Am-dram actor beaten up in dressing room over ‘heckling’

Saxlingham Nethergate Village Hall where the Saxlingham Players staged Alan Ayckbourn festive comedy

Saxlingham Nethergate Village Hall where the Saxlingham Players staged Alan Ayckbourn festive comedy Seasons Greetings. Picture: Adrian Cable/Geograph - Credit: Adrian Cable/Geograph

A row over heckling at a village Christmas show led to a dressing room punch-up that left a cast member with a fractured eye socket.

Police were called to Saxlingham Nethergate Village Hall on December 7 last year after violence broke out backstage following a performance of Alan Ayckbourn’s festive comedy Seasons Greetings.

Howard Osborne, 66, from Saxlingham Thorpe, was later arrested following a fight that left Christopher Price, of amateur dramatics group the Saxlingham Players, with facial injuries.

Appearing at Norwich Magistrates Court, he pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm following the attack.

Robyn Khan, prosecuting, said: “The victim told police that he’d had a verbal discussion with the defendant after he was heckling his performance. A short while later the defendant came into his dressing room and said ‘you’ve got five seconds to apologise to me or I’ll punch you through that wall’.

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“He then launched himself at the victim who then fell into a chair due to a blow received from the defendant.”

The court heard a statement from witness Jonathan Jackson who described him throwing five or six punches with both men on the floor.

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Ms Khan said another witness, Clifford Lee-Smith, a member of the show’s cast, said Mr Price was getting hit to his face and head and could not defend himself.

She added: “He said the defendant had completely lost it and that there was blood everywhere.”

In a victim impact statement read out in court, Mr Price said: “I have only been back to Saxlingham Nethergate Village Hall once since. I don’t feel safe. The actor’s dressing room is a sanctuary but that was violated. I don’t know if I’ll ever go on stage there again.”

Seasons Greetings, performed from December 4-7, centres around tensions occurring when family and friends gather to celebrate Christmas.

Defending, Simon Nicholls said heckling had been part of the performance, adding: “The complainant was playing a role. Several people were laughing and jeering at his character. It wasn’t an attack on his acting.”

He said Osborne and his wife were long-time supporters of the theatre company but that he had been confronted by Mr Price and his sons and told he should not attend an after-show party.

Mr Nicholls said: “He accepts unequivocally that he lost his temper and that what started off as a tussle between the two of them developed into something that cannot be argued was self-defence.”

He was fined £750 and ordered to pay Mr Price £750 compensation, together with £180 in costs.

Jane Dyke, chair of the bench of magistrates, said: “There was we believe significant provocation not only by the complainant but also by the two sons and that was perhaps the trigger point for the unfortunate assault causing actual bodily harm that followed.”

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