Jan 19 2012 by Hannah Bewley, Harrow Observer
The Chameleons drama group is adding sporting prowess and an Olympic flavour to the classic tale Dick Whittington in its pantomime next week.
After losing its performance space at Brent Town Hall in September, the amateur dramatics group have been on a heroic quest of their own just finding a venue to stage this London-centric tale.
Director and chairman of the group, Robert Spolander, explains: “The move has had a massive impact. It has affected every single thing we have done.
“Moving from a venue where we have worked for 25 years has changed everything from one where everyone knows where everything is. Everything has been affected by the change and this venue has different requirements.”
After an appeal in the Observer last year, Claremont High School in Kenton came forward and offered to loan a space for the group to perform its annual pantomime.
The relationship between them and school has been going well so far, but everything rests on next week’s much-anticipated performances.
Mr Spolander, who has been involved with the amateur dramatics group The Chameleons for 20 years, says: “We are hoping it will go well. So far they (the school) have been marvellous and we really don’t want to have to find a new venue next year.”
Rachel Simpson is playing the male lead and has been a member for just over a year.
The 25-year-old says: “Everyone has been working really hard and the move has made it more of a challenge, but also makes it more exciting.
“It is a smaller space which means we should have more interaction with the audience and this is what a panto is all about, there should be more feedback from the audience as they are more connected to what is going on on stage.”
Rachel, who teaches children gym and music as her day job, says: “Playing the male lead is great fun – it’s quite odd at the same time though. You have to keep remembering you are a boy and as the principal you have to play it straight. He has to be heroic, honest and happy, which for me is quite hard.
“Last year I played a snail so it’s pretty different from what I am used to.”
The cast and backstage crew’s own challenges of relocation are nothing compared with what Dick goes through in the revamped version of the folk tale.
Two of The Chameleons’ own writers have injected the story with the London 2012 fever which will descend on the city this summer during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Dick begins his journey to London with the aim of making his fortune by winning a gold medal at the Games, but when the Olympic torch goes missing he goes on a mission to find it, thus save the world’s greatest sporting championship.
The group was forced to move from Brent town hall after the stage rigging was condemned by Brent Council on the grounds of health and safety.
They had been using the space since 1981, and the company has been going since 1966 when it was founded by Joan Mundy and Jim Snell as The Neasden Methodist Church Drama Society.
They perform one pantomime a year, and a further two plays at The Kingsland Hall, United Reform Church in Wembley.
Rachel travels from her home in Hemel Hemstead to take part in rehearsals.
“We are like a big family,” she says. “Everyone juggles full time jobs and does it for the love of it. I think it’s obvious to the audience how much fun we are having, and hopefully they will share in that too.”
Robert Spolander adds: “The biggest challenge is attracting a new audience. We had a loyal base while we were in Brent and we need them all to keep coming and seeing us at Claremont.
“We also want to attract new people who live nearby the school who want to see good quality entertainment, which I think is pretty hard to come by these days. Especially if you were left disappointed by the Olympic ticket lottery.
l The Chameleons will perform Dick Whittington at Claremont High School, Claremont Avenue, Kenton from Thursday January 19 to Sunday January 22.
For information about tickets, see www.thechameleons.co.uk or call the box office on 020 8123 644.
Shows are at 7pm on Thursday and Friday, 2pm and 6pm on Saturday and 1pm and 4.30pm on Sunday.