What began in 1975 as one man’s dream on a Norfolk beach, became the first Loddon Pantomime “Cinderella”, which took place at Loddon Secondary Modern School (now Hobart High School) on 1st January 1976.
John Harris, who was a teacher at the school, wrote and produced the Pantomime, and the cast and helpers consisted of his friends, work colleagues, church members, and local businesspeople, together with pupils of the Joan Gisborne Dancing School and the school Youth Brass Band. Tickets cost 30p, and programmes 10p.
So successful was this Pantomime, that John went on to write and produce “Dick Whittington” in 1977, when Maureen Larkin joined the cast. John wrote and produced the next one “Sleeping Beauty” where Maureen was joined by husband Michael and son Ian.
By now, these village Pantos, with their use of the Norfolk dialect and reference to local characters, had become extremely popular, but health problems prevented John from carrying on, so a meeting was called to discuss the Panto’s future.
A committee was formed, and the group called themselves The Loddon Pantomime Players. Maureen Larkin and Derek Loyd wrote and produced “Aladdin” in 1979 and “Mother Goose” in 1980. In 1981 Joan Evans wrote and produced “Puss in Boots” and in 1982 “Babes in Wonderland”.
Joan Gisborne produced “Jack & the Beanstalk” in 1983. Apart from those produced by Ann Turner & Jane Chapman in 1999 and Ann Turner (from an idea by Jennie Futter) in 2000, Joan Evans wrote and produced the rest of the pantos up to 2009.
From 2010 to the present-day Steve Burton has written and produced the Pantos, and during Covid lockdown he wrote and produced various sketches for the Players to present via You – tube, for which we received a NODA award.
He has also produced a Big C Concert in in memory of a local schoolteacher, Paul Turner, who sadly died with pancreatic cancer just after retirement and Steve was the brains behind “An Audience with Maureen”, a tribute to The Players longest serving member, which took place in July 2015 at Hobart High, where it all began and included a buffet supper and licensed bar.
Supporting The Local Community
From 1976, for several years, the Players took their Pantomimes to the Vauxhall Centre in Norwich for the St. Raphael Club for Disabled until it was decided from 1998 to invite them to the Lecture Hall for a special Sunday afternoon performance with a plated up tea afterwards.
This they enjoyed every year until 2016, when they could no longer acquire the special transport to bring their wheelchair users to Loddon.
The success of our pantomimes has in no small part been due to the fantastic support we have had from our local dance school.
Originally Joan Gisborne’s School of Dance supplied choreography and dancers, bringing colour and movement to our shows.
From 2007, Vicky Codling took over as choreographer for the Pantomimes, and her pupils of The Funky Feet School of Dance and Performing Arts provided all the dance routines.
This gives the young people of the dance school an opportunity to be part of the community entertainment. Many go on to take leading roles in our future productions.
Beryl Carver, who had been the musical accompanist for all the Pantomimes, retired in 2010, and for the next 5 years Alan Cant took over that role, one he is returning to in 2023.
In 2010 Jackie Bingham joined as the panto director at first jointly with Anthony Bunting. Steve Burton as Writer and producer, between them they have won 5 NODA awards for the group. Other notable directoral duo during the last decade was Vicky Codling & Simon Peck. In 2007 Pauline Mason joined as the group’s Wardrobe Mistress.
Pantomine Songs of Praise
After each pantomime, the Players held a Pantomime Songs of Praise in St Johns Chapel, adjacent to the Lecture Hall, usually on the Sunday following the end of the run. It is an evening of readings, songs and hymns by the members of the players, with prayers of thanksgiving from a member of the clergy. Refreshments were available afterwards and a collection taken and given to a different chosen charity each year.
40th Anniversary Party - 2016
The Players hosted a 40th Birthday Reunion Party and a walk down memory Lane in April 2016, and this was attended by seventy members both past and present.
Photographs, press cuttings and costumes were on show, and a buffet tea and celebration cake were enjoyed by all.
Founder of the Pantomimes, John Harris together with Maureen Larkin, cut the cake. Although he now lives over fifty miles away John attends the Loddon Pantomime every year.
About his involvement, John Harris writing in 2016 wrote this from his home in Heacham:
“On Thursday 1st January 1976, I told a packed audience at Loddon Secondary School (now The Hobart High School) that they were special people, as they were our first audience for our first pantomime on the first day of the New Year.
Ever since seeing a village pantomime elsewhere in Norfolk it had being my ambition to present a similar event, and after three capacity audiences, I was delighted with what the local press hailed as the ‘spectacular success of the Loddon Pantomime’.
The following year saw four full audiences, and the next year five – then unfortunately I was unable to continue but was pleased to hear that some good friends, in particular my old school friend Maureen Larkin (nee Fairhead) were determined to continue, and I congratulate them on establishing and maintaining a fine reputation in their new home at the Methodist Hall.
On the Ruby Jubilee of the Loddon Pantomime, I most particularly wish to pay tribute to the memory of a number of loyal and enthusiastic friends from the early days who are no longer with us and, as it now moves into its fifth decade, I congratulate all who have been involved over the years in what I dare to believe was one of the best ideas I had while living in Loddon.”
Remembering Past Members
We started a new chapter for The Loddon Players with our first production since the pandemic struck, together with the launch of this new website, its fitting we remember past members who gave so much to The Players and also to the community we serve.
In 2007, the Players production of “Aladdin” was dedicated to the memory of two very dear friends, Derek Loyd and Pat Potter, who had been members from the very beginning, and brass plaques bearing their names have been mounted on the wall of the Lecture Hall.
Prior to those holding the current roles, we remember:
Chairs through the years:
Fred Hemming, Ray Gisborne, JoanEvans, Ray Holland, Steve Burton, Sharon Sutton, Gina Buntrock.
Treasurers through the years:
Dot Loyd, Carole Holland, Carolyn Dover, Jackie Bingham.
Lighting & Sound:
Ian Leonard of Viking Lighting was Lighting & Sound engineer for the first 3 Pantomimes, when he was a pupil at Hobart High. Ray Holland, Michael Larkin, Ann Turner, Jane Chapman, Ian Taylor, Matt Day, Steve Burton, David Bingham, Vicky Codling & Lauren Gray plus other young members have also been part of the lighting crew throughout the Panto years.
Wardrobe Mistresses over the years:
Sheila Welsh, Liz Bloomfield, Joan Evans, Ann Lumley & Jennie Futter and most recently Pauline Mason. There have also been many members who have helped along the way to mend, alter and sew costumes.
Front of House
Christine & Bryon Sparkes have been, for many years and still remain, in charge of Front of House duties, supported by other members.
Scenery and Set
Jan Johnson was responsible for many years, supported by many other members.
Notable Committee members:
Colin Carver and Pat Potter served for many years.
A special mention also for Carole & Ray Holland served the group for 24 years both as Committee members, lighting operators, booking clerks, front of house and they hosted many after show parties in their home. Even after retiring from the group, Carole continued to assist Hazel every year with the postal bookings.
Finally for everone who took part in productions, helped back stage, sourced props, painted scenery, sewed costumes, chaperoned children, we thank you for making The Loddon Players part of the fabric of our community.
Long may it continue!
Plays, Variety Shows & Musicals
Plays and variety shows have also been popular. They began in 1984 under the ‘umbrella’ of Chet Valley Players with six plays, the first being “Outpatients” In 1990 the group joined The Loddon Pantomime Players, became the Loddon Players, and presented more than twenty plays. Our last in 2018 being “Death by Fatal Murder”. In 2019, in conjunction with Funky Feet, we staged “Annie – the Musical” to rave reviews!
The Covid Pandemic
Unfortunately, when the Covid pandemic arrived in 2020 all our productions stopped, we kept things alive by creating various sketches and skits via you-tube. We were absolutely delighted to return to the stage with our sell-out production of “Mother Goose” in March 2023.
This was followed up by our Variety Show production in June 2023
A lot of things have changed since 1975 – but one thing remains the same, our desire to put a bit of fun and laughter into people’s lives.