The society in its current form was restarted back in 1977 with its first show Aladdin directed by Pat Smith being performed at the beginning of 1978. Pat Smith (who went on to direct many of the pantomimes as well as being wardrobe mistress in charge of costumes on many occasions) and Beryl Powell (who has been the musical director and played at nearly every show since that time) were the two people behind getting the pantomime society up and running again. The society has been incredibly well supported by the Lamberhurst community and especially the Lamberhurst School of Theatre Dance and the Mansi family. In the early days the performances took place immediately after New Year, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with a Saturday matinee – the close proximity of the panto to Christmas meant that for many involved with the shows Christmas celebrations were relegated to second place to costume making, scenery building and painting and rehearsals! Stories of not being able to eat Christmas lunch at the dining room table because it was covered in costumes were not uncommon!
A glance back through all the old programmes indicates how much support we have always had from local businesses and indeed the local shop-keeper Trevor Hunt trod the boards as Will Scarlet in the 2001 production of Robin Hood. Peter Sands at his butchers shop was the ‘Box Office’ and the scenery was stored at the Old Mill wood-yard and some costumes stored up in an attic at Bayham.
There have been many wonderful personalities involved in the society over the years.
Anne Burns was a great performer and brought the stage alive when she was acting or singing and Michelle Bennett was a dab-hand at painting and scenery – both these two delightful women died tragically young, as did our talented choreographer Louise Green, in memory of whom the Louise Green Cup is awarded each year. Another tremendous personality both on and off the stage was Lois Haskell, and she was the main-stay of the chorus for many, many years. David Wilson – the ‘Brigadier’ not only painted scenery, characteristically largely looking like a camouflage set in khaki colours, owing to his military background but David was also the man in charge of the curtain. David was notorious for disappearing between scenes to the Chequers for a swift drink and many a Stage Manager was anxious that he would not return in time to do the curtain – he always did! He also brought with him to every performance a little mulled drink in a flask which he would offer around – most old hands knew not to drink it until after the show was over! It was a heady and lethal brew of his own concoction.
There have been times when it looked as if the show would not go on – electricity cuts and black-outs, heavy snow, preventing both players and audience from getting to the hall on time and the famous flood of October 2000 when the Memorial Hall was seriously damaged. Water flooded the under-stage storage area and the hall floor was ruined – repairs took several months. Rob Madge and Sue Dewing were producing the script of Robin Hood (written by Rob) and incredibly managed to pull off a magnificent panto – albeit at the later date of February 2001.
We have seen dragons, and bears and pantomime horses and the appearance of unscripted Arabs walking across the stage and now two real dogs tread the boards each year. We have also seen youngsters grow from inexperience in the chorus to become principal leading girls and boys. The traditions of pantomime all hold true – baddies, goodies, Dames, cross-dressing, innuendo, laughter, singing, sweetie throwing and our own traditional Colouring Competition which is entered by all the school children each year.
Robin Hood and the Babes in the WoodJanuary 2022