Curtain goes up on 50th youth club pantomime in Sheffield

'We've had five Cinderellas, five Aladdins and I wrote one called Ali Baba and the Four Tea Thieves '“ but over 50 years we've only had one Puss In Boots.'

Monday, 15th January 2018, 3:17 pm
Updated Monday, 15th January 2018, 3:20 pm
Stephen Hill Methodist Curch Youth Club performenace of 'Beauty and the Beast'...Pictured are Tash Dikran(left) and Kate Livesey playing Bubble and Squeak

Bob Hodges is reeling off memories of half a century of youth club pantomimes at the Stephen Hill Methodist Church in Crosspool, a tradition he helped to instigate in 1968.

It was a momentous year, he recalls. Martin Luther King was assassinated, singer Joe Cocker was ascending the hit parade and, in south west Sheffield, a committee was slowly writing the first production – the only outing, to date, for a certain footwear-clad cat.

“It took us two years to write the first one,” says Bob. “It was painful, really.”

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The club has got panto down to a fine art over the decades, however, and preparations are well under way for the 50th show, a new version of Aladdin, happening at the church during half term from February 21 to 24.

Performances always take place during the holiday, when schoolchildren are free to focus their attentions on acting, and this year 38 young people aged eight to 18 are involved.

Bob, a retired careers advisor, was an assistant youth club leader aged in his early 20s when the decision was made to put on a pantomime.

“We thought it would be a good thing to do. We presented Puss In Boots in 1969 over three nights and it was a success. Over the years it’s just grown. Now we do four nights and a Saturday matinee. The matinee always sells out and the Saturday night follows quite quickly. The other three struggle a bit at times.”

It is ‘very much a family show’, Bob says. Two of the team, Ian Delaney and Helen Gill, met when he was a panto dame and she was part of the cast too. “Now they’re married with a little boy of their own. She is producing the pantomime this year with her son strapped to her front, and her husband is painting the scenery.”

Bob’s wife Gina, a former headteacher, was in the first panto as well. “She’s not involved now but she used to design the posters and do all the tickets.”

Planning starts in September and rehearsals begin in October, he says.

“At this stage it’s just pandemonium with people rehearsing in all parts of the building. It’s a huge effort. But it’s a good show and it’s well-produced.”

Going to see a pantomime when the festive season has been and gone might seem unusual, but Bob says it was once perfectly normal.

“In the old days of music halls, the shows used to start at Christmas and finish at about Easter.”

Stephen Hill’s offerings are different from the mainstream in other ways – there are no jokes aimed at adults or C-list celebrities. “It’s for local people – that’s why Manor Operatic’s show is so good too.”

Last year’s Master Cutler, engineer and manufacturer Richard Edwards, is part of the team and the city’s Lord Mayor, Coun Anne Murphy, will be attending as she ‘loved it so much’ in 2017.

“It’s become a real tradition,” says Bob, now 72. “I’m in charge of tickets but I’ve done everything over the years.”

There’s no chance he will forget which, and when, pantomimes have been staged. “The kids have made me a T-shirt with them listed on the back, like a rock tour. They did the same when it was 40 years.”

And the club has kept its pictures from 1969. “I can put a name to every single person in the cast – apart from the cat.”

n Tickets for Aladdin cost £5, or £4 for under 12s. The Saturday matinee has sold out. Visit www.jumblebee.co.uk/aladdinstephenhill or call 0114 2303 207 to book.