TOMORROW the curtain will go up on Preston Pantomime Group's 40th production.

Much tomfoolery and fun will come to Preston Village Hall in Weymouth with the players' performance of Hansel and Gretel.

In true Looking Back break-a-leg style, we thought it was an appropriate time to show some of the highlights of this hard-working Weymouth troupe's pantos over the years.

Original member Margaret Sibley has very kindly shared some memories with these pages.

She said: "As one of the founding members of the group it’s hard to believe that this is the 40th production.

"My involvement in the group began one morning in my classroom as I was preparing for the morning’s lessons.

"Ginny Croad, one of my parents, brought Caroline Crisp to see me. 'We’re thinking of producing a pantomime and need a pianist, would you be interested?' she asked.

"I said 'yes and so began my long association with the group."

The group's first production was to be Robinson Crusoe at the Scutt Hall on January 19 and 20,1979.

Margaret said: "Caroline Crisp, whose brainchild the pantomime was, was the producer with Tricia Mander as Robinson Crusoe and John Joy as our first dame.

"The piano at the hall was so bad that I suggested that my own piano was transported to the hall. A horse box was borrowed and with much muscle power this was achieved. Much was everyone’s relief when I took to the stage and a new pianist took over and managed to get a tune out of the piano."

Two years later Margaret became a member of the chorus in Sleeping Beauty.

She recalls: "John Joy was our producer with Caroline being a memorable wicked fairy. Scutt Hall had only one entrance to the stage so if you had to make an entrance from stage right you had to get into the playgroup cupboard at the start of an act. The one dressing room also had the ladies’ toilets attached and the look on children’s faces when they saw ‘Miss’ in make up and various states of undress during the interval!"

In 1984 a search began for larger premises. Preston Village Hall was still without a stage so for the following two years the productions of Aladdin and Mother Goose were held at the Pontins Riviera in Weymouth.

1986 saw the group’s first performance at the village hall. Member Chris Hubbard specially wrote a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Margaret remembers: "It was written with each character specially chosen with members of the cast in mind. To this day I’m still wondering what I done to cause him to cast me as Grumpy!"

The village hall rapidly became the group's home, giving the player space to store costumes and scenery and lighting, putting an end to the trips John Crisp and David Dunford had to make to Poole to hire lights.

Margaret remembers: "We have had at least 10 different dames. Costumes and scenery have always been of a high standard. Roxane Moss had an eye for detail and dressed the dames in some fantastic dresses. Jenny Seys has followed on in this tradition.

"Christine Galpin managed to persuade even the most ardent non-dancer that they could dance, even getting me into fishnets and a leotard doing the Can Can, which won us an award at the Calor Gas Pantomime Awards."

Margaret said all the behind the scenes team have helped to keep the panto going.

"Harold Sibley and Gerry Lake have greeted people at the door from the beginning of our time at the village hall along with firstly, Sandra Seys and then Richard Seys encouraging the punters to part with their money to support many local charities.

"Forty years of Panto have gone by with much tears and laughter. In between pantos there have been Summer Farces and special events such as the Children in Need Pantomime in a Weekend in 2002.

"The pantomime group has always had a sense of family and community with two and even three generations of one family taking part or helping out in a variety of ways."

Preston Pantomime Group is keen to hear from people who would like to join them. See the Facebook page Preston Pantomime Group for more information.

*Hansel and Gretel, Preston Village Hall, Weymouth, February 14 to 17. Performances are at 7.30pm with a matinee performance at 2.30pm on February 17.

Tickets cost £6 for adults and £4 for children and can be booked by phoning 01305 834410.