Council officials turn on the grease paint

They are not exactly known for their thigh-slapping knock-about fun, but - look out behind you - council staff are getting ready to lift the curtain on a new sociable service… a charity pantomime.

They are not exactly known for their thigh-slapping knock-about fun, but - look out behind you - council staff are getting ready to lift the curtain on a new sociable service… a charity pantomime.

Officers more used to dealing with housing benefits, planning, rats and coastal erosion are slipping on costumes and slapping on make-up to become dames, genies, princesses and baddies.

Three charity performances of Aladdin at Sheringham in the New Year feature a cast drawn from North Norfolk District Council.

Dame and scriptwriter Steve Hems is an environmental health manager by day dealing with tricky issues including illegal gipsy camps, emergency planning, and contaminated land, but by night, as show rehearsals gather pace, he becomes a buxom, big-haired Widow Twankey.

“People may say that councils are a pantomime, and that you need a sense of humour to work here.

“But this just shows that we council workers are not all dry old fogies,” he said as staff got ready for another after work rehearsal session in a meeting room more accustomed to dry debate than panto-monium.

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Around the Cromer headquarters a glimpse of a cutlass, colourful robe, and flashing policeman's helmet are clues that something is stirring among the in-trays and creative juices of the officers beavering away at their desks.

Rehearsals began in June and are now reaching fever pitch ahead of three shows in January.

Director Francis Burrows works for Voluntary Norfolk but has a desk in the complex, and was quickly pressganged to shepherd the panto team when they found out he was a former theatre general manager in Ludlow with experience of staging shows.

And he is full of praise for the showbiz qualities of the district officials.

“They are not just stuffy council workers. This gives people a chance to see a different side of their personalities. All the main roles feature people who can act and have genuine comic timing.”

Two previous pantos Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella were staged at a village hall and local school, mainly for family and friends. But the new show at Sheringham Little Theatre was the biggest so far.

“It will have some in jokes, but will have a more wide-ranging script,” he added.

Audiences can expect to here mention of the Sheringham Tesco saga, and put downs to other parts of Norfolk.

Taking the title role of Aladdin will is community safety manager officer Teri Munro, whose workload normally involves CCTV and crime and disorder, but is being transformed into a thigh-slapping hero.

Teri said there were links between her council and panto roles - as both ensured the powers of good triumphed over evil.

Other cast members include:

Princess Jasmine - customer services manager Estelle Bawden who oversees reception and cashiers

Abanazer - former chief executive personal assistant Paul Neale, who is assistant curate at Cromer parish church in contrast to his baddie role.

Genie of the Lamp - benefits officer Laura Williamson who spends her day granting or refusing the wishes of claimants

Slave of the Ring - area planning manager Andy Mitchell

Sgt Woo Woo - coastal technical administrative assistant Marti Tipper

Royal suitor - caretaker Stuart Howard

And a live band of council staff called the Panto Loons

Mr Hems, who has played the dame in all three pantos, said: “We are a group of friends who enjoy entertaining and raising some money for charity.

“We will be poking some fun at senior managers and councillors. It's pay-back time,” he added.

Profits from the shows will to go the North Norfolk charity About with Friends a social group supporting people with learning difficulties.

Tickets for the shows on January 16 and 17 are £5 through the theatre box office on 01263 822347.