Kays Theatre Group - 60 years of pantomime
On a dark autumn evening, in a rehearsal room at Perdiswell, a little bit of showbiz magic is taking shape. Twenty members of the Kays Theatre Group are busy rehearsing for Cinderella, their latest pantomime which opens at the Swan Theatre on 17th January.
2014 will be the sixtieth year the Kays Theatre Group has performed. In that time, they have become a firmly established part of the festive season in Worcester.
‘This will be a special year’ says Peter Sanderson, Chairman of the group. ‘Cinderella is a rags to riches story that’s a firm favourite with audiences. Our performance this year promises to be spectacular, with the Harlequin Dancers who have won many awards, as well as our talented cast, professional costumes and sets.’
The group’s roots lie in the Kays Catalogue Company which was a major employer in Worcester for many years. Thousands of people worked for Kays and it became a central part of life in the city. The company may have gone but its Theatre Group remains, and many of its members were long-time employees of the company.
Sue Cassidy was a PA to one of the Directors at Kays. ‘My first show was Aladdin in 1996’ she says. ‘I was a single mum, working hard, and the Theatre Group was my social life. It still is! I’ve played many parts including a Dame and a Baddie as well as comedy roles and singing in the chorus, it’s just great being a part of such a fun team.’
Sue Sanderson is one of the Directors of Cinderella. ‘I’ve been involved for 33 years and haven’t missed a single show’ she says. ‘I started by helping backstage on ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’ and in the years after that I went on to play many principal parts. A show takes about a year to create, from acquiring the script until the moment it’s on stage. Paul Milton is already busy writing the play for 2015! This production was drafted in the spring, we auditioned in June and the rehearsals started in September. At the moment we’re busy choosing scenery, costumes and props.’
Paula Dymock is choreographing the chorus and the dancers for this year’s show. ‘I started out with the Beryl Gough Stage School at the age of seven, later on I went to study dance in London before I returned to Worcester and started a dance school.’ Paula now brings on new generations of dancers at the Harlequin Stage School, many of whom take part in the pantomime. Some of those dancers are helped by the Kays Theatre Group, which awards a bursary to help young performers develop their skills. ‘We’re a charity’ says Peter Sanderson, ‘as well as entertaining, we are here to help the community and give something back.’
‘We’ve upped our game over the years’ continues Peter. ‘We have become more professional, buying in professional costumes and sets. We also have some great local talent among our cast who have honed their acting, singing and dancing skills over many years. We receive many complimentary letters from audience members and we also win awards. Two years ago we were voted The Best Pantomime in the West Midlands by the National Operatic and Dramatic Association. It was the second time we had won it.’
‘It’s always a happy friendly show’ continues Peter. ‘The cast on stage enjoy themselves immensely, that really comes across to our audiences and they love it. We welcome new members and we’re particularly keen to see younger people join us.’
‘It’s such a friendly crowd’ continues Peter’s wife Sue. ‘One of our members is 80 years old and still helps out. This year he’s even making a cameo appearance on stage. For me, this group is like a big family.’
If you’re interested in becoming involved with the Kays Theatre Group, you can contact them via email at email@example.com
Kays Theatre Group is producing a commemorative brochure to mark the last sixty years, a scrap book of memories and photographs of past productions. It costs £5 (+£2 postage) and is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting the Kays box office on 01905 425299. It will also be available to buy at performances of the pantomime at the Swan Theatre.