WHAT possesses any respectable citizen to volunteer for the part of pantomime dame? It’s a question I often ask myself as we go into final rehearsals for December’s 1812 Theatre Company production of ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’ at Helmsley Arts Centre, writes Martin Vander Weyer.

I’m playing Dame Trott, proprietor of the village dairy and mother of Jack and Simple Simon. This will be my fourth outing as Helmsley’s dame and I’m hoping it will be my funniest, thanks to a hilarious script by Tom Whalley and excellent directing by Natasha Jones. I’ll be wiggling and shaking to the Spice Girls’ anthem ‘Spice Up Your Life’, flirting wildly with the audience, whacking doughballs at them and cracking some pretty saucy jokes — all while wearing a series of outrageous ballgowns, one of which has its own set of fairylights.

Embarrassing? Not at all. Pantomime is an English theatrical tradition that can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and our audiences love every familiar aspect of the dame’s cartoon character and antics. The fact that underneath the wig and makeup is one of their usually sober-suited neighbours just adds to the entertainment.

And this is a show that will be full of neighbours, on stage and in the stalls, because we’ve got the biggest cast we’ve ever had in a Helmsley show — two full teams of youngsters in the chorus, doing five shows each, plus a dozen seniors and principals who do the whole exhausting run of ten performances.

So that’s lots of local families and all their friends who we hope will want to come and cheer us on. It’s a warm winter outing for the whole community plus visitors from further afield — and if someone’s got to make a bit of a fool of himself as the dame to complete the formula, I’m happy to have that privilege.

Alongside me will be 1812 stalwarts Kerrianne Linning as Jack, Amy Hughes as Princess Jill, Sarah Barker as Mother Nature, Eddie Power as Giant Blunderbore and Joe Gregory as his sidekick Fleshcreep; from the 1812 Youth Theatre talent pool we’re lucky to have Esme Schofield as the King and Felix Hughes as Simple Simon.

Everyone knows the age-old story how the princess is rescued and the giant is defeated so there are no big surprises in the plot — but there’s huge fun in the script and the song-and-dance showstoppers.

We’re at Helmsley Arts Centre from Saturday, 7 to Sunday, December 15. Tickets are available from the Box Office on 01439 771700 or www.helmsleyarts.co.uk