It’s behind you… or is it?

A scene from the play Season's Greetings, a group of people gathered at the top of some steps with one person laid at the...

A scene from the play Season's Greetings, which was TOADS' Christmas performance last year - Credit: Brian Tilley

Christmas and theatre go together like cream crackers and cheese, and both are something to look forward to after a meal.

Traditionally, it’s pantomime season with stories that we all know and love.

TOADS Theatre Company has produced several pantomimes over the years with great success, and so to try something different might have been thought of as a rather large gamble, but it’s one which has always paid off.

TOADS is a theatre company which likes to entertain audiences with plays written by such playwrights as Alan Ayckbourn, John Godber, Arthur Miller, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Noel Coward – the list goes on and, although there’s always the temptation to have the theatre full of ‘oh no it isn’t...’ at this time of year, there has been a gradual diversion towards something a little bit different, but still epitomising the Christmas spirit.

These fabulous productions have been enjoyed by audiences and cast members over the years, and to randomly name a few there have been Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce, Seasons Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn, Babe the Sheep Pig by Dick King Smith, The Lion, and The Witch And The Wardrobe by C S Lewis. There are many more which feature on the TOADS website.

But Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without also mentioning ghostly productions as well - Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley and, of course, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which took to the Little theatre stage in 2016 to great acclaim.

There has often been spookulation whether TOADS has a resident ghost.

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The theatre is an old, expertly converted church and does lend itself to the odd draughty corner, and shiver down the spine when all is quiet. And the ghosts of productions past float around the auditorium, backstage, through the dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, props store, coffee lounge, bar and up through the auditorium to the extensive wardrobe and, almost at roof height, the lighting and special effects deck, where all kinds of technical mystery and magic are produced, including the ghostly mist which carries on metaphorically swirling long after the final performances.

Another ghostly production, which was due to take place last April, is the iconic Blithe Spirit written by Noel Coward, which was among several that Coward wrote and performed during World War Two.

The pandemic this year has been likened to a war by many people and, in true spirit, like so many, TOADS Theatre Company is determined to make next year the best one yet. 

Blithe Spirit, and other plays are being rescheduled where possible and the directors and cast are champing at the bit to take up the reins and perform again.

I was one member of the cast of Blithe Spirit and, halfway through rehearsals in February, we had news from director Stephanie Austin that we had to stop.

Multi-talented Stephanie has been a member of TOADS for many years; she is an actor, director and a past TOADS’ chairman.

Many people will also recognise her as the author of Dead In Devon, Dead On Dartmoor and Devon With Death, published by Allison and Busby.

Stephanie is currently writing her fifth book. The fourth, The Dartmoor Murders, is out in the spring, and, for lovers of cosy crime, these books would make wonderful Christmas presents - available on Amazon and Waterstones only.

TOADS are currently taking online bookings only for Lady Killers by Graham Linehan from May 17 to 22, 2021, and Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington from June 14 to 19, June 2021. 

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