It’s almost Christmas, but the panto season in Huddersfield is far from over.
The first week in January sees the opening of the town’s SECOND panto, as the Huddersfield Light Opera Company brings Dick Whittington to the stage of the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
It will be the company’s 41st festive production – the 26th at the LBT – and follows hot on the heels of the theatre’s first-ever professional panto Cinderella.
Paul Bennett, one of HLOC’s scriptwriters, says there were worries that ticket sales for their production, which normally plays to full houses, might be affected by the professional panto, which opened on December 9 and closes on New Year’s Eve.
But, it would seem that there’s a real demand for slapstick and traditional panto fun, as both productions have enjoyed box office success.
While the HLOC’s panto is an amateur show it’s costing more than £32,000 to stage and will have costumes and scenery from professional suppliers, promising glamour, glitz and more than a few surprises.
Paul explains: “Our costumes come from John Hill’s in Leicester, one of the biggest suppliers to panto. But we have had a change of scenery supplier because we tend to do pantos on a rotation and didn’t want to use the same scenery that we had the last time we did Dick Whittington. So it’s all new.”
The annual HLOC panto always has an original script, tailored to local audiences and with topical jokes, conceived by Paul and his co-writer Chris Brearley, who also happens to be a lighting expert and as well as stage directing is taking a leading role.
“Our money goes on costumes, sets, lighting and special effects,” says Paul, “because we don’t have to pay the actors. We say ours is a professional panto performed by amateurs.”
Because panto is such a popular genre with actors, there’s always fierce competition for parts and Paul says the entire cast for this year’s show is made up of people who normally take leading roles, including those whose names will be familiar to Huddersfield audiences such as Neil Broadbent, Dom Moccia, Alyce Liburd and Alicia Walsh.
In keeping with panto tradition there’s a Principal Boy, played by Zoe Clarkson, in the title role, and a Dame (Chris Brearley).
Paul explains: “Ours is a traditional panto. We do our best to stick to the basic story that people expect to see and we try to make it a family panto.
“A lot of the big professional pantos are quite smutty, but ours only has a little innuendo in it. You’ve got to include a decorating scene, or something like that, for the slapstick.
“Ours this year is going to be a cooking scene in a galley.
“We’ve got all sorts of special effects because Chris is very good at that.
“And we’re promising something quite different for the finale.”
As usual, the Strickland Cook Theatre School is providing a team of young dancers for the show and Pam Strickland is the choreographer.
Dick Whittington is at the LBT from Saturday, January 7, until Saturday, January 14.
Tickets are £6 to £15. There are matinees on January 8 and 14.
There’s an additional treat promised for panto-goers, who will be invited to take selfies with cast members in full costume after each performance.