Loddon celebrates 40 years of pantomime magic

Loddon Players celebrate 40 years of pantomime with the production of Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Nic

Loddon Players celebrate 40 years of pantomime with the production of Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Nick Butcher. - Credit: Nick Butcher

They have been entertaining families for 40 years and now the Loddon Players are busy putting the final touches to their Ruby anniversary pantomime.

During the Players’ long history, Aladdin has released the genie three times, four Cinderellas have lost their glass slipper and Jack has climbed three beanstalks.

But the annual performances have also included the likes of Babes in Wonderland, Rumplestiltskin and Ali Baba and the 10 Thieves.

Producer and script writer Steve Burton had his first taste of Loddon Players life in a production of Robinson Crusoe more than 20 years ago.

He said: “I came to pick up my daughter from rehearsals and she said ‘Dad, they are short of a gorilla and I’ve volunteered you’.”

The Players have never been afraid to try something different, but almost never made it past the first few shows.

It all began with Cinderella in 1976, led by John Harris who was then a teacher at Loddon Secondary School, now Hobart High School.

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But after a few years of success, he was unable to continue due to ill health in 1979.

Maureen Larkin, who has been in every pantomime since the second year, said: “John became ill and so I called a meeting of the various people who had been in the pantomime. We decided we wanted to continue because it had brought the community together.”

And it is that community spirit which has driven the pantomimes through to the 2016 production of Sleeping Beauty.

“I’ve made a lot of friends I wouldn’t have met without the pantomime because our paths wouldn’t have crossed,” said Mrs Larkin, who is playing assistant nanny Dotty.

“I’m old-fashioned, I believe that pantomime is a certain brand of entertainment, but it has modernised greatly.

“I think we do a home-grown production, we write our script by ourselves and we’ve got to know our audiences, they come back year after year and people feel involved.”

The benefits of the panto go far beyond entertainment. In the last 40 years, the Players, who have also put on performances in the summer, have donated more than £75,000 to local and national charities, as well as young members of the group to help them with charitable events and with their chosen careers.

And one member who has seen it all is this year’s prompt Jane Chapman, who has been involved since she was a dancer in the very first production.

“I’ve been director, stage manager, dancer, makeup, lights, everything.” she said. “I just love it. We’ve had revolving sets, we’ve had working fountains, we’ve had all sorts.

“It’s just what I do in January, I’ve grown up with people that are in it, people that aren’t with us any more, the memories you make from it and the friendships are just magic. It’s special. It has to be otherwise it wouldn’t have kept going for 40 years.”

?Performances of Sleeping Beauty at The Lecture Hall in George Lane, Loddon, are on Thursday January 21 and 28 at 7.30pm, Friday January 15, 22 and 29 at 7.30pm, Saturday January 16, 23 and 30 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm and Sunday January 17 at 2.30pm.

To book tickets at £7 for adults and £5 concessions, call 01508 520162 between 9am and 9pm.