Paulerspury Players: How it started and how it progressed
The Paulerspury Players was formed out of a combination of need, opportunity, and the enthusiasm of a small group of people. Its first production was a pantomime which owed its birth to a curious set of events. The founders of The Paulerspury Players are remembered as: Ed Bloomfield, Nick Pitts-Tucker and Alan Killman.
1988 – An eventful year!
Having moved his growing family to Pury End, Ed joined the Friends of Paulerspury School, with the general aim of helping the community and the school in particular. The school was in constant need of extra funds and one of the roles of the FPS was raising money from its events. In the 1980s Northamptonshire appeared be a ‘cultural wasteland’ compared to the West Country, where Ed had lived for nearly twenty years.
In addition, Ed joined the committee of the 1st Whittlebury Scout Group where he met Robert Skears from Paulerspury and Paul DeRitter from Silverstone. The scouts badly needed funds, and in 1988 Ed suggested a musical evening of acts by the cubs and scouts at Paulerspury School to raise funds for the district.
At the Church Fete that summer Ed met Nick Pitts-Tucker and Alan Killman. Both were parents of children at Paulerspury School and over a cup of tea all agreed a pantomime group would be a great idea. Nick and Alan already had some panto’ experience and were eager to help it off the ground – it just needed a catalyst!
Ed had worked for children’s radio performing songs and sketches; he’d also done some acting and Gilbert and Sullivan but never any pantomime. Music, entertainment and humour are a powerful driving force, but no panto is complete without a dame!
Run in the school in late summer, the Scouts’ musical review was a great success. The scouts and cubs enjoyed taking part; parents filled the hall; and not only did the evening raise £140 profit for scout funds, it highlighted Robert Skears’ potential as a pantomime dame. Robert pranced about as a cub mistress to hoots of laughter. In an instant Paulerspury Players became a real possibility.
Key people who could make a pantomime happen had become apparent, so a meeting was called in the autumn of 1988. Paul and Heather DeRitter from Silverstone; Robert Skears, Alan Killman, Nick Pitts Tucker and Carol Horn from Paulerspury; Linda Atchinson and Ed Bloomfield from Pury End; all attended.
Heather agreed to direct and produce the show; Linda agreed to raise sponsorship funds to get it going; permission was sought for the panto’ to be staged in the school, and Milo Molloy became chief of construction. Ed chaired the FPS at the time so the organisation was conveniently carried out as a project group of the Friends of Paulerspury School, though it was agreed right from the start that it would be a joint venture between the scouts and the school with the profits being equally divided.
The show had to be a financial success and that would rely on sufficient audience. Since the scouts’ show in the same venue had attracted good attendance a joint venture was agreed would spread the risk as well as increase the market coverage. Additionally, Heather had a pet charity of her own – Dreamflight, which took handicapped children to Disneyland. She wished the whole show be repeated in Silverstone for Dreamflight funds early in 1989. The strategy was agreed by all.
Jack and the Beanstalk
The first production was a very traditional children’s story. John Morley’s Jack and the Beanstalk script promised an ideal mix of comedy and fantasy to engage and test the as yet unproven skills of the emerging Paulerspury Players. Auditions and casting produced some of our best known names from parents of Paulerspury children: Duncan and Lesley Gray, Eve Oborn and Marian Christie.
A costume professional, Jan White, lived in Paulerspury and happily took charge of costume design and production for several years. Storage of the infamous proscenium arch was arranged in the Pitts-Tuckers’ garage. Milo’s first stage out of pallets and flooring, eventually finished up in Mrs Gee’s barn along with the rest of the early scenery painted by Sarah Barr and Rebecca Hobson.
Dragon’s and Giant’s heads were made from chicken wire and papier mache, and a big green felt dragon’s body allowed Ben Bloomfield to run around in doing the bidding of the terrible giant played by Paul DeRitter… From the tiny ‘bean seeds’ of a string of events in 1988 a long pantomime tradition in Paulerspury was to grow!
Linda Atchinson’s sponsorship generation produced over £400, which adequately covered set up costs for timber, paint, costumes etc. The show in Paulerspury raised £900 equally shared between the school and the 1st Whittlebury Scout Group. A lot of fun was had by all, and in those days the extra funds were an appreciable proportion of the annual total by the FPS. The second show run in Silverstone on 28th January 1989 was equally successful enabling Heather to donate over £200 to Dreamflight.
The first pantomime had been so enjoyable that a second was organised for Christmas 1989. This time all the organisation, risk and profits were enjoyed by Paulerspury School. Word spread and Paulerspury’s pantomimes soon became a welcome seasonal attraction.
The first two pantomimes were run in the Christmas holiday week, but it was agreed a more ‘civilised’ time for future shows would be winter half term week in February. This would allow the necessary work load to be organised without interfering with Christmas preparations.
At the end of our second year of operation and whilst rehearsing the third panto, The Paulerspury Players became a separate organisation in its own right. Our inaugural meeting of the Players took place in Paulerspury Village Hall on January 20th 1991. Nick Pitts-Tucker was duly elected Chairman, Robert Skears – Secretary, and Duncan Gray – Treasurer. Our aims were: to ‘have fun raising funds’ to benefit three key village organisations – the school, the village hall and the church.
Four pantomimes in all were staged in the school hall until a new village hall was constructed. Design and funding inputs were made by Paulerspury Players as well as many other user groups. Nick also chaired the Village Hall committee, and was very much a driving force in the project to create a new hall.
The new space afforded a larger stage area, bigger audiences and much improved facilities. Fond memories of the old village hall remain however; we performed two Old Time Music Halls in it – produced by Jackie Lewis.
For the fourth panto’ Dick Whittington, Barbara Bloomfield and Jackie Lewis set up a wardrobe system, which later utilised storage space in the new village hall’s loft. Key foundation stones were now in place for the Players to expand operations.
Variety and Diversity
The new space encouraged a whole raft of ideas to be tried out: – acting workshops, plays, comedy, New Year’s Eve parties for Players and friends, mediaeval banquets; but the foundation event continued to be the annual February pantomime and it still is.
The scope for further development of the Players received a big boost in the autumn of 1992 with the completion of Paulerspury’s new Village Hall. The first problem was to build a new stage. The trestles and boards from the old Village Hall were still serviceable so the same height was maintained and a series of new trestles were skilfully built by Chris Marley. With new 8′ x 4′ plywood panels the actors found themselves with the luxury of a stage some 28 feet wide and 12 feet deep on which to perform.
Pantomimes, Music Hall and Music events having been successful in the past, it was decided to expand our repertoire and go for a straight play. J B Priestley’s “When We Are Married” was a fairly safe choice and proved to be a great success. The set was magnificent due largely to the enthusiasm and hard work of a new set designer, Judy Turner.
So the pattern began to emerge of a panto’ in the February half term and a straight play in October. The development of the Group was enhanced by the arrival of Stephanie Smith in the village. Steph had been trained at the Rose Burford School of Drama and had actually performed professionally on stage in the past. At about this time we discovered that we could hire seating platforms from Daventry Council which meant that all of our audience would have a clear view of the stage.
The next new venture was a play in 1993, The Day Of The Demon Bowler, performed entirely by village kids backed by a static adult choir. In the same year the Players were approached to perform a specially written play, Lord Lynedoch’s Ghost, as part if the bi-centenary celebrations in the nearby village of Cosgrove
Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’ in 1995 was an immense challenge and most of those who took part still wonder how we managed to pull it off. Another innovation followed, with a studio production of ‘Lettice and Lovage’ performed mostly in the round and using back projection for the scene setting.
Derek Batten was Chairman of the Players for much of the decade, and a regular attendee at the Edinburgh Fringe. He persuaded the Players to perform there and did all the legwork for a week at the Festival. ‘Last Panto In Little Grimley’, a one act play that had been staged in Paulerspury the previous year, was the result and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all who took part, helped or simply attended during that week. Audience numbers were up and down but we did it and created some great memories!
The advent of the millennium called for something special. This we provided as a multimedia show combining video projection of child actors with live adult performers. Special thanks are due to Chris Payne, a stalwart of the group and who was by then a professional TV cameraman.