Derby’s Watson Players wave goodbye to a tough year and gear for their big 50th anniversary.
After indefinitely losing their regular local venue just days before the start of 2019’s panto last January (due to health and safety issues), The Watson Players have made it to 2020 and are preparing to celebrate their 50th anniversary with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In the heart of West End in Watson Street there was a Baptist Church where an important part of the calendar was the Sunday School Anniversary. Some of these celebrations took the form of a concert to entertain relatives and friends. Members of the church used to organise this yearly event; mainly singing, recitations and comedy sketches. The concerts would include the primary-aged children doing their piece, well-rehearsed by Miss Nellie Ratcliffe, who later became President of The Watson Players.
The society has presented pantos across Derby from St. Anne’s Church Hall, Mickleover Methodist Youth and Community Centre, Mickleover School (now Murray Park), Bemrose School and, in 1980, from their own Guildhall Theatre.
The first play, Sailor Beware, in 1974 was at the old Playhouse Studio Theatre in Sacheveral Street. These days the summer production is usually staged at The Guildhall Theatre but plays have also taken place at the present Derby Playhouse Studio Theatre, Mickleover Methodist Youth and Community Centre and, in the open air in Markeaton Park.
In those early days a pantomime audience of three hundred was thought a huge triumph. More recent pantos have seen audiences of over 2,100 people.
To celebrate The Watson Players’ fifty years, the society will be presenting 2020’s family pantomime! Ben Crocker’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
As with many societies around the country, the panto process starts a year in advance when the director and script are chosen by the WPs’ committee. The production team is announced and, this year, a read-through of the script, with singing, dancing and character roles for Snow White were auditioned in July 2019.
The storage unit at Melbourne, (The Barn) is always used as a base for costumes and building scenery.
Then, throughout January it’s all go, with scripts down, songs and dances learnt and all hands on deck to get the costumes fitted, scenery finalised and props produced.
WPs’ costume sewing group meet regularly at Spondon Methodist Hall to create and make outfits for the show.