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Give us back our freedom to lob a few toffees around; John Slim rounds up the latest news from the amateur stage community.

Two weeks are a long time in amateur theatre.

A fortnight ago, I bewailed the fact that a group in Preston had very probably sown the germ of an idea among the health and safety Gestapo by allowing it to be known that its members were wondering whether they ought to indulge in the age-old custom of throwing sweets during their pantomime.

Today, sadly but without any real surprise, I record that The Young Ones have decided to dispense with sweet-slinging for this week's production of Cinderella at Netherton Arts Centre, Dudley, which continues until Saturday.

The killjoy jackboots are clearly on the march - without, as far as I can gather, actually doing anything.

It seems that what panto people believe they have to do now, to avoid what could well be the first case of somebody being hit in the eye by a flying toffee in more than a hundred years of panto mime, is to hand sweets out very carefully to patrons lucky enough to be in clutching distance.

What fun!

My colleague Christopher Mor-ley, who went to see Cinderella, is as appalled as anyone.

He commented: "The whole thing is a farce. No-one buzzes the sweets at the audience like Derek Randall hurling a ball in from the boundary. They are lightly lobbed and endanger no-one. "But on Sunday, Buttons came around the audience with a container of sweets, asking those of us within grasping distance to take a handful and pass them back - but it was so quick, and not particularly clear to the youngsters in the audience, that it didn't really happen.

"When is someone going to stand up to all these self-appointed killjoys?"

It's a good question. There clearly is no law or by-law banning the practice, or we would not have been able to enjoy it all these years. Perhaps a jobsworth who knows more about it than I do will enlighten us.

Meanwhile, Christopher Morley reports that he enjoyed Cinderella, despite the self-preservationist curb on sweet-slinging. He has seen Young Ones productions for several years and is now watching members who have matured from being little dots in the chorus into performers of immense expertise and awareness.

He writes that their adult guests continue to delight in solo roles, with comic talent this time from the roly-poly Tara Rose and the "deliciously camp" Alan Harris, and he praises the staging, costuming and musical contributions, with special mention for an "astonishing" flute and reeds player from Birmingham Conservatoire.

What a shame that the long shadow of the jobsworths got there before Chris did.

It's a bit odd to hear that a theatre group has been unable to cast a two-hander - but it's happened at Hall Green Little Theatre and it's the pantomime that's getting the blame.

It seems that so many members were involved in last month's Aladdin that it proved impossible to find somebody who was not suffering Peking exhaustion - in addition to which, its director is a new member who went home to the United Stages for Christmas and the New Year.

All of which has meant that Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer's brilliant 1970 thriller with two long and hugely-demanding roles, has been put on the back-burner until the summer or early autumn.

In its place, opening on February 9, is a murder mystery evening, The Case of the Missing Diamond, which needs a cast of about half a dozen but is far less demanding.

Roy Palmer, who is directing it with Jean Wilde, said: "We usually have a play with a small cast after the pantomime because casting can be difficult, but this time, with Sleuth, it hasn't worked out."

I was saddened and aware of wasted opportunities last week when I visited the Crescent Theatre, which continues to be Birmingham's pounds 4 million showpiece setting for so many superb amateur productions.

It's a busy-busy venue, with both its own and visiting shows, but no one relaxing in the bar would have suspected a thing.

A framed display space the length of one wall did not show a single poster and there was nothing anywhere else in the drinking area, apart from a discreet handful of brochures. It's almost as if anything happening on stage would be a bit of a nuisance.

It's a shame. Have I caught a theatre in the act of slow suicide?

If I have, the new-style sombre black-cover programme provides an appropriate hint of mourning.

The show that led me to the Crescent was Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's the tale of a bunch of brats let loose in a sort of magical Cadbury's.

I shall never learn to love the show until I find a production with a director who has cut out the vile nose-picking sequence that has intruded into every performance I have seen over the years. The sad thing is that my view of what is often a good production is invariably coloured by this bit of Dahl stupidity.

Why not mark a loved one with a personally engraved brick?

Why not, indeed? The suggestion, from Brentwood Theatre, Essex, sounds far more effective than a run-of-the-mill fly-swatter and it should have more lasting results.

The theatre is boosting its rebuilding campaign by inviting supporters to pay pounds 50 to have a brick engraved with up to 30 letters, to be on view on the theatre frontage.

WHAT'S ON

Cinderella, The Young Ones, Netherton Arts Centre (to Saturday).

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (to Jan 27).

Aladdin, Nuneaton Pantomime & Revue Society, Bedworth Civic Hall (to Jan 27).

Dick Whittington, Spotlight Youth Theatre, Brownhills Commercial College (Jan 25-27).

Billy Liar, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (Jan 27-Feb 10).

Flying Ducks Over Boldmere, Highbury Little Theatre, Suttton Coldfield (Jan 30-Feb 10).

An Inspector Calls, Mayhem Theatre, Leasowes Theatre, Halesowen (Jan 31-Feb 3).

Deathtrap, Lichfield Players, Lichfield Garrick (Feb 1-10).

Our Town, Fellowship Players, Grange Theatre, Walsall (Feb 1-10).

Gaslight, Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield (Feb 1-10).

Barefoot in the Park, Rugby Theatre (Feb 3-10).
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 24, 2007
Words:1003
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