How a half-tonne dragon was the dramatic centrepiece of Sheffield society's annual panto
The dragon has left the building...
Since the end of December a Â£15,000 puppet of a mythical beast weighing more than half a tonne has been wowing audiences at Sheffield City Hall as part of the Manor Operatic Society's pantomime, Sleeping Beauty.
The animatronic prop was the centrepiece of a fiery spectacle at the end of act one, menacingly flapping its wings and testily swishing its tail, all the while surrounded by pyrotechnics and smoky dry ice.
But now the show has finished and the dragon is gone. In a tricky operation it was carried out of the hall's stage door, hauled on to a flatbed truck and taken to the society's rehearsal studios to join its predecessors from earlier productions - among them two model dinosaurs, a full-size elephant and a crocodile.
Manor Operatic's pantomimes are an annual tradition. The first was held in 1970 at the Montgomery Theatre, and in 1986 performances moved to the City Hall to meet demand.
The company tries to provide an impressive sight to close the first segment of each show. The dragon, six metres long and two-and-a-half metres high, was specially made in China and shipped to Southampton late last year.
"It's really heavy," said director and producer Richard Bradford. "To get it here we had to have it brought from Southampton on a low loader with a crane on the back. There were lots of us pushing and shoving to get it in to the City Hall. My heart was in my mouth but we managed it."
Delivery costs alone came to over Â£4,000. "In total it probably cost Â£15,000. All the funds from our ticket sales go back into the shows."
He said the effort that went into the dragon prop reflected the standard audiences can expect from the society's plays.
"All the lighting and sound is professional, and it's the same with the scenery. The only amateur element is the people in it, because they don't get paid. But in terms of the production, it's as big and lavish as you'll see anywhere."
This year's pantomime will be a staging of Aladdin. "I've got a few ideas for that," said Richard. "Before then we've got Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we've got to have a flying car. That's a challenge in itself."