Fun with the mob

Peter Sargent A west Norfolk theatre company is hoping to attract investment to enable it to carry on thriving, discovers Peter Sargent...

Peter Sargent

The Lavender Hill Mob theatre company gives young people in and around Hunstanton a rare and precious chance to express themselves. Formed in 2001, the group has a total membership of 60 - and counting.

Packed with passionate and enthusiastic performers and organisers it is a theatre company with a difference.

Priding themselves on being an “inclusive group”, they work mainly with young people aged between four and 25, including vulnerable adults.

They take anyone who wishes to join, whatever their abilities or disabilities, without the need for an audition.

The oldest member is nearly 80 years old.

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“It is not just another drama club, with young acting hopefuls wishing to get noticed and go on to better things,” said publicity officer Sandra Hohol.

“Some youngsters may not appear to have problems on the outside, but underneath they may be suffering anxiety problems, have schizophrenia or behavioural problems.”

The children come from different backgrounds, and some have disabilities such as Down's syndrome and ADHD.

“They do not get the chance to get involved in the performing arts under normal circumstances, at school and drama clubs, unless they can prove they are good,” said Mrs Hohol.

“With the LHMTC they do not have to prove anything, they all get a chance and do not have to be the best. They do their best and that is what matters.”

This happy, hard-working group stresses how much its young members love what they do, but growth in numbers and ideas has brought its own problems.

They are running out of space, and need a permanent home.

As the company prepares for its Easter production, a version of Cinderella “with a difference” to be performed at Hunstanton's Princess Theatre, it is making an appeal for funds, without which the group couldn't continue.

The company is self-funding, raising money from local events, shows and performances, plus donations.

But these minimal funds have to pay for all running costs, and they are stretched, while the current focus on funding sports and the Olympics means money available to fund the arts has been reduced.

The only things that come free are the services given by the committee, volunteers and parents who back the company.

“We need our own premises with an office, plus storage for costumes and props,” said Mrs Hohol.

“But the biggest requirement, which would make a dream come true, would be to have our own theatre - a special place for the disabled to access all areas.

“Such a theatre does not exist in this area with all these facilities and it would give such wonderful opportunities to those who would like to get involved in the performing arts.”

This ambitious plan needs someone with deep pockets to help build such a theatre. It's proving an uphill task attracting local and nationwide donors, despite words of encouragement from the likes of Sir Richard Branson - but every little helps.

“Who knows, there may be a Richard Branson out there who can see a future in the children and what we do,” said Mrs Hohol.

For the Easter big show, parents and members have put their hands in their pockets to contribute towards the cost of hiring four ready-made backdrops for the production - at £100 each.

This helps make savings on the cost of buying, or making, these vital props.

There's no lack of expertise at hand. The group's founder and artistic director is Les Miles, who trained at the Chicken Shed Theatre in North London.

Together with her partner, Tim Rock, the group's music director, she was keen to provide drama opportunities for young people in and around Hunstanton.

Each production has an original script and score.

Previous productions have included Snow White, Searching for Santa, Babes in the Wood, A Christmas Carol and Snow White. In between these shows there have been Review Shows.

As well as having fun singing and acting, plus the camaraderie of being part of a creative team, young cast members can learn other skills.

These include using sign language and boosting their confidence to step out on stage - as well as into the wider world.

The group holds regular workshops at St Edmund's Church Hall, Hunstanton, and, in addition to putting on shows, get out and about.

They have entertained at old peoples' homes, organised stalls at charity events and fetes, performed at the Royal Sandringham Flower Show and supported the Royal British Legion in its Lest We Forget show at the Princess Theatre.

t Cinderella! Happy Ever After? from the Lavender Hill Mob Theatre Company is at The Princess Theatre, Hunstanton, with a matinee on Wednesday, March 19, 2.30pm and three evening performances at 7.30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Tickets from the box office, 01485 532252.

More information on the company from Sandra Hohol, 01485 534827/518556.