Dr Who man turns his hand to St Neots Christmas play

A BAFTA award-winning BBC director is taking charge of the St Neots Players this year for the obligatory Christmas play. ANGELA SINGER went to meet Brendan Sheppard and discovered what treats are in store. DON T look now, but is that the Ghost of Christm

A BAFTA award-winning BBC director is taking charge of the St Neots Players this year for the obligatory Christmas play. ANGELA SINGER went to meet Brendan Sheppard and discovered what treats are in store.

DON'T look now, but is that the Ghost of Christmas Future behind you and did you feel a slight touch of your hair as it went by?

A Christmas Carol, to be performed by the St Neots Players, is not just a production of the play - they want you to step right into the novel.

It is directed by a BAFTA-winning BBC director, so expect surprises, ghosts that breathe on you, snow that falls on you and, I daresay, a demise of Tiny Tim that will break your heart.

The audience is promised humour and tragedy, drama and suspense.

And be warned: the people in the front row will take part in the action.

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Director Brendan Sheppard, who lives in Great Staughton with his wife Leanne and their two daughters, Lauren, seven and Charlotte, three, has directed episodes of EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Holby City.

His company Planetary Productions has produced the special features for the Dr Who DVDs.

Hence, the reason that there will be a free prize draw during the show on the opening night at The Priory Centre with a complete set of the fourth series of Dr Who, signed by David Tennant, up for grabs.

Sheppard's home in Great Staughton also has a host of Dr Who memorabilia - a model of K9, Dr Who's computer dog, and Peter Davison's costume from the 1980s, including the splendid camel-coloured coat.

For this Christmas Carol, you can expect the show to start as soon as you arrive at the venue.

The cast will be in costume (and in character), singing carols, selling raffle tickets and showing people to their seats. They are the front of house. (Does Scrooge only give you the cheap seats?)

Dickens' original text will be read Lynda Collins, the St Neots Players' actress, who won best overall actress at this year's drama festival in Hunstanton. Adam Hillier, who won best actor, plays Bob Cratchit.

Hillier and Natasha Woodcraft, who plays Mrs Crachit, will also star in a short film Sheppard is planning to take to the Cannes Film Festival next year.

The back stage crew for A Christmas Carol is no less than illustrious with Matthew Dilley the sound supervisor from the BBC's Royal Philharmonic on the sound, and lighting by Simon Yapp who is lighting director for the Glyndebourne Opera House.

A score has been written for the piece by composer Iilan Eshkeri.

Sheppard, 32, won his BAFTA Award (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for the BBC children's series, Nelly Nut which ran in 2004 and 2005. It was a "live cartoon" in that the actors doing the voices also moved the cartoon figures at the same time by using a consol.

He said: "It was on every day for two years. It was creative because I could put the characters in any background. We had them in ancient Egypt and on the moon."

He also directed Dinosapien, the current BBC children's drama which is a mixture of live action and computer generated dinosaurs.

Sheppard, originally from Belfast, is trained in - and now runs courses on - all aspects of television production, including editing and camera-work. As a student he won a Royal Television Society Award for best student drama, a psychological thriller called Dreams, which he directed and also operated the camera on.

He also gained distinctions in each subject when he studied television production both at the Eastdown Institute in Newcastle, Ireland, and Northumberland College in England. The techniques he will bring to A Christmas Carol include ensuring the action is non-stop.

"Because I am used to television, I can't have any time where nothing is happening," he said.

So as one scene closes the next will have already started. The entire auditorium will be used so that the actors enter from different parts of it. The idea is that the audience is enveloped by the action, much of which will take place in the round.

He said: "We have been in rehearsal since June and I have been astonished - this is amateur dramatics but such has been the enthusiasm that there has been a 100 per cent turn out for every single rehearsal. I think it is because we have had so much fun in rehearsals.

"It's all so good but I am so proud of the ghosts. This show is going to be scary and exciting - it's happy and it's sad. This is going to be Dickens at its best. By sheer coincidence the last day of the run (Sunday, December 14) will fall exactly on the 165th anniversary of the publication of A Christmas Carol in December 1843.

"I am extremely excited about this production. It is going to be the most phenomenal show."

INFORMATION: A Christmas Carol will be in Buckden on Saturday, December 6 for preview shows at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 and £7 for front row seats and £7.50 and £5 for other seats. The show is at the Priory Centre, St Neots on December 11, 12, 13 at 7.30pm. There is a 2.30pm show on the Saturday and the Sunday show on December 14 is a 2.30pm matinee. Tickets are £13 and £10 for the front row or £10 and £7.50 for the other seats. Box office 0870 803 3543 or on line at www.stneotsplayers.co.uk