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From the chorus line to the director’s chair, one mother-of-two who moonlights as a Woodford pantomime essential has seen her career span three decades, but still finds opening night “nerve-wracking”.

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Leytonstone-born Dawn Young appeared in her first pantomime in 1981 as part of the chorus after auditioning to join the Woodford Operatic and Dramatic Society (WOADS).

As the curtain fell on the last show on Sunday, ending pantomime season for this year, Dawn, alongside her dedicated team, has successfully completed a 14-show production of Dick Whittington – but this time she was the one directing.

She said: “The first show I was in was Robinson Crusoe. I fell in love with pantomime straight away, it was all very silly and the whole team was like a large extended family.

“WOADS was a big company back then and there were a lot of performers, and as well as the annual pantomime, they also worked on extra shows and musicals throughout the year.

“This gradually became more and more difficult, with many of the regular cast in other productions, so it was hard to get everyone in the same place.

“Without any support from the council, it was hard to sell tickets and when we performed at the Kenneth More Theatre we always seemed to make a loss. But we keep plugging away.”

The panto, which takes over the Sir James Hawkey Hall, in Broomhill Road, Woodford Green for most of January and costs around £50,000 to produce, begins life in May, when committee members come together to discuss scripts.

The former road-safety teacher, who now lives in Epping, said: “The panto which most sticks in my mind was when I played the cat in Dick Whittington in 1988. I loved the part.

“I just got hooked on pantos and all you want is for the audience to enjoy it as much as you. There are so many going on at the same time so you try and make sure you’re not doing the same one. We don’t really feel in competition with the others, as we all seem to have our own patch.”

After the huge success of Woodford’s latest pantomime, Dawn recalls her worst experience on stage which, along with looking after her two young daughters, was the start of a 22-year gap in her theatre career.

She said: “I was playing Nancy in Oliver! and I just froze on stage and couldn’t remember any of my lines. Those couple of seconds just felt like a lifetime.

“It was a matinee and I felt like I couldn’t go on in the evening, so one of the cast members took me to the pub for a stiff drink and I went on, but it really shook my confidence. I’m normally not scared at all.

“When I wasn’t involved in the panto, I had to stay away completely. It’s hard knowing how much fun everyone is having.”

Dawn returned to the stage in 2002 as a minor character, but it was taking on the role as assistant director for Jack and the Beanstalk in 2011 which saw her get back involved in pantomime.

“It was brilliant to be back but being the assistant meant I was told a lot of the ideas and had to implement them,” she said. “It was nice being able to make my own decisions and implement as many ideas from the team as I could this year.

“I think we are a true family panto, as so many of them have a lot of smut nowadays. Children are very knowing and can pick up on these things.”

But there was one aspect that Dawn felt compelled to leave out of Dick Whittington.

The Forest School, College Place, Snaresbrook, assistant said: “I hate mushy songs, they just make me squirm and kids always look around looking bored. So when my heroine comes on to the stage, I decided to do a humorous take on the famous scene from Titanic.

“It’s worked really well.”

With some pantomimes being eager to include special effects in their set, Dawn believes audiences do not expect that from the show, but it is still important to include a “wow factor”.

The 52-year-old, who is also a member of the Redbridge Theatre Guild as a representative of WOADS, added: “After having a knot in my chest on the first night, which was extremely nerve-wracking, I have sat back and enjoyed every minute of it since then.”

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