Glenrothes Theatre Company kickstarts its 40th year with Hansel and Gretel panto

Panto stars...Glenrothes Theatre Company is gearing up to stage Hansel and Gretel in the Rothes Halls from Wednesday, November 28, to Saturday, December 1.
Panto stars...Glenrothes Theatre Company is gearing up to stage Hansel and Gretel in the Rothes Halls from Wednesday, November 28, to Saturday, December 1.

It is 40 years now since Glenrothes Theatre Company was founded by talented local couple Ron and Norma Nicol.

And they are celebrating the milestone by staging Ron’s brand new adaptation of the family pantomime Hansel and Gretel in the Rothes Halls next week.

Local heroes...Norma and Ron Nicol founded the theatre company 40 years ago and their services to the arts in Fife secured them a well-deserved Kingdom FM award last year.

Local heroes...Norma and Ron Nicol founded the theatre company 40 years ago and their services to the arts in Fife secured them a well-deserved Kingdom FM award last year.

The company was founded in 1978 when the couple started an evening drama class at Newcastle Primary School.

Their first production was as the Newcastle Community Players but as it began to attract members from all over town, the name was changed to Glenrothes Theatre Company.

And it has been going strong ever since.

The company now has members from all over Fife and has staged more than 100 productions in Glenrothes, Leslie, Thornton, Kinglassie, Buckhaven and St Andrews, as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Ron Nicol's Snow Queen was initially performed by Glenrothes Theatre Company in 2009 and has gone on to enjoy great success globally, with some 150 productions worldwide. It is also one of Ron and Norma's personal favourites.

Ron Nicol's Snow Queen was initially performed by Glenrothes Theatre Company in 2009 and has gone on to enjoy great success globally, with some 150 productions worldwide. It is also one of Ron and Norma's personal favourites.

Their evening classes are now held in Thornton Town Hall. And young talent is recruited at Norma’s popular drama classes, founded at Newcastle Primary School in the 1980s and now based at Glenwood High School.

Her young charges have performed as the Junior Players and Youth Theatre, as well as in senior shows.

And Norma, who qualified as a drama tutor at Edinburgh College of Speech and Drama, is delighted two of her young stars are taking the title roles in Hansel and Gretel, Kacey Dryburgh and Katie Elliot.

Kacey (12), who will star as Hansel, played The Cat in Dick Whittington in 2015 and also appeared in Snow White and Ali Baba.

Katie (16), who will appear as Gretel, had her first speaking part with the company as Elaine-a-Dale in Robin Hood in 2014 and has been cast in every panto since, as well as several of the company’s one-act plays.

A number of Norma’s other young charges will also take to the stage in this year’s panto, including Laura Thomson and Emma Wright in their first speaking roles as mischievous fairies Sparkle and Twinkle, Patryk Piekarz as a rather odd Peacock, Ashlyn Wilson as Wee Sheep, Hayley Lessels as Wee Wolfie and Kari Garrioch, Summer Jones, Chloe McCluskey and Isla McDowell as weird forest creatures.

Helping to instil more confidence in her young stars is the main motivator for company producer Norma (73), a former professional actress who has worked with Joan Littlewood’s famous Theatre Workshop and broadcast with BBC Radio Scotland.

She said: “It’s not about finding the next Ewan McGregor, although that would be nice!

“Some pupils have gone on to drama school and that’s amazing but it’s not the purpose of the classes.

“What I love most is seeing the children blossom and building up confidence in themselves.

“I’ve taught hundreds of children over the years and you can really see their progress, from being timid to getting up and performing in front of an audience. That’s what it is all about.”

While young stars often drift away when exams loom large, the adult company has many loyal members.

In part, that likely stems from the quality productions written and directed by Ron.

The 75-year-old worked professionally at theatres in Perth, Lincoln, Harrogate, Chelmsford and York before training radio broadcasters at Glenrothes College and lecturing in theatre at the University of St Andrews.

He has written more than 50 plays and pantomimes, many first written for, and premiered by, Glenrothes Theatre Company.

An award-winning playwright – published in the UK, the USA and the Netherlands – Ron’s plays have clocked up more than 400 productions globally.

Indeed, while Hansel and Gretel is being performed, two of his plays will be staged in Suffolk and California too.

Looking back over 40 successful years, Ron has his own particular favourites – as do his American fans.

He said: “There have been 150 productions of the Snow Queen, many in America.

“Beware the Jabberwock was published in America and a lot of companies there put it on – I think they think I’m an American author!

“I’ve written 50 plays now, all published and performed.

“It’s really rewarding but I still try to write every day.”

Ron and Norma were presented with the Mary Leishman Award at last year’s Kingdom FM Local Hero Awards for services to the arts and theatre in Fife.

But it’s a team effort.

Ron added: “It was lovely to get that recognition but it’s for the company too – they come up trumps every year.”

The stars of the latest show

Audrey Stevenson had the title role in Maria Marten, the company’s first full-scale production in 1979 and since then has played more than 60 major roles. This year she plays Grizella, the wicked witch, who plans to eat Hansel and Gretel at the first opportunity.

Lee Bernard is the company’s president and has played over 40 characters in her 25 years. She takes on the unsympathetic role of Hansel and Gretel’s step-mother, Malena, who plots to abandon the children in the forest despite the protestations of their father Hans, played by Don Roth.

Don’s first appearance was as the Sheriff of Nottingham in 2014. Here he doubles as the Big Bad Wolf who strays into the wrong panto in search of Little Red Riding Hood.

Malena enlists the help of incompetent desperadoes Whibley and Wobbley – played by Nikki Conn and Susan Collins – to dispose of Hansel and Gretel. Nikki is assistant director for the show. Susan is a former member who has recently rejoined the group.

Aileen Henderson, the group’s gifted and inventive costume designer, has been a member for 17 years. She appears as a very Scottish Sparra.

Stephanie Childs is effervescent Burdie the robin, while newcomers Kurt McLeish and Niamh Fraser-Collins are Corbie the Police Crow and Maggie the Magpie.

Anna Gorniak plays Fairy Twigg. She will be keeping a watchful eye on Laura Thomson and Emma Wright, who attend Norma’s drama classes and are taking on their first speaking roles as fairies Sparkle and Twinkle.

Hansel and Gretel is on at the Rothes Halls from Wednesday, November 28, to Saturday, December 1, at 7.30pm. Tickets can be booked online at uk.patronbase.com/_OnFife/Productions/R805/Performances or at the Rothes Halls on 01592 611101.