Row erupts over the use of Topsham’s Matthews Hall

A popular Topsham pantomime has been cancelled amid a row over the use of Matthews Hall

DISGRUNTLED members of a Topsham drama group have cancelled a pantomime which has been staged for 40 years following a row over the use of Matthews Hall.

Marlene Gardner, from Topsham Amateur Dramatic Society, said the dispute developed after the hall’s management committee insisted the set and scenery be taken down after the Friday evening performance of this year’s show, Red Riding Hood.

Ms Gardner, who has helped run the group since 1969, claimed the committee’s request was made to ensure the venue was kept clear for Saturday morning market traders.

She said the stallholders, in turn, would not give up the hall on Saturdays.

Part of the panto tradition has always been a Saturday matinee which has been necessary to make the show financially viable.

Saddened by the situation, Ms Gardner said: “Matthews Hall was given to the people of Topsham by Mr Matthews who actually was the uncle of my daughter-in-law’s grandmother.

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“It is supposed to be a place for the community.

“We’re not asking them to give the whole hall up and we have offered to pay for the stalls but they rejected this as they didn’t want to lose out on any trade in the run-up to Christmas.

“The market traders never get out until about 1.30pm and there is no time to get it all ready in time.”

Ms Gardner changed the date for this year’s show, from January to December, to better suit groups such as local brownies and guides groups who like to attend.

It was also the only time a new dame for the pantomime was available to perform.

She added: “Forty years is a very long time. Children and their parents who like coming along will be so upset.

“I was speaking to someone in the town recently who said ‘well I’ve talked to a few people in Topsham about it and they couldn’t care less about the pantomime, whether it goes on or not.’

“That just isn’t the case. The people of the town love the panto and it is such a shame stallholders could not let us leave the staging up for just one Friday night.

“What I’m sad about is they are going to have taken away from them something that their mothers and grandmothers in some cases had the chance to do.

“You can always spot a child who has been in TADS because they have a confidence about them.

“It is such a disappointment and the committee won’t even talk to us.

“This year is definitely off and if things don’t change and the community still wants us to, we will try and find a new venue for next year but I don’t know where.”

Ms Gardner has spent thousands of hours over the years making costumes for the many shows.

“I remember when we once did the matinee and there were 300 kids who packed into the hall,” she said.

The Matthew’s Hall management committee, a branch of the Topsham Community Association, refused to comment when approached by the Journal.