Pantos in Sheffield did not end with the New Year. David Bocking visits a local amateur society determined to keep the tradition going...

Wesley and Ebenezer Amateur Dramatic Society panto : Becky Mower at the Dame with Andrew Key (left - Neville) and Darryl Lomas (Hans)
Wesley and Ebenezer Amateur Dramatic Society panto : Becky Mower at the Dame with Andrew Key (left - Neville) and Darryl Lomas (Hans)

AFTER six months of preparation, Snow White by the Wesley and Ebenezer Amateur Dramatic Society hit the stage this week, thanks to a cast and crew of 42 people.

“We started running pantomimes in 1983 and since then we’ve done 29 performances,” said show producer Alan Glossop. “The original idea was to find something to get the children involved, and we decided to do a pantomime rather than run a youth club as that way you’re working towards an end product.”

The dramatic group (known as WEADS) was launched by two local churches, the Wesley Hall at Crookes and the Walkley Ebenezer Methodist Church and shows originally alternated between the two venues, but settled at Walkley due to the church hall’s superior facilities. “You can fly stuff here,” explained Alan, meaning in theatrical terms there are ropes to move backdrops around.

Becky Mower has fond memories of early performances at the Wesley Hall, however.

“We had to run from the stage to the room right at the end to get changed in the freezing cold,” she recalled of her days as an eight-year-old member of the junior chorus. “It was great!”

Becky has stuck with WEADs, as have many members of her family. Dad Brian works backstage as does husband Nick (whom she first met in the panto some years ago.) Daughter Emily is now a chorus member herself, while son Lewis at six is not quite old enough yet.

“I think pantomimes are still popular because it’s something you don’t have to take too seriously,” said Becky. “It’s complete family fun where the kids can shout and yell as much as they want.”

“I don’t think pantos will ever have seen their day,” said Alan Glossop. “We will continue to do it while ever there is demand. But maybe one a year is enough,” he added carefully.

There are five shows from Wednesday to Saturday this week, with space for an audience of over 600 audience, and a sell-out is likely. After costs are met, WEADS will also aim to make a donation to local charities.

In the early days, it was ‘all hands to the pump,’ said Alan, but these days the production team have to hold auditions for the parts due to the rise of interest in showbiz in all its guises. This can be stressful for all concerned, but it’s worth it to get the show on the road.

“You can see the development of children during their time with us, you can see how confident they become. I think it helps kids with their life skills.”

Since September there have been rehearsals every week, then twice a week after Christmas.

At this stage, the producers and directors have to guard against ‘going through the motions’ as Alan put it, after weeks and weeks of the same songs and dances.

But once the dress rehearsals start, he said, “putting on the costumes brings them alive.”

The adults enjoy the whole thing as much as the kids, he added. Becky Mower certainly seemed to be in her element: WEADS often breaks with convention by casting a female Dame, a part she’s now played several times.

“You have to have a big mouth,” she admitted. “You have to be able to connect with the audience and throw in a few extra lines now and then, like if you get a heckler.

“Because we know quite a lot of the audience, I might say: ‘I know where you live. I might just turn up at your doorstep in this outfit.’”

Becky has come a long way since she first trod the boards as a junior chorus member.

She has fond memories of her original part in Red Riding Hood. “I was really nervous, but I got to wear a gingham skirt and bright red lipstick, which at the age of eight was really fabulous!”

The WEADS panto is very much part of Walkley and Crookes culture, and part of the fun is coming back every February to see who’s taking part this year and what they’re up to, said Becky.

“Come along, support your local community and have a good laugh.

“We’ve been going strong for 29 years, so I don’t know if TV talent shows have had that much to do with it . We’d still be here without Simon Cowell.”

lTickets may still be available: £5 adults, £3 children; show starts 7.15pm, runs until Saturday.

Tel 2680052 for tickets.