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A panto choice for theatregoers

PUBLISHED: 14:59 24 December 2008 | UPDATED: 22:06 05 July 2010

LOWESTOFT is in a unique position this Christmas, with not one, but two pantomimes set to whet the appetites of any theatre goer.

Along with the ongoing production of Peter Pan, playing at The Marina Theatre until January 4, audiences are also treated to a second season of pantomime fun with The Lowestoft Players adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which begins on January 24.

LOWESTOFT is in a unique position this Christmas, with not one, but two pantomimes set to whet the appetites of any theatre goer.

Along with the ongoing production of Peter Pan, playing at The Marina Theatre until January 4, audiences are also treated to a second season of pantomime fun with The Lowestoft Players adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which begins on January 24.

The Journal was invited to take a sneak preview of the classic fairytale at the Players headquarters in Stradbroke Road, Pakefield, and can reveal that along with the usual slapstick comedy, colourful costumes and lavish sets, director Stephen Wilson has got lots of surprises up his sleeve.

This is the first year for many that The Players haven't performed over the traditional panto period, but Mr Wilson said they saw it as a positive move.

“The thing about this year and a change of date is we have a very loyal following and I'm hoping that the title itself will attract bookings.

“The positive thing about changing the date is that the bulk of our membership is now available to appear. It is a hobby and people have families, so they can't always give up their Christmas's, but now people are back who haven't been able to perform for ages. The professional pantomime is an adventure and this is a fairytale and love story, so there's something to appeal to everyone.”

Although he was keen not to reveal too many details, Mr Wilson did admit that the production will incorporate a gunge tank, a film show, which includes some famous sites in Lowestoft and something else rather special, which will involve almost the entire company.

The Players have become somewhat of an institution in Lowestoft since their inauguration and are continually growing.

Currently there are 26 people in the company and 16 children, including nine principals, backstage crew, costume designers and the band.

And far from resting on their laurels, they plan to get stuck straight into their next production as soon as Beauty and the Beast finishes.

Stephen Clarke, who is playing the Beast, has been combining his showbiz skills with his full time job as a plumber, even practising his singing while he works.

He will also spend the longest time in wardrobe everyday as he is transformed into the grotesque figure.

The 24-year-old got involved with acting at Lothingland Middle School and progressed to the National Youth Theatre in London.

He joined the players in 2003 and has played major parts in many productions including Sleeping Beauty, Oliver, West Side Story and Snow White.

“We rehearse three nights a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but I've got a CD player in the car and I sing along to practice. I'm always singing at work, but no one seems to mind,” he said.

His object of affection is being played by 17-year-old Lauren Major, who is possibly one of the youngest ever principals in the Players.

Working at Potters Leisure at Hopton, Lauren is no stranger to the stage, having taken her first role in the Players at the tender age of nine. Many will recognise her from playing Thoroughly Modern Millie.

“I loved Millie, it was scary being the youngest and on the stage constantly, but it was fantastic. I love playing Beauty, I've changed her character slightly and I'm making her a stronger character than what she has been before.

“I feel at home when I'm performing, it's such a great feeling and Beauty is like me in some ways. I think there is room for two pantomimes as they are both very different and our supporters have been to every show.”

As with all pantomimes, there are plenty of thrills and spills with the customary dame, in the form of Nick Garrod's Dame Clarissa Clutterbucket.

Nick, who originally worked as a midwife, but now supplies scenery to touring productions has no less than nine costume changes.

“The costumes are a huge part of it, I have a different one every time I come out,” he said. “I just believe we all have a niche in our talent and playing these sorts of characters seems to be mine. I've been in plays and pantomimes for 30 years and once you find something you are good at it makes it easier to have a rapport with the audience.”

He will share many of his scenes with John Majoram, who is playing Bobble Fixit, a guaranteed children's favourite. Many will recognise him, as his long list of credentials stretches from the Little Shop of Horrors to The Hired Man.

“I love it, if I could perform all the time, I would. The really good thing about it is you make so many friends from being in The Players,” he said.

Beauty and the Beast will be showing at The Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, from Saturday, January 24, to Sunday, February 1, for nine performances with matinees on both Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets are available from the theatre box office on 01502 533200.

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