Basingstoke Gang Show

The Haymarket

Until February 22

“LOVE it, cherish it, nurture it...It could even slip away and be lost”.

Ian Mullins, former artistic director of the Horseshoe Theatre Company, said this in 2004 at the 30th anniversary celebrations of Basingstoke’s own professional theatre company.

Sadly, we now realise how prophetic his words were – we have lost it. It has disappeared.

Yet, the expensively refurbished Haymarket Theatre still stands there and sometimes it comes alive in a way that makes me unashamedly emotional.

This happened when I went to the 21st Basingstoke Gang Show. The first one was in 1980 and I was there!  

The present chairman Steve Edney, who leads an army of dedicated volunteers and a company of 70 cubs, scouts, guides, explorers and young leaders, was on stage himself in 1980 as a young cub. He can be justifiably proud of what has been achieved by everyone involved with this very special anniversary show.

The business team of 11 volunteers will be the envy of every amateur musical society in the town as the Gang Show cost £50,000 and is entirely self-funded.

The staging, lighting design, projection work and costumes were of an incredibly high standard. Even the programme print and design was very professional and explains why our Basingstoke company has won so many awards. They aim high! When the funds are in place, everything is then set for the young people, aged between eight and 25, to begin six months of rehearsals, twice weekly. Every song has to be learnt by heart, every dance routine remembered.

There were nine scenes in each half and how these young people and their directors must have worked. The diction, when they were singing, was constantly good. They tackled the Charleston and the twist, ballroom and rock and roll – their enthusiasm for every different style of song and dance was endless.

Julie Allen, the producer, has given 28 years service to the Gang Show and this is her final year as producer. But her little eight year-old Willow, has genuine star quality; I do hope that we will see more of her in future. There were undoubtedly many talented young people on stage and I could not help but notice that when one young actor did a ‘Rowan Atkinson’ style conductor of an orchestra, the children in the audience were hysterical with laughter.

The adults were much slower appreciating the humour but their turn came when five young ladies did a pastiche on a 1930s synchronised swimming display. It was hilarious!

Not to be outdone, the young men did an acrobatic dash across the stage in trolleys – very daring, clever but always very funny.

I really liked the checkmate scene as the singing from the young men was especially good and Ryan Saunders in particular has a gift of a voice. 

The instrumental work from the band, hidden away from the scenery was so good but when there are live musicians around I like to see them. The result was when one scene included a suitably attired rock band, I thought at first they were miming, but they were playing electric guitars live – brilliant!

The scene changes were very slick but the audience and the stage were put into total darkness each time. I would have liked a little background music, especially as there were so many good musicians around.

The scene that had me searching for my handkerchief was called, quite simply, We Will Remember Them. Seeing a stage full of young people in 1914 dress singing with such reverence about soldiers writing letters home from the front was very moving.

Some of the performers were probably the same age as the soldiers who died in the 1914-18 war and the poignancy and futility of war came over very strongly. 

Every Gang Show ends with all the traditional songs such as ‘We are riding along on the crest of a wave’ etc and I am told that as the cast arrived for the matinee, they marched down Wote Street singing their hearts out and there was so much jollity and laughter.

Long live the Gang Show – love it, cherish it, nurture it.

Hannah Williams                       

The Gang Show continues until February 22. Tickets are available from the Anvil Arts box office on 01256 844244 or online at