Preston's Hall Players getting ready for Broadway

You thought the panto season was behind you... oh no it's not! A group of Lancashire actors are on Broadway with an old favourite. Amanda Griffiths reports

You thought the panto season was behind you… oh no it’s not! A group of Lancashire actors are on Broadway with an old favourite. Amanda Griffiths reports

Aladdin’s glittering treasures will be unleashed on Broadway this year as an amateur drama group, The Hall Players, celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Not that performing on Broadway is big deal for the members - they’ve done it for the last 50 years.

The church hall they call home is located on the aptly named Broadway in Fulwood, Preston, rather than Manhattan, New York. The Big Apple it isn’t, but the lights shine bright and the drama is never ending. I should know, I’m one of this merry band.

You might think that in an age of non-stop, spoon-fed electronic entertainment, young people would turn their noses up at anything as ‘old fashioned’ as the stage. But you’d be wrong - there is a new generation coming through.

Dominic Swabrick joined the group on his 18th birthday in 1977 and now he’s the chairman, welcoming young people following his footsteps.‘In the last 50 seasons we’ve done dramas and comedies, thrillers and melodramas, we’ve taken part in the Preston One Act Play Festival and won awards. But the things that are the most fun to do are the pantomimes,’ he says. ‘I normally play the idiot!’

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For many years Dominic, who by day has a sensible job as director of a Preston printing company, teamed up with friend and former chairman Dave Brand as the comic double act of dame and idiot. They invariably stole the show.

‘It never mattered which one of us got the laugh as long as one did,’ says Dominic. ‘That’s what makes a good comic act - you don’t try to upstageeach other.’

Due to ill health, Dave has hung up his dame’s outfit and is producing this year’s production while Dominic is thrilled to be leading the group in its special anniversary year. And what a year it will be.

In November the players launched their celebratory season with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which saw a new generation of players coming through the ranks.

‘Two of the four youngsters in the play were the children of two long-serving members and the other two were their friends,’ says Dominic. ‘It was fantastic to see them on stage. It’s how the Hall Players will develop.’

Their third play of the season, Sailor Beware, was chosen for similar reasons. ‘When we first did it in 1979, I played alongside Lorraine Ratcliffe as the young couple who were about to get married. In this production Lorraine and I play the parents and Lorraine’s daughter Kimberley takes her old part.’

They were formed half a century ago when a group of St John Baptist Church parishioners performed a series of plays at Broughton School Hall. This helped raise the money to build the Parish Hall where they still rehearse twice a week and put on the shows.

‘We’re still very much part of the church community but now also welcome members from the wider community as well,’ says Dominic. ‘We’ve got people from all walks of life from teachers to builders, we’ve even got a magistrate and a tree surgeon amongst our ranks; a doctor paints a lot of our scenery.

‘There’s a great social side to the society. I think it’s the friendship and camaraderie that makes it so enjoyable.’There are anecdotes that have become legend over the years - like the actor at a panto rehearsal who started reading the line ‘Fee, fi, fo’, then paused to turn the page to complete the line with ‘fum’.

Mishaps happen and lines are skipped from time to time but in 50 seasons they have never cancelled a play.

‘We postponed one for a week once because one of the actors was ill,’ says Dominic. ‘There was one occassion when an actor finished on Friday night and said he hoped it went as well on Saturday because he was going to a party and wouldn’t be there to see it. But the show always goes on - one way or another!’

The big society

Are you a member of a club or a society that’s special enough to feature in Lancashire Life. You could be a sewing group celebrating a century or artists with an anniversary. If so, email us on amanda.griffiths@lancashirelife.co.uk - we love putting your pictures in the magazine and on our website.

Meanwhile, to join the Hall Players or buy tickets see the website at www.hallplayers.org. For two weekends (28th-30th Jan and 4th-5th Feb) the church hall will echo to cries of ‘he’s behind you’, leg slapping and laughter as The Hall Players do what they do best - entertain people with their version of Aladdin.

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