COVID has forced a drama group to come up with a new way to stage their annual panto.

The Moorland Merrymakers were formed in 1965 and every December perform a traditional pantomime at Leusdon Memorial Hall near Poundsgate.

Last year, with the pandemic ruling out a stage performance, the group began planning an alternative – an outdoor filmed version of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Chairman Rob Steemson admitted his inspiration had come from a Hollywood legend

‘Some of Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse was filmed at locations on the moor and I recall sitting in Widecombe looking up at the landscape thinking we could do something similar!’ he said.

But with the project underway, further pandemic restrictions forced a year’s postponement.

So, in 2021 the challenge was to find a skilled lensman and luckily Rob knew that Alec Collyer MBE had recently retired as a BBC Spotlight cameraman.

`I have known Alec since 1980 when I joined the Ashburton Section of Dartmoor Rescue Group and over a nice lunch, I was able to secure his services,’ he said.

By default, Rob became the producer and by commandeering cast members’ houses, barns, gardens, together with scenes in the autumnal moorland landscape, the idea became a reality.

Panto author Philip Reeves added: ‘When the Moorland Merrymakers asked me to help write a virtual panto, I was assuming we`d be filming it on our phones, but thanks to cameraman Alec Collyer we`ve been able to shoot in professional quality 4k video.

‘The script and acting are the usual Merrymakers quality though, so it’s a daring blend of new technology and old, old jokes.’

Alec commented: “It’s been fun, but much harder than ‘real work’, at least I’ve been allowed to have fun in the edit! I’m still cleaning TV kit after hours in barns and fields”

Beryl Hutchings who plays Jack said: ‘It has been a different and exciting experience and thankfully we had good weather on the filming days. Alec really has come to our rescue!’

Rob concluded: `To keep the unique Moorland Merrymakers atmosphere and experience the premiere film screenings will be shown to a reduced seating capacity so we can all be Covid comfy and include some live entertainment, pasties, teas, and raffle. I am calling them our first hybrid version!’

Evening screenings take place on December 4 – 11 (except Sunday) and include matinees on both Saturdays at Leusdon Memorial Hall.

Tickets available via [email protected] or 07549 697176.