10:12AM, Tuesday 31 December 2019
Maidenhead Drama Guild perform Dick Whittington (Photo: Lisa Toogood)
Over the Christmas period thousands of Royal Borough residents took part in a beloved tradition that dates back to Victorian times.
Throughout December and into January, productions of classic tales have been keeping audiences of all ages laughing.
Although often viewed as a uniquely British theatre experience, pantomime actually originated in Italy, evolving from street shows in the 16th century.
Stories typically involved star-crossed lovers, magic and slapstick sidekicks and by the 1800s these theatre productions had become a festive tradition for many people in Britain.
One of the groups to have taken on that tradition is Maidenhead Drama Guild, which staged its pantomime, Dick Whittington, last month.
Comfortably settled on a sofa in Waldeck House, where members of the guild met three times a week to rehearse, I talked to chairman Simon Kelly, who directed this year’s production.
“It wouldn’t be Christmas if I wasn’t involved in pantomime in some way shape or form,” he said.
Discussing how he first became involved in pantomime, Simon said: “I’d just moved to Maidenhead and I saw an advert for an open audition in the Advertiser.”
“I was always interested in theatre and was lucky enough to get a part in a pantomime called ‘Santa in Space’ where I played one of the evil baddie idiot sidekick characters.
“It was a good comedy part, I still remember it now. And the rest is history.”
Maidenhead Drama Guild is an amateur theatre company which brings together a variety of performers of all ages, talents and experiences.
“As long as you’re up for it and you’re going to put everything into it then we don’t discount anybody,” said Simon.
“Some people have two left feet,” he joked, admitting he is not a natural singer or dancer himself. “But we always get something out of them.”
The diverse range of actors involved in Maidenhead Drama Guild’s productions gives the younger performers a chance to ‘learn a lot from the older generation of the group.’
“Lots of people now use theatre groups like us as a development area,” Simon added, discussing the senior members of the group who have taught theatre for years and performed for most of their lives and are able to pass on their skills and knowledge to the younger members.
Simon spoke of the immense work which goes into putting on a pantomime, that can often escape the notice of the audience.
“There is so much more to putting on a pantomime than what you see on stage,” Simon explains.
“A team of about 70 people are involved in putting a production on, including cast, costume, lighting, backstage crew, sound, set design, props, music and choreography.”
Speaking of his role as director, Simon said: “Your job is to make sure you can share your vision.
“Then you set your teams to work on their various skills and keep tabs on it.”
This year’s production of Dick Whittington was performed at the Desborough Theatre from Wednesday, 11 - Sunday, 15 December.
Visit https://www.maidenhead-drama.org.uk/ to find out more about the guild.
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