Curtain falls on Christmas institution

THE curtain has fallen on what has become one of the traditions of Christmas.The Regent Theatre in Ipswich has staged its last Co-op Juniors pantomime as next Christmas itwill be the venue for a professional panto that will have a four-week run.

THE curtain has fallen on what has become one of the traditions of Christmas.

The Regent Theatre in Ipswich has staged its last Co-op Juniors pantomime as next Christmas itwill be the venue for a professional panto that will have a four-week run.

Members of the Co-op Juniors heard the bombshell news on Friday as they began rehearsals for their summer production at the Regent.

Officials were putting on a brave face at the end of a 25-year tradition, but there was an inevitable tinge of sadness that the curtain had come down on their Christmas shows.


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The decision to stage a professional pantomime was taken after negotiations between the Co-op Juniors and Ipswich Borough Council showed there was a considerable gap in the money needed to keep the shows going.

Officials from the Co-op Education Committee, which runs the Co-op Juniors, spoke to senior bosses at the Ipswich and Norwich Co-op before deciding not to stage a show at the Regent next Christmas.

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The council said the decision to seek a professional pantomime had been taken because the audience numbers had fallen from 20,000 to 13,400 over the past few years.

A spokesman said: "We are doing all we can to help the Juniors with their plans for a show which does not cover the Christmas period.

"We are sorry that the Juniors cannot secure the financial support necessary to continue during the festive period, but we have a duty to all council tax-payers to maximise income - and so cut running costs - at the Regent.

"It is a sad fact that the audiences for the Co-op Juniors' Christmas show have declined dramatically over recent years, but we are pleased that the Juniors are back at the Regent in July performing the international hit musical Les Miserables School Edition."

Alan Ayers, from the Co-op Juniors, did not accept that the audience numbers had fallen dramatically.

He said 22,000 people had seen Snow White in 2002 and while the numbers had fallen slightly over the past two years, he claimed it had not been as dramatic as the council suggested.

"Professional pantomimes run for about four weeks and bring in vital revenue to theatres. There is no way that an amateur group like the Juniors could put on a show for that kind of run," added Mr Ayers.

"For everyone involved in the show, Christmas is dominated by the Co-op Juniors' production - it is their Christmas. But that can't be sustained for four weeks - people have work to go to, schools to attend and their lives to lead."

Co-director Pauline Walker added: "It has been a difficult decision to give up staging the Regent's biggest production, but we're not bowing out completely.

"We will discuss with professional production companies how Co-op Junior dancers may still be part of a new show, working alongside professional performers. So we hope still to have a presence there at Christmas, and certainly at other times of the year with different shows."

Co-op Juniors pantomimes have been a Christmas institution in Suffolk since the Second World War and have been attracting audiences to the Regent Theatre since 1978.

The first pantomime was in 1943 in the Ipswich Art Gallery and was designed to give the town's children some fun to take their minds off the traumas of war.

After the war, the Co-op Juniors became an established amateur dramatic group in the town and many children joined its dancing classes in the hope that they would graduate to a role in the annual pantomime.

In the early 1950s the pantos moved to the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe until 1978 when they moved to the Gaumont, as the Regent was then known.

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