THE young dancers whose hopes of appearing in an Oxford pantomime were dashed were not disappointed for long.
Girls from the Vera Legge School of Dancing were invited to a free showing of a John Travolta film as a consolation – and were soon back on stage in two glittering productions.
As we reported last week, the Oxford dancers were rejected in favour of a Swindon troupe for the Christmas production of Robinson Crusoe at the Apollo Theatre in 1983.
Vera Legge School had supplied dancers for the festive show for 48 years.
Producer and comedian Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies picked the Swindon team, claiming they “stood out the best”.
But furious mums and fans inundated the theatre with protests when the decision was announced.
They said the auditions were unfair and urged the star of the show, comedian Norman Wisdom, to intervene.
Anne Nicholls, of Leiden Road, Oxford, wrote to the Oxford Mail: “My daughter has worked very hard to be good enough to dance in the pantomime. I feel she has been cheated.
“The girls were told not to dress up and that only one dance routine was needed for the audition.
“Other dance troupes turned up with glittery dresses and three or four dance routines. The whole set-up was totally unfair.”
Mrs L Evans, of Fairacres Road, Oxford, added: “I’ve been to the pantomimes in Oxford for years and have always enjoyed the Oxford children. Who really is interested in children from a Swindon stage school?”
But Mr Davies was unmoved, arguing the audition had been fair.
He said: “All the schools attending were of a very high standard and it was very difficult to make a choice.
“I would have preferred to have used an Oxford team because it is going to cost us a lot of money taking the children home. But we didn’t audition youngsters to get the cheapest job – we auditioned them to find the best dancers.”
Diana Brown, who ran the Vera Legge School, said it was the first time in more than 40 years that the school had had to audition for the pantomime. She said: “I am sure there will be a lot of people in Oxford who will be disappointed that it is not a local school taking part. It has been a sort of tradition.
“However, it is not the end of the world. We are presenting a charity show at Cowley just before Christmas. We shall all put our hearts and souls into that.”
There was consolation for the Oxford dancers when, to make up for their disappointment, they were invited to a free showing of the film, Staying Alive, starring John Travolta, at the ABC cinema in Magdalen Street. One of them, Mary Ann McEvoy, said after the show: “It was ace. We do some modern dancing, but not like that.”
Nine-year-old Sarah Rogers added: “I liked the music and the dancing was brilliant.”
There was even better news a few months later when the Vera Legge School was invited to supply dancers for Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Wind in the Willows at the Apollo in the summer of 1984. Mrs Brown said: “The girls are absolutely thrilled to be back.”
In the end, the Swindon dancers may well have regretted being chosen for the pantomime.
As Oxford Mail theatre critic Don Chapman pointed out, they had to travel 60 miles to and from their home town six days a week for five weeks – for just five minutes’ work.