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BEHIND THE SCENES - THE PANTO SEASON: The Readthrough

If you believe the stereotype, every actor who ever set foot on a stage wants to play on Broadway. For some, the dream remains only that, a dream, something to bear in mind when they next sack an agent, something to moan about in old age. For others, stardom awaits, Broadway will bow and scrape before them and life will never be the same again.

For a small group of people in central England, however, these dreams become reality every week. Cubbington Players is an amateur dramatic group based in the small village of Cubbington, on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa in Warwickshire. For the core group of two dozen or so enthusiasts, every Monday night is a night on Broadway, because that is the name of the street on which the group is based.

The similarities with the world of professional theatre don't end there. The reading through of scripts always seems to take place in a draughty rehearsal space, where the temperature is always two degrees below 'comfortable' and at least one of the overhead lights is emitting an irritating buzz.

Moreover, the lead time into productions is always far longer than most people expect it to be. The read though tonight is for the group's annual pantomime, which won't be staged until the end of January 2010. Despite the commitment which this requires from everyone, there is a healthy turnout of members, all anxious for a part, however small, in this production. Because pantomine is special at Cubbington Players. It is the only one of their three annual productions which they write themselves, each one crafted over the preceding summer by a committee of members. All of which makes it slightly surprising that co-producer Tony begins the evening by introducing the panto by the wrong name, for some reason calling it Robinson Crusoe instead of Robin Hood.

I've not been to a Cubbington Players rehearsal for 26 years. If nothing else, this proves that if you play Prince Edmund of Flatbrokia badly, you might never be invited back again.

Not much has changed in those 26 years. Tony - or 'Dad', as it has been my privilege to call him for the past 42 years - is still producing. Cubbington Village Hall still looks like it might collapse at any moment - despite the addition of the new side area in which the group now rehearses, and the assembled cast still become anxious if there isn't a break for coffee at around 9pm.

On the other hand, the personnel themselves have changed. Tony might still be here, but he's actually moved away and returned to the group in retirement. Pete Staton is the same. His daughter Fay sits beside him this evening; she wasn't born the last time I was here. Three seats away sits Paul West; I used to babysit him. Everyone else, from Hazel Blenkinsop, The Players' chairwoman, down is new to me. One, Cathy, is making her first visit. Cubbington Players may be a group based around a nucleus of a few members, but it has a fluid membership and seems to thrive on that change (for example, 2009's panto was Snow White. Snow White herself is no longer with the group, her career having taken her out of the area).

Apart from Tony and Hazel, no-one else here tonight has seen the script in advance. It is a testament to all of them that there is barely a falter as the read-through progresses. Indeed, some of them even improve lines, sight-reading and then changing as they go along. There's a moment of humour when the word 'balaclava' is accidentally changed to 'baklava', but apart from that, the jokes all come from the script.

Ah, the script. One of the benefits of writing your own script is that it is entirely up to you how much or how little of the original story goes into it. This is a Robin Hood the like of which has never been seen before. Even Mel Brooks, making 'Men In Tights' couldn't have envisaged this.

Tonight is the first of two read-throughs and everyone present gets the chance to read for at least three different parts. One or two seem to be on top form, one or two others you sense will be even better when time goes on. No-one disgraces themselves and certainly no-one should have gone away feeling unhappy with their performance. Next week, there will be more members auditioning and everyone here tonight will have a head start on them. But, at the end of the evening, only Cathy - who cannot attend next week - receives an indication that there will be a part for her. Everyone else must wait - and so must we.

 


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From This Author Richard O'Hagan

Richard O'Hagan, username richardohagan. Bio: Richard wrote his first script at the age of 9. He has been a fan of all kinds of theatre (read more...)