Gallery: The Co-op Juniors cast a spell over Snape Maltings

Good and evil clash as both search for the pages of an enchanted book in the Co-op Juniors’ latest Christmas Spectacular. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE follows our heroes on their time travels.

A giant oak tree stands centre stage as a fairy godmother and a wizard magically appear through a time travel portal, where they meet young Kate who’s searching for the secret of an enchanted book.

So starts the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company’s latest Christmas Spectacular - Unwrap the Magic.

“It’s a classic tale of adventure, intrigue and good versus evil,” says co-director Pauline Walker. “Of course, it has to end happily ever after at Christmas time.”

Playing the central role is 13-year-old Vanessa Mottram, helped in her quest by Stephanie Brown as the Fairy Godmother and Jack Brett as the wild, wayward wizard Enigma.

“The stage magic and special effects create a sumptuous new setting to showcase the amazing talent of our young cast,” adds co-director Jeannie Ingram. “It’s a music and dance extravaganza with a powerful story and lots of fun for a family audience. And it’s a great alternative to panto.”

The Ipswich group is celebrating its 70th anniversary of entertaining Suffolk and their eighth Christmas show at Snape, now a festive favourite with audiences coming from as far afield as Southend and Norwich.  

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This year’s production is full of surprises with huge video panels transporting the time travelling trio them to different lands, two totally new stage sets and breath-taking illusions created by Lowestoft magician Steve Kovarez.

“We’ve interwoven our trademark music and dance with the story of a teenager searching for the missing pages of an enchanted book, helped by a fairy godmother and a wizard. It’s an eye-popping, foot-tapping show, more ambitious than we’ve ever attempted before,” said Alan Ayres of the group’s creative team.

With more than 100 in the cast and 800 costumes, the show is spectacular in every sense and the largest amateur production in the country. 

Among the visual treats are three oak trees onstage, created from elements of the huge oak tree used in the Olympics opening ceremony earlier this year. Later, the stage is transformed with a sprinkle of pixie dust into an enchanted castle, complete with a time travel portal so the main characters can move seamlessly from place to place.

Supporting the cast onstage is an army of volunteers who cut out costumes, sew, paint, construct and stage the shows.

“Without all that help, we couldn’t stage such ambitious shows,” adds Jeannie. “It’s a major commitment from everyone involved.”

The lighting is designed this year by Gordon Torrington, who works on lighting major tours including Robbie Williams, Elton John, Simply Red and massive TV projects such as the Royal Variety Show, Brit Awards, Dancing on Ice and X Factor.

“It’s great to work on a show of this scale without the pressure of a major tour, where we’re constantly on the move,” Gordon says. “I enjoy designing and operating the lighting for Christmas Spectacular as I’ve worked with Alan, the Juniors’ technical director, for years. It’s like coming home. Actually, Ipswich is my family home!”

The Co-op Juniors moved to the world-renowned Snape Maltings Concert Hall in 2005 after staging pantomimes at the Ipswich Regent for 25 years.

Originally formed during the Second World War, they performed at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion from the early 1950s to 1977 before moving to the Ipswich Regent.

Apart from their annual pantomime, the group also stage musicals ranging from A Christmas Carol, Oliver! and The Sound of Music to Fame, Les Miserables and, in 2010, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast.

The cast continues to stage major musicals at the Seckford Theatre Woodbridge and Ipswich Corn Exchange, including We Will Rock You, High School Musical and Billy Elliot the Musical.

Christmas Spectacular runs for 12 performances from tonight to December 23 at Snape Maltings Concert Hall near Aldeburgh. Visit for more details or tickets.

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