Panto returns to Bletchingley

By Barbara Wantling

When, early in 2023, the Bletchfest committtee met to consider what additions they could make to their calendar of community focused arts-based events, I – a committee member, parish councillor and Bletchingley resident for more than 30 years – recalled a time when a seasonal pantomime was a feature of village life. The last, it seems, was Mother Goose, in 1997.

The idea of resurrecting the tradition was met with enthusiasm, so I set about finding a script. Having done so, the Bletchfest team put out a call on social media for those interested to meet at Grange Meadow Pavilion in September. From this meeting a volunteer cast was recruited, and important backstage roles – providing sets, costumes, staging, sound and lighting – were filled.

Our panto, After the Beanstalk, told the story of Jack after he had cut down the beanstalk: escaping the giant and then building himself a garden centre with the proceeds from his golden egg laying goose! The garden centre setting prompted me to contact local garden centres to help with props, and I also sought the help of Prospero Theatre in Caterham for the costumes.

A hectic schedule of rehearsals got underway, peaking over the Christmas holidays as the date for our two sold-out performances at Bletchingley Village Hall on 6 January grew nearer. The challenge was made all the greater when, a few weeks before the big day, I injured my shoulder but, in true ‘the show must go on’ spirit, I performed my role as the giant’s wife with my arm in a sling!

The pantomime was a huge success, with both shows performed in front of a packed village hall. It was great fun to be part of, and a true community endeavour. Everyone involved, both cast and those backstage, contributed with enthusiasm and commitment. Can we do it again? Oh yes we can!

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