The Aberdeen Diary

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His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen - website

Stu Francis - Through The Keyhole!


Monday 26th November 2001

We arrived straight off the sleeper from Kings Cross at 8am, a tad bleary eyed, and headed for the “Rainbow” dance studios to begin rehearsals. Journey uneventful, with the exception of one abrupt stop in the middle of the highlands, when my luggage shot off the rack, and landed on my chest! Good job I was traveling light! Keith and Briony

Found the studios and met up with the director, Keith Simmons, of “The Simmons Brothers”, who also directed us last year at Darlington. First day of rehearsals are always a bit like first day at school- scrubbed faces, and a newly sharpened pencil to hand, and new class-mates to meet! We met Stu Francis (Buttons) who was with us last year, and Lesley Anne Johnson (Cinderella) who we last worked with in Edinburgh panto, and happily three of the dancers who we were with again last year- Leaghanne Phillips, Nazalee Keyani and Shelley Clark. We also have the same choreographer, Debbie Lloyd, so it was more of a reunion than “new boys” in the classroom!  

In rehearsals at Rainbow Studio!Then to meet the rest of the cast and technical crew- Jansen Spencer, who plays Prince Charming had just flown in from Melbourne, a veteran of “Neighbours”- he plays Paul McClain) Billy Riddoch (Baron Hardup) who has made several annual appearances here at His Majesty’s Theatre, and Joyce Falconer (Fairy Godmother). Dandini is played by Duncan Breeze, and the Lord Chamberlain by our company manager, Peter Gooday.

We also met up with the dancers we’ve not worked with before, Jenny Turner, Ben Hand and Matt Robinson, along with Briony Allen and Paul Hudson who run the technical side of the show, along with Andrew Davidson the Musical Director. Many names to remember on a first day!

Keith got us up and running from the off. By the end of the day most of the blocking for act one was done- Blocking being the physical “where do I enter, where do you want me to stand?” part of rehearsals- the important bit that prevents actors from bumping into each other- and the furniture! We have  six days to rehearse in studios, and then three days in His Majesty’s Theatre before we perform in front of a “preview” audience, and open fully on December 6th.

Sunday 2nd December 2001

Officially a day off, but Peter & I went into His Majesty’s to supervise the unloading ofShelley and Nazalee (Darlington 2000/1) our costumes. This is where we do not travel light! The costumes and props we use in the show are all our own, and arrived in the two large scenery trucks. There was a 50/50 chance that our costumes would be at the front of the truck, and the first things to be unloaded. Sadly not! They were all at the very back! Eventually we unloaded the three costume rails, two wicker costume baskets, and assorted luggage that allows us to each have eleven costume and wig changes each during the show. Looking at the beautiful but small dressing rooms, and looking at twenty two costumes and the same number of wigs, it seemed as if we were going to have to perform an incredible shrinking trick. Luckily the resident stage crew, one of the finest in the country came to our rescue, and built a large “quick Change” area on the side of the stage- equipped with rails, lighting, mirrors and even carpeting it soon became the “Hilton” of quick change areas, and nearly all the costumes are now living very happily ever after inside!

Jansen SpencerMonday 3rd December 2001

           At last a chance to look around this most beautiful of Edwardian Theatres. We were last here in “Cinderella” fourteen years ago, and it has been even more lovingly restored since then. Built in the early 1900’s, it was the first of its kind to be built in solid granite- their website has amazing 360 degree jpegs of the interior and exterior, well worth a visit. The dressing rooms are on different levels, and yet it has a really intimate feel backstage, and is extremely friendly and comfortable. As Annie sings in the Musical of the same name “I think I’m Gonna like it here!”

Tuesday 4th December, 2001

Another full day’s rehearsal, this time in the stalls bar (no, it WAS shut!) of the theatre, running through the show. The scenery was now installed on stage, and the lighting designer, Chris Wilcox working in the auditorium. We ran through most of the show in the cramped space, and used any spare time to sort out the dressing room space. It is at this stage that you can generally gauge the length of the show, and so far it looks as if we are on target- hopefully Keith the director will not have to get his pencil out and do any cuts.

By late afternoon we were able to get onto the stage, and work on the scenes. The village of “Stoneybroke” looks impressive, but already we can spot a problem. In our costumes and wigs we will be about two feet taller than the door that goes into “Hardup Hall”, so the Ugly Sisters will have to enter and exit from behind it! Better that than knock your wig off I always say!

Wednesday 5th December, 2001

Today the pace really starts to hot up. The day is filled with rehearsing on stage, working out changes to entrances and exits, and having a sound check. This involves setting levels for radio microphones that we will all wear strapped to our bodies during the show. This in turn leads to a “Band Call”, where we individually go through the musical numbers with the five piece band in the orchestra pit.

Standing on stage gazing out at this beautiful auditorium you appreciate what a clever man Frank Matcham was. The Victorian/Edwardian designer of this, and many other theatres created a vast auditorium that still manages to seem intimate to play to. The circles- Dress, Royal and upper circles are narrow, and make the audience seem nearer than they really are, with a steep “rake” in the seating, so every seat has a good view.

We finished the day with a full dress/technical rehearsal, ending at the point where the ponies (called “Babes” and “Toni”, two white Shetlands) enter with Cinderella’s coach. The cast retired to the pub afterwards, ready for the call tomorrow at 10am.Tomorrow we finish the “technical” rehearsal, and will be performing in front of an invited “preview” audience at 7pm.

Thursday 6th December, 2001 The Sisters, Stu Francis and Jansen Spencer

Early start, doing the second half of the technical rehearsal-from the Ballroom through to the finale, then a press call in costume, followed by a full dress rehearsal. So far all seems good, but what we need now is a live audience to see what gets the laughs and what doesn’t! Its now that the stage door starts to fill up with bouquets arriving for the cast- well, the ladies anyway. Guys seem to miss out on this.....not so much as a basket of fruit !

The invited audience arrived, and at 7pm we did our first preview, mainly to theatre staff and friends. A trial run that we were all very pleased with, even if we say so ourselves!

Friday 7th December, 2001

Stu Francis and his Angels !!To confirm our beliefs we have a good show, we’re not called until 4pm for notes. Great joy all round. This is the chance to lie in, and to get cards and first night gifts sorted out- that peculiar tradition of cards and small, often silly or apt presents that thespians indulge in. I think it has a lot to do with superstition.. since quite often luck has a lot to do with the success of a show, indulging in “good luck” cards and such seems to keep the nasties at bay! Mind you- preparation, a good script and director and lots of rehearsal is surely the safest way to ensure success? We’re lucky, as we have all these elements!

By 7pm the adrenaline is running high, and the first night begins. Yes- we are a triumph! Congratulations all round, and a splendid drinks and buffet provided by the management of “His Majesty’s Theatre” to end the proceedings. Now the hard work really begins, as the company settle in for two shows a day…but for now a wee dram or two to celebrate!

Friday 14th December, 2001

We’ve now had eleven shows under our belts, and very good reviews in the papers. The company continues to be a very friendly and jolly one, and since dressing rooms are close together, there’s a fair bit of visiting and socialising happening. We’ve sorted out our Christmas day arrangements- Panto folk are away from their homes at Christmas generally, especially as we only have the one day off- Boxing day is a working day for us. In some cases it might be the first time a company member has been away from home (Hello Matt Robinson!). Stu Francis has been able to find a hotel where we can all have Christmas lunch, so a group of about eighteen of us will be in best bib and tucker on the day.The Ponies and Coach

Tuesday 18th December, 2001

Shows are now running smoothly, and feeling all the better for a day off yesterday. Outside the dressing room the world is going on a feeding frenzy of shopping, but inside here all is calm! I say calm, but act two of this show is anything but for the sisters two! From the moment the curtain rises on The Grand Ballroom, we appear in ballgowns, race around the back of the scenery and hurl ourselves out of those, with the help of Lianne, Lynne and Helen, the wardrobe ladies, then proceed to underdress four costumes and a washing line each. We then just make it to the wings in time to appear and do “The Strip”, where we take it all off (well, not all obviously.. this IS family entertainment!) in under one minute.

A chance now to sit down you say? No..We come back onstage, frighten a ghost off (It’s behind you! Scream 1,000 children) then run like the wind to quick change, and re-enter to try on the slipper! En route we might manage to slip the two ponies a polo mint each, then change into the finale costumes for “The Walkdown”, the final scene in the panto!

Friday 21st December, 2001

Just finished doing a run of earlier matinees for schools. Amazing how many of the primary schools here in Aberdeen take parties to the Theatre- all praise to this theatre’s marketing department, as many other theatres would enjoy this sort of sell-out business!

The matinees are different to the evenings, as essentially the children en-mass embrace the story, and in our case heartily “boo” the villains, those dastardly Uglies. In the evenings the increase in adults makes the Sisters seem more comics than Villains, as the jokes become more important. Adult or child alike though, the entrance of the two scene stealing ponies always gets huge applause.

The Christmas Grab-bag! Monday 24th December, 2001

The weather has been pretty awful these past few days. Poor Peter slipped on the ice (AND he was sober) so one Ugly Sister can now not raise his left hand at all! Changing costume eighteen times a day is very painful for him, but Lianne, Lynn and Helen in wardrobe have become immune to his cries of “OWW!” each time he changes a frock. When we do the “Strip” routine in act two, as each layer is removed all I can hear is “Oww!” to let me know he’s removed yet another layer! One of the stage crew, Andy suffered a similar fall, resulting in cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder, so Peter thinks himself lucky he escaped with torn ligaments and bruising.

Its Xmas Eve- outside it is snowing heavily, and apparently the shops are heaving. Inside pantoland we are carrying on as usual. The Aberdeen Academy pupils, the juveniles in the show are all very excited about tomorrow, and we are looking forward to meeting up for lunch in a local Hotel. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 26th December, 2001

The cast had a great Xmas day at the hotel. Met up with Stu Francis and his family, theChristmas Lunch - Ben, Paul and Leaghanne dancers Leaghanne, Shelley and Naz, the boys Ben and Matt, Company Manager Peter, Paul our ASM (Assistant Stage Manager) and Peter & myself. Great lunch, followed by an evening of… now what do you think a load of thespians would do? Yes- Charades! No television, just a piano, some mime games, and a wonderful evening. Joined later by our Dandini, Duncan and his family we stayed until late in the evening.

Now it’s back to work- two a day as before, and as I came into the theatre through thick snow I could see the shops were once again heaving with the sales. Retail therapy, what bliss!

Thursday 27th December, 2001

Well- I have a cold, Duncan has a virus, and one of the ponies has a sore hoof. But we’re troupers all! With the aid of Lemsip, and a visit by the vet (for Babes the pony, I assure you) we’re as bright as buttons (if you’ll pardon the pun) on stage. Off stage I shiver and croak, but after a few hours sleep between shows I feel much better. Our habit of giving the ponies an apple, or some mints every so often seems very welcomed by the ponies, but I now discover we’re one of many who have doing the same. Pretty soon those pampered ponies will get too fat to pull the coach! Just over a week to go now, and time to start thinking about how we are going to pack everything up, ready for the return to London.

Friday 28th December 2001

Today the weather threw everything at us! I saw my first Blizzard. The whole of Aberdeen became invisible under a thick downpour of snow. Lights began flickering alarmingly, and in many places went out for several hours. Inside the Theatre we looked out at the gridlock- the traffic lights had all failed, and cars had collided together, blocking the routes around the theatre.The Crew

We lost some of our lighting at the start of the show, but this was swiftly corrected, and we opened to a house that was about a third full. By the interval the house had magically filled, and we played once again to a full house. I think we delayed about ten minutes in all, with a further delay in the evening as the audience battled their way in. We were delighted to be visited backstage by our former Cinderella from our last visit here, fourteen years ago, the lovely Fiona Kennedy, her children and friends, and her father Calum Kennedy, the legendary Scots entertainer.

The streets outside are sheets of ice, and with more snow forecast, we’re keeping our fingers crossed the audiences can get to the theatre, and that the electricity stays on!!

Monday 31st December 2001

Just the one show today, as Aberdeen prepares itself for Hogmanay. Snow everywhere, and biting cold, but the City is geared up for Party Time! Some of our company are flying home, some going to Edinburgh to combine Hogmanay with seeing “Peter Pan” at the King’s Theatre (busman’s holiday!) and the rest of us are meeting up to see in the New Year in a local pub. Because we are in glorious Scotland, we get the bonus of having a two day holiday, which is extremely rare, and very welcomed!

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday 1st January 2002

The glamour of the theatre! Here we are, wandering the streets of Aberdeen in search of the one restaurant still open! Luckily we found it, and Stu Francis & I were able to eat! The streets are still sheets of ice, and very quiet.. as if the whole place was nursing one enormous hang-over!

Wednesday 2nd January 2002

Beach party! Although not quite bikini weather, a group of us decided to visit the beach today, drawn by the exotically named “Sunset Boulevard” leisure centre. A fun day, unless you were Duncan our Dandini and chauffer for the day. He dropped his car keys down a drain. The sight of Buttons and one ugly sister lifting off a drain cover frozen to the ground with the aid of a tow rope, followed by the Prince’s valet sticking his arm down the frozen drain has the makings of a pantomime in itself. How he laughed.. Not!

The good news is, the thaw is setting in. Pretty soon it will be safe to walk the streets!

Thursday 3rd January 2002

Back to work. Two good full houses, and our batteries recharged. This is the sad bit, when we start packing things up in readiness for the last show on Saturday. Rails are brought out from under the stage, wicker skips labeled - we will get our costumes and wigs packed as we finish with them on Saturday evening, so that by the finale, the dressing room is bare, and we will have just the finale costumes and wigs left to pack. It’s always sad to see the dressing room you decorated at the beginning of a season gradually return to its original empty state. Bit like Cinderella really, after midnight!

Company met up for a meal at a Greek Taverna this evening, which was delightful. Here, back at the digs it is 2am, and Peter & I are packing cases to take in to the theatre in the morning.

The Taverna Part One!The Taverna Part 2!

Friday 4th January 2002

Would you believe the streets are now almost clear of snow? Just as we are about to depart Aberdeen! Two sold-out shows again today, and two company birthdays- Jenny onstage is eighteen, and Briony our DSM (Deputy Stage Manager) celebrating hers too. The DSM runs the show, in charge of a board from which all the cues are given- lighting, flying, pyrotechnics (the “explosions and flashes”) and calls to the artistes. She faces a monitor of the show, as seen from “out front” and a small monitor which keeps her in contact with the Musical Director, Andy. Her birthday was spent mainly sitting at her board, in the darkness of the stage left wing!

After the second show a final get together in a local pub, where we sasanachs got our first taste of a “Stovie”. It turns out to be a sort of hash, eaten with oatcakes and beetroot, and judging by the speed it vanished, was extremely popular. Cast and Crew spent the evening together- we can’t do much tomorrow, as the crew will commence the “Get-out”, when the scenery is loaded into the waiting trucks, and the cast will be setting off for their digs to pack, ready to travel on Sunday morning.

Saturday 5th January 2002

Well- The last day. Two shows, and a very busy second show, as all the packing away was taking place during it. Finishing a pantomime can be a mixed bag- usually you are relieved to finish, but not happy to be out of work. In this case, I think we all would quite happily carry on for many more weeks. It has been a joy to do, chiefly because all the elements that create a good company, and consequently a great panto were in place.

The initial feelings in rehearsal that this company would gel, were well founded. It has been one of the best companies Peter and I have worked with, a bunch of friendly nice people who, even after a short period of six weeks become a second family. The Theatre itself is superb, and the crew here a great bunch of guys (and gals) to work with. I think the overwhelming impression you get of His Majesty’s Theatre, and Aberdeen itself is one of friendly people. Whether in shops, in taxis or wherever people seem to have the time to talk to you, and we shall all be very sad to leave tomorrow morning.

In between shows we all visited the Juveniles dressing rooms for the “Babes” traditional last day party. The Aberdeen Academy have been, as always great little troupers, and one of the most disciplined and professional in the business.

The second show was a blur- as we took one costume off, or removed a wig, it was immediately packed away, leaving us with just our final costumes unpacked by 9.30pm!

However, the welcome we have all received here in Aberdeen will be remembered for a very long time. Thanks “His Majesty’s Theatre”- Thank you for having us here for “Cinderella”!!

His Majesty's In The Snow!


This page was last updated 9th June 2002

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