Gallery: Girl power for Players' panto

Landseer Players are polishing up their lines and the magic lamp for their production of Aladdin, next week. LYNNE MORTIMER reports.

Lynne Mortimer

Landseer Players are polishing up their lines and the magic lamp for their production of Aladdin, next week. LYNNE MORTIMER reports.

APPROACHING 30 years in local showbiz, Aladdin is Landseer Players' 27th pantomime and this year it features an all-girl artistic team.

All aged under 30 years old, Ruth Hayward and Katie Heffer are co-directors, Jo King is musical director and Siobhan Bedford choreographs. But all four have previously been involved with Landseer Players.

Ruth made her first appearance with the company aged four, when she was one of the birds who cover the Babes in the Wood with leaves. In her teens she began to play leading roles in the pantos - including Maid Marian in Babes in the Wood and Ali Baba in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves - and has also choreographed for a number of productions.

Katie joined Landseer Players in her teens and rejoined the society after university and teacher training. Her day job is teaching drama at Copleston High School where she has been involved in producing High School the Musical and Back to the Eighties.

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Jo King was musical director for last year's Sleeping Beauty. A jazz performer and lecturer in music at Suffolk New College, and experienced theatrical MD, Jo will be conducting her band in an array of modern, musical theatre and more traditional songs including numbers from Hairspray, High School the Musical, and Witches of Eastwick.

Anyone who saw the recent edition of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me that featured Angie from the Stage Door theatre company, could have spotted Jo playing the piano for an ensemble piece performed for the cameras.

Choreographer Siobhan has played several leading parts with Landseer Players including the title role in Snow White, the 2005 production which won the company the best pantomime award at the East Suffolk Theatre Awards. She is also a well-known singer, locally.

This year's Aladdin revives one of the great Landseer Players favourites which was first performed at the group's first venue, All Hallows Church Hall on Landseer Road.

The Players were initially formed from members of the congregations of All Hallows Church and Landseer Road Methodist Church, in Ipswich. Rehearsals were at the Methodist church hall and performances at All Hallows. After-show parties were also held at All Hallows due to the temperance regulations on Methodist premises!

After a few years, the pantos outgrew the tiny stage at All Hallows. An entrance from stage right involved going out of the kitchen door, scuttling round the back of the hall and re-entering via the stage door. During one snowy February half term week, stage right was cluttered with discarded Wellington boots.

The new venue was the now-demolished Orwell Junior School in Robeck Road. The school hall had no stage and so, for a number of years, the dedicated Players' technical team would build one for the show. The hall also had to be rigged up for stage curtains and ranks of lighting. It was a one-week annual makeover that was exhausting but rewarding - every house was a sell out.

Eventually, the school asked the Players to leave the stage and so the structure was made permanent… until, eventually, a bigger stage was needed. With a company of more than 40, it was becoming difficult to fit everyone on the stage and a shift system was introduced for big chorus numbers!

Since the turn of the Millennium, the Players have become more itinerant although for the past three years they have been happily ensconced at Chantry High School. In the interim, they performed at Westbourne and Copleston High Schools and, for a few years, at Suffolk College,

While the actors, singers and dancers have changed over the years the company have produced some of our finest local performers including this year's Aladdin, Sharna Simmons, who is playing Ulla - the leading lady - in Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society's June production of the award-winning musical The Producers.

Co-director Ruth Hayward says: “The cast features lots of local talent who also perform in other societies such as Ipswich Operatic, Gallery Players, Stage Door, Company of Four and Felixstowe Musical Theatre.

“The story of Aladdin is one of the best panto tales. Aladdin - played by a girl, of course - is the son of a poor washerwoman, Widow Twanky - played by a man, of course.

“When Aladdin finds a magic lamp it looks as if all his dreams will come true. He'll be able to marry the princess and live like a prince - as long as the wicked sorcerer Abanazar doesn't get his hands on the lamp, of course.”

“Most of all, though, pantos are about fun and comedy and there'll be plenty of both. The comedy policemen are always getting into trouble and Aladdin's brother Wishee Washee is always up to mischief.

“Neville Woolnough - a huge favourite with Landseer Players' audiences - is playing Abanazar and Keith Starling, who regularly plays the Dame, is back in the false bra again this year to give us his Twanky. Princess Jasmine is played by Camilla Nunn who is making her debut with Landseer Players, this year.”

n Aladdin, presented by Landseer Players, is at Chantry High School, Mallard Way, Ipswich, from Thursday, February 19, to Saturday, February 21.

Performances are at 7.30pm each day and there is also a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets are �7.50 adults; �6.50 children and concessions. Booking on Ipswich 01473 717030 or via the Landseer Players' website at

- Lynne Mortimer is co-writer of Landseer Players' Aladdin.

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