Panto season arrives in February at Doncaster theatre

The panto may have finished at Doncaster’s Cast Theatre – but if you head out to Bawtry it’s only just beginning!

Friday, 17th January 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 3:05 pm

Rehearsals are well underway at the Phoenix Theatre, on Station Road, where Aladdin is set to hit the stage for a week from February 15, with am-dram stalwarts Charlotte Richardson and Bob Geeson among the principal roles, as Aladdin and widow Twankee.

It is the latest show in the history of the Bawtry Amateur Dramatic Society – BADS – which has been running in the town since 1933.

Current chairman Tony Jones has seen a fair few pantomimes in his 15 years with the group, but has seen even more of the junior shows – as he has had a major role in them.

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Bawtry Amateur Dramatic Society members pictured. Picture: NDFP-05-01-20 Phoenix Theatre 1-NMSY

He was elected as chairman late last year, after running the junior section of the society for most of his time with the group, before it was recently taken over by a new youth director, Jonah Thompson.

“I taught English and drama at Hayfield School, but I retired at 61,” he said. “The only thing I missed was the children, so I wrote to the drama group asking if they had a youth group. They didn’t at the time, and it was something that bothered them. They were really pleased for me to start one, not least as at the time there was a lottery grant application to extend the building, and the Arts Council wanted to see that we were making a contribution to the community.

“I started the junior section with nine girls, mostly who knew me from school, and it grew from nine to 35 in just a few years. It’s still popular and now there’s a junior and a senior section for the youngsters, and there is a waiting list for the senior group, who are the youngsters of secondary school age.”

He is not the only former Hayfield School teacher involved – former head of music Alan Cropley also now has a major role in the music for the productions.

Rehearsals for the upcoming Pantomime get underway. Jane Wheatley, The Empress, pictured. Picture: NDFP-05-01-20 Phoenix Theatre 5-NMSY

Tony feels what places like the Phoenix Theatre do for youngsters is important, with more and more pressure on the drama provision at schools, with other subjects taking precedence on the national curriculum.

“With the busy school curriculum, I think drama is being marginalised,” he said. “Fewer and fewer schools are teaching drama as a subject.”

The junior section is currently looking for more youngsters aged nine to 11 to get involved, with a number of its members having just moved up to the senior youth group, which caters for 12 to 18 year olds.

The seniors are currently rehearsing a play called Seaside Snapshots, written by Tony and a former colleague at the group, Robert Southwick, a well known local singer and guitarist, who died a few years ago. Tony describes it as a Romeo and Juliet style story about family feuds, set on Scarborough beach. It has a cast of 25.

The juniors only perform one show a year, and the details for this year’s show are not yet finalised, but there are hopes of performing a well known children’s musical, if they are able to get the rights.

Recently they have had plenty to celebrate. Former member Danielle Phillips has recently become the first of the society’s former youngsters to land a role in a West End show in London. She is playing Judith in the production of Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre.

“She has just got the part, and we’re really proud of her,” said Tony. “She was in lots of productions here, and we’re hoping to go and see her in her show.”

But there is a lot of work going on at the theatre at the moment on Aladdin. Tickets went on sale on January 13.

It is written and directed by group member Nev Perkins, who has been involved with BADS for a year. It is the first show he has directed at the Phoenix.

He describes it as the traditional Aladdin story, and added tickets were available at Bawtry Library and online.

One boost to the panto may have come from an improvement to the local profile of the theatre.

Long serving theatre member Rupert Atkinson, who had been involved with BADS since the early 1980s, believes it has received a boost from improvements to the signs on the building, a former church building which was converted to a proper theatre, complete with tipping seats and lighting, during his time with the group.

Rupert is director of the venue’s film society, and has been for the last 15 years. Set up in 2005, it screens around 20 films a year. He has also directed a number of plays there.

He said: “In the summer of 2019, we put a large sign up on the building for the first time, with the name on it. I think it is raising the profile of the theatre locally, as I think there were people who didn’t know we were here before. I think they saw the building but didn’t know what it was.”