‘Tis the season to be jolly

Stage show: Members of both the Kelly and Mee families, who all belong to the Manor Operatic Society, at their rehearsal hall on Walker Street, Sheffield.                                                                                                            Picture SARAH WASHBOURN
Stage show: Members of both the Kelly and Mee families, who all belong to the Manor Operatic Society, at their rehearsal hall on Walker Street, Sheffield. Picture SARAH WASHBOURN
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FOR one Sheffield family the mad dash to get ready for Christmas means just one thing – the Manor Operatic pantomime!

Although they do not appear at Sheffield City Hall in Aladdin until December 27, the cast and crew spend every spare moment rehearsing for curtain up. And then there’s the small matter of turning the City Hall into a theatre, complete with lighting rigs, backstage equipment and seating…

Chorus member Elizabeth Mee, who has been involved onstage and backstage for 32 years, said: “Christmas goes very rapidly! After December 18 Christmas becomes a mad panto. We don’t have a night at home before that either and you have to see friends at 9am!”

Elizabeth’s sister Linda Kelly co-directs the show with her partner Richard Bradford. Manor took over the City Hall on Monday of this week and, as well as working with Manor’s technical crew rigging up everything needed for backstage, he will be overseeing the installation of a 20ft by 17ft waterfall. They will be completing the build today (Thursday) and then move on to two days of technical rehearsals before the dress rehearsal on Sunday.

Owler Brook School office manager Linda and Richard will usually host a family get-together at their Frecheville home on Christmas Eve but sometimes Richard, who has his own car sales firm, is running around solving last-minutes hitches. One year he was desperately trying to find a replacement for a faulty dancing fountains pump.

He said: “At 7pm we get a drink and forget about pantos.” Then there is the mad dash to get ready for Christmas Day, with everyone wondering how they managed to do the Christmas shopping at all.

Elizabeth and her husband Howard, a director of building firm Millers Homes who is Manor’s treasurer, hurriedly put a bike together in the loft of their Burncross home one Christmas Eve and realised that they couldn’t get it downstairs. They had to take it apart and start again.

The two families take it in turns to host Christmas Day. Elizabeth, a teaching assistant at Angram Bank School in High Green, said: “On Christmas Day we gorge ourselves with a big meal because the rest of the time we’ll be living out of a sandwich box and on takeaways.”

Both couples spend Boxing Day just with their own children. Richard said: “The men love to go to the match if Sheffield Wednesday are at home. That’s the one football match we get to see.”

Then it’s on with the show!

Elizabeth said: “From the 27th we live at the City Hall, although we do try to fit in other things as well. We still manage to fit other social bits of our life in. A lot of our friends come and watch the show.”

The whole Manor team get together for a big New Year’s Eve party – after the panto has finished at 9pm. Richard said that lots of Sheffielders love to see the panto as part of their New Year’s Eve festivites.

Richard said: “There are lots of other families involved in Manor Operatic and lots of other families have this sort of Christmas as well.

“It’s an advantage to us if families are involved. If that takes the pressure off them, it takes the pressure off us.”

That was how Liz’s family got roped in. Linda followed her two years later and their parents, Margaret and Frank Kelly of Woodhouse, both in their 80s, have run the front of house operation for 28 years. Margaret jokes that she will finally be carried out of the City Hall feet first!

Richard’s mum used to help out and, although she has had to step down, she still sells lots of tickets among her friends.

Howard has the huge job of keeping track of all the box office money and making sure all the bills are paid. He said: “The admin doesn’t stop and you’re dealing with queues of people.”

Richard and Linda met when they played principal roles opposite each other. Margaret helps to look after their daughter Evie May, aged four, although she loves being centre of attention at rehearsals.

Richard’s daughter Emily, aged 17, and Elizabeth and Howard’s son Joe, aged 21, both help out front of house.

Joe’s brother Eddie, aged 18, is part of the backstage crew. Last year that included driving a flying, fire-breathing dragon over the stage.

Elizabeth said that workmates ask her why she does something that takes up so much time and energy. She said: “When everybody else is winding down, we’re winding up. People have to take their holidays to take part.”

She added: “A lot of our friends think it comes together in the blink of an eye. You’ve either got to give it your all or nothing. I can’t imagine doing anything else at Christmas. Christmas shopping fits round it. You do it because you want to entertain people.

“We’re families doing it for families. That’s why we do it. It’s very satisfying. When that curtain goes up every night and you’ve got 2,000 people sat there it’s such a good feeling,”

Richard agrees. In the meantime, he is already planning Beauty and the Beast for next year.

A life less ordinary

The older children all agree they enjoyed being part of the Manor team at Christmas as youngsters, not least because they got the run of the City Hall and know all its nooks and crannies.

Eddie said: “We’ve not had an ordinary Christmas so we don’t know what one’s like!”

His mum agreed: “We’re not an ordinary family.”

Alice said: “A lot of my friends are dancing as well and a lot of other friends come and help. I can still see them in the mornings and people come and see the show and we meet them afterwards.”