A Short History of The Launton Pantomime
In 1986 The Village Players put on their first Pantomime, so 2018 brings us to our 32nd show: quite a run, we think. Casts have changed: so have venues, scripts, music, and styles. But common themes run through all the shows, too.
Pantos have had original scripts since the beginning with Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Launtingham (1986). Robinson Crusoe (1992) was the first of 22 completely original scripts from Martin Evans; Simple Simon (2009) was the first of five scripts from the pen (or rather the word processor) of Rod Fine. Since Mother Goose (2002) Steve Webber has written all the music, and directed the Pantomime band, so this is the 17th show for which Steve has written the music.
Early Pantos were put on just after Christmas in Launton Parish Hall, which did not have a licence: these were family parties with a collection to cover costs. From 1988 to 1991 it moved to Launton Sports and Social Club, and then returned to the Parish Hall until 1999, when it moved to its current home in The Cooper School.
Since 1991 (when it made £170.50) the Panto has raised money for charity at the same time as putting on a great show.
Martin Evans, Director of 27 shows and writer of 22 of the scripts, and Celia Evans, Producer since 1991, have been involved in all Pantos: Celia has been on stage in all shows.
Off-stage Pat Tucker has worked in all shows except the year she broke her wrist. Many people on stage and front of house have been involved for over 20 years. Bob Roberts has been involved on stage, backstage and front of house in all shows. Robert Cornford has produced all programmes since Robinson Crusoe (1992) and been involved in publicity and front of house since 1991. At the same time some cast members are on stage for the first time since a School Nativity or a production of Grease!.
Between 1986 and 2018 the Panto has played to over 26,300 people, raised over £92,000, and given many children their first experience of live theatre. It has had support from local firms advertising in the programme, helping publicity, and giving raffle prizes.
There have been some major changes over the years:
* In 1988 the move from the Parish Hall to the Sports and Social Club meant a bigger audience and a licence so we could sell tickets;
* The 1991 move to February meant more time for rehearsal and more time to build an audience after Christmas;
* The return to the Parish Hall in 1992, with a temporary licence, allowed a longer run of performances over the February half term;
* The small and cosy theatre created in the Parish Hall, with a raised and stepped auditorium, gave a Special Event feeling;
* In 1999 the move to The Cooper School happened in January. The Panto had been told that it would not get a licence for performing in the Parish Hall because of the state of the electrical wiring.
The move to Cooper School Performance Hall also had to happen because the Panto had outgrown the Parish Hall: the 1998 show had sold all seats a week before the first performance. The Cooper School Performance Hall doubled the number of seats, provided a huge acting area with state of the art lighting and sound systems, and proper front of house facilities, disabled access and, at last, for our audiences, comfortable seating; and from 2001 a raise stage to play off.
Since 1986, through all these changes, in different venues, with different casts, musicians and script writers, with an imaginative range of special effects and soaring scenery, the spirit of Panto has been at the heart of the show: music, songs, romance, dance, a love story, magic (imagined and real), talking animals more human than humans, a messy scene, a children’s chorus, specialty acts, a baddie to hiss and boo, broker’s men, a lively chorus, flamboyant costumes, men dressed as women, women dressed as men acting as women… and the audience to bring the show to life.
Launton Panto takes you to a magic land: rulers are good, knights are bold, heroines are forever beautiful and young, good triumphs over evil, monsters roam the forests, Fairy Godmothers lurk in the corners, the Dame is always outrageous, the baddies are always villainous, and there is always, always, a happy ending – often featuring big and colourful wedding(s).
An audience member leaving George and the Dragon in 1997 said “This is the best Panto I’ve seen this year. It’s a Village Pantomime with a Big Theatre effect.” We have tried to keep to this since then, always remembering the “Big Theatre” spectacular. And we have been told that our show is “better than The Playhouse”.
Aladdin and The Magic Lamp shows the strength of Launton Panto: a traditional story with added inventions; contemporary and local references; very spectacular costumes; imaginative special effects, including a Magic Carpet; stylish lighting; original music that stays in your head long after the show is over; solos, duets and full chorus numbers; complex and drilled choreography; and you, the hugely enthusiastic audience, being an important part of the show.
Robert Cornford: 20 February 2018
Launton Pantomimes since 1986: some facts
Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Launtingham (1986) Parish Hall: 2 shows
How The Wild West End Was Won (1987) about the plan to build on open land in Launton, now The Island Pond Wood. Parish Hall: 2 shows
Cinderella (1988, but performed in January 1989) in Launton Sports and Social Club (LSSC): 2 shows
Aladdin (1989) with lots of washing. LSSC: 3 shows
The Grand Old Duke of Launton (1991) moved to mid-February and raised £170.50 for charity. LSSC: 3 shows
Robinson Crusoe (1992) returned to the Parish Hall with the heroic Sid Seagull. Raised £450: increased to 4 shows
Dick Whittington (1993) added a marquee to the front of the Parish Hall for more foyer space. Raised £900: 4 shows
Snow White (1994) raised £1,125. Parish Hall: increased to 5 shows
Ali Baba (1995) raised £1,500, most donated in memory of Simon de la Bedoyère, who had been involved in early Pantos. Parish Hall: 5 shows
Jack and The Beanstalk (1996) raised £2,000, with a big giant and a lively beanstalk. Parish Hall: increased to 6 shows
George and The Dragon (1997) raised £2,000, most given in memory of Penny Young, a long-time supporter. Parish Hall: 6 shows
Puss in Boots (1998), the final Parish Hall Panto, raised over £1,500. It sold out (606 seats) a week before opening: 6 shows
Sleeping Beauty (1999), the first at The Cooper School, sold just under 900 seats. Raised £2,400: 5 shows but the venue had twice the capacity
Cinderella (2000), the second try at the classic story, with a new script. Sold 998 seats and raised £2,500: 5 shows
Aladdin (2001), another reprise and new script from Martin Evans, which raised £2,520: 5 shows
Mother Goose and Son Honk! Honk! (2002), the first Panto with all original music by Steve Webber. Sold over 1,000 seats. and raised £3,400: 5 shows
Red Riding Hood (2003), the traditional story, introduced Fang the Wolf who has reappeared in later Pantos. Raised £4,250: 5 shows
Ethel and The Pirate King (2004) was an original script and story, with an almost entirely digital set. Raised £3,600: increased to 6 shows
Babes in The Wood (2005) featured Fang the Wolf. Raised £4,300: 6 shows
Dick Whittington (2006), a reprise of the old story first staged in 1993, with a new Martin Evans script. Raised £4,150: 6 shows
Humpty Dumpty (2007), the 21st Panto. Raised £4,100, most given in memory of Dave Wiggins (actor, dancer, stage hand, and lighting and sound supremo of many Pantos): 6 shows
The Adventures of Sinbad (2008) won Oxfordshire Drama Network (ODN) Special Effects Award for The Rappin’ Rasta Oyster (Simon Turner). Raised £3,950: 6 shows
Simple Simon (2009), Rod Fine’s first script featured many Simons. Prices cut to 2006 levels. Raised £3,250: 6 shows
Rumpelstiltskin (2010) spun straw to gold and won another ODN award. Over 1,000 tickets sold. Raised £3,150: 6 shows
Bo Peep (2011), another Rod Fine script with multilingual European Ladies and talking sheep. Over 1,000 tickets sold. Raised £3,200: 6 shows
Beauty and The Beast (2012) broke records for audience, cast, and money. A major donation was made in memory of Martyn Beard, a stalwart of 16 Pantos. 1,174 tickets sold. Raised £4,815: 6 shows
Goldilocks (2013), the third Rod Fine script featured the Bear and the Grunt families and Sir Lew Flusher, TV mogul. It broke all records, selling 98% of seats (1,271). Raised £5,300: 6 shows
The Little Mermaid (2014), the 20th Martin Evans script featured a storm on stage, undersea scenes, and a passionate love story. More records fell, selling almost 100% of seats and raising £5,300: 6 shows
Old King Cole (2015) took the nursery rhyme for Rod Fine’s fourth script and Martin Evans’ 25th as Director, and featured an on-stage hot air balloon duel. Sold 1160 tickets and raised £4,700: 6 shows
Cinderella (2016), the 30th Panto, broke all records: sold over 1,300 seats, featured a spectacular Rags to Ballgown transformation, a messy scene from the Crazy Cutters Salon, and gave away £7,100: 6 shows
Jack and Jill and The Beanstalk (2017), Rod Fine’s fifth script, gave two stories in one, featured a dancing cow, a dashing hero, and three talking beans. The show involved over 100 people and gave away £5,450: 6 shows
Aladdin and The Magic Lamp (2018), the third try at this classic, a live band of 7 players, a magic carpet, a dragon, and lots of UV light. 6 shows. Raised £6100 to be donated to various charities and local good causes.
Celia and Martin Evans receive the traditional gifts from a grateful cast and crew on Dick Whittington – their 20th Pantomime.
Celia and Martin Evans are at the heart of the Village Players; without them there would be no Launton Pantomime. In July 2005 Martin and Celia were invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of their contribution to local drama and the community.
Robert Cornford, 2016