In 1986 The Village Players put on their first Pantomime, so 2016 brings us to our 30th show: quite a run, we think. Casts have changed: so have venues, scripts, music, and styles. But common themes run through all the shows, too.
Pantos have had original scripts since the beginning with Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Launtingham (1986). Robinson Crusoe (1992) was the first of twenty one completely original scripts from Martin Evans; Simple Simon (2009) was the first of four scripts from the pen (or rather the word processor) of Rod Fine. Since Mother Goose (2002) Steve Webber has written all the music, and directed the Pantomime band: Cinderella is the 15th show Steve has written music for.
Early Pantos were put on after Christmas in Launton Parish Hall. As it lacked a licence, these were family parties with a collection to cover costs. From 1988 to 1991 it moved to the Launton Sports and Social Club, and then returned to the Parish Hall until 1999, when it moved to its current home in Cooper School.
Since 1991 (when it raised £170.50) the Panto has raised money for charity at the same time as putting on a great show.
Martin Evans, Director of 25 shows and writer of 21 of the scripts, and Celia Evans, Producer since 1991, have been involved in all thirty Pantos: Celia has been on stage in all shows.
Off-stage Pat Tucker, author of Entertaining Launton, has worked in all shows except for the year she broke her wrist. Many people on stage and front of house have been involved for over 20 years: at the same time some cast members are on stage for the first time since a School Nativity or a production of Grease!.
Between 1986 and 2015 the Panto has played to over 22,000 people, raised over £75,000, and given many children their first experience of live theatre. It has had support from local firms advertising in the programme, helping publicity, and giving raffle prizes.
There have been some major changes over the years:
- The move from the Parish Hall to the Sports and Social Club in 1988 gave more space for audiences
- The 1991 move to February meant more time for rehearsal and more time to build an audience after Christmas
- The return to the Parish Hall in 1992, with a temporary licence, allowed a longer run of performances over the February half term
- The small and cosy theatre created in the Parish Hall, with a raised and stepped auditorium, gave a Special Event feeling
- In 1999 the move to Cooper School Performance Hall happened in January. The Panto had been told that it would not get a licence for performing in the Parish Hall because of the state of the electrical wiring. This move also had to happen because the Panto had outgrown the Parish Hall as the previous year’s shows had sold out a week before the first performance. Cooper School Performance Hall doubled the number of seats available, provided a huge acting area with state of the art lighting and sound systems, and proper front of house facilities, disabled access and, at last, for our audiences, comfortable seating
Since 1986, through all these changes, in different venues, with different casts and musicians and different script writers, with an imaginative range of special effects and soaring scenery, the spirit of Panto has been at the heart of the show: music, songs, romance, dance, a love story, magic (imagined and real), talking animals more human than humans, a messy scene, a children’s chorus, specialty acts, a baddie to hiss and boo, broker’s men, a lively chorus, flamboyant costumes, men dressed as women, women dressed as men acting as women and the audience to bring the show to life.
Launton Panto takes you to a magic land: Kings are good, Knights are bold, Princesses are forever beautiful and sixteen, good triumphs over evil, monsters roam the forest, Fairy Godmothers lurk in the corners, the Dame is always outrageous, and there is always, always, a happy ending – often featuring a big and happy wedding.
In 1997 a member of the audience leaving George and the Dragon said “This is the best Panto I’ve seen this year. It’s a Village Pantomime with a Big Theatre effect.” We have tried to keep to this vision since then, always remembering the “Big Theatre” spectacular.
In 2016, Cinderella demonstrates the strength of Launton Pantomime: a traditional story with added creative inventions; contemporary and local references; imaginative special effects; spectacular lighting; original music that stays in your head long after the show is over; solos, duets and full chorus numbers; complex and drilled choreography; and enthusiastic audience participation.
Launton Pantomimes since 1986: some facts
Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Launtingham (1986) put on in the Parish Hall: 2 shows
How The Wild West End Was Won (1987) about the plan to build on open land in Launton. Parish Hall: 2 shows
Cinderella (1988, but performed in January 1989) in Launton Sports and Social Club (LSSC): 2 shows
Aladdin (1989) with lots of washing. LSSC: 3 shows
The Grand Old Duke of Launton (1991) moved to mid-February and raised £170.50 for charity. LSSC: 3 shows
Robinson Crusoe (1992) returned to the Parish Hall with the heroic Sid Seagull. Raised £450: run increased to 4 shows
Dick Whittington (1993) added a marquee to the front of the Parish Hall for more foyer space. Raised £900: 4 shows
Snow White (1994) raised £1,100. Parish Hall: run increased to 5 shows
Ali Baba (1995) raised £1,500, most in memory of Simon de la Bedoyère, involved in early Pantos. Parish Hall: 5 shows
Jack and the Beanstalk (1996) raised over £2,000, with a big giant and a lively beanstalk. Parish Hall: run increased to 6 shows
George and the Dragon (1997) raised over £2,000, most given in memory of Penny Young, a long-time supporter. Parish Hall: 6 shows
Puss in Boots (1998), the final Parish Hall Panto, raised £2,100. It sold out (606 seats) a week before opening: 6 shows
Sleeping Beauty (1999), the first Cooper School Panto, sold just under 900 seats. Raised £2,300: run reduced to 5 shows but the venue was twice the size
Cinderella (2000), the second try at the classic story, with a new script. Sold 998 seats and raised £3,000: 5 shows
Aladdin (2001) another reprise and new script from Martin Evans, which raised £2,500: 5 shows
Mother Goose & Son Honk! Honk! (2002) the first with all original music by Steve Webber. Sold over 1,000 seats. Raised £3,500: 5 shows
Red Riding Hood (2003) was the traditional story introducing Fang the Wolf. Raised £3,850: 5 shows
Ethel and the Pirate King (2004) was an original story and original script, that used an almost entirely digital set projected onto a back cloth. Raised £3,500: run increased to 6 shows
Babes in the Wood (2005) set in the ancient Bernwood Forest again featured Fang the Wolf. Raised £4,250: 6 shows
Dick Whittington (2006), another reprise of the traditional story first played in 1993, with a second new script from Martin Evans. Raised £4,150: 6 shows
Humpty Dumpty (2007) the 21st Panto. Raised £4,200, most given in memory of Dave Wiggins (actor, dancer, stage hand, and lighting and sound supremo of many Pantos): 6 shows
The Adventures of Sinbad (2008) The Rappin’ Rasta Oyster (Simon Turner) won the special effects award from Oxfordshire Drama Network (ODN). Raised £4,000: 6 shows
Simple Simon (2009) Rod Fine’s first script featured a lot of Simons. In response to the financial crisis, prices cut to 2006 levels. Raised £3,050: 6 shows
Rumpelstiltskin (2010) spun straw to gold and won another ODN award. Over 1,000 tickets sold. Raised £3,150: 6 shows
Bo Peep (2011) A second Rod Fine script with talking sheep, multilingual European Ladies, and a trip to the moon with Moonchicks. Over 1,000 tickets sold. Raised £3,100: 6 shows
Beauty and The Beast (2012) largest cast and band (53), largest audience (over 93%), largest number of costumes, and most money raised. Main donations were made in memory of Martyn Beard, a stalwart of 16 Pantos. 1,174 tickets sold. Raised £4,800: 6 shows.
Goldilocks (2013) The third Rod Fine script with music by Steve Webber, introduced the Bear and the Grunt families and Sir Lew Flusher, TV mogul, and his ludicrous assistants. It broke all records, selling 98% of seats (1,271). Raised £5,300: 6 shows.
The Little Mermaid (2014) The 20th Martin Evans script, featuring undersea scenes, a storm and shipwreck, a truly wicked witch, three suitable girls and their mother, and a love story to warm your heart. More records fell, selling virtually 100% of all seats (1310) and raising £5,300. 6 shows
Old King Cole (2015) took the nursery rhyme for Rod Fine’s fourth script and Martin Evans’ 25th as Director and featured an on-stage hot air balloon duel. Sold 1160 tickets and raised £4,700: 6 shows
Cinderella (2016) is this year’s show, the 30th Panto, and the third time the Players have put on the classic story. It is also the 15th show for which Steve Webber has written all the music, and includes a cast of 55 and a live band of five musicians, and features a spectacular transformation scene and a pair of really ugly sisters.
And what will come in 2017? All was revealed at the Launton Village Fete in June – well, the title was, anyway… Jack and Jill and the Beanstalk! Come to the panto in Feb. 2017 to find out more…
Celia and Martin Evans receive the traditional gifts from a grateful cast and crew on Dick Whittington – their 20th Pantomime.
Celia and Martin Evans are at the heart of the Village Players; without them there would be no Launton Pantomime. In July 2005 Martin and Celia were invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of their contribution to local drama and the community.
Robert Cornford, 2016