – and the time when well-loved stories are given a few local references to keep audiences amused and well-worn phrases – he’s behind you! – are dusted off and thrown into the mix, yet again.
The society has been putting on productions for approaching 30 years, since Philip Bosworth started it – almost by accident, says former chairman Mandie Collier.
She says: “From what I understand he was asked if he could do something one Christmas and Philip said they would do a panto and it grew from there.
“For a number of years we put on a spring show as well, a cabaret style show with sketches and songs, and we would have tables and waitresses, and we have done plays, the last one The Inspector Calls. We also organised a one-act play competition, a mini drama festival, some years ago.
“But we had depleted numbers for a while and in fact it was getting to the point where we wondered if we could keep going, but this year we have more interest and if we can keep numbers up we’ll certainly look to revive the spring show and other activities.”
The last panto – Franky Panky – was helped by a reasonable contingent from Act II, in addition to the people living in the village and surrounding areas who either like to be involved each year or want to have their first taste of treading the boards in a non-threatening atmosphere. Even if the big roles have already been allocated, Mandie says there is still space for people if they would like to join the chorus.
However, Mandie is sensing that young people aren’t interested in the humble village panto but have their sights set on instant stardom.
She says: “They want to be a star, an X-Factor finalist, but they want it instantly and I think there is almost a feeling that actually village or small town amateur dramatics is too much hard work and takes too long.”
Current chairman Alan Virgo disagrees, saying people are still interested in getting involved, but that there is often a lot of pressure on their time. However, he points out that it can be confidence building for both young and old.
One problem that has to be overcome is they are finding adults tend to be more self-conscious and are easily scared off, possibly because they have seen the harsh treatment dished out to entrants on television talent shows.
Mandie says: “I think we all feel we are being judged all the time and I think a lot of that comes down to television, to the Simon Cowells of this world who are so scathing if you are not perfect, and I think they think we are going to judge them when in fact we will welcome them.”
Alan and Mandie agree that getting involved in the local panto is about having fun, although Mandie, who is producing while Sam Hunt is directing, admits it’s also “damned hard work”.
She says: “Every year I say, ‘That’s the last year I do that’, but then I find myself sitting down and asking what we are going to do to fundraise for the next year’s panto.”
It costs about £3,000 a year to put on the panto, with hall hire and things like costumes, lighting and sound to pay for, and so a fundraising quiz is planned at the Elizabethan Centre on November 24 (7.30pm) – tickets cost £5, including supper.
There are also opportunities for people to get involved in backstage aspects of the pantomime.
To buy tickets or to ask about getting involved in the panto, contact Mandie on 01406 330144.