It all started in 1994 when Littleport resident and pantomime script writer Gladys Rose wanted to stage Aladdin.
Keen actor Paul Allingham, who had an impressive acting record going back to the days when he started out with a group in Croydon called The Magdalen Players, felt confident enough to produce the show. Money to cover the production costs was hard to come by, but everyone chipped in and rallied round. Haddenham Drama Group lent the backdrop and an Aladdin’s lamp; Albert Ware of the then Littleport Paint Shop loaned trellising which was covered with black bin bags and all the flowers for the scenery were supplied by Grenville Goodson, then proprietor of the greengrocery and florists.
Percy Coulson, Chair of the Village Hall Committee and Caretaker Reg Jones also lent a hand by putting cardboard up at the windows so as to keep the light out.
Rehearsals were held both at the Methodist Church and St George’s Parish Room, and extra entertainers were brought in which included The Samara Ballet Dancers and Paul Allingham’s musical colleagues. These talented men were keyboard player Frances and drummer Nigel Smith who provided their own arranged musical accompaniment for the panto.
The show, which was performed in March 1995, was a great success and a testament to the great efforts of all those involved including Paul Allingham who sadly passed suddenly in December 1995 in the midst of rehearsals for the next panto, Cinderella. As they say in the entertainment industry when tragedy strikes, “The show must go on,” and it did when Eric Stannard stood in for Paul, helping the Players to pull off their second spectacular pantomime.
Paul’s wife Dorothy Allingham was also very active and supportive, juggling many jobs from working as Front of House, Treasurer, and running numerous raffle events with many women from the WI which helped raise needed funds for The Littleport Players. The tradition of pantomimes and musicals still continueS: “We couldn’t financially afford it,” Ponts Hill Bizzy Lizzie Salon owner and Littleport Players Director Karen Booth told Littleport Life Magazine.
Director Karen, who came to live in Littleport many years ago from Faversham in Norfolk said; “People don’t realise how costly it is to put on a show these days. You are looking for at least £2,500 just to hire the halls for rehearsals and putting on the shows alone. We are really lucky to have Sheila Goodall who makes all the costumes and the majority of us give our time up for free just to make it happen. “We are constantly having to run money raising events from bingo, selling made up hampers at the salon, to cake stalls etc. The Ex-ervicemen’s Club kindly donates us money when we put on a shortened version of our panto or musical at the Club which really does help fill the coffers,” revealed Karen.
Karen’s daughter Chelsea first became a Littleport Player Cast members getting ready to perform at the age of just 11, and now at 24, seeing her on stage, you wouldn’t believe that she was once a very shy young teenager.
“I encouraged Chelsea to get involved in acting because I knew it would help her grow as a person, and now you just can’t get her off the stage,” said a delighted mum Karen, who admitted too that it was her daughter Chelsea who had encouraged her in turn to step out of her comfort zone and become the Littleport Players’ Director instead of sticking to her usual hair and make-up artist role. “At first directing was really nerve wracking. For the first two shows I shadowed Becky Green who is currently directing Cats and Peter Pan for the Campaign Amateur Theatre 53The entire company – always entertaining (CAT) Company, Ely. She has been in so many shows and has a lot of experience, and is even qualified enough to be a drama teacher, but holding down a full time job she chooses not to.
“I have to admit that every time I direct a production I always say ‘never again’, yet on the first night when I stand at the back and watch it all unfold I think how really good it is which just gives you such a buzz. There is nothing really like it,” said Karen, who mentioned that the company don’t write their own script which means having to pay about £300.00 for the copyright every time they put a pantomime on.
The Littleport Players has seen many actors come and go. The excellent Jack Byng has started a new life living and working in the Midlands. Daniel Goulding has now gone to university to study acting, but Megan Bidecant who has played many a leading lady role alongside the 2014 Best Youth Actor George Harrison has returned from London university to study in Cambridge and returns to the cast.
It is thanks to Megan that 9 year old Millfield School pupil Kira Simmonds (who she used to babysit as a 4 year old) joined up, and along with her school mates Hannah Townsend and Lexi Dews play very convincing sailors in this season’s Pirates of the Panto.
Sadly one the longest running local drama groups which spanned 60 years spell which comprised of 180 productions and donating thousands of pounds to Charity, Lakenheath Amateur Dramatic Society (LADS) had to fold due to lack of members which has seen a few join Littleport Players.
This a major problem that seems to plaque most drama groups and Littleport Players is not any different. “We tend to struggle to find male actors – which is the story of my life,” joked Karen who continued; “We do attract the younger boys, but we tend to have great difficulty holding on tothem from the ages of 16 to about 25/26, and it is because of that that we are extremely limited to what shows we can actually put on.”
It would be a sad day for Littleport if we were to see the end of the Players. They are constantly on the lookout for actors and according to Director Karen Booth, “You don’t have to be good – just enthusiastic” and who added that some financial assistance wouldn’t go amiss either if they are to keep the community entertained for years to come.
Just log on to their Facebook page and you will find out details of how you can get involved and lots more information about these dedicated entertainers proud to be called, ‘The Littleport Players’.