Yaxley Amateur Players was founded in 1979 as the result of an idea by the group’s current Chair, Chris Akrill, who had experienced being a member of a youth theatre in the town where she grew up and was missing the thrill and excitement of being part of a community theatre group. The seeds were sown following a dream about a community drama group in Yaxley and after discussion with husband Eric, and local friends and work colleagues, it took root and started to grow.
Yaxley Public Hall seemed to be the obvious venue, with its traditional stage, backstage facilities and a good- sized auditorium. Yaxley did have a previous drama group which also performed at the Public Hall during the early 70’s but which had disbanded some years previously. They left a few props and scenery as a legacy and all was set for a new group to emerge from the ashes. The first performance was a pantomime, Bluebeard. Whether it was the naivety of the group, which was a young group at the time, or ignorance, but no one was aware that Bluebeard was viewed with superstition by theatrical communities due to a fire in 1903 which took place in the Iroquois Theater, Chicago during a performance of Bluebeard where 600 people lost their lives. Had we been aware we may have chosen a different panto and no doubt a different story for the group. However, as a first show for the new group Bluebeard was very successful and received good reviews.
Since then the group has gone from strength to strength. We have continued to perform an annual pantomime at the end of January, which we think is a great time to do it as it brightens up the coldest and most tedious part of the year.
Over the years we have performed over 100 different plays and shows. We have had success with a range of genres including musical variety shows, comedies, and more serious straight plays and musicals. More recently we have enjoyed performing popular titles such as Dad’s Army, Allo Allo and Calendar Girls, which raised £1200 for Sue Ryder and Macmillan cancer charities. We are always interested in trying something new and in utilising the many skills and talents of our group members. As well as performing published plays certain group members also write material for the group. We have also tried out new ideas, such as a Children’s Show entitled The Elves and the Toymaker written for the group by David Griffin-Stephens. In recent years we have staged Murder Mystery Evenings, encouraging audiences to join in working out Who Dunnit whilst enjoying a tasty supper. Diane Pickett is developing her skills in writing ever more complicated plots to challenge people’s detective skills. Our next panto will be Puss in Boots and that it’s been written for the group by Chris Akrill. As well as the well-loved mix of comedy and traditional songs it also features a few original songs the music by Stuart Terrington and lyrics by Chris Akrill.
We have found the last year very challenging, being unable to meet or perform but we have tried to be creative and have produced a film entitled ‘Lethal Lockdown’, a series for the radio entitled Happy Holidays which is currently being aired on Fenland Youth Radio and will be followed by 6 Murder Mysteries written by Diane Pickett. Everyone is looking forward to starting back to regular rehearsals at the end of May.
YAPY welcomes children aged between 6 and 16 years and, like the adult group, is based at the Public Hall in Yaxley. Since its inception, some 1000 children have benefited from being members of the children’s group, which tends to range from between 20 and 40 members at a time. The group meets every Saturday afternoon during term time. In the autumn the children perform their own show. As well as rehearsing for shows, the children participate in workshops to improve their drama skills and undertake additional projects within the community; for instance, performing outdoor Shakespeare and participating in the Yaxley Festival.
In addition to their own shows all the children take part appear in the annual pantomime as well as participating in joint projects with the adults; for instance, both groups took part in a 1940’s musical at the British Legion to celebrate VE Day.
The children’s group, YAPY, was started in 1983 and was always intended to enable the young people of Yaxley to participate in drama whilst building their confidence and self-esteem. All children are welcome. The ethos of the group is inclusive, aiming to offer every child the opportunity to participate in shows and learn about drama and theatre craft. The initial appeal in 1983 for children to start the group was made on the radio. On that day, something went wrong technically, with the result that the appeal was broadcast to Peterborough in place of the 6 o’clock news. We are eternally grateful as, on the first Saturday of the new group, a long queue of prospective members, children and young people, was waiting eagerly outside the Public Hall. It would be fair to say that we have never looked back.
Quite a few of the children from YAPY have gone on to pursue acting or musical theatre as a career. We are always very proud when this happens. For these young people, the group provides a stepping stone to a career in drama or the theatre and it is a source of pride that we have supported and helped so many young people. Over the years, the group has matured and now comprises members of every age and with a range of skills and experience. Some of the adults who joined YAPY as children are now active members of the older group and a few help out with the running of the children’s group.
The children’s group have not been idle during Lockdown either and produced a set of Aesop’s Fables which was played on Fenland Youth Radio in November 2020. They have also been busy writing their own plays and shows which have been recorded and videoed and saved on CD’s and DVD’s.
Like the adult group the children’s group tends to perform a range of genres including musicals, scripted plays and plays written specifically for the group. In the autumn they performed Adènekin which was a play written for the group about a Witch’s Cat. Writing specially for the children ensures that they can all take an active and meaningful role and try out their skills both onstage and backstage if they so wish.
The adult group works closely with the children’s group and this creates a supportive environment and enables the children to benefit from the skills and experience of the older members.
Over the years the group has supported children from a range of backgrounds, some more vulnerable than others. Parents consistently tell us that their children grow in confidence and self-esteem through attending the group. For children who may be experiencing emotional trauma, or problems elsewhere in their lives, the challenge of acting on a stage and developing their skills along with other children in a supportive environment helps to build emotional resilience and develops their coping skills.