Co-op Juniors axed

IPSWICH Regent has staged its last Co-op Juniors Christmas pantomime, the Evening Star can reveal today.Next Christmas the theatre will be the venue for a professional pantomime which will have a four-week run.

IPSWICH Regent has staged its last Co-op Juniors Christmas pantomime, the Evening Star can reveal today.

Next Christmas the theatre will be the venue for a professional pantomime which will have a four-week run.

Members of the Co-op Juniors heard the bombshell news yesterday as they began rehearsals for their summer production at the Regent, Les Miserables' school edition.

Officials were today putting on a brave face at the end of a 25-year tradition, but there was an inevitable tinge of sadness that the curtain had come down on their Christmas shows.

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The decision to stage a professional pantomime was taken after negotiations between the Juniors and the council showed there was a considerable gap in the money needed to keep the shows going.

Officials from the Co-op Education Committee - which runs the Juniors - spoke to senior bosses at the Ipswich and Norwich Co-op before deciding not to stage a show at the Regent next Christmas.

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The Star understands that big names have already been lined up to appear in a professional pantomime next Christmas - and details of the show will be unveiled in the spring.

Ipswich council said the decision to seek a professional pantomime had been taken because the audience numbers had fallen from 20,000 to 13,400 over the last few years.

A Borough Council spokesman said: "We are doing all we can to help the Juniors with their plans for a show which does not cover the Christmas period.

"We are sorry that the Juniors cannot secure the financial support necessary (from the Ipswich & Norwich Co-op) to continue during the festive period but we have a duty to all council tax-payers to maximise income - and so cut running costs - at the Regent.

"It is a sad fact that the audiences for the Co-op Juniors' Christmas show have declined dramatically over recent years but we are pleased that the Juniors are back at the Regent in July performing the international hit musical 'Les Miserables School Edition'."

Alan Ayers from the Juniors did not accept that the audience numbers had fallen dramatically.

He said 22,000 had seen Snow White in 2002 and while the numbers had fallen slightly over the last two years, it had not been as dramatic as the council suggested.

However the Juniors understood the reasoning behind the decision.

Mr Ayers said: "Professional pantomimes run for about four weeks and bring in vital revenue to theatres. There is no way that an amateur group like the Juniors could put on a show for that kind of run.

"For everyone involved in the show, Christmas is dominated by the Co-op Juniors' production - it is their Christmas.

"But that can't be sustained for four weeks - people have work to go to, schools to attend and their lives to lead."

Each show involves more than 100 performers - and the same number again behind the scenes.

The decision has been accepted by Juniors' management - there had been talk of bringing in a professional show for some time.

Co-director Pauline Walker said: "It has been a difficult decision to give up staging the Regent's biggest production, but we're not bowing out completely.

"We will discuss with professional production companies how Co-op Junior dancers may still be part of a new show, working alongside professional performers.

"So we hope still to have a presence there at Christmas, and certainly at other times of the year with different shows."

Mrs Walker's co-director Jeannie Ingram said: "This is a new opportunity for the Co-op Juniors, whether it's working with a professional pantomime at the Regent, staging Les Miserables or looking at other venues and different styles of show.

"It may be the end of our Christmas productions at the Regent, but we see it as a new beginning, not a grand finale."

What do you think of the Co-op Juniors being axed? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

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