Easton's 60 years of perfect panto performances

Daily Echo: The cast prepare for this year’s production of Peter Pan The cast prepare for this year’s production of Peter Pan

IT has long been a festive tradition that brings everyone together in towns, villages and communities across Hampshire.

From cries of “he’s behind you” to a tipsy Mother Goose or a battle over who will make the finest Ugly Sister, the annual Christmas panto always brings its mayhem and mishaps that entertain young and old alike.

No more so than in the leafy village of Easton, near Winchester, where residents have been keeping their annual tradition alive – by making it bigger and better every year.

Running since long before the 1950s, there are cast members still taking part today who first trod the boards of the village panto as children.

And such is the popularity of the show that organisers have been forced to add performances on extra nights in order to meet demand.

This year’s production of Peter Pan – which is even set to include a flying scene – has seen nearly 90 people come together as actors, writers, backstage and make-up artists to put on what promises to be the best show yet.

Anna McGowan, 64, who has directed for the last ten years, said it’s a story they’d always wanted to do.

“We have always felt like we wanted to do it but kept putting it off because it was a new one to write,” she said.

However, with some actors as young as five and as old as 80, catering to everyone’s needs can sometimes be problematic.

“This year we have very many children,” she said. “By the play’s very nature we have to have children as there are the lost boys. It’s more challenging and it has taken more time because we have to fit around everyone’s schedules.”

The youngest member of the cast is five-year-old Henry Turner who stands alongside his older brother George, seven, in their first ever panto.

George, who attends Itchen Abbas Primary School with his brother, said: “I’d never read Peter Pan before the panto so it’s totally new to me. I’d give it about a five out of five.”

The infamous Captain James Hook is played by 75-year-old Geoffrey Burnand, who can lay claim to over 35 years of experience and says this is the best part yet.

“I like to be the baddy!” he said. “It’s a wonderful story for a panto and it’s just a pity I have to lose!”

This year’s main character is played by scriptwriter and panto regular Maddy Woosnam, 46, who says the production has not been without its problems after she fell from the zip wire during the first trials of flight.

“Interestingly, I broke the line twice,” she said. “I came away with a few bruises last time but it’s all in good fun! Last time I played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and my dog was drafted in to play Toto. One night he shot off towards the audience because there weren’t enough biscuits to keep him on stage.”

For Sue Kennedy, 61, who plays the Darling’s faithful dog, Nana, it’s all about the community.

“We have so much talent! When I first started 28 years ago it was just a few spots on a plank of wood but everything has gotten so much better over the years. Everyone just comes together and it’s wonderful.”

 

LAUREN HOWARD

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