It sounds like a scene out of a JK Rowling novel or a plot line from Downton Abbey: a local amateur dramatics society has waged war on a rival group by jeering and heckling during a performance to such an extent that children left the stage “terrified”, leading to accusations of “sabotage” from the unfortunate thespians.
The final performance of a successful run of Aladdin, performed by the Chard Amateur Theatre Society (CATS) should have been a happy experience for all involved. But instead events took a sour turn when members of Tatworth Amateur Pantomime Society (TAPS) turned up, the Daily Mail has reported.
Pantomimes are known for their encouragement of audience participation, but the TAPS members took heckling to a whole new level. “There is crowd participation, which every pantomime should strive to encourage, but this was clearly interference and sabotage,” said one audience member, who wanted to remain anonymous.
“A number of the CATS cast were singled out for special treatment and the hecklers became louder and louder until these cast members became visibly nervous and began to make mistakes.
“At this point the feeling of victory from the hecklers was palpable as they jeered and laughed out loud, and a number of children in the cast left the stage terrified after performing.”
But TAPS insists that its members were not being intentionally intimidating. Secretary Sheila Harding insisted: “It wasn’t anything different to what others might do at a performance where people know one another. Some of our members gave a little bit of banter and they took offence.
“We go to many local panto’s, not just Chard, and it is all just part and parcel of it. It’s part of the banter between groups. Maybe we might have been a fraction too loud but we are expecting them to retaliate at our performance.”
But CATS doesn’t see it that way. Their leader Lorraine Marshall has said that they won’t engage in retaliation, but rather felt sorry for members of TAPS. She added that some of the hecklers had been with CATS but left when they didn’t get the parts they wanted.
“Every panto wants booing and hissing and that sort of stuff but this was over the top,” she said. “A few of them used to be part of our cast and didn’t get the parts they wanted, and they have got quite nasty about it. It’s very disappointing. I felt very sorry for the cast and members of the audience because people have said to me that it ruined their night.”