There are forty thieves in Florence Park! And if that doesn’t grab you, our show will, writes Heather Dunmore – assistant director of the Florence Park pantomime.

This week the Florence Park Players perform our annual pantomime – and the adrenaline is pumping. Between now and Saturday, a cast of 40 will take to the specially assembled stage at Florence Park Community Centre to perform this year’s production, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves by Ben Crocker.

This is no ordinary local amateur show, not least because tickets are always snapped up within hours of going on sale. Florence Park Players have been staging a January pantomime for six years. Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Puss in Boots have all been tackled with equal zeal and gusto. And the bar keeps on being raised with every new production.

Ali Baba was an ambitious choice, but then the Players like a challenge. As always, the show will follow a classic route, with puppets, slapstick, plenty of songs and of course a dame, played with extraordinary skill and humour by Jon Flint. The director is Emma Webb. Emma has directed five of the six shows plus choreographing the sixth. She is a popular Oxford movement teacher and choreographer who has lived in Florence Park for 15 years. Like everyone else involved, Emma volunteers an enormous amount of time and energy.

“I began the panto with our brilliant producer Viv Peto because I wanted to get to know my neighbours,” she says. “I’ve spent my professional life in theatre and I know what a great benefit it can bring to communities. Panto is traditionally, full of extraordinary craft. It’s hard but very rewarding. I love it.”

Last year, work commitments forced her to step back and allowed Nell Hook - always a key member of the pantomime cast - to take on the role of director, which she also performed with great success. Musical director Trevor Williams joined the team last year and clearly enjoyed the experience so much that he’s back again to steer the cast through a range of popular songs and lead musicians at every show. Viv Peto has produced all six pantomimes.

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All pictures by Hugh Warwick

All profits are ploughed back into Florence Park Community Centre which provides the venue and rehearsal space. The centre is a thriving community hub, and the pantomime meets all its aims. This year 88 locals are involved in the production, with an age range of seven to 84, and the performances will attract a total audience of at least 720 people.

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It would be unfair not to mention all of the other people who work so hard to make the production a success. Behind the scenes are the make-up artists, the costume and prop makers and those who design and paint the scenery. On top of that, there are the ticket sellers and those who produce posters, work the lights, transport children to and from rehearsals and generally support, or are driven mad by, family members learning lines and practicing routines.

Florence Park is a remarkable community with a wealth of talent and a generosity of spirit that is no more clearly in evidence than at the first reading of a new pantomime script in September. – and everyone on stage this week will clearly be having the time of their lives!

Oxford Mail:

All pictures by Hugh Warwick