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Dan Schumann – the common denominator between Haverhill and Soham pantos

Dick Whittington and His Fabulous Cat at Soham and Dick Whittington is at Haverhill

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Dick Whittington and His Fabulous Cat at The Viva Theatre Soham runs from Friday, December 1 to Sunday, December 10. Tickets are £15. See: www.viva-group.org.uk 

At Haverhill, top price tickets are £18, concessions £16 and a family ticket is £64. Dick Whittington runs from Friday, December 15 to Sunday, December 24. See:  https://haverhillartscentre.co.uk/

Dick Whittington was a lad from Suffolk. Few people know this, but his story starts in Haverhill. He leaves the sleepy town and makes his way to seek his fortune in London. The writer of this year’s panto at Haverhill Arts Centre should know. He is a kind of Dick Whittington himself.

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Writer and director Dan Schumann chose Dick Whittington as the first “home grown” pantomime to be staged at Haverhill Arts Centre because he says Haverhill began as a London “overspill” town. It started as a place for families to get away from “the smoke.”

Panto Sarah the Cook at Soham

Sarah the Cook at Soham

“A lot of people here will have come from London, or their families will have originally. This is the first year the arts centre has produced its own pantomime – usually we are just the venue – and we wanted something that relates to the town.”

Dan himself is a kind of Dick Whittington. No (not as far as we know) has he ever never slept on the counter of general store and woken up to find himself accused of safe-breaking. There are no reports of his having a triumphant fight with a giant rat in a faraway land full of sparkling treasures…but there are elements of magic in his story.

He grew up in Soham and because he seemed rather shy aged five. “My mum and my nana” sent him to a children’s drama group. “It was part of the community education that the villages colleges used to offer. When they came to see a show of our work, they couldn’t believe they were seeing the same person and I’ve never looked back.”

At sixteen he started a theatre company in the village, and he wrote a pantomime for it. It was Aladdin and he has been writing pantomimes pretty much ever since. The theatre company is called Viva.

Dan Schumann (left) with some of the assorted panto cast

Dan Schumann (left) with some of the assorted panto cast

“Twenty-seven years later it’s still going, and we now have our own theatre in a converted old mill.”  And guess what?… The Viva Theatre in Soham is also staging Dick Whittington this year. It’s called Dick Whittington and his Fabulous Cat, also written by Dan but with a different script and scenery – but some of the same principal actors.

That means those playing the Dame, the good fairy (Fairy Bowbells) Alderman and Alice Fitzwarren and Dick Whittington are in panto rep with the Haverhill Show opening just five days after the Soham show closes.

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The Viva Theatre opened its own premises three years ago. The company raised £4 million for the building. It took just 18 months to raise the funds. How did they do that? He says: “It was just hard work, filling in application forms, going to meetings, buttering people up, finding sponsors, going for whatever was going.”

He explains: “By then Viva had 25 years’ worth of goodwill behind it. Viva had a huge reputation and a huge membership base and a huge producing portfolio. It was a very established charity by then, so I did have that story to tell. We weren’t starting completely from scratch. It was the cherry on the cake.”

Meanwhile, after Soham Village College, Dan took his A levels at Netherhall School in Cambridge, then went to The Central School of Speech and Drama in London (following in the footsteps of Graham Norton, Christopher Eccleston, Judi Dench and so many others) and, now aged 43, has been writing pantomimes ever since including for the late theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright CBE.

So – what can we expect on stage at Haverhill this year? Well, we can’t reveal exactly what but there will be a twist at the end. It’s on the lines of girl power so perhaps Alice will rescue Dick and not the other way round.

We are promised all the traditional pantomime fun: songs that everyone will know (but not too long says Dan or the kids get bored and start going off to the loo). “They are all short, sweet, lively and fun.”

There will be slapstick in the mopping up routine on the boat – the ghost scene (but no ghost – instead, it’s going to be The Gruffalo). Children will be invited up onto the stage and there will be plenty for them to laugh at. Expect the expected and the unexpected.

The Haverhill cast includes Scott Wright as King Rat. Scott was nominated for a National Television Award for Most Popular Newcomer for his role as Sam Kingston in Coronation Street.

Both casts have David Learner as Alderman Fitzwarren, the actor best known as Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and as Pickle in the children’s game show Knightmare. Also, Samantha Dodds formerly from EastEnders as Fairy Bowbells.

Dick Whittington and His Fabulous Cat at The Viva Theatre Soham runs from Friday, December 1 to Sunday, December 10. Tickets are £15. See: www.viva-group.org.uk

At Haverhill, top price tickets are £18, concessions £16 and a family ticket is £64. Dick Whittington runs from Friday, December 15 to Sunday, December 24. See: haverhillartscentre.co.uk

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