THEATRE: A PANTO? IN AUGUST? ‘A BARD IN THE HAND’ SET TO ARRIVE AT BEMBRIDGE LITTLE THEATRE CLUB

Maureen Sullivan’s column at Island Echo explores and reveals all that the Isle of Wight’s Arts and Theatre scene has to offer – but this week, she’s taken the liberty of writing about her own on-stage performance.

Well, this feels strange: for the first time, I am writing a column about an upcoming show which I am not only directing but have actually written too! I promise to try not to be too biased – in fact, I’m just very proud, excited, and still a little amazed that someone wanted to put my little show on stage. Left to me, it would probably still be lurking in script-form on my computer, and it is all my friend’s fault…

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You see, during the lockdown, Bembridge Little Theatre Club hosted just-for-fun play readings on Zoom. A friend (you know who you are!) happened to mention ‘Maureen’s written a panto about Shakespeare’ so I was asked for scripts for a Zoom read. We all had a laugh and then I was asked if BLTC could stage the show once ‘things get back to normal’.

What could I say?  I refused to direct it until I saw who was putting their name forward to play a role. Because the real delight of this show is not the – amusing, if I say so myself – script, but the amazing quality of the actors who have assembled to bring it to the stage. It has turned funny words into a hilarious pantomime.

Pantomime? That’s a Christmas show, surely? But this year, with so many people having been disappointed in December when lockdown forced pantos to close and festive celebrations were curtailed, many families are getting together this summer to celebrate Christmas… so it seemed logical to add an August panto to the madness.

I wrote the script a few years ago when I was reading a book about Shakespeare lodging with a tire-maker in Cripplegate. Tire-makers made wigs and headdresses, often for the theatre but also for personal use, and it occurred to me the landlady would make a wonderful panto dame.

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Other historical people and facts have also been used – so Christopher Marlowe, popularly believed to have been a spy for Queen Elizabeth, becomes Kit Marlowe 007, ready to help his mate Will who has writer’s block and rent to pay… and there’s a play thief on the loose.

The villain of the piece is the Earl of Oxford, who visits Dame Barnet claiming he wants to buy a wig, but in reality casing the joint with the intention of stealing Will’s plays to pass off as his own. BOO…HISS…

I have shamelessly referenced names from the plays – the young romantic leads are Miranda and Ferdinand, straight from The Tempest, and the nosy next-door neighbour who has her sights firmly set on marriage to Will… or Kit… or possibly Ferdinand… takes her name from Mistress Quickly, a bawdy, fun character who features in 4 plays.

I am lucky enough to have assembled some great musicians to accompany the well-known songs in the show, most of which are singalong pieces inviting audience involvement. Speaking of which there are plenty of opportunities for typical panto interactions – shouting ‘He’s behind you’, ‘Oh no he’s not’ and the like.

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Thanks to the cast, musicians, and the backstage team who have created a fantastic set, lighting and sound, what started out as my amusing little script has morphed into a rip-roaring laugh a minute stage show, and we would be delighted to share the laughs with you – after the year and a half we’ve just had, I think we need a few laughs.

Does evil Oxford succeed in his dastardly plan? Can Kit Marlowe 007 solve the crime? Will Will ever write another play? And do Miranda and Ferdinand get their happy ever after? (And just who is Ferdinand really?)

Find out by booking tickets: call the BLTC box office on 07841 950261 or call in at Splash, Union Street, Ryde, or the Co-op Welcome Store in Lane End, Bembridge.

The show is on 12th, 13th and 14th August at 7.30pm at Bembridge Village Hall – so come and celebrate Christmas with us – in August!


Maureen Sullivan is a regular contributor to Island Echo’s coverage of the Arts on the Isle of Wight. Maureen has been actively involved in the Island’s amateur dramatics scene for several years, appearing in many different roles and guises with several theatre companies. In her free time, Maureen also writes and reviews at iwtheatre.org.

Catch Maureen’s column each month for the latest theatre and art happenings...

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