Pop stars back St George's panto

STEPHEN PULLINGER Two of Norfolk's brightest pop stars have rallied to the support of the ailing operatic and dramatic society where they started their careers.


Two of Norfolk's brightest pop stars last night rallied to the support of the ailing operatic and dramatic society where they started their careers.

Gorleston's Myleene Klass, who shot to fame with chart-toppers Hear'Say, and former S-Club singer Hannah Spearritt both issued a plea to families to get out and see Yarmouth Operatic and Dramatic Society's production of Aladdin in the town's St George's Theatre.

Audience figures have plummeted to as few as 40 people in the 250-seat theatre on some nights, and society chairman Graham Turner warned they would be facing their final curtain after 107 years unless there was a dramatic turnaround before the run ended on January 7.

Mr Turner, 53, a society member for 38 years and playing Widow Twankey in the current production, said: “It is our second year of pantomime at St George's Theatre. Last year we were happy to break even with Cinderella but this year it looks as if we are going to really struggle.

“It costs us £12,000 to £15,000 to stage a pantomime with the scenery and costumes and while we can do quite a lot of publicity, we can't compete with the big boys.”

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Mr Turner, of Clarendon Drive, Martham, said although pantomimes remained popular, they faced a lot of local competition with the Gorleston pantomime and Hippodrome Circus.

“We had a full house on Boxing Day but some nights we have been down to 40 in the audience,” he said.

“In an ideal world we would like people to come out and support us now, before it is too late.

“We would like to look at repeating our summer season of musical shows at St George's which went well and broke even earlier this year, but if we end up making a big loss, this could well be our last production.

“It was only seven years ago that the society celebrated its centenary. It is very sad to think that after so many years the town is about to lose one of its oldest societies.”

The society, which has produced more than 300 shows, is believed to be the fifth oldest in the country.

Mr Turner said this year's audiences were a far cry from the society's heyday in the 1960s and 1970s when they performed at the since-demolished 1500-seat ABC Theatre near the town's BHS store.

“One Christmas in the late 1970s, the newspaper headlines recounted how 11,500 people saw our pantomime in one week,” he recalled.

Mr Turner, a baritone, said he was by no means the longest serving in the 100-strong society - former director Jack Bacon had recently been honoured for 60 years.

Since the closure of the ABC, the society had moved around, performing summer musicals on the piers for many years.

Myleene had appeared in Babes in the Wood and South Pacific, while Hannah had honed her talents as the star in Annie; former Pan's People dancer Cherry Gillespie had also been a society member in the 1970s.

Hannah's mother Jennifer last night said on her daughter's behalf: “Hannah would fully back the plea for people to support the society by getting along to the panto.

“This has come as a bit of a shock and is a great shame. The society is a great place for youngsters to start.

“People get a little bit complacent and think these things run themselves.”

Myleene's father Oscar echoed the sentiments on his daughter's behalf, saying: “It was a very good early experience for Myleene. You need bums on seats and as a family we are very sorry to hear this news.”

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