Panto cast help spread Christmas magic at Norwich carol service

The Cinderella pantomime carol service at St Peter Mancroft Church for the staff and friends of the Theatre Royal and the cast. Some of the cast, from left, Sheila Ferguson (Fairy Godmother), Matt Milburn (Prince Charming), Ruth Betteridge (Cinderella), and Graeme Henderson (Candy, ugly sister). Picture: Denise Bradley The Cinderella pantomime carol service at St Peter Mancroft Church for the staff and friends of the Theatre Royal and the cast. Some of the cast, from left, Sheila Ferguson (Fairy Godmother), Matt Milburn (Prince Charming), Ruth Betteridge (Cinderella), and Graeme Henderson (Candy, ugly sister). Picture: Denise Bradley

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
2:11 PM

Norwich’s very own fairy godmother Sheila Ferguson helped spread some Christmas sparkle with the rest of the cast of Cinderella at the Norwich Theatre Royal’s annual carol service.

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The Cinderella pantomime carol service at St Peter Mancroft Church for the staff and friends of the Theatre Royal and the cast. The Panto Babes sing. Picture: Denise BradleyThe Cinderella pantomime carol service at St Peter Mancroft Church for the staff and friends of the Theatre Royal and the cast. The Panto Babes sing. Picture: Denise Bradley

And in true seasonal style there was no room at the inn with scores of people having to stand so packed was St Peter Mancroft Church for the special service for theatre staff, friends and the cast of this year’s popular pantomime.

Ruth Betteridge (Cinderella), Matt Milburn (Prince Charming), Richard Gauntlett (Buttons and panto writer and director), Christopher Ryan (Baron Hardup) and Ian Belsey and Graeme Henderson (The Ugly Sisters) were among those taking a well-earned break from the frenetic festive run.

Richard, who conducted a hilarious reading at today’s 11am service and was one of a number of cast and staff to entertain the heaving congregation, said: “It’s brilliant. I must admit its my one journey to church every year but its lovely. It’s great and lovely to see it so full.”

Ruth, who wowed the crowds with a beautiful rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, said: “It’s absolutely beautiful and being Christian myself it’s what Christmas is all about so it was lovely to be here on Christmas Eve. Everyone did so well, we’ve had a great time.”

The Cinderella pantomime carol service at St Peter Mancroft Church for the staff and friends of the Theatre Royal and the cast. Picture: Denise BradleyThe Cinderella pantomime carol service at St Peter Mancroft Church for the staff and friends of the Theatre Royal and the cast. Picture: Denise Bradley

Peter Wilson, chief executive of the Norwich Theatre Royal, said it was “the perfect start to Christmas” describing it as “joyful” and a “delight” to be at the hour-long carol service which also featured a heart-melting performance by the theatre’s young Panto Babes and a rousing rendition of Holy Night by Ian Belsey who showed his ugly sister role belied a breathtakingly beautiful voice.

And while there might not have been dancing in the aisles there was tap-dancing in between the pews courtesy of Ian’s ugly sibling Graeme Henderson who jigged his way around St Peter Mancroft while singing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

The Revd Canon Peter Nokes, vicar and chaplain to the Norwich Theatre Royal, led the service which was attended by The Rt Revd Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich, who gave an address and told how he was “captivated” by his first experience of panto, which was also Cinderella, as a seven or eight year old boy at a theatre in Cornwall where he then lived.

Bishop James said the current production of Cinderella was a “great retelling of an old story” which he likened to the carols, readings and addresses that people attending in churches across the county today would also be experiencing.

Speaking after the service Bishop James said he thought the service helped show people that church could be fun and that “its not just at Christmas its fun - there’s lots of laughter in church”.

Carols sung at the service included “Once in Royal David’s City”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! the Herald-Angels Sing”.

Laura Kyffin, 53, from Caistor St Edmund, whose daughter Megan Jones, a chorister at St Peter Mancroft, performed a solo at the start of proceedings, said: “It was lovely. I particularly liked the tap dancing up the aisle - it was a first.”

Pam Miller, 69, from Hethersett, said the service was “absolutely excellent”.

Cinderella runs at the Norwich Theatre Royal until January 19.

To book tickets call 01603 630000.

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