Reflections on a local theatre group…

Dick programmeWay back in the early eighties I had just moved from the village of Great Haseley to a larger village, Long Crendon. To us it was like moving to Manhattan. We were used to one pub, a few rustic acquaintances, and a ten minute drive to civilisation. Long Crendon was a bustling metropolis compared with this – more than one pub, a village square with loads of people to talk to, and….shops! Woo!

Thame was moments away, and the Thame Players, the local drama group, acted like a magnet to my first wife, although she had heard they were a bit ‘cliquey.’ This turned out not to be so, and she was cast as Prince Pico in Aladdin in the first pantomime we were personally involved with. Thinking this involvement could drive a mighty stake between us, and I would feel left out and lonesome, I suggested I could help out with the scenery. The chairman, who obviously thought I was too arrogant for my own good, said “You’ll have to wait your turn.”

Unabashed by this rudeness I did some panto scenery (which I’ve done every year since) and proved that, arrogant or not, I was handy with a 4″ brush. My then wife entered into the spirit of the thing enormously, and took lead parts, organised social dos, joined committees, lead parades, recorded coarse laughs, and generally bossed me about until I was fully involved too.

As a side note (and come closely because I’m going to say this quietly) a pretty young fifteen year old always accompanied her mother to the coffee mornings, in the vain hope that she would see me (yes, you read that right) holding court at the top table, smoking, joking, talking about the stupidities of the latest committee decision. If I wasn’t there, she went home inconsolable. That girl is now my wife, and the mother of my six year old son – so I can thank the Thame Players from the bottom of my heart for that.

Anyway, in the thirty something years that followed I have co-produced shows with my dear friend Peter Wheeler, who sadly is no longer with us, have written many of them – including the original version of Cluedo, which went on to the professional stage nationwide, and still holds the record of the most successful show ever at the Theatre Royal Windsor. I have written and produced pantomimes for them, notably a lovely version of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – the Sweetie Version. In the very early days I wrote a musical about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, called cunningly Leonardo, with Gordon Waller, the Gordon bit of Peter and Gordon (number one in 1964 with World without Love) and Robin Box, lead guitarist with White Plains. The show was a great great success at Thame, but when we tried to emulate our success in London…don’t even mention it. I lost the value of a small house.

Loads of plays – Shot, Naughty Girls, Rainland followed. All penned by me, all still available to aspiring Cameron Macintoshes out there.

Generally the Thame Players has been a fount of wonderful friendships, happy giggly shows, occasional superstars who we soon cut down to size, and a theatre that has grown and blossomed, with investment spent cleverly and wisely, to give us the superb facility we give to the town of Thame today. Films. Guest speakers. The pick of the touring productions. Great seasons of shows.

And that is why I was so sad to see this year’s panto. Lacklustre – that’s the word. A production of Sleeping Beauty that was drab, unimaginative, horribly written, drearily performed, badly lit (although apparently loads of money had been spent on hired equipment) and, in my mind, an embarrassment to this successful and dedicated group of players.

Please let that be a non-repeating hiccup in a history that has lasted, and given loads of pleasure to thousands, for over seventy years.