ALHAMBRA THEATRE TRADITION OF PANTOMIME SUNBEAMS CONTINUES TO FLOURISH
Yorkshire’s biggest pantomime, Cinderella, which opened to packed houses and glowing reviews on Saturday 15 December 2012 continues its run at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford until 3 February. The pantomime stars Billy Pearce, Lynda Bellingham, Brendan Sheerin and a full supporting cast of performers, singers and dancers, including the ever-popular Sunbeams.
Francis Laidler, who built the Alhambra Theatre in 1914, began the tradition of The Sunbeams, the juvenile chorus and dance troupe, who were considered to be an integral part of the Laidler pantomime productions; and this tradition continues to flourish today.
The Sunbeams for this year’s panto, Cinderella, appear on the Alhambra Theatre’s stage courtesy of Sara Packham’s Theatre School based in Cullingworth, Keighley. There are two teams (each team has ten children) who take it in turns to appear in a pantomime performance during the seven week run.
Sara Packham has provided children for the Alhambra pantomimes for ten years (not consecutively) and this year, her Sunbeams have been selected from dance students who attend classes in ballet, jazz, musical theatre, tap and drama. The children range in age from 7 to 10 years old, and this year it is Sara’s youngest team ever. Most of the children live in the Keighley, Oxenhope and Haworth areas. This is the second time Sara’s dance students have performed in a production of Cinderella.
Sara Packham says:
“The tradition of the Sunbeams at the annual Alhambra Theatre pantomime is well-known to people in the local area. Many people today know someone in their family or circle of friends who have been a Sunbeam over the years, since the tradition started in 1914. One of my dance students in this year’s troupe, Eve Williams, who has been a Sunbeam at the Alhambra for the last 3 years, has a great great aunt now living in Australia who was a Sunbeam when she was young!”
Eve’s great great aunt, Margaret Meredith (nee Heath) remembers:
“The first panto I was in was Cinderella in 1948-49. It started at Christmas and went till May. You had to be at least 12 to be a Sunbeam and 4ft the smallest and about 4ft 3 inches the tallest.”
Francis Laidler used to run open auditions each year to select his Sunbeams and each girl had to be “at least twelve years old, in perfect health, and with evidence of six months regular school attendance”* to be considered. As well as his selection criteria stating that each girl had to be a specific height, no boys were allowed in the troupe. Although today’s Sunbeam troupe does include boys, one of the selection criteria remains the same: a height restriction which is strictly adhered to. Today each child who performs as a Sunbeam in an Alhambra pantomime must be under 4ft 8 inches.
The first Alhambra Theatre panto that Sara supplied Sunbeams for was Aladdin starring Cannon & Ball in 2000. One of the Sunbeams from that panto has now gone on to pursue a professional career in dance teaching at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.
“The children work really hard to be part of this amazing show. Once they’re selected, they join the cast and production team for rehearsals at the theatre. During the 2 weeks leading up to the opening of the show, they work with the choreographer learning all the routines from scratch. It’s very rewarding to see the children performing to such a high standard, enjoying themselves on the Alhambra stage and maintaining this wonderful tradition.”
Press quotes about this year’s pantomime, Cinderella:
“With a set bursting with colour, morphing from a winter wonderland to a Viennese style ballroom, this is a fabulous feelgood family show.” Telegraph & Argus
“Cinderella is a great family show to brighten up the winter” Keighley News
“It appears that Bradford has done it again with this entertaining and colourful family show.” UK Theatre Network
Cinderella is on at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford and runs until Sunday 3 February 2013
Tickets £10 – £27 (booking fees apply) can be booked on 01274 432000 or bradford-theatres.co.uk
Captioned performance: Saturday 19 January, 2.30pm