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The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company is the largest amateur theatre group in the UK. Based in Ipswich, Suffolk, in the last year we entertained audiences of over 14,000 with stunning, high-energy musical productions. With a heritage of over 75 years, we have performed accross all east Suffolk’s top venues and are a festive fixture at the world-famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall with our annual Christmas Spectacular!

An amateur group with professional productions values, the Co-op Juniors provides children and young people accross Suffolk the opportunity to develop performance skills and take part in stunning musical theatre productions. Our family atmosphere and co-operative ethos bring together around 100 young performers each year and, now in our eighth decade, have been a home for generations of Ipswich performers, many of whom have gone on to have international performance careers.

History

1942
50s & 60s
1978
1995
2005
2010s

The Co-op Juniors started out in 1942 in the middle the Second World War, as the local Co-op Member Education Committee sought to provide a means to take children’s minds off the trauma of war.

Our first production was a pantomime of Aladdin. performed at the Ipswich Art Gallery in 1943. This was staged by Mr. Sid Johnson. As the group continued Pat Monk and Joy Ledgerwood succeeded Mr Johnson as directors.

The newly founded Co-op Juniors provided the incentive to set up local Co-operative Children’s Dancing classes, to teach the basics of ballet and tap and from where many graduated to the Co-op Juniors. These classes have developed today into our successful Theatre Academy.

Our first two productions Aladdin in 1942 and Dick Whittington in 1943

1942

As our experience and standards developed, so our audiences grew larger. A new venue was needed. In the early fifties, we performed our first show at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe, which played host to the Co-op Juniors for the next three decades. The Felixstowe theatre was not, however, our only venue – we toured many of these early pantomimes. Indeed, in 1953 the Co-op Juniors performed their pantomime of that year, Humpty Dumpty, at the Ipwich Hippodrome to raise money for those affected by the devistating East Coast Floods

Throughout this period we were led by Pat and Joy, who wrote, directed and often performed in our shows.

Simple Simon 1964 (top) and Cobbler Cobbler, Mend My Shoe 1963 (bottom)

50s & 60s

1978 saw the start of a major new era for the Co-op Juniors. We moved to the Regent Theatre, then known as the Gaumont, with a production of The Queen of Hearts. Pat and Joy had retired and the new production was produced by Richard Leggatt, with Pauline Walker and Jeannie Ingram as directors.

Pauline and Jeannie, who had both performed with the company since the early 1950s, went on to direct over two decades’ of shows at the Regent Theatre. The pair were joined in 1985 by Nigel Virley, as musical director. Not only did Nigel direct the band throughout this time, he penned many stunning original numbers which have entered the Co-op Juniors repetoire and wrote the scripts for over 15 years’ of Christmas productions.

With the growth of the company through the 1980s, we performed with stars of the era Bob Monkhouse, Little and Large, Shane Richie and the Baron Knights, and became the subject of a TV documentary, with our work to avert the closure of the Regent Theatre.

1978

Through the 1990s the company moved away from traditional pantomime, developing our own style of Christmas family entertainment. Our shows grew as we embarked on evermore challenging productions such as The Wind in the Willows and the award-winning A Christmas Carol.

In 1995 the company embarked on a new venture, staging summer musicals. Our first at the Regent Theatre was The Sound of Music, with successes such as Oliver!, My Fair Lady and Les Misérables following in next decade.

The Co-op Juniors entered the new millenium with record-breaking box office figures. Our 2000 Production of Peter Pan was seen by over 32,000 people and won the NODA Top Entertainer Award for the group.

The Sound of Music (1995), The King and I (1996) and Oliver! (2000)

1995

After 26 years at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich Borough Council who had taken on the running of the theatre decided to change the venue’s Christmas bill. While the decision was a shock for many both inside and outside the company, the Co-op Juniors sought out a new opportunity.

Pauline, Jeannie and Nigel, together with our ever adventurous technical director, Alan Ayres, took on the challenge of a major new production. Our first Christmas Spectacular! was performed in 2005 for a sold-out run at the prestigious Snape Maltings Concert Hall, starting a new relationship that has continued to grow.

2005 saw the start of the Co-op Juniors annual festive extravaganza at Snape Maltings

2005

As the vibrancy of Ipswich’s theatrical scene has exploded in the last decade, the Co-op Juniors have continued to evolve. We have explored new venues – performing major musicals such as Sister Act and The Phantom of the Opera at the New Wolsey Theatre, and smash hits such as Billy Eliott and Honk Jr at the Seckford Theatre in Woodbridge.

Our ingenutiy has been stretched with productions of Starlight Express at The Hush House, a former aircraft facility at Bentwaters, and Barnum in Circus Fantasia’s Big Top.

All this, while continuing to dazzle audience at Snape Maltings with our annual festive extravaganza, Christmas Spectacular! now in its 15th year.

2010s

Where are they now?

The company is enormously proud of the many past members who have been successful in progressing into a career in performing arts and musical theatre.

Many of them acknowledge that the experience and inspiration gained from their involvement with the Juniors has proved to be invaluable.

Gary Avis
After graduating from the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts, Gary joined The Royal Ballet Company in 1989. He was promoted to First Artist in September 1993 and Soloist in September 1995. He left The Royal Ballet in January 1999 to co-found Tetsuya Kumakawa’s new company and toured Japan for almost 3 years.

In 2002 he joined English National Ballet as a First Soloist and later re-joined The Royal Ballet Company in September 2004 where he currently is Assistant Ballet Master. Gary often finds time to work with the company as a guest choreographer and shares his knowledge of dance and performance.

Sam Biscoe
Sam is currently working on cruise ships.

Joanne Clarke
Jo studied at the Royal Ballet School and graduated to the English National Ballet where she spent 7 years.

Bridget Cloud
Bridget danced professionally for 7 years after graduating from Laine Theatre Arts and also spent some time teaching in Dubai.

Lewis Copland
Lewis moved to Paris and now dances both at Disneyland Paris and Disneyland Tokyo.

Leigh Daniels
Leigh also graduated from the Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom and has performed in many shows including the national touring cast of West Side Story.

Hayley Dye
After leaving the company in 1997, Hayley graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a BA Honours Degree in performing arts. You may have seen Hayley in Anglia Railway TV adverts.

Samantha Gaunt
Sammy danced from the age of 3 with the company and performed with the National Youth Ballet

before graduating from Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts. She has since been performing on cruise ships.

Mary-Kate Ingram
Mary-Kate graduated from the Royal College of Music in London where she gained her BMus. She’s a qualified string player with the viola being her preferred instrument and currently plays professionally in a string quartet. Mary-Kate has also played with the Juniors’ band on occasion.

Vince Redmon
Vince was one of the first company members to dance professionally, joining Sadlers Wells in 1983. He then joined the Rambert Dance Company, touring the country. He had the honour of appearing in two Royal Variety Performances and now divides his time between teaching and choreographing.

Liam Scarlett
Liam trained with the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge for 8 years, before joining the Royal Ballet Company, where he currently performs and choreographs.

Backstage

The backstage team of up to 80 volunteers ensures that every show runs smoothly.

Chaperones and dressers change as many as 800 costumes for a big production, so it’s a busy job! Technicians ensure that the lighting and sound work perfectly and enhance the show, while the stage crew build and operate the scenery and arrange props.

For the huge Christmas Spectacular! three articulated lorries transport the set, lighting and sound, with another truck for costumes and three coaches for the cast and production crew.

Co-op Juniors Theatre Company

The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company are grateful for the support of the East of England Co-operative Society

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