West Wickham Pantomime Society goes back to 1945 when the local Home Guard put on a Pantomime to raise money for local childrens charities. 74 years later the tradition is still going and we are still making donations to local charities.
As a group specialising in panto one of the main decisions each year is what panto and what script. There is a basic cannon of titles which we know are popular with the audiences and will cycle every 7-8 years. This year we chose Aladdin as it hadn’t been done by us for some time but also because we had some great ideas we wanted to try. We read many scripts and chose the one by Jack Northcott as it was up to date, offered the right number of lead roles and had plenty of pace. It was great that Jack could change some things as we wanted a Laundry in preference to a Take Away, mainly because we had all the scenery and props for a laundry!
For the cave scene we wanted something more than just plywood cut out rocks and a few Christmas decorations dotted about. We found this fantastic material that you could mould with your hands so we could create trucks with 3D scenery. Behind this we placed TV screens with animated treasure which could be seen through splits in the fabric. With rostra Aladdin entered the cave from high up and walked down behind our 3D rocks. Added to this were costumes with built in LED lights to give the stage that “cave of wonder” look.
The other thing we wanted to create was a flying carpet, not something you expect in a small hall. So with a hydraulic lift under the stage and a lot of dry ice Aladdin and his Princess lifted off the stage. We ran the sequence to Rewrite the Stars deliberately leaving the lift to the final verse, so the audience would think the effect was just the dry ice. They were in the air for around 30 seconds and a lot of planning and effort went into that. But is was enough to create the WOW factor without milking it. The script was well structured to enable us to carry out our scene changes behind front cloths. Our wing space is 30” so scenery is shifted out of the stage door to outside the hall when not needed. Thankfully it was a dry week, one year the scenery for Snow Queen came in with real snow on it!
For our music we look for a mix of modern and traditional. Disney is a great source as are musicals. We look for a bright opening and closing of each act which incorporates the company singing and dancing. Our cave scene closed Act I with Firework and our walkdown was I’m a Believer, something the audience can clap to and hum as they leave. In the laundry we opened with the old classic Mr Woo with the chorus on washboards and Kazoos. Some years we don’t have many solo numbers and it will depend on who is cast. The main thing is to avoid “toilet songs”, that’s when the kids get bored and want to go to the toilet! The rule is verse and chorus and nothing longer than 2 mins.
We take our responsibility to our audience very seriously and aim to make the whole experience as good as it can be. For many of the younger children this will be their first experience of Theatre and we hope we will start a lifelong love of it.