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Highcliffe Charity Players celebrate 50th birthday with Treasure Island show at Regent Centre

FIFTY years ago a group of parents put on a show to raise money for a local dance school.

It was such a success that the Highcliffe Charity Players (HCP) was formed and this year is celebrating its half-century and raising thousands for good causes.

It has become a cherished part of village life and has TV star Guy Henry, of Holby City fame, as its patron. He made his first stage appearance with the players in Sleeping Beauty when he was only 13.

John-Luke Greenacre as Jim with Erin Tripp as Felicity
John-Luke Greenacre as Jim with Erin Tripp as Felicity

HCP co-founder the late Tony Smith was the panto dame at the time, a role he was to play for a total of 25 years.

His son Matthew now helps run the group and is this year directing its celebratory production of Treasure Island in July, bringing live theatre back to the Regent Centre in Christchurch.

Speaking about the first show 50 years ago, Matthew said: “The show was a success, the money was raised, the performers had as much fun as the audience and Highcliffe Charity Players was born!

“I’ve proudly seen the company grow from strength to strength and delight panto-goers over generations – first at St Mark’s Hall in Highcliffe and then from 1986 at the Regent Centre.”

Matthew’s wife Georgina helps him to carry on the family tradition as the HCP’s chair. Talking about the summer show which runs from 29th-31st July, she said: “We were, of course, disappointed not to be able to perform our annual Christmas panto because of lockdown but feel privileged and excited to be the first live show back at the Regent in July.

“We chose Treasure Island as it is the perfect seaside summer adventure. And we are fortunate to have our own resident writer, Stephen Hutt, to create a script specially for us, full of the amusing contemporary touches and topical references that local family audiences so enjoy.”

All profits from the production will go to local charities and there is a reduced price ticket offer of £9.99 for frontline workers and their families on opening night.

Starring in the show as Jim, the swash-buckling hero, is 23-year-old John-Luke Greenacre who is making his first appearance in a panto.

His girlfriend Felicity is played by Ellie Tripp while her outrageous mother, Ma Hawkins, is played by veteran Malcolm George.

This is his first time starring as a panto dame which he is looking forward to, saying: “I have played many comic knockabouts and villains with the players over the past 30 years, but this is my first dame. I plan to be even more outrageous than usual; I just hope I can manage the high heels!”

Panto baddie Long John Silver is Mark Ward who last appeared with the HCP 27 years ago. He said: “Another appearance with HCP is long overdue and I relish the opportunity of being booed as their villain again.”Long John Silver’s silly pirates, Rosey and Gilly, are played by HCP favourites Georgina Smith and Pete Whitaker.

Felicity’s father, Squire Trelawney is performed by Chris Moore, and Marina the Mermaid, who brings a touch of fairy magic to the proceedings, is played by HCP stalwart Tracey Taylor-Jenkins.

The show is choreographed by Tilly Ingle, a teacher at LEAP Dance in Southbourne who also works on cruise ships and appears in professional shows. Musical director Stuart Darling is heading the live panto band.

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