As a school student 40 years ago, Neil Mitchener vaguely recalls essaying the role of a young French woman for a play, pandering about on stage.
“I was suffering from terrible stage fright. From then on, I swore never to act again,” he chuckles, sipping a beer.
But this bus driver from Oakdale, Poole, is not over his connection to theatre.
At 62, Mr Mitchener is putting final touches to his pantomime production on Robin Hood, which he has written, produced, directed and self-financed, over the past 18 months. “I did not want to act, but was curious to know what goes on behind the stage and what goes into a theatre production,” he adds.
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His 100-minutes duration pantomime has an amateur cast and crew of 15, mostly bus drivers from his company and few of their friends. The actors were cast without auditions Mr Mitchener assigned roles randomly. “I knew this was an amateur production so did not audition anyone for the roles. I was fortunate to get people who could partially act,” he grins.
The idea for basing the play on Robin Hood came in April last year. The confidence came from having co-produced an earlier play on Robin Hood, written for an adult audience. “I thought of using part of the old script for this production but ended up writing the script from scratch,” he adds.
The process took several months and he accumulated over £ 1,500 to pay for the venue, costumes, promotion material etc. The last 10 months were spent tweaking the script and finalizing a suitable venue, while juggling 8-10 hour work shifts.
As a 20-something growing up in Bournemouth, Mr Mitchener signed up as a voluntary stage assistant at the Tivoli theatre in Wimborne. Here he tuned his technical skills learning the basics of lighting and sound. He even shared the stage “very briefly” with late comedian John Inman, when “we were wrapping a dress around a woman for a play.”
That experience proved invaluable and inspired him to stick to theatre. After this production, Mr Mitchnerr plans another project next year. “This time I will conduct proper auditions for actors,” he says.
With the play to be staged on December 3, his only concern, “I hope that everyone gets their cues right and doesn’t forget their lines,” he says, smiling at his cast.