PANTO performers in Gorse Hill are getting ready for the first show of the group’s 75th year.

The Tiverton Players have been entertaining audiences for three quarters of a century and generations of people have ensured the show has gone on over the decades.

Mollie Tanner founded the group and watched it grow as actors and behind-the-scenes staff brought their children along, only for those youngsters to then grow up and step into their roles.

Mollie died in November 2020 and that year’s performance was dedicated to her memory. Her granddaughter Livvy Wicks helps put the dances together and is providing a couple of actors for this year’s show.

Debbie Knotts has been in the 14-strong group for 20 years and became a member because her parents and grandparents had been part of the Players too.

Paul Greenhood appeared regularly in the stage productions as the dame and now writes the pantomimes as director. New member Rob Hall now plays the dame. Dale Greenhood was seven when he started and now sorts out the sound. Six-year-old Gracie Such will be in her second show, playing the candlestick in Beauty and the Beast.

Nancy Evans worked in the group for at least 25 years, while Sue Flynn joined 12 years ago and still describes herself as a newbie - this year, she’s playing the baddie.

Debbie said: “It’s like a big close-knit family here, it’s a thriving group, everyone gets on. Mollie would be very proud, she supported me all the way, and we’ve carried on. She came to the shows every year, she was wonderful and always cared about us.

“I love making the kids laugh with my jokes, it’s always packed. It’s uproar in here but that’s what you want, it’s been so hard for everyone and you need a bit of fun.

“We’re really looking forward to putting it on this year. We met every week to play games on Zoom during lockdown, it kept us sane.”

Sue added: “People have missed this and want to get back to normal. We’ve sold hundreds of tickets already.”

Along with the pantos, the players have put on variety shows and summer events and won a few trophies at the Wroughton Carnival. There have been setbacks. Thieves stole dozens of costumes from the storage in 2013 then struck again a few years later.

Each year, they put on an extra performance, for free, for children with Down’s Syndrome and their families on the Wednesday.

Beauty and the Beast is on at the Chapel Street Gorse Hill Community Centre on Thursday, Friday and twice on Saturday. Due to high demand, an extra matinee has been added for Sunday afternoon from 4.30pm.

For tickets, call 07780965226.