Covid tried its best to prune Sheringham Little Theatre’s Jack and the Beanstalk panto season. But in her latest regular column director Debbie Thompson explains how the cast won the day.

So the panto was a great success. Hooray. But that lingering “baddie” Covid did try to throw a spanner in the works at the 11th hour. Boo. Hiss.

However he didn’t reckon on the resourcefulness of our terrific team to quickly find a solution and provide the quintessential happy ending for our Jack and the Beanstalk season. Cue rapturous applause.

Our leading man Charlie Randall, who played Jack, tested positive in the final week of the run – so we had to sadly cancel two shows on December 29, and we are sorry for those audience members who missed out.

But we were able to rescue the final four shows of the season thanks to the versatility of our talented team and director.

Panto creator Nick Earnshaw was already heading to Sheringham to see the last few shows – but when Covid did his worst, Nick ended up stepping on to the stage as our dame for the finale fling.

Harry Wyatt switched from Dame TikTok to take Charlie’s Jack role and we had a show again.

Nick has of course played Dame before, including as Sarah the Cook in our 2019 Dick Whittington show, and of course he wrote and directed the Jack panto so he knew what was needed of his stand-in role.

%image(15940004, type="article-full", alt="Australian actor Hugh Jackman praised the "unsung role of understudies".")

As the family drove from Stafford to Norfolk he ran through his lines with his son Riley. And wardrobe mistress Libby Henshaw worked her magic on the costumes to make them fit their new models.

So all credit to Nick and Harry for riding to the rescue, and to the rest of the team for adapting to the last-minute team changes. I spoke to audiences and they not even spot the understudies, so they did a terrific job.

Actors do sometimes have to step in to cover other actor’s parts through accident or illness.

We had a dancer step into the role of Pc Pong in panto at the interval when he was accidentally hit on the head in the first half, and a director became a cast member during a summer season when an actor was taken ill.

%image(15940007, type="article-full", alt="Classical music lovers enjoying last year’s concert at Mannington Hall")

A tribute to the unsung role of understudies was made “across the pond” last month by none other than top actor Hugh Jackman after his co-star in The Music Man on Broadway tested positive for Covid, and cover actor, or swing, Kathy Voytko had to step-in to the key part just hours before the curtain went up.

Hugh, whose mum lives in Norfolk of course, told the audience after the show that Kathy could have played any of eight roles, and only began rehearsing with him at lunchtime.

He praised the understudies’ “courage, brilliance, dedication, and talent” which he said was humbling and the bedrock of Broadway – adding that “real superheroes do not wear capes!"

We don’t have big casts or budgets for official understudies at Sheringham, but during the 20 years I have been here someone always steps in to rescue the day. It’s part of the job, but not always appreciated.

Covid has proved a testing time for everyone, including theatres. But not everyone knows about the behind the scenes dramas it can cause with a major production like our panto.

And nor should they – because we just want them to enjoy the best show possible, whatever is happening off stage.

Even though we are on Station Road rather than Broadway I just wanted to do my Hugh Jackman bit and praise our actors for their skill, versatility and willingness to go the extra mile to ensure our panto could finish with a flourish – which is especially fitting in a “the show must go on” kind of year.

But enough of looking “behind you!” at panto, and onwards to looking forward to 2022.

Everyone is hoping that once Omicron has taken its final bow, we can return to something like a bit of normality, even if the new normal means a bit more mask-wearing and hand-sanitising.

And we are planning for an exciting year of arts entertainment on our stage, screen and at outdoor venues – while staying cautious to avoid unnecessary financial risks.

There will be a mix of amateur and touring professional drama, improvised comedy, a youth musical, family shows, screenings of top London opera and ballet, along with the return of monthly jazz sessions, plus a summer brass band concert at Mannington Hall.

To (under)study our events check out our website for show details and tickets