THE BIRMINGHAM DIARY

2006/7

Previous Diaries

The Darlington Diary 2000/1 / The Aberdeen Diary 2001/2 / The Southampton Diary 2002/3

The Manchester Diary 2003/4 / The Plymouth Diary 2004/5 / The Newcastle Diary 2005/6 /  The Tamworth Diary 2006

 

 

LAUNCH PICTURES - 12th June 2006 Birmingham Hippodrome

Click on Image to Enlarge - Regular Readers of IBY may notice something different about The Sisters!!! Answer below!

As ever, the Panto press launch happened on one of the hottest days of the year! It seems if you want a roasting hot day, just find out if there’s a launch going on somewhere near you, and you’ll be able to picnic worry free- while the panto folk bake in their costumes at a theatre near you!

The Hippodrome pushed the boat out for this launch, as they always do. Peter and I have made many appearances at the “Hippo” since we were last there in pantomime  in 1995- we’ve performed our Roadshow for the theatre several years running, and performed at “Arts Fest” each year, as well as helping host the launch of the “New” Hippodrome in 2001. It is always a huge pleasure to return there, and today was no exception.

Those with sharp eyesight viewing the “Launch” pics might notice a slight change in the “sisters” on this occasion- well, I think I can let you into a little secret… Peter had a prior booking, made several months ago, and was unable to attend the press launch, so, rather than be a solitary sister, I was joined today by Andrew Ryan as the “Sister of the day!”

Andrew will be attending his own “launch” shortly, as he’ll be appearing at Sheffield Lyceum as “Nurse Nelly” in “Sleeping Beauty” (which he’s written and will direct- that’ll keep him busy eh?) but very kindly stepped into the breach, and “subbed” for Peter on this year’s Dream Team at the Hippo!

We arrived to get made up for the press call, and decided (based on previous experience) that we would get made-up earlier than ever, to allow more time for greeting our fellow travellers on this panto journey. It always fails- and it did again. By the time we’d chatted and caught up with everyone’s news, it was a mad scrabble to make it to the scene dock ready for our “mini Parade” into Hurst Street! 

Paul Elliott, who will be producing and directing was there to greet us, along with our mate Ian Sandy, who will be appearing in the show as well as being it’s company manager- just as he was when we were here in 1995! Brian Conley arrived on his one day off from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at the Palace Manchester, and got into his “Buttons” costume, and we were joined by the very lovely Shobna Gulati, who will be giving her Fairy Godmother this season.

Shobna will be joining a very happy family here- both the “Hippo” family, and our “Cinders” family, as the “old” team is back-Dawson Chance, Sean Needham and Jody Crosier will be here, just as they were in the previous panto’s at Southampton, Manchester and Plymouth.

Suitable attired, we were led by Ian to the scene dock, where we were to start to process- Mr Lucking’s ponies (my boys) were there- tethered to the crystal coach. Brian clambered into the driving seat, Shobna settled herself down in the carriage and.. yes, we followed on behind. Now.. you know what they say about following the Lord Mayor’s procession? Bear that in mind…I had decided to wear a flowing white cape with more feather on it than Emu, and Andrew was attired in a fishtail ensemble. As we turned the corner into Hurst Street, “Whooosh!” It snowed! Yes- two powerful snow machines billowed  snowflakes onto the streets of Birmingham (currently 85 degrees).

Now.. if you are a pony, this could take you by surprise. Did they bolt? No. Did they even so much as falter? No! These are pro ponies. Only one had obviously found the snow scene a little exciting. It promptly had projectile diarrhoea.

No sooner had I heard Andrew say “Watch out for the s…………”  and I was right in it!

Oh well,  you grit your teeth, you flash a smile.. and you think “Biotex”.

After the photo sessions we joined the group bookers inside the theatre, and after introductions from both Paul Elliott and Stuart Griffith, the head of the Hippodrome, we put on a short show, chatted to those wonderful folk who book their group tickets as far ahead as April or May, and wolfed down the sandwiches!

It was a fun day (well, apart from the laundry session that followed- not fun that!) and lovely to meet up with Paul, Brian and Ian again, and delightful to meet Shobna- this  really is going to be a fabulous pantomime- shame Peter missed the launch, but thanks again to Andrew for standing in.

Here’s to a great season at the Birmingham Hippodrome 2006-2007!

Online BBC News Footage of the Press Launch - Opens in New Window

Thursday 9th November 2006 - Editors Entry!!

With distance between home locations and busy work schedules, as well as keeping IBY up to date, it's not often that the sisters and the webmaster actually arrive in the same town at the same time! So it seems a worthy diary entry to note that Simon and Nigel had a quick IBY company meeting outside the stage door of the Birmingham Hippodrome - and when I say quick I mean 10 minutes before Simon's half hour call!! Nigel, who had been busy in Wolverhampton doing Pantomime Roadshows, was in town looking for suitable boudoirs for the sisters when they appear over the panto season and Simon was there for his day/night job with WNO. A quick gossip about latest panto news, plans for the coming weeks and social pleasantries and Simon disappeared into the theatre and Nigel, who was with fellow roadshow performer Andrew Ryan, headed into the night back to Wolverhampton. Unfortunately the official photographer failed to turn up and the chance to capture the IBY team in official mode on posters outside the Hippodrome were missed! Maybe during the coming season we'll get a team photo done for the site - it's about time!

Tuesday 5th December 2006 - DAY ONE!

Yes- It’s the opening of the Birmingham Diary proper! First day of rehearsals in a South London Location. We rehearse here until Friday, and then we’ll continue in Birmingham on December 11th.

A day to greet Old Friends and some new Friends who join this panto family for the forthcoming season. First person I bumped into was our glamorous Fairy Godmother- Shobna Gulati. We both went on a coffee and doughnut run to a local garage- yes, it is all glamour in “show-Biz”- on the assumption that a good belt of caffeine would kick start the day. Next new family member to arrive was Michelle Potter, our beautiful Cinderella, and discovered Michelle was at Aberdeen last year as Princess. We were recently there with the Roadshow if you keep up with Its-Behind-You news!

Paul Elliott

Pretty soon the cast and stage management were there, greeted by our esteemed director Paul Elliott and Ian Sandy. It surprised me when Paul, in his “parish notes” session at the beginning of rehearsal, announced he hadn’t directed this particular show before. I had forgotten this- of course he has contributed in a major way to the script (along with Keith Simmons and Brian Conley) and has been executive producer for this particular one over the past years. Our Deputy stage Manager is the last of the new conscripts to the Conley Show, Martin Hinkins - Martin was at Plymouth last year with “Jack & The Beanstalk”, and the year before at the Hippodrome.

And of course, there are the “Veterans!”

The “Veterans” of The Southampton, Manchester and Plymouth productions being:-

Brian and Dawson

Dawson Chance, playing our Daddy- Baron Hardup for the fourth time with us (and the sixth time over the years), our Prince Charming, Sean Needham (Five times consecutively) and Dandini, Jody Crosier- again Five times in a row! Delighted to see Lindy- Linda Derby and Darren McKeown once again, veterans of all previous “Conley” pantomimes, and our Company Stage Manager, Ian Sandy, who Peter & I work with a great deal, and who was our CSM at the Hippodrome last time we were there with Gary Wilmot & Rolf Harris- an amazing ten years ago!

Brian Conley will have been our Buttons four times of course, and heads this panto “Family Reunion” once again.

Delighted also to see a familiar face from last year’s Newcastle panto- Sean Hackett joins this show. Sadly didn’t get a chance to chat to the rest of the eight strong team of dancers who joined us briefly for “Parish Notes” from Paul, but I’m sure we’ll meet up later on the week. For now the choreographer Heather Douglas is using a hall upstairs from ours to teach the routines.

Meanwhile we rehearse in a vast hall along with Bob Willis the Musical Director. Today we “blocked” all of act one- right up to the transformation, so a good day’s work. Being all “good boys & Girls” we were all released at 4.30pm- just in time to try and miss the evening rush hour.

Just a footnote- actually Literally a Foot Note! When I arrived home I discovered my latest e-bay acquisition had arrived. A very historic link with the Birmingham Hippodrome. I’d like to introduce you to “Jack”.

Jack- as in “Jack & Jill” was produced by the Merrythought Toy Company in the 1930’s exclusively for the Pantomime Impresario Emile Littler. It says so on the tag sewn to his left foot! Jack was one of the early forms of what we know call “off-sales” or Merchandising for pantomimes. Littler’s company sold this hand made toy doll, along with “Jill” at the pantomime. A young girl was bought it after visiting the panto, and recently it came up for sale. I’m delighted to be taking Jack back to his home for Christmas- 75 years after he left it!

Sadly just this very week the news broke that “Merrythought”, a family run business making Teddy Bears, Rocking Horses and Dolls since 1930 has this week been forced into liquidation. The competition from the Far East has finally meant we might be seeing the end of these British made, hand made toys. A very sad day for children in the United Kingdom.

Wednesday 6th December 2006

Called later today, and by 4pm Paul had finished blocking Act Two. That is, from the opening of the ballroom to the final scene before Brian’s songsheet.

Jody and Sean

A few new bits of business have been added- one very exciting new addition is the swashbuckling Sean and Jody! They speak their dialogue whilst fencing-none of your wooden sword play here! Paul has brought in a fight director to show the boys a few thrusts and parries (or whatever they call them?) and from what we saw today Zorro had better look to his laurels!

The bit I found fascinating was how they are able to speak dialogue timed to the fencing at one and the same time. I’m not at all co-ordinated, and find that the most fascinating bit!

Brian, Shobna and Michelle

Jody has a new song to open the ballroom- a great version of “Let me Entertain you”- The Robbie one, not the one from the musical “Gypsy” in case anyone is confused!

We have a new entrance, in the ballroom to keep us on our toes, and Brian has a new and very clever bit of “business” at the end of our boudoir scene which I won’t reveal yet, but might go into more detail later. It keeps the suspense!

Treated to a private cabaret after lunch. The hall below is being used for the P&O company to rehearse for their forthcoming eight month seasons. Very many shows- something like seventeen? They borrowed our bigger hall to film part of a Hollywood routine to enable them to use it for reference. It was amazing to see the type of show they get on board the luxury liners- the full West End treatment! Out of the blue Brian joined in their final bows, (well- he saw a camera!) so they have added celeb status to this practice video now!

Ian and Martin

I’m still homeless. A bit scary that! Me wot usually has my digs sorted out by April. Still, the indefatigable Ian Sandy is exploring every avenue to locate me a nice flat near to the Hippodrome, and for now I’ll probably stay in a hotel for a day or two when we get to Birmingham while it gets sorted out. “Homeless in Birmingham” hasn’t got the same ring as “Homeless in Seattle” has it?

There’s a very nice atmosphere all round in the rehearsal room. I think the newbies & the veterans and beginning to gel- still only met up with the dancers very briefly, so soon we’ll all have new friends to play with!

Interesting fact of the day. Did you know both Brian & Shobna share the same birthday?  Well there you go. Both  are Leo’s. Astrologically. Mind you, I always feel sorry for test tube babies… Is their star sign Pyrex?

More tomorrow. 10am call.

Thursday 7th December 2006

Left for rehearsals in torrential rain and high winds. Around 11am thunder rolled overhead in the rehearsal room. Discovered later that Kensal Green in London had suffered a tornado- roof blown off here, walls crumbled there- more like “The Wizard Of Oz” than panto.. and this sure ‘aint Kansas!

Rehearsed the Kitchen and the Woods scenes. Sean and Jody rehearsed their extremely complex sword fight a few times, and Peter and I rehearsed making Michelle (Cinders) tear up her ticket. Not so much effort as sword fighting, and we never got out of breath..

Still not met up properly with our Ensemble - they are rehearsing in a large room in a different part of the building. However, it is time to introduce them to the diary, so here we go. Choreographed by Heather  Douglas our TEN strong team  in alphabetical order  are:

Sinead Blairs, Louise Corbett, Nathan Daniel, Sean Hackett, Lucy James, Bethany King, Desi Valentine, Wesley Wareham, Kitty Whitelaw and Andy Young.

I think we’ll all meet up and rehearse together on Monday when we rehearse at the Hippodrome in one of their vast new rehearsal studios.

My good news? Yes! I finally have a flat! Thanks to the amazing efforts of Ian Sandy, I’ll collect the keys on Monday lunchtime. Shobna will have me as her neighbour, so I’ll know where to go for a cup of sugar. Peter had already sorted himself out in a flat in the centre of town as well, so we’ll all be within easy walking distance. Thank you Ian!!

Brian has an exciting premier to attend tomorrow- His daughter Lucy’s school nativity play! A very big day in the Conley household. I’m not certain if  Brian and Anne-Marie’s other daughter Amy will be involved, and I’m not sure that Brian will be able to resist the urge to appear by the crib and do a few “Jolson” numbers..we’ll find out. Good luck for the play Girls!

Dawson has done his bit for now, and we’ll see him in Birmingham. The rest of us meet up tomorrow. Peter & I have a leisurely call-2pm-4pm, and then Saturday will involve the packing process, Sunday the travelling Process, and Monday it’s “Hello Birmingham”

Friday 8th December 2006

Not so much a rehearsal, more a celebration! Today is Paul Elliott’s birthday!

Now, at the beginning of the week the company began to conspire in corners- Ian  our CSM with  his usual aplomb, organised a cake. Not just an ordinary cake, for Paul Elliott is no ordinary mortal- “The King Of Pantomime” deserved something special.

Enter Martin, our DSM. It turns out that Martin is a dab hand at the cake-creating business (Jane Asher had better watch out!) and indeed he created  “The finest cake of your imagination”, to paraphrase the “Cinderella” script. A Pumpkin coach cake!

Paul nearly blew the whole “surprise” out of the water a few days ago by announcing we might not be needed to rehearse today. Instead of the expected elation he must have been puzzled by everyone going.. “ohhh..are you SURE?” As it was, it all worked out in the end, and Paul was (hopefully) suitably surprised with the entire company being there to sing “Happy Birthday” and for Ian and Martin to wheel in the champers and, of course that amazing cake!

Our thanks to Ian and Martin for organising it all!

Oh yes, we did do SOME rehearsing, to be fair, and ran the “Kitchen” and the “Slipper Fitting” scenes during the rest of the afternoon, before Paul left to make a visit to the Southend Pantomime.

Interesting fact of the day: Did you know today the King’s Theatre Edinburgh celebrates it’s 100th Birthday? Please don’t get the two facts mixed up. Yes it IS Paul’s birthday as well, and NO- it may seem he’s been producing class panto’s for a hundred years, but he hasn’t!

We all said our farewells to the rehearsal room. The next time we meet up will be at the Hippodrome Birmingham 10am on Monday. By lunchtime I’ll hopefully have the keys to a flat. It may not have a telephone socket and definitely won’t have broadband, so please bear with me for a few days while I try and get that sorted, keep rehearsing, and get the diary back on line.

To be continued………..!

Monday 11th December 2006

The day dawns in Birmingham! Not the best journey up yesterday- Thank you Mr Branson. I met up with Jody at Euston, and waited for the train. It arrived two hours late, and a very undignified scrabble there was when they announced it was ready to board! Finally got to Birmingham five hours after setting off!

The assembled cast met up at the Hippodrome at 10am. I arrived with all my belongings in tow- literally. A very large “wheely” case, and we were introduced to Stuart Griffiths the head of the Hippodrome, who welcomed us all to this beautiful theatre, and  knowing the way to an actor’s heart, plied us with muffins and lashings of coffee!

Great to meet up with Mandy Rose- Mandy looks after all things publicity and marketing-wise here, and Peter and I have worked alongside Mandy and her team over many years- we toured for the Hippodrome during it’s closure and subsequent re-build (30 odd million VERY well spent), have performed here in Art’s fest each Autumn, in Roadshows and at the opening Gala, and it’s so good to be here for the panto season once again.

The “new” hippodrome has some amazing facilities that the old building never had- we’re fortunate to be using the vast rehearsal spaces on the 5th floor- in “DanceXchange”- two purpose built rooms that can open up into one vast space. Paul continued his “cleaning up” of scenes in one, and Heather continued with the dancers next door. We are SO fortunate to have these facilities- actor’s are often to be found rehearsing in dark cramped halls- here we have the light, the space and, a few floors below the Hippodrome’s own “Green Room”- a large backstage restaurant catering not just for us this week, but also for the resident Birmingham Royal Ballet Company- they are performing “The Nutcracker” this week.

If I mentioned that the orchestra alone for this ballet numbers FIFTY musicians, it gives you an idea of the scale of these catering facilities!

During a one hour lunchbreak Ian introduced me to the estate agent, I handed over all my worldly goods, and within a few minutes I was dragging my case up the hill, to my own apartment! With no time to spare I ran in, dumped the case, checked the lights worked and ran out again! Memo- next time try running the taps to establish that the boiler is switched on!

Rehearsed all afternoon, mainly running sections of the ballroom and slipper fitting scenes, and then broke at about 6pm. A quick dash around the local Tesco, and an evening spent puzzling over the many instruction books for all the brand new appliances. This flat is Brand new. I am the first person in it. Even the microwave defeated me. I can quick change in forty seconds, but pressing the right button for “cook”? No!

Tuesday 12th December 2006

Very cold and wet today. Bumped into Shobna, and headed down to the Hippodrome. Discovered that Lindy and Darren are also neighbours, and Peter’s flat is just along the road, so we’re definitely the lucky ones living so near.

Yesterday Stuart the director of the “Hippo” welcomed us to a new vibrant Birmingham- and he is absolutely correct. Out of one exit we’re looking at the Mailbox Complex (that houses Harvey Nichols as well as the BBC Radio- yes, the archers comes from the canal-side studios there- not next to a field of sheep, but very near to an Armarni store!). From another exit you can look up at a story-book scene, the Christmas German Market which winds its way up to the Town hall, and has Bavarian style stalls, helter skelter and a huge carousel- and then of course you have the new Bullring complex. Truly this IS shoppers paradise!

Not for us today. We ran the opening sequences, and Paul continued tightening up and honing scenes until Lunchtime. Shobna and I managed a quick dash around the most important store a touring actor could ever wish for- yes, “Poundland”!. Flats never have the little touches you crave for to make them “home”- Poundland provides missing mirrors, placemats, bathmats, coat hangers.. the minutiae of touring- and you can always donate them at the end of the run!

Like drowned rats- soaked through we returned to rehearse. This afternoon we were joined by the Juveniles- The highly professional Birmingham Stage School.(BSS) This school has provided the two teams of well drilled, and highly disciplined children to the Pantomime for a long time- It was great to meet up with Cherry who runs the school- we last saw her over ten years ago during our Gary Wilmot, Rolf Harris “Cinderella” here.

Rehearsing the juveniles in is a longer process than you’d think. There are TWO teams you see, and so each time we rehearse, we do it again for the other group. Now our numbers begin to swell- we now have a approximately eighteen or twenty dancing bodies in each number, and who knows what future stars are learning the routines. The BSS has provided a good many professionals in it’s time.

More stars of the future meet here every Saturday. Several years ago Ian Sandy founded the “Spotlight” school here at the Hippodrome. Each week-end children and young adults receive coaching in voice, technique, singing and dance, and, of course get the opportunity to perform.

Talking of Juveniles- in a “round-about” way- one of the big Juvenile stage schools in London is run by Babbette Langford- and we got a message today from our mate Bonnie. She’s in “Guys and Dolls” which is having a season at the nearby Alexandra Theatre over Christmas! Definitely an opportunity to meet up and catch up on things, and hopefully catch each others shows!

If you want to know the time, ask a policeman. If you want a new gag for your opening- ask Brian Conley! Peter & I were racking our brains to think of a new gag for our ballroom entrance. Apparently the one we usually do was actually done here in Birmingham last year. Can you believe that? I thought ALL panto gags were unique. Surely the same gag couldn’t be found in any other panto? (pause while nose grows). Brian though for about two seconds and came up with a couple of excellent gags- how refreshing to find a comic who shares his craft! If it gets a huge laugh he’ll never let us forget it. If it dies a swift death, I bet it’ll be us wot thought it up!

Ended the evening watching the Royal Command Performance. About the ONLY opportunity to watch variety on television in a year. The genius of Ken Dodd, new comedians, speciality acts, ventriloquists- these are the people pantomime employs- as well as actors you must have the speciality, the comedian, the variety element- and what a sad shame that they are never seen on our television screens. I did see the most incredible “spesh” act on the show tonight. Two people changing costumes about twenty times virtually in front of your very eyes. In milliseconds! It defied belief. I really hope Mr Elliott wasn’t watching. It might give him ideas!!

Wednesday 13th December 2006

10am start today in the rehearsal rooms. Today is the day we “put it all together”. That’s always an exciting prospect. So far we’ve tackled the show like a jigsaw, now that puzzle comes to life. We start at the beginning, and (hopefully!) get to the end. Preferably without stopping!

All the “new” bits of business are incorporated, under the very watchful eye of Paul. Heather keeps her eyes on the dance routines, and Peter and I pop outside from time to time to run through our new “bits of business”. Yes- we DO have some new bits of business, and very refreshing it is too- when we get it right that is!

By lunchtime we’d got to the end of Act One, and had an extended lunch break. I had a wander around the town for an hour- the shops are beginning that frantic period  as Christmas approaches. The Bullring was a sea of shoppers, and looked a bit daunting. I coped though!

Act Two in the afternoon. The show is taking on a very  “upbeat” feel- the pace is fast, and there don’t seem to be any “dead” moments. It does move “like the clappers”- we’ll experience this more of course once we start wearing the costumes.

Peter & I are not phased by the costume changes- if we were, it is a bit late in the day- but we are aware this show has a few very swift ones. We’ll change four times in the first scene. One change in particular is always a challenge even after you’ve done it sixty times. The sort of Quick change that has no room for error, and is made not in the Quick-change room, but actually in the wing. After the fourth change there are a few less frantic changes, and then in Act Two it all kicks off again.

Brian too has a few fast changes to make this time- and, of course Michelle makes two very fast changes from rags to riches. Lucky Shobna! I think she stays in the one very glitzy frock, but on the other hand she’ll be suspended way up in the flies for a lot of the show. I’m not sure which I’d prefer!

Tomorrow the Birmingham Royal Ballet will have left the dressing rooms (The Nutcracker finished tonight) and we’ll be moving into them on Friday. That’ll be a busy time for Rodney and his wardrobe crew- well, “Busier” time actually. While we rehearse Rodney has called cast members to the temporary wardrobe at the Hippodrome, and organised costume fittings, alterations and the odd refurbishment. On Friday he’ll be arranging for the costumes to go to the dressing rooms.

Peter and I will wait for the “Quick Change” room to be set up in the Stage Left wing, and then we’ll move our stuff on the rails they arrived on into there, and start setting it up. We’ll probably only see the dressing room itself during the interval, and spend most of the show by the Q.C.Room.

Elsewhere in pantoland I’m getting reports from mates that are rehearsing, some have opened, and others are in the Tech/Dress stage that we’ll be in by Sunday and Monday. The Kenneth More Panto (another Cinderella) wot I wrote & costumed, directed by my brother Vivyan is rehearsing. They open a day or so after we do here. At the moment I’m having the odd session on the ‘phone about changes to the script, and the odd wardrobe hitch. We seem to have mislaid a costume at the moment! I’m hoping it has got entangled with another one and will turn up. I wish the shoes would turn up though! I’ll rest happier when I hear they have arrived from the factory!

Thursday 14th December 2006

A full run-through this morning- up to full speed and it seemed to go very well. Paul was delighted, and  all the new bits of business have seamlessly been added to the show.

The scenery has arrived at the Hippodrome. Mark Sherwood from Qdos has arrived to supervise the “get-in” which started this afternoon. Peter and I first worked with Mark way back at exotic venues like Brent Town Hall, and later on I toured in “Billy Liar” with Mark as DSM.

The stage looks vast when it is empty! Yesterday it was filled with the scenery from the “Nutcracker” ballet, and now it stands there bare, unlit and awaiting our glitter and glitz that is being unloaded.

The scenery we have originated with the Stanley Baxter production of “Cinderella” in Edinburgh. It is very beautiful, and very heavy on the glitter- the Ballroom especially seems to have it’s own built in light source, it just shines gold, cream and black.

Only once have we used this set with it’s original and full staircase. Most theatres don’t have the room to accommodate it. During the ball the staircase is impressive- outlined by candelabra and it has seven “treads”- Peter and I KNOW there are seven treads. We have to! In ballgowns, crinoles, capes and wearing six inch heels, and a champagne bucket balanced on your head, I’m afraid you don’t have the ability to look down. So you count. You practice. You keep practicing until you don’t even need to count. Showgirls and Ugly Sisters know this rule very well!

This time, we’ll use the FULL staircase for the finale. The seven treads from the ballroom have an extension of about a further  ten or more treads, so that the staircase sweeps down almost to the footlights. It slides from underneath, and very impressive it is. However, there’s a snag. Think of a drawer..say a kitchen drawer. If you slide it properly it opens. If you slide it open only at the left, then try to slide it from the right- it sticks. This mammoth staircase can only be fully extended if it is perfectly aligned! It has had the odd hitch now and then, but I’m sure it’ll behave itself this time!

Dawson brought in his friends “Bruce the Kangaroo” and “Willy “ today. Up until now we’ve talked to the hand, so to speak. It was great to see the reaction of the kids (our Birmingham Stage School juveniles) when the two animals came to life!

Jody and Sean are now extremely efficient swordsmen. They’ve really worked hard to make it look effortless, and it is very impressive!

And.. Every  young girls dream- Today Shobna got to fly! She met up with the gentlemen from “Foys”, the world’s top flying experts for the past seventy odd years I believe, and up, up she went. She makes a very magical sight perched on a crescent moon gliding about on the stage.

Peter & I got to unload a few things into our dressing room later on today. First we had to find the wicker skips, located in the older part of the building, then promptly dropped my opening hat (the size of a small cartwheel) down three flights of stairs into the depths of the Hippodrome basement. Very “Phantom of the Opera” down there it was!

We’ve travelled a bit lighter than usual this year. Just the three dress rails, two huge skips, and assorted boxes, cases and feathers. For some strange reason (possibly because we are hoarders) we seem to have enough pairs of tights to make a good bunjee jump. We also discovered about eleven microphone bags (devices to wear that hold the radio mikes to your body). I think we’ve accidentally knicked all of last year’s stock from Newcastle! Sorry!

Our dressing room is bare, but not for long. We found a table in a corridor- that’ll do for the Christmas tree and the touring tea set. Ian has promised to locate a sofa- essential for any ladeez boudoir, and we’re now on the look out for additional chairs. We’ll doubtless be a dressing room “green room” to passers by- we wouldn’t have it any other way- so we need to accommodate the passing thespian.

Plans for tomorrow- a full run through with a few of the Hippodrome staff and possibly the odd panto personality (watch this space) attending as an audience, so that we can get a bit of reaction to the rehearsal. After that I think it’ll be a band call, and certainly I’ll be sorting out the dressing room during any gaps that happen during the day.

Friday 15th December 2006

This morning we all prepared for a run-through with an invited audience. The audience was expected to work as hard as we were, and they did that extremely well!

The audience (not a big house) comprised of Stuart Griffiths, Mandy Rose and her colleagues, Rodney and his colleagues from wardrobe (stitching as they watched- that’s the spirit we want!) the juveniles and our special guest panto personality- Birmingham’s own Don Maclean!

Don has already opened in “Snow White” at Wolverhampton, and, despite having his own matinee performance came to lend his support. Lovely to see him again- we did a Music Hall recently for our mutual mate Jan Hunt in Croydon. Both Don and Jan of course were the stars of “Crackerjack”. Well, as the old Crackerjack phrase went.. “It’s Friday… It’s (not Five o’clock!) Ten O’Clock…It’s…” Pantotime!

We needed to hear some response. The run through is at that stage where we’re ready to get out there and do it, and having an audience makes all the difference. It was a jolly, energetic and, I think, damn good run through this morning- Hoorah for us!

During the afternoon Peter and I tackled the dressing room. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the dressing room will take a few days to organise. Funny really that there will be no costumes in it! A sort of Undressed dressing room. It does however have the essentials- en suite, kettle, Christmas Tree, cushions and the plates ready to hold the mince pies!

Ian came up with a bed - no, we don’t intend using the room as cheap digs, but the bed will double as sofa and, I daresay, between shows I might be forced to have the odd nap. On a twelve show a week panto that one hour snooze is often needed to recharge the batteries, and the luxury of a real bed is very welcomed. I can recall in the past sleeping on foam rubber, on a lilo, on a very lethal “Z” bed (whatever happened to them?) and in Southampton I used to take a nap between shows in a basement ice cream room curled up on bubblewrap! Needs must!

Tom on Stage Door came to our rescue several times today, locating things, finding locker keys and doing what Tom has always done best- he is “Mr Fixit”, and, for as long as I can remember he’s been here. Tom was on the crew of the Hippodrome as a mere lad when I first played here twenty five odd years ago. Along with Frank backstage, I think Tom is the last link with my memories of the “Hippo”- possibly he and Frank have been here the longest, and then of course Mandy Rose who has looked after us for many years.

Fascinating to read Mandy’s Hippodrome “Blog” today- we effectively now have Two Birmingham Diaries. How lucky are we?

Tomorrow a fairly easy day- A sound check (for microphones) in the afternoon, and that will probably be all. The stage is being prepared- scenery starting to go up. Lindy and Darren have got all the many props together, and we will be allowed on the stage on Sunday.

Saturday 16th December 2006

Morning off, which was much appreciated. Time to get the minutiae required to equip a dressing room. A bed magically appeared, as I mentioned, followed today by a very nice cover. Now it needs cushions- we only tour four, so not enough for the full “boudoir” effect! Fortunately the one thing Birmingham has in abundance is markets! Wonderful markets- The indoor Market, The Rag Market. Cushions, pillows and covers were easily found. I got a free face flannel thrown in as well, what more can you ask?

More mugs had to be purchased, and the biscuits of course. No sooner had these been installed when we were “first Footed” by Dawson and Brian. Our “family” of panto folk will very soon form a community down below in the Hippodrome. Most of us have been a family unit for nigh on five years now, but our family has grown. The dressing room isn’t simply a place where you put make-up on and wait to be summoned, it is effectively our home. Six days a week, for nine hours a day it will be where we live.

It’s been a very long time now since Peter and I first turned our dressing room into a Stage Door Canteen! I like to think it provides a place for everyone to meet up, swap the gossip and as they say today “chill out”. In our community below stairs here we are all neighbours, and turning the dressing room into your home is an essential part of settling in for the run. We all have different ways of doing this- it might be as simple as a photograph here and there, or, as Rolf Harris used to do- setting up a complete carpentry workshop in his room. He liked to tinker during a run did Rolf!

Over the years I think of our neighbours who popped in for interval tea- some sadly not with us today, like wonderful Patrick Fyffe- a.k.a Dame Hilda Brackett, dear Ronnie Hilton for instance- and our wonderful intervals with the likes of Windsor Davies and June Brown (with stories of Margaret Rutherford and Dame Sybil.. very theatrical those tea sessions!) and Rula Lenska, Rolf Harris, Robin Cousins, Judy Cornwell, Jan Hunt, Stephan Dennis..so many great interval tea times!

Our nearest neighbours are Jody (next door) then I think Michelle. On the other side Bob and Ian along with Martin, and then I think Sean. The dressing rooms are built around a “courtyard “ block. So we are effectively in a sunken square below Stage door. We all have large patio style windows that overlook the “courtyard”- beneath an atrium. The idea was, when the Hippo was rebuilt in 2001 that artistes would have access to this astro turfed inner courtyard. There would be small tables.. perhaps the odd parasol- a place to stroll and make-believe you were in your private garden.

The reality was- someone forgot to include a fire exit in the “courtyard”. In fact any exit. On the opening day Peter & I played host to the great, the good and the press. We moved in- the first occupants- to the dressing room and strolled out into the courtyard. An hour later those patio doors were shut. Never to be re-opened! It really is a “make-believe” garden!

Today, apart from purchasing soft furnishings, we all did a sound check with Gareth and his assistant Holly. That means you stand on stage, wired up, and speak when told to, and Gareth “sets levels” and twiddles buttons until he declares himself happy. Shobna’s silver crescent moon whooshed silently over our heads, the giant staircase filled the vast scene dock, and the scenery was being lit to the approval of Paul who has sat in the auditorium all day- and is doubtless still there this evening lighting the show. Tomorrow at 2pm we begin our technical rehearsal, with Paul in the auditorium at his desk using what is referred to as “The God Mike”.

It is called that because the director can speak to the auditorium at large, and his voice booms over the theatre like.. yes, you’ve got it. “The God Mike”!

Sunday 17th December 2006

Tech Day. This is the day that belongs not to the actors, but to the theatre technicians. Each scene is slowly gone through to ensure that the sound, the lights, the scenery and the costumes are all in accord.

Each one of these elements involves a great number of people other than the performers. Safety is paramount, which is why everything is taken at a slower pace. After all, we have scenery flying in and out involving stage management cuing the flys (the flymen), scenery being trucked or manually going in and out of the wings (the stage crew) costume changes going on at the same time, often in the wings (the wardrobe staff) whilst the lights change (the lighting designer and his team) smoke effects happen (the stage Elex) Juveniles are moving across the backstage cross-over (the chaperones) and the ponies arrive in their specially designed horse box (The handlers) all at one and the same time! Ian Sandy oversees all of this from backstage and from Front Of House. Amazing isn’t it?

Martin co-ordinates it from the Stage Left “Prompt Corner”, watching the stage, and monitors. On one he can see Bob in the orchestra pit, while Lindy and Darren move from one side of the stage to the other with various props, and assist Shobna in and out of her flying moon. All of this is totally invisible to the audience- they just see the performers, and take everything else for granted! I guess that is the point: it all happens as if “by magic”, and that magic is sustained by this enormous crew of backstage technicians. I never cease to be in awe of a huge theatre like the Hippodrome when everything backstage swings into action. The man who says “Action” being Paul, sitting out front with Mark Sherwood and the lighting designer. Actually he doesn’t say “Action”.. he may occasionally say “When you’re ready?” but never “Action!”.

The Sisters arrived to find the Quick Change room had been built, so we set about filling it up very swiftly, as we’d have to wear all the act one costumes during today’s “tech”. We normally do a tech in two parts. Act one (complicated in Cinderella) and  Act Two, a little less complicated.

The room is literally a few very tall flats which create a place to do swift costume changes out of the way of moving scenery and other people. It is very close to the Stage Left entrance to the stage, and contains two rails and tables to put our twenty four wigs on. Frank, who heads the stage crew found us two tables which we’ve stacked one on top of the other. Tallest wigs on top, shortest underneath. Shoes and boots go underneath, and awkward things like crinolines, deckchair costume, ice-cream costume and my “table” go wherever there’s a space. Feathered collars and hip harnesses are hooked onto the walls, and we’ve even managed to fit in two chairs (we’re at that time of life when sitting down to put your boots on is necessary!)

At two o’clock the tech began.

I made two errors today. One was getting carried away and wearing my opening “walk-across” wig too soon. Experience should have told me that technical rehearsals take time. It is purple, approximately three and a half feet tall, and has a very large and wide hat perched on the top. I could feel my vertebrae crunching as I stood there- normally I’d only wear it for about forty seconds. I think I shrank a few inches by the time we actually went on! The other error was spending too long in my new boots. You know how brand new shoes can be troublesome? What with the wig and the shoes, it got a tad uncomfortable. However, I designed ‘em, so I’ll put up and shut up!

We did every change- not alone of course, but aided by the dressers at each and every step of the way, and managed the Walk-across, the opening, the beaded dresses (when we first meet Cinders) into the Deckchair and Ice-Cream and finally into the kitchen costumes by the time we finished at about 8.30pm.

As I left the theatre the tech was continuing until 10pm. With luck, the most complicated scene- “the transformation” will have been completed, and tomorrow at 11am we carry on where we left off.

Monday 18th December 2006

Sitting here having just soaked my aching feet! It’s that time of year again. Peter, Shobna and I just crawled our way up the hill to our respective apartments, having just finished a very long day!

My day started with a bang. Actually a flash, a bang, and a lick of flames. My hairdryer blew up in my hand. In one swift move I unplugged it, then dumped it in the sink. Now, as an Ugly Sister I’ve frequently sat underneath a prop hood dryer as Peter pulls the “Danger!” lever, the dryer goes bang and I emerge bald and smouldering, but never in real life! My locks escaped harm, and the drenched dryer is now in the bin!

Arrived at the theatre to hear the distressing news that Andy, our dance captain was mugged on his way home from the theatre last night. He spent the night in casualty, and with the police, helped there by Jody who lives in the same theatre digs. Andy is walking proof that nothing can stand in the way of a ‘pro and that the show really does go on. Despite a black eye and a swoollen nose he was there for the tech rehearsal , along with Jody- I think they’d had a few hours sleep if that.

This morning we did the tech of Act Two, from Ballroom to finale- in costume, but not in make-up. That makes a big difference, as it means you can actually nip out for something to eat if you want during a break. Once in make-up, it is not possible during short breaks.

After lunch we did a full run of Act Two again, virtually without stopping. Peter and I managed every costume change with no problems, due to the expert assistance of Roanne and Laura, the dressers. We were lucky enough to have Roanne on the “Cinderella” we did here last time ( I’ll need to check the “Sisters Scrapbook” section of IBY to recall how long ago that was) and it is our luck to have her and Laura with us this time around. The other member of Wardrobe is Helen. Helen looks after everyone else it seems- especially Brian and Shobna, and Roanne and Laura help out on the major changes that involve Michelle and Brian.

The afternoon run of the second act went well. The huge staircase didn’t take as long as I’d imagined to set up for the finale. It looks VERY impressive- clouds of smoke drifting down the staircase as we enter the Finale. We also have a very different and exciting finale number- at Paul’s instigation. It’s “Rocking all over the world”. We have all been instructed not to be choreographed in this rock and roll finale, and that we have to be spontaneous. It’s turning out to be a full out fun number, and to see Prince Charming (Sean) being handed an electric guitar which he plays amazingly, is a panto first I think!

After a dinner break, we did a full out run of the entire show at seven o’clock. The only major re-setting was the entrance of the coach and ponies. We actually have SIX. I’ve not had the chance yet to meet up with “my boys”- readers of previous panto diaries will know all about feeding rituals of the Shetlands. I’m hoping to find a moment to say “hello” to them tomorrow. They have a very grand way of getting into the theatre here. Most theatres put up a ramp. In some they even come up the stairs to the stage. Here the horse box van drives to the upper dock door where a giant lift brings the van, complete with ponies right down to stage level! That lift is one of the major innovations in the Hippodrome re-build of 2001. It is capable of taking a full sized scenery truck, lowering it, and emptying it out of the rain and snow, right onto the stage!

Tomorrow will be a very full day. Opening night always is. We have a call at 1pm to meet the press- so that’s full costume and make-up, then a dress rehearsal at 2.30pm, followed by a note session with Paul in the stalls, then we open to the public at 7.15pm! Meanwhile, I think I’ll go and soak my feet again..and hit the duvet.

Jody and Sean - The Flashing Blades!

Tuesday 19th December 2006

We’ve opened! What a relief that is- to finally do the show to an audience. Not just an audience, to an M&S audience- a laughing, cheering, whooping audience!

Called for a full dress run in the afternoon, like that old superstition, if the dress run is perfect the opening might not be- well, we had to stop the dress rehearsal about five minutes in. We had a sound problem. All us lot backstage could hear was the band. No dialogue, and the same when we were on stage! Not good. Michelle was standing next to me. I could see her lips move, but nothing could be heard.

That was soon fixed, and after that we sailed through the rehearsal, and then met up in the stalls for notes by Paul. That left about an hour before the show. Just enough time to grab something to eat from the upstairs green room café, dash around distributing cards and first night presents, and then that strange hush that descends backstage as the sound of the audience arriving can be heard.

What can I say? The show was great! At last there’s no need to wait in the rehearsal room for the imaginary laugh that follows a gag. This time we are at the mercy of the full house out there. They laughed- long and loud! The performers delivered, the technicians and musicians delivered- even the ponies delivered (mostly backstage at intervals of about every three feet! Well, there are six of them, and even ponies get nervous on a first night!)

All our twelve costume changes went like clockwork, thanks to Roanne and Laura, and due to the swiftness of the action Peter and I didn’t get a chance to leave the Quick-Change room at all. There’s no hanging about in a panto led by Brian Conley. It moves like the clappers!

New material and “tried and trusted” routines went down very well, and our new finale got the audience on its feet. Hoorah for us!

A quick shower, then we joined everyone at the stalls bar for drinks hosted by Stuart Griffith and the Hippodrome. The Qdos powers-that-be were there in force. Nick Thomas and Jon Conway, Michael Harrison, all delighted. Paul was delighted- so delighted that he leaves us now, and after a swift visit to look at the Plymouth panto, he will be able to return to that unfamiliar place called “home”!

So here we are- on the threshold of the twice daily routine that is panto. Ordinary calls now- for “the half” not early calls for rehearsal. The shows are at 2.30pm and 7.15pm. If it wasn’t for the fact that my flat is six yards from a building site, I might look forward to a lie in! Why can’t builders start hammering at reasonable theatrical hours like eleven o’clock? I might go and ask them. I’m sure they’ll see my point!

INTERVIEW - NICK OWEN INTERVIEWS BRIAN CONLEY ABOUT PANTOMIME

Link to BBC News Audio and Video

Wednesday 20th December 2006

Received a very lovely opening night gift from Nick Thomas & Paul at Qdos- a box arrived from Fortnums- They have such class these Qdos gentlemen! Here it is modelled by the lovely Shobna as “Tonight’s Star Prize”- Champers and truffles, and the box itself is earmarked as jewellery box of the future! Thank you so much chaps- much appreciated!

In response to an email from one of our IBY regulars, here’s a picture of the very beautiful hat that our friend Paddy Dickie made for us,. Readers of our Green room section and “The Stage” will know Paddy sadly passed away recently. It’s a hat we will cherish.

Full houses today-very lively they were too! Strangely enough, doing two shows is nowhere near as tiring as doing a tech and a dress rehearsal. Once the show goes up, there’s no stopping. Peter and I get one brief moment between the fourth and fifth costume change when we could get back to the dressing room, and no chance at all in act two. The time flies by, and, unlike a “tech” you are not in a costume long enough to feel any discomfort. It’s all too fast to notice.

I did have two costume glitches today. One was very undignified in an off-stage way! There I was all done up like a dog’s dinner, standing in the wings waiting for the finale. I’m quite heavily trussed up- our “rocking all over the world” finale is energetic, so I’m wearing the gown itself, a feather collar and two feather hip drapes all heavily secured with additional Velcro straps. It takes a while to get into..So, I’m standing there, when Laura (wardrobe) asks me if I meant to go on with no boobs.

Oh.

I had a feeling I’d forgotten something, but this had eluded me. Assisted by Rodney we decided to try and slip them into place (the boobs in question being separate items) without removing a stitch. Where to start? An opening at the back meant Laura could inch her way around. Rodney is stuffing the other one around the other side. Would they do it avoiding collars, hip drapes bits of Velcro and the odd mouse-trap secreted about my person? I ended up a bit lop-sided, and it looked very odd to anyone passing by.. but they did it! My feathers were ruffled, but I was now intact!

I wonder if the expression “To make a boob” comes from situations like this?

Delicious lunch in the Theatre Green Room, and a chat with Sean in our dressing room. Delighted to see Jody’s friend Jeff again- he’s called in to see the show before he departs on Christmas Day for his native Oz for the holidays.

Second show we had the press in. A great atmosphere tonight, and all was going swimmingly for me until the second costumic moment. Our entrance in the Grand Ballroom is grander than ever. We have very beautiful cloaks and collars which I’ve designed, made by Margaret Brice our costume maker. Along with a big star shaped collar they make a splendid entrance down the flight of stairs before they are removed by the gentlemen guests, revealing our ballgowns. All this and a bucket of champagne on your head- that’s panto for you!

All this magnificence is supported by a garment called a crinoline. A big hooped structure, hidden beneath the dress with steel hoops supporting the weight. All that holds this together is a simple hook and bar. Yes- you’ve guessed it.

“Twang!”

The hook snapped as  I hit the bottom step. The crinoline descended. I turned to one of the ball guests and said “Houston, we have a problem”. They removed the cape on cue, I had to release my grip on the crinoline to do so.. down it came. A big puddle of calico and steel around my ankles. I have to step out of it to the great mirth of 1,4000 people. I looked like a deflated bouncy castle. Unable to walk, as my ballgown is now a foot longer than it should be. The house fell about laughing (Peter said I should keep it in each show- err no!). Ironically his line to me is “That’s a nice dress dear..”- provoking more laughter. My reply? “I bought this in Poundstretcher…”as it says in the script…Sometimes you wish there was a big trap door, and you could just sink slowly into oblivion!

Well- it proves it is a live show. You have to wait for “It’ll be all right on the night” to show it if it was on television! The LIVE magic of pantomime, eh?

And so, a swift drink afterwards, then home to Heinz Tomato soup- tomorrow is another twice-daily day in pantoland!

REVIEW FROM THE STAGE

Cinderella - Birmingham Hippodrome

 

In the groovy village of Rockandrap everyone is having a great time, except Cinderella, whose nasty sisters Trinny and Susannah are giving her a very hard time.

 

Michelle Potter is a tuneful, sweet and wholesome Cinderella, while Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins, as the aforementioned sisters, are widely regarded as just about the best uglies in the business.

 

Enter Brian Conley as the victim of unrequited love, Buttons. A succession of sight gags and prop-based comedy, involving at various stages a flatulent tree, a teddy bear and a suggestion of what Doctor Who would be like as The Only Gay in the Village, gave Conley the comic opportunities he so clearly revels in.

 

Oft forgotten TV ventriloquist of yesteryear Dawson Chance and his friend Little Willy showed how skilfully a straight man can also transform into delivering tag-lines.

 

Sean Needham as The Prince and Jody Crosier as his trusty servant and best friend Dandini are splendidly cast, with Needham in particular requiring all his straight-faced skills around the inspired and inspiring Conley.

 

If ever a person casting the role of a pantomime fairy got it absolutely bang on the money, it was the genius who suggested the brilliant Shobna Gulati for this production. She has to be the most beautiful, winsome and funky fairy in the whole of fairyland.

 

Of course Conley steals most of the laughter limelight and he is at times quite brilliant. But Gulati has such an eye-catching gift, which draws the attention and suggests there is much more to come from a star who has already made her mark with a raft of prestige theatre work, as well as in Coronation Street and Dinner Ladies.

 

Some Selected Reviews - Compiled on The Hippodrome website

Cinderella - What The Press Are Saying ...

 

"A truly fantastic night out for all the family!”
Dave Clarke, 100.7 Heart FM

“The show has so much energy I was exhausted at the end of it”
Steve Denyer 100.7 Heart FM

“will delight audiences all through the run"
Express and Star
 

“The story is magical, the sets glorious, the cast great”
Birmingham Mail

“few would be disappointed with this sumptuous show which captures the very essence of panto”
Birmingham Mail

 

“What a truly fantastic Panto”
Tammy Gooding, BRMB Radio

“A fun filled night to remember for the whole family”
John Darvall, Saga Radio

A magical Christmas treat for the whole family"
Coventry Evening Telegraph

“This season’s must have ticket”
Coventry evening Telegraph

“Sumptuous Cinderella is a winner”
Birmingham Mail

“true panto tradition”
Express and Star
 

SOUNDS LIKE A HIT!!

 

This will be the last update until after Christmas Day as Simon is being surgically removed from his laptop, a painful operation! May we wish all our friends in Pantoland, all our regular contributors and all our very loyal readers a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS and all our very best wishes for a prosperous and panto filled 2007!

 

With love and best wishes - Nigel, Peter and Simon xxxx

Thursday 21st December 2006

Two shows- both went extremely well, with no incidents (well, none that I can think of!). Unfortunately It looks as if I'll not get "on-line" at the digs, so this diary has to be penned wherever I can find the wherewithall- be it "Starbucks" (expensive) The Hippodrome's Green Room Computer (busy) or by putting it onto my dongle (if you'll pardon the  expression) and plugging it into a passing port in a storm!

Had a 'phone call today from Ray Meagher in Blackpool- that does sound strange, doesn't it? The star of "Summer Bay" is not home, but away, and in Blackpool! Ray's having a great time being the villainous King Rat in UK's "Dick Whittington" there, with Roger Burdon and Adam Gaskin as Ray's foe- Tommy the Cat. Usually Ray gets a chance to "do  the rounds" of several pantomimes before he  goes back to Sydney, but this time he'll go straight from Blackpool to promote his programme in London and then flies off.

Laura, Roanne and Helen - Some of our wonderful dressers!

Heard from Anna Karen in Rhyl -also a "Dick Whittington" with Nick Wilton as Sarah The Cook (Nick was in the panto I wrote at Ilford last year- a splendid Dame he is). Anna's having a great time. Judy Buxton and Jeffrey Holland got in touch from their panto in Cornwall, and Andrew Ryan is getting great notices for his "Sleeping Beauty" in Sheffield- so panto folk are getting the chance to make contact, now that all the shows have finally opened.

Had a quick drink before going home tonight. I had forgotten that this weekend is "the big one" for celebrations. Everywhere is heaving. Had I thought I would not have attempted to fight my way through the revellers in a local hostellery carrying two bags of shopping and a four foot fibre optic tree...suffering comments like "You're late putting that up...." and "I'll find someone to sit on the top, hang on.." and so on and so forth. Brummie wit, eh? How I laughed as I  got wedged in a corner!

Saturday 23rd December 2006

Arrived at the theatre today to be greeted with many goodies! A hamper from Margaret, the very talented lady who makes our costumes, and a very beautiful bouquet of red roses from our friends Jack and Ian, who live mostly in New York. The good news is that they will be coming to see the show on January 14th, and will be bringing with them the legendary Principal Boy, Patricia Michaels and her husband Josh. Readers of IBY will have already discovered pictures of Patricia in our Principal Boys Gallery. We look forward  to the visit- and many thanks Margaret, and to you Jack and Ian!

Both houses very appreciative today- the Christmas spirit has really kicked in! Even the ponies were perkier than usual, and second show decided to leave little (well, not so little) early Christmas presents in their wake. Why do they wait until they hit the wings I wonder? They’ve had hours to do their business in their lovely straw filled paddock, but no- they have this gleam in their eye as they walk across the wings and line up- then Whoops! There we are..if anyone grows roses out there…..

An earlier show tomorrow- 1pm and 5.15pm, and then the glorious day off!

Sunday 24th December 2006

Hopefully, with all the shopping done and wrapped, our audiences can just relax and enjoy the show without the stress of previous days. Certainly the shops were not as busy as the day before, and the traffic was quiet for a Saturday.

Inside the Hippodrome everyone’s thoughts were on plans for after the two shows. Basically gypsies at heart, panto folk are often the late night travellers on a week-end- heading for home, especially at Christmas. Some of our company will be staying here in Birmingham, others will travel after the show comes down to places as far as Bournemouth, Plymouth, as well as Leeds and London.

For some of the dancers it is their very first time away from home- this is when the “family” of panto comes into play, and plans are made to meet up for Christmas Day. Often friends and family will join us here at the theatre to spend Christmas Day- our only day off, before returning on Boxing day.

Both shows were very lively- Brian made an impassioned appeal to the children to make certain they left a snack and a drink for Santa, and his reindeer. Our “boys” the ponies are now well into their snack routine- I feed them straight after the “Ticket-tearing” scene, and they are beginning to look out for the figure in the spotty frock bearing carrots and apples!

All over the country between Eight o’clock and ten o’clock the panto people are on the move, criss-crossing each other as they head for Christmas and family. I know that Lynette McMorrow (The Poole panto Fairy) will be heading from Poole to Birmingham to be with her family, and Lindy our ASM will be leaving Birmingham for Bournemouth- they’ll probably pass each other in different directions- that’s what actors do on public holidays- and all for the one day off!

To everyone out there in pantoland - A Very Merry Christmas - Have a great day off!

FANTASTIC SET OF PRESS PHOTOS FROM HIPPODROME WEBSITE

Tuesday 26th December 2006

Traditionally, this was the day that every Pantomime in the country opened. They would then run through until the end of February, or even into March. Nowadays, Boxing day is often even half-way through a panto season!

The audiences can be tricky on this day- they could be over fed, and bordering on dozing off, or over excited after Santa’s visit, and a bit rowdy. Our two full houses were, like Goldilock’s porridge- Just right!

The day flies by, especially when with a big company like ours it takes a while to enquire how their Christmas (well, the one day off) went. Lindy had a dreadful journey to Bournemouth. She broke down on Christmas Eve- never a good time, bless her, but made it back here in plenty of time today. Andy was sporting a festive jumper, and doubtless someone in the company had a wee..or is it a Wii.. well, one of those new fangled things you point at the screen anyway. I’m just getting used to a remote, so I know I’d be hopeless with that..

The Sisters Boudoir!

Both shows were splendid. The theatre was a little chilly after a day of no show, but it soon warmed up. The ponies looked rested, and judging by the shovels that were produced had had a big festive meal at some point.

Today we had the first appearance of the New Team of juveniles- up until now, we’ve had Group One. This must have been an exciting day for group two. Andy (dance Captain) was inh early to put them through their paces, and they did a grand job!

I was persuaded to join some of the others for a wee drink after the show, and then weaved my way home to raid the fridge, as you do of a Boxing Day.

Wednesday 27th December 2006

I made the mistake of attempting to walk around the Bullring today- the entire shopping centre looked as if it had come to a standstill! Hordes of shoppers everywhere. I later discovered that yesterday, in the first hour of opening 26,000 people entered the Bullring, and that by closing time about 120,000 had been through it! Such is the power of the word “Sale!”

We play to a mere 2,600 a day, but there’s nothing discounted about us!

Looking around backstage today, from the portals of the Quick-Change room, I was impressed by the swiftness of the scene changes. It turns out that there are over thirteen people involved in that process- the stage crew. Up in the flies are Phillip Pearsall and John Farmer. They operate the flying lines that bring the scenery in and out silently and swiftly. When the scenery is flown in, the lights come up and the actors are followed everywhere by the twin follow spots- those powerful lights at the back of the auditorium operated by Alex Duggan and Keiran Keogh.

On stage the flattage and trucks, and indeed the mammoth finale staircase is moved on and off by a  team of six, they are Frank Spencer, Gareth Bennett, Martin Pickard, Paul Pearsall, Rupert Sutcliff and Paul Payne. The woods and the transformation and indeed that finale staircase is a sea of low rise smoke, pyrotechnic effects and flashes, firework effects, all under the control of Stage LX (electrical)- Paul Keogh, Paul Hinde and Matt Bird. A Plethora of Pauls in fact!

Our Stage Crew and Stage LX

“There’s many a slip…..” as the saying goes. Yes, we had a Cinderella who almost took a tumble in her crystal slippers, but managed to remain upright on stage, but then our valiant Prince Charming was in fact the slipper. Sean Needham, as dignified and upright a Prince as you could imagine fell by the wayside!

Just as Cinderella sat centre stage, and the slipper was placed on her foot, Sean took a step backwards and landed on his bum! A scene well blocked and rehearsed turned into a French Farce! He fell on his royal rear as he pronounced “The slipper fits..” causing the audience and cast to fall about laughing (as you do in these occasions) and the lines that followed got a bit out of synch- the two guards rushed on where Sean should have said “Get two of my strongest guards..” but just before he said it.. the Sisters shouted “Thank you” as Sean was assisted to his feet, and  Brian found it very difficult to get any lines out as the audience was still clutching themselves!

It is actually a theatrical superstition that if you slip or fall on stage, it means you are coming back to that theatre in the future. Sean is assured of a return visit! Peter fell over here eleven years ago, and we’re back!

The evening ended in a somewhat surreal way- we’d decided to visit a new bar that Lucy had discovered the previous night. By discovered, I mean she had popped her head in, decided it looked very plush, and we all decided to check it out. Brian joined us for his first outing since we opened (he’s been a slippers and ovaltine panto star up to date) and off we went.

Lucy missed one thing about the plush new bar. We noticed it as we sat down. It was a Chinese Karaoke bar. Yup. The lyrics of the songs were scrolling up on the screens in Chinese letters, and a tuneful Cantonese version of “My Way” was in full swing! Well Lucy, this was certainly a different evening out! Brian treated the punters to a quick version of the only ballad we could find in English, and off we sped into the night for a swift drink in a local bar, and home before midnight!

Thursday 28th December 2006

The streets of Birmingham are still teeming with crowds- it’s quite amazing to witness, but not fun to try and fight your way through. As the old panto dame saying goes “Those shops! I was pushed and prodded, shoved and manhandled.. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow!”- believe me, I CAN wait!

Two full houses of course, and in between shows the delights of Marge’s home cooking in the Green room at the Hippodrome. The woman is a national treasure, and should replace that Delia Smith on television. She ensures that every day us artistes and crew get a proper hot home cooked meal- today Shepherds Pie and to follow a rhubarb crumble- you find yourself wondering what’s on the menu around about the Boudoir scene, and it’s the highlight of the day! Thank you Marge- so often panto performers live off cold food and sandwiches, not having the luxury of a proper hot meal- good to stave off colds too, so a medal for Marge please!

Talking of food, the ponies “my boys” have got into the habit of looking for me now, waiting for the twice daily snack attack from the odd looking lady in the spotty frock and blue hair. One of ‘em got a bit over zealous today and tried to eat the bag with the apples in it, and the two tethered boys started to follow me when I’d finished feeding them. They have a large lit up coach attached at this point- I must be careful, or they’ll follow me to the dressing room, coach and all at this rate!

Had a text from David Hartshorne today. A Birmingham resident and panto buff, David is a regular contributor to IBY. He’s also related to the legendary Dorothy Ward, a Birmingham lady who became one of Pantomime’s biggest stars as Principal boy- take a look at the article on her on this site- fascinating!

David texted me to say that he’s discovered two things about “Jack”- the Emile Littler Doll photographed earlier on in this diary. I bought Jack believing him to have come from the Hippodrome in the 1930’s. David reminded me that the Hippo didn’t do panto in that period, and that Jack the doll was sold at the Prince Of Wales Theatre Birmingham, no longer here. It was bombed during the 2nd World War.

David tells me he’s found the original programme, and even the price of “Jack” in that production of  “Jack & Jill” 1939-40. Jack cost 2/6p. That’s err…twelve and a half pence in our money! I have to admit Jack cost me quite a lot more than that when I bought him last month, and he’s sitting in his new home- our dressing room as I type!

I have to admit to being a little tired tonight- no Chinese Karaoke bars for me- I cam straight home. It’s the midweek half-way mark tonight. Six shows down, six more to go before the next day off. I’ll be spending that day off seeing “Sleeping Beauty” in Sheffield- fab reviews in “Stage” I saw online- so I’ll be taking it easy this week. The feet are a little tender and my eyelids are beginning to react to the constant applications of glue to the lashes- hazards of the job I’m afraid! (and possibly the onset of early middle age-  since I notice our dancers can throw themselves about the stage and still leave the theatre looking marvellous as they head into the night spots of Brum.. ahhh youth!)

Friday 29th December 2006

Packed to the rafters again today. Both shows flowed by without incident. My back is playing up, and I’m slapping those heat patches on  for the show, and dreaming of what it must be like to do the show in flat shoes- maybe next year!

My daily snack routine with “my boys” the ponies has been interrupted- hopefully just a temporary lull. The pony handler has requested I stop giving them their slice of apple “as it might be making them loose”…apparently the boys have been waiting until they get on stage before doing their business. I’m no veterinarian, but I tend to think “boys will be boys” and they’ll deliver forth when and where they fancy, regardless of a slice of apple, but there we go.. Possibly they see the bright lights and think “this looks like a nice spot”. Judy Cornwall (our lovely fairy last time we were here) has a theory that they deliberately wait until the coach is onstage just to upstage the Fairy Godmother. She swears they had a gleam in their eyes.

So, for now there is no pony apples to cut and prepare. We have to monitor the err movements and see if there is less evidence as a result of the no apple ban. I did a fair bit of “In sixteen years of feeding Tonka he’s never…..” and a wee bit of “How VERY dare you!” but we’ll watch and see!

Mission Control - The Prompt Corner!

Watched a tv programme on the subject of Light Entertainment last night after the two shows. It highlighted the demise of variety (blaming the arrival of Rock and Roll) and how variety moved onto television, and from there to the world of Cruise Ships and the annual Royal Variety Show.

A section covered ventriloquists- including the wonderful world of Radio ventriloquists, like Archie Andrews. It made me think how lucky we are in our “Cinderella” to have Dawson Chance and Willy. There is hardly anywhere you can see a “spesh Act” these days- fewer and fewer pantomimes feature them, and here we are with a superb speciality that blends into the plot, and gives the children (and the adults of course) a huge amount of fun. Where would this show be without a thousand kids screaming “wake up Willy?” I’m very fond of  Willy- even if at times I’m not certain if he’s a turtle or a tortoise- you really accept him as an individual and literally “talk to the hand”! That is the magic of Pantomime!

The Boys and Girls of our Ensemble!

Saturday 30th December 2006

The town is gradually getting back to normal- still crowded, but nothing in comparison to the past few days. A wet and windy day for our audiences as they arrive by the coach load to the Hippodrome.

Matinee performance went very well indeed, and I even managed a brief snooze in between shows to perk myself up for the evening.

The evening show certainly gave us all an adrenaline boost as soon as it started. From the very off something seemed amiss. Shobna glittered and flew across the stage on her crescent moon as usual, but the “whoosh” and accompanying orchestration wasn’t there. Within a few seconds, as she introduces the funky villagers of “Rock and Rap” it was obvious to us that the “click” had failed.

For the uninitiated the “Click Track” is the recorded effects that augment the orchestra- it can involve choral voices, and usually some musical augmentation. It enables a six piece band to have a boost in big production numbers. The band plays, but certain parts of the orchestration are handled by the “click”-so called because the Music Director has earphones with a “click” beat like a metronome in his ear during these moments, enabling him to synch live musicians and the augmentation. Bob the MD had no such click. It had failed.

Shobna sailed through it- the dancers sailed through it, Brian and the musicians sailed through it- and we all came out the other end intact! By the time we’d done our opening- all talk no music, and Dawson had done his, the problem was rectified, and the secondary “back up” click was operational. It takes these technical hitches to sharpen your senses I reckon!

Good Evening and Welcome to Poo Watch!! Got quite a ring to it - perhaps a new BBC programme!

On the pony front, I’ve been keeping an eye on “the boys”. So far, no apples, and no difference in the amount of pony poo! I’ll give it a few more days, but it looks like the Einstein theory of 'apple = poo' is not in the equation!

I’ll be giving this diary a day off for New Year - we have the two earlier shows tomorrow, then everyone will depart for various venues, or travelling home as soon as we finish. We may have a celebrity visitor to the panto tomorrow, but you’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out who that may be!

On New Years Day, our day off, I’ll be in Sheffield to see “Sleeping Beauty”, returning the next day to Birmingham and our two shows on the Tuesday.

From Peter, Simon and myself have a very happy new year, see you in 2007!

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

Saw the New Year in in Birmingham, and then travelled to Sheffield to spend New Year’s day-our day off- at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield. A busman’s holiday!

Andrew Ryan has directed and written the Lyceum panto-“The Sleeping Beauty”, and of course appears as Dame in the production. He directed and appeared in last year’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” at Sheffield, which I saw, and it was great to just sit back and watch other panto people do their stuff for a few hours. It’s a great show, and the story line was very well adhered to, and all the traditional elements were there, a well as some modern innovations.

In particular the projections (computer generated) and flying effects were great to see- Sherrie Hewson as Good Fairy, Andrew Ryan as Nurse Nelly and Nic Greenshields as Prince Phillip all took to the air during the show, and the projection sequences by John Port were stunning! Flying through space and destroying the briar thorns were a great hit with the kids, as was the transformation of Bad Fairy Bodybag (Helen Fraser) into a dragon. Tom Owen was King, with Sleeping Beauty played by Stephanie McWilliams, and Christopher Pizzey as Silly Billy completed this UK Productions cast.

Surprised to bump into Panto Dame Peter Thorne, a mate of Peter & I from way back, at the Lyceum Stage Door. Peter Thorne is Dame at Doncaster, and has toured with me many times in the past. We watched the panto together before meeting up with the cast for a drink afterwards! A great night out, and a lovely way to spend the New Year!

Sean and Michael Harrison

Returned to Birmingham this morning, and went straight to the theatre. A lot of visitors today, which starts the New Year off  well. In to see the matinee was Paul Elliott, with his wife Linda Hayden. Linda did our very first E&B panto at Stevenage as Principal Boy, and is as gorgeous as ever. Michael Harrison joined them as he and Paul set off on a nine town, nine panto tour of the UK before the week is out. Paul seemed delighted with his show today, so we must be doing it right, otherwise he’d soon let us know! From here they set off to see another panto this evening. A busy week.

Bonnie Langford was in with her family this afternoon. Bonnie had very little time to spare afterwards though, as she’s starring in “Guys and Dolls” across the road in the Alexandra Theatre this season. She had to dash back to her theatre!

Between shows it was our great pleasure to visit a group in the circle- the party had been brought by Paul Blackwell and his wife S.J- they run a very successful dance school in Shropshire, and their group had raised three hundred pounds for the Hippo Panto appeal. This money will be used to bring children from the Birmingham children’s hospital to see the panto. Well done to you all! Paul and SJ must have had a nostalgic matinee, as they were both in the Cinderella with Peter & I ten years ago, as dancers, and married shortly after that! Two children later, they return to see the show!

Dashing from the Circle, it was a great pleasure to meet up finally with David Hartshorne. David has contributed a great deal to IBY over the years, and is a fount of information on his relative, Dorothy Ward and on the Alexandra Theatre in particular. He brought me some wonderful programmes from pantomimes past for my collection (and a bottle of bubbly- Bless you David & David!) We had a great chat in the Green Room about the theatres of Birmingham now no longer in existence. The Prince of Wales, The Empire, The Theatre Royal… So many lost Palaces of Pleasure..

A great show this evening, once again Brian’s family were up to see the show, and  joined in the songsheet. Lucy and Amy have been regulars to this show for most of their lives, and it was great to see Brian’s three ladies here again- had a chat with Ann-Marie after the show, and told her about the Tamworth “Winter Wonderland” experience, the show there is produced by Ian Sandy, and written/directed by me, and hopefully  Ann-Marie and the girls will pop along to have fun in the Snowdome before the show ends next week.

Now- I did mention that Brian had a special visitor coming to the second show today. I could give clues like this celebrity is one part of the biggest double act in television history..a veteran of one pantomime in Sunderland…might have a byker parked in a grove once..or even be found regularly in an Australian jungle..?

Alan Conley (Brian's brother) Lisa Armstrong (Mrs McPartlin) Ant, Jo Conley, Amy, Lucy, Brian and Ann-Marie

Got it? Yes, among Brian’s visitors tonight was Ant McPartlin! It’s so refreshing to note that Lucy and Amy, Brian’s girls are totally unfazed by Dad’s celeb guests. Growing up with a Celeb Dad, people like Ant are just Dad’s mates, and he’d come along to see the show.

The aforementioned Dame Peter Thorne did the “Ant and Dec” Panto in Sunderland a few years back, and I had a chat with Ant about that show. The lads did two shows a day, headlining the panto, then drove overnight each week to do their Saturday morning telly, then were flown back to Sunderland for the matinee. Every week!! Now that takes stamina! Great to see him, and glad to hear he really enjoyed the Panto tonight- hopefully he never uttered “ I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here!” .

Wednesday 3rd January 2007

Still packin’ ‘em in here at the Hippodrome-it’s always good to have visitors, it breaks up the routine. Delighted to have a visit from Brian Hewlett today. Brian is a veteran of plays and indeed pantomimes, and for many years has been a regular member of “The Archers” on Radio 4. He plays “Neil” if you are a regular listener!

The programme is broadcast of course from “The Mailbox” in Birmingham, at the BBC studios just across the road from the Theatre. Brian reminded me of an earlier panto I did at the Belgrade Coventry with Reg Dixon and Carole Cleveland. A beautiful Terry Parsons designed “Mother Goose”. I was a bit shocked to discover it was thirty odd years ago!

Today was Martin’s birthday. Martin you will recall from rehearsals created a fantastic cake for Paul Elliott’s birthday. Today his flatmate created a cake for Martin! An incredible creation showing Martin having a relaxing day in the Jacuzzi! He wishes!. Martin spent his birthday in the dark, sitting at his prompt desk. Safe, secure.. away from the bright lights. That was until Brian announced his birthday to 1,700 people, and forced him on stage to have “Happy Birthday” sung to him by the audience! He legged it back to the safety of his wing side desk as soon as he could!

Quite tired by the middle of the second show. We are not allowed to be tired (well, look tired!) in a pantomime. You know you are when those bright lights sting your eyes, and the brain asks you if  you’ve just said what you’ve just said before you say it- if you get my meaning!

Berrocca is a useful way of building up energy- not sure what’s in it, but it has vitamins and some form of stimulant I guess? I found myself wistfully thinking of bed by the second interval, and headed back to my flat for my earliest night to date. Energy is what we (hopefully) radiate on stage, and only ten hours sleep can produce this effect during a long run like this!

Heard from the lovely Jill Halfpenny today- their Newcastle panto is going splendidly. I thanked Jill for her contribution to a Radio 2 phone in on panto yesterday. She defended our art form against slurs of being old fashioned, and out of style beautifully. If Panto is out of fashion, how come we play to over three thousand people a day? That is no accident, it is supply and demand!

Listen Again to Wednesday's Jeremy Vine Radio Programme to hear the comments about pantomime or perhaps leave a message on the message board. It's about 1 hour 25 minutes into the programme. (Unfortunately this link has now expired!)

A Review from Jennifer Hawkins

After following your website for several years I finally managed to see your pantomime last night (3rd January), and I just thought I would write to tell you how much we enjoyed it. My mother and I took the trip to the Hippodrome as part of my Christmas present, and I can honestly say that we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The pantomime far exceeded my expectations, and we found ourselves joining in with all the enthusiasm of the small children next to us (I'm a 19 year old student)! All of the performers were evidently enjoying themselves, and their infectious enthusiasm spread to the audience right from the start. This was especially noticeable with Brian Conley, who also seemed to crack up the rest of the cast! The costumes were fantastic, the sets even more so, and the few 'boobs' were rapidly smoothed over, being the cause of much hilarity both off and on the stage!

As my mother remarked to me on the way home 'It almost makes you think that no other panto could live up to that.' That said, however, she is already dropping hints about my having a similar 'present' next year!

All that really remains is to thank you, and the rest of the cast and crew, for putting on this show, and to wish you a happy new year, success for the remainder of the run, and (hopefully) many more joyful trips to pantoland in the future!

Best Wishes

Jennifer Hawkins

Saturday 6th January 2007

Christmas decorations have been taken down, and the dressing room, now pretty bare resembles a private hospital room! Beautiful as the new Hippodrome rebuild was, somehow the dressing rooms lack a bit of the charm of the old ones. It was the same when Wimbledon Theatre was refurbished. The old dressing rooms were somehow more theatre orientated than the new ones.

The old dressing block remains here of course, and are in use, but the new stark dressing rooms, complete with bed and vases of flowers really looks as if visitors ought to arrive bearing a bunch of grapes and matron will be around at any minute!

Very perky shows today. Saturday audiences bring with them a special rapport, and both shows were “zinging” so to speak. Nice to get a standing ovation of a Saturday night! The day off on Monday will be the first “quiet” day off I suspect. Our previous days off have been Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Hopefully Monday will be the long laze in bed and mooch around the shops kind of day.

Paul Keogh- he’s Stage Elex on our show has taken some excellent pictures from the stage right wing, and I’m going to be including a sample collection here in the next couple of days. They really capture the colours and the movement beautifully. Thanks Paul! Paul, by the way is fourth generation theatre person, and  I’m looking forward to getting time to have a chat with him about the working life of the Hippodrome.

Photos by Paul Keogh

Click On Image to Enlarge

 
 

Tuesday 9th January 2007

A little refreshed after the day off, and back to the two  show regime. The matinees are more adults than children now, as the children have all returned to school. The interesting show will be on  Friday, when we do 11am and then 7.15pm. Odd timing that! The 11am show is specifically for school parties- that should be a rowdy show at an ungodly hour! I will definitely take the make-up off in between those shows, with a spare five hours. It’ll be the first time I’ll have been outside between shows since we started. It’s the daylight you miss most- so I’ll get out and enjoy the few hours left on that day.

In our twilit world backstage simple pleasures mean a lot. It may be a comfy dressing gown, for some it’s a puzzle book or a gameboy- but one pleasure we all share is the table next to Martin’s prompt desk.

This small table is where the sweetie tray is kept. Everyday there are different sweeties, dipped into by all and sundry as they exit the wing, or enter  the backstage. Today we had a special treat. Fairy cakes cooked by an actual fairy. No ordinary fairy, but the Fairy Godmother herself, Shobna Gulati!

Where she found the time to run up a tray of  these, I have no idea, but there they were, cooked by her own magical hands. They vanished very quickly, and  the sweetie fest continued thereafter.

It was also band aid day for the wounded but brave soldiers today. Jody was the first casualty. He nicked his hand catching his sword as it flew through the air. It looked worse than it was, and a neat plaster and a sweetie for being brave solved the problem. Then it was Shobna’s turn- another plaster administered, and then finally me. Mine was a contact lens that turned itself in half, and lodged somewhere under my eyeball. Luckily I was out of make-up by then, and the Stage Door and Brian came to my rescue with their contact lens flushing kit.

As a result I was late for our first actual company meal. We had it in a Chinese buffet near to the Hippodrome. One of those “all you can eat” places. I think they have never experienced actors before, as the Cinderella team took the buffet at its word!

Good to see Jonathan Kiley at the show tonight, and joining us for the company meal. Jonathan is one of the Executive Producers for Qdos, and has directed this actual show before. He’s returned from directing the Joe Pasquale Panto at Bristol among others, and is now seeing other pantomimes before they finally close.

Wolverhampton goes on for a week longer than we do. Delighted to see the lovely Kathryn Rooney at our Company’s “do”. Kathryn is “Snow White” at Wolverhampton with Lesley Joseph, Don McClean and Matt Slack. Kathryn is no stranger to that role of course, and has taken the storyline a little further. Not only does this Snow White look after the dwarfs in the pantomime, but she has set up an agency for Dwarfs, and, as an agent finds employment both in pantomime and in other areas such as film and television.

What a clever lady she is! The panto “Snow White” is now one of the more popular subjects for panto across the country, and of course there is a shor… a dearth of dwarfs to play the roles in these shows. Good luck with the agency Kathryn, and congratulations!

Tomorrow we have the two shows then the Hippodrome has it’s New Year party at a venue nearby afterwards. Hopefully I’ll be able to wear my lenses tomorrow for the show (if my sore eye can bear it) but if not, it’ll be back to the days before I wore them. Peter will dread that! Instead of pointing to a man in the audience I used to point at a pillar and ask “his” name. Everyone onstage is a blurry object, and the wings are completely invisible. I have to be very careful feeding the ponies with no lenses. It is too easy to try and feed a carrot to the wrong end.

Online Review Rod Dungate, 20 December

Better than ever – what more could you want

This year’s offering from the Hippo truly is dynamite panto. All the elements of the story are intact, all the regular routines from Buttons and the Ugly sisters are there too. But everything is carried out with huge vigour and commitment; from the moment the opening chords burst upon us and the Fairy Godmother appears swinging along, high up on a sparkling crescent moon, the show powers onwards to its fairly tale ending. The result? – The Hippodrome this year has bettered its best.

No small part of the show’s success goes to the high-octane performance of Brian Conley as Buttons. He creates a genuine and warm relationship with us. So whether he’s accidentally stepping off the front of the stage, trying to tell Cinderella how much he loves her (and demonstrating to us how he’d like to snog with her!) or harassing Prince Charming with a bird puppet, we’re with him every step of the way. He is our friend. Conley is the most accomplished all-round performer I’ve seen for a long time. Marvellous.

Shobna Gulati is our Fairy Godmother. She creates a fine comic performance, full of right good Northern no-nonsense advice. ‘Cinderella, you shall go to the ball,’ she declares; then stops the show ‘I’ve always wanted to say that!’ You could feed chicken on that line, couldn’t you? But it did make me laugh – it probably strikes a deep desire in us all.

Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott are a great double act as sisters Trinny and Susannah, ready for anything – including two Palace guards (poor guards!) Michelle Potter helps keep the whole show buoyant with her charming and engaging Cinderella.

What more could you want?

 

Wednesday 10th January 2007

Guided through the first show, as indeed, I was not able to put my contact lenses in. A blurry performance, but no mishaps- and no, I didn’t attempt to feed “the boys!”

In between shows delighted to see Kevin Kennedy and his family. They’d called in to see the show and visit Brian. Kevin (possibly better known as “Curly” from Corrie) had played the Child catcher with Brian in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”” last year, and has just finished his panto in Southport as the Huntsman in “Snow White”.

Kevin Kennedy and Family visiting Brian

The second show sped through. Roanne and Laura  began getting ready for the Hippodrome party during our breaks in the show, and very glamorous they looked by the end- party frocks were being laid out in dressing rooms, and  by the end of the show- a very good show, audience were also in party mood!- we were off and running to get ready in the dressing rooms.

The party is one of two that the Hippodrome holds for its staff during the year, and we are very grateful to the Hippo for inviting us along. Everyone who works at the theatre was at “The Island”, a venue next door to the Alexandra theatre.

A great night- free bar and a sumptuous buffet Exotic cocktails abounded with names like “Crystal Slipper”, “Potent Pumpkin” and “Un-Buttoned!”. Got the opportunity to chat to Stuart Griffiths, “Mine Host”. There are hopes, he tells me that this pantomime will top the Two Million Pound mark by the end of the season- and that this year’s business will make next year’s “Aladdin” a hard act to follow. Next year will be a celebration for this theatre. It will mark the 50th pantomime at the Hippodrome since Emile Littler’s pantomimes began here in 1957.

A late night, considering everyone in the venue has to be back at work tomorrow, but a great night out. Thanks for inviting “Cinderella” to the ball Hippodrome!

Birmingham Hippodrome Party - Wednesday 10th January 2007 - A Pictorial Review!

Stuart Griffiths of the Hippodrome - Our Host!!

Andy and Michelle

Daz and Lindy

Desi

Karin and Sean

Peter and Nigel

Martin and Rodney

 

Thursday 11th January 2007

A busy day for Andy our dance captain. Dancer Sean is off today with a rather nasty tummy bug. Good job too- best to stay well away with those sort of things. In our underground world here these things can spread. Get better Sean, but stay away!

Andy came in early to re-block the dance routines. That way the routines appear seamless, and you don’t notice that we have nine not ten dancing on stage. Apparently the pony usually handled by Sean (Charm the pony) was a bit puzzled at having a new partner for the transformation, but behaved liked a true professional.

I’m afraid our professionalism was tested in the second show. We had a gentleman in the audience who, bless him, suffered from a tendency to shout out the odd very loud obscenity at odd moments. The very quiet moments. Michelle, Peter & I bore the full brunt of this during the ticket tearing scene. As the tirade increased the audience fortunately responded to our predicament, but it was extremely difficult to hold ourselves together and carry on. In fact, there was the odd moment, when Michelle was clinging on to my arm willing me not to exit and leave her alone on stage, that we just cracked up. When this happens, it is always advisable to find something interesting on the backcloth, and try to pinch yourself hard. That failed. Not since the episode of the highly flatulent ponies many years back have we experienced such trouble getting through a scene.

By the interval our gentleman was at the back of the stalls, and hardly audible from the stage.

Tomorrow is our first early schools matinee. We have to be in the building just after 10am. A mere twelve hours after we left it tonight. Not wonderful for us, but even less wonderful for Laura on wardrobe. Those tights and shirts don’t wash themselves. That ironing doesn’t  wait for anything- I realise that, as she comes in tomorrow at 7.45am that in fact it is Laura who is the real Cinderella. She did get to go to the ball yesterday of course, but tomorrow its back to the twin-tub. Big “Ahhhhh” for our Laura…..!

A Day In The Life Of A Wardrobe Assistant by Laura Clarke

A typical day could start as early as 11 am. The ironing and sorting of the previous nights washing needs to be done long before any of the cast come in. This simply means, drying anything that needs drying, ironing shirts and sorting tights, t-shirts (worn underneath costumes to protect them from sweat) and socks into baskets according to who they belong to.

Before they can be taken to the dressing rooms any repairs are done on anything that needs it. Then it’s all delivered to corresponding dressing rooms before ‘the half.’ (This is a call that the deputy stage manager puts out on the theatre tannoy to let everyone know that there is half an hour until the show starts.)

During the half is about the time that I do any pre-sets that I need to do. This is where costumes are laid out on chairs in quick change areas or put in any certain position they need to be. Shoes are put the right way around, with socks or tights ravelled up inside them. Skirts or trousers can be set on the floor ready for the wearer to jump into them and pull them up. Tops or shirts are ready on the back of the chair; any jewellery is laid out carefully, ties are tied ready, everything is placed so that the performer can just run up, throw it all on and run off again. Depending on how quick the quick change is. Some are quicker than others.

One of the first quick changes I ever had to do was in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ with four actors, in a space in the set on stage about 5 feet square. I had 30 seconds to get them out of ‘Merchants’ from the temple market; a costume that consisted of robes with rope belts and skull caps, into ‘Lepers,’ rags. A jacket, trousers, and balaclava type headdress. All rags, all the same shades of grey. So all of the pieces of the costume looked exactly the same, and bearing in mind we are doing the change in relative darkness. I had to set the costumes very precisely, and exactly the same every time, so both I and each actor knew exactly where each part of his own costume would be. It was a close shave for most of the rehearsals (we were lucky this time, we actually had rehearsals) but we’d all established a routine by opening night, and it went swimmingly for the remainder of the run. Apart from the time one of my boys punched me in the face while putting his jacket on. It was an accident of course, or so he said!

I also had some interesting changes with Joe Pasquale, in and out of a giant parrot costume. He would accidentally flash me, get stuck with millions of elastic bands wrapped around his head and he even dropped a sandwich on my head one day – there isn’t enough web space in the world to tell you that story! 

After the half, there is ‘the quarter,’ ‘the five’ and ‘beginners.’ Beginners is called five minutes before the show is due to start, it calls everyone to the stage ready to start the show. A dresser or wardrobe assistant is assigned to a person or group of people and can be responsible for attending to their assigned performer at any of these calls, depending on how much costume there is to put on, or do up. Some people like to ‘get in’ earlier than others, but most leave it until beginners whether they mean to or not!

Dressing is all about being in the right place at the right time with the right item/s of clothing. Most of the time we are issued with notes to tell us where to be, when and with which pieces of clothing for whom. Some tell you with timings, some with song cues or dialogue cues. Some ‘plots’ you have to make up as you go along. However it’s done, you soon learn your plot and it becomes second nature. I’ve found it generally takes me about a week to learn a plot by heart.

So, the show starts and you follow your show routine. This, for us, of course changes all of the time depending on the show. For example at the moment on ‘Cinderella’ I have 16 changes during the show, all of them take place on stage. Most with Peter Robbins, some with Brian Conley and one with Michelle Potter who plays Cinderella. But you may have to do changes in dressing rooms, in corridors, in the wings, anywhere where there is a little bit of space usually.

The best way to explain what happens during a show is to show you a typical act. This is act one of my recent plot on ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’: 

Act One

Dressing room:

When the boys have left at beginners set ‘toots’ costumes for:

Phil: White jacket, green tie, striped trousers and striped shirt.

Leon: White jacket, green tie, striped trousers and striped shirt.

Leigh: ’Phillips’ – Black tail coat, black waistcoat, spotted tie. (He wears his shirt for grand prix.)

Tom prefers to take his costume from the rail.

‘Grand Prix’

Stay in the dressing room; help Leigh in to his ‘Phillips’ shoes.

‘I Have You Two’

·        

Take: Phil’s grand prix shirt; Leon’s ‘Sid’ shirt, suit and yellow tie to stage.

Set Phil’s shirt with his funfair costume stage right.

·         Set ‘Sid’ in the Q/C.

 

'Them Three’

 

‘Toot sweets’

Help Leon into ‘Sid’ and hang his toots.

‘Act English’

Help hang boys toots. Then help Mark into his funfair.

‘Hushaby Mountain’

 

When he has gone on for funfair, set his bamboo costume: Multi-coloured waistcoat, white trousers with bracers and white top. Bowler hat and red gloves.

‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’

 When he comes back from ‘Bamboo’ hang his waistcoat and put his hat and gloves away.

Take Leon and Phil’s toots costumes and hats back to the dressing room, also help the boys’ dresser with the boys toots.

In the dressing room collect the laundry; take collar studs and cufflinks out of shirts. Then take laundry to wardrobe.

 Interval.

It is very varied work, you meet many people and it can be a real laugh. In the past 4 months alone I have had two or three occasions when I have been laughing that hard for that long that I was certain I was going to throw up! You can get very close to people very quickly and it can be very sad to see them go. This is, in a way, the best and worst part of being a dresser.  I love getting to know people, but I hate to see them go. I was taught by a colleague to say ‘See you later’ instead of ‘Goodbye’ because the same faces always come around again and you soon learn that the world of theatre is a very small one.

So, you do your show – or two shows, you maybe even get a quick song or a dance routine, and some fun in there somewhere too. When the show is finished you then get anyone out of costume who needs it, and collect the laundry. Washing is then sorted and put on, any hand washing is done. For speed things are sometimes washed in an old fashioned twin tub. So that they can be put in to dry before we leave so they are ready for the next day.

Around 10.30 its home time, but it all has to be done all over again tomorrow, and the next day and the next day and the next day…

Friday 12th January 2007

Early birds, all of us. In the theatre at 10am. Our dressing room filling up with those in need of strong tea and a packet of hobnobs. These are the times when you can see who are morning people, and those who are not. I’m certainly not, which is strange, since in our Pantomime Roadshow Peter and I are usually already doing a show at ten o’clock. Michelle Potter is a morning person, unless she was doing a good performance. Sean Needham is not. The photograph says it all really..

Now, doing a show to 1,400 school children en mass is unlike any other show. Routines that work with a mixed age house (adults and children) and jokes that work may not when your entire audience, give or take a few teachers, are all between six and ten years old. It is unknown territory out there, and may the best man (or turtle) win!

Willy the Turtle was created for children. All those eons ago when he was hatched on some atoll, and crawled his way to the sea, before Dawson Chance discovered him, his future was mapped out. Willy is invincible with an audience full of kiddies. I imagine that those crowded St.Trinian-esque coaches leaving the theatre today echoed with his catch-phrase “Is it????”  Willy was the hero.

The audience started the show with a huge cheer. Shivers ran through the cast. The dancers were greeted with whoops of delight, Shobna to screams of delight..everyone was delighted! The Sisters got all the right boos, and picking out a teacher (male of course) for pantomime humiliation put us in their good books. Brian got his loudest ever cheers- as did everyone.

These kids were fantastic! There is no half-way mark for them. They watched the plot scenes intently, cheered at the right places, booed us at the right places..and behaved impeccably. Peter & I were delighted to find  St. Bernadettes school in the front row. We’ve taken our Panto Roadshow to this school several times in the past.

Admittedly a good few gags whizzed past the children’s heads - but then if we had an all adult audience a lot of kiddie humour would do the same. We tried to adjust the balance as we went along. A snip here, an addition there- that’s what makes Panto so unique. It can tailor itself to all ages and all ranges. Today’s morning show affirmed my belief that the most important part of a panto is the plot. Every bit of plot and story line was watched intently by 1,400 children, who participated in it, and totally suspended any disbelief.

What began as an ordeal for us all ended up as a delightful experience. So too was having five hours off between shows to actually see daylight! We see daylight normally only until 1pm or earlier. After that, we are underground. Six days a week, all day long.

Evening show very perky. Great to see David Robbins, a fellow Ugly Sister in to see the show. David has just finished at Lewisham, and has been touring around seeing many other pantos- Sheffield, Stoke, Nottingham Playhouse to name but a few!

Oh- the “sweetie” table in the corner has gone very upmarket today. Added to the Pic n Mix selection we had grapes, carrots and little yoghurt coated blueberries. Green Tea appeared in our dressing room green room- backstage you could book a masseur or have a manicure between shows- I’m expecting a small branch of Selfridges to open up in the wings at any minute! Dead posh us lot!

Saturday 13th January 2007

Packed to the rafters with possibly the best Saturday Night audience of the run- definitely in party mood they were! Some houses emit a certain “electricity” that we can feed off. Peter and I usually sense it after the first few gags we do, and start talking to the audience. You get the “feel” of the house within a minute or two. This house was eager to be entertained, so where better to come on a Saturday night?

Now I had thought that theatrical “digs” had changed over the years. In those “olden days” when we did “Digs” as aversed to posh flats and hotels, you got used to the quirks and eccentricities of the theatrical landlord, or landlady. I recall Basil Hartley (no relation to J.R) who ran “Novello House” in Leeds, with his many notices pinned up- the lavatory down the hall that said “Lock door” on the inside of the door. “Lift seat if required” and “Pull flush twice. Wait. Pull again” on the wall.. I recall Mrs. Hare at Sunderland, and all those long gone establishments, this business is full of those stories. Some funny, some horrific!

Nathan’s digs have turned out to be a pantomime. The pantomime being “Goldilocks”.

On returning to his digs, someone had been sitting in his chair. Someone had been eating his porridge, but even worse, someone was sleeping in his bed!!

A total and complete stranger was snoring away in his bed. Rather shocked and bemused, Nathan thought he’d retire to the downstairs couch and sort it out in the morning. But no- someone was sleeping on that too! Exit Goldilocks in search of a hotel room in the early hours of the morning. Needless to say, he moved out the next day, and, thanks to Ian Sandy has got new digs. I think by now his previous digs have been firmly struck off the list!

Two moments of theatrical faux pas yesterday and today. Peter was in full flow. I insult him as usual. He draws breath, begins to say “Mummy says I have a face…(that turns men’s heads-I reply, “It doesn’t do their stomachs much good either) But gets as far a the word “face”. He pauses..his eyes widen (always a sign on stage that the plot has gone) and bursts out with “ err A face that launched a thousand ships!”

I stared. He’s never said that line before in his life! Fortunately it is a VERY old gag, and I knew the reply. “More like a face that ate a thousand chips!”. We both stare at each other, and the audience laugh. Damn, we were lucky!

One of our esteemed cast had a momentary lapse and bobbed on stage a few lines before they should have- went “oops!” and bobbed off again. The audience love those moments! Actually so do we all! After all, it is live theatre- there’s no “It’ll be all right on the night” re-runs for us!

Ended the day by being taken out for a slap-up meal by our Birmingham friends David & David- thanks guys, two tired thespians appreciated it very much. David H presented me with a framed picture of a magazine photo from the Eighties. It shows a collection of about forty panto dames, and we’ve had great fun in the dressing room trying to identify them all. Curiously two of the Dames are wearing our costumes (circa 1984-86) both dressed as Carmen Miranda, but we’re 90% certain it isn’t us! Neither of us can work out who the Sisters are, and puzzled that we must have known them if, in fact, we leant them our frocks!

Sunday 14th January 2007

Visitor's Day!

Two earlier shows, being a Sunday. Today is the day that we have many visitors, and as a result, the day flew past.

Started off by meeting up with Peter Tod. Peter  is the man responsible for the rebuilding of this amazing building. As the boss of the Hippodrome he masterminded the artistic  content of the theatre as well as the massive building project that has given us a stunning original auditorium in the centre of a modern exterior. Peter regularly employed Peter and I to perform our Roadshow here in Birmingham schools, and set up the tradition of us representing the “Hippo” at the Autumn Arts Fest, as well as many other events.

He suggested a show to us that I wrote based on the Old Hippodrome. The original building had a distinctive tall tower that dominated the Birmingham skyline. We toured a show about a mythical cat called “Tower” who lived in the old theatre, taking the children through different time zones and illustrating what theatre was like in Roman, Tudor, Regency and Victorian times. We toured during the period that the theatre was closed, hopefully introducing new young audiences to the building when it eventually re-opened.

Currently Peter is a very busy man. He co-ordinates the UK tour of a large Russian ballet company, and works in producing shows around the country. It was so good to see him again, and to catch up with all his news.

Peter, Andrew and Sean

Caught up with news from Sheffield this afternoon, as Andrew Ryan joined us backstage. He finished his run of “Sleeping Beauty” at the Lyceum Sheffield yesterday, and enjoyed a very successful run- more box office records broken. Hoorah!

In between shows we were very delighted to meet up with Jack and Ian. Although they primarily live in New York, they return to the UK each year, and have always managed to find time to come and see us and the show. Jack has an encyclopaedic knowledge of theatre, and Ian is currently recovering from knee surgery, before returning to his European tour with his ballet company. I believe he opens in Verona or Cremona in April (Just like the opening lyrics from “Kiss Me Kate”, I think!)

Jack, Ian and Pat

Jack and Ian brought two special visitors. Patricia Michael and her husband Josh. Pat Michael now lives in New York, but is better known to audiences in the West End and pantomimes throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. She was THE Principal boy to the likes of Stanley Baxter and Danny La Rue (at Plymouth) and it was a great pleasure to meet and chat with her and Josh. Josh is connected to one of the world’s largest and most exciting variety venues- Radio City Music Hall- home of “The Rockettes”, and was experiencing his first ever pantomime! He and Pat got married about three years ago, and it was about time the groom experienced the art of pantomime that his bride excelled in before she moved Stateside!

Peter, Pat and Nigel

Had a lovely chat with Patricia- we both worked with John Hanson (so we have something apart from Panto in common!) and we swapped memories of the Ugly Sisters Barrie Chat and Terry Gardener. Pat worked with them in Southsea “Cinderella” in the early ‘60’s, and Terry was a neighbour of mine in East London.

There’s a selection of pictures of Patricia Michael that you can look at, as well as the playbill of her appearance with Danny La Rue in Plymouth. Picture 1 2 3 4

Also visiting between shows (yes, we were popular today!) was Lara O’Connor, her Husband Patrick and their four children. Lara used to work with Paul Elliott, at “E&B”, and is the genius respo0nsible for our Panto Roadshow- as the head of publicity she came up with the idea of taking a show into schools, and along with Paul arranged our sponsorship with “Cadbury”. It was great to see her again after about ten years- and to meet the four children we never met!

Lara and family

We were having such a great time with our visitors that it came as a shock to hear the “Five minute call”- we’d nattered  through the break, and had to dash to get back onstage for the next one!

Our after show visitors were a Dame and a Fairy- the Dame in question being Nick Wilton, fresh from UK Production’s “Dick Whittington” in Rhyl, and the Fairy his good lady wife Lynette McMorrow, who has just finished being magical in Michael Rose’s “Cinderella” at Poole.

There’s a piece in the Green Room archive about Nick and Lynettes wedding last Autumn- I’m trying to think of another Panto Pairing, and in terms of Dame & Fairydom I can only think of our mutual mates Jeffrey Holland and Judy Buxton who have become spliced!

Andrew, Peter, Nigel, Lynette and Nick

Had a bit of time to gossip over a glass of bubbly after the show- a lot of our mates were in both their pantomimes- Anna Karen at Rhyl, Bobby Crush, Brian Cant and Peter Duncan at Poole, and of course Nick was Dame in my version of “Dick Whittington” last year at Ilford. We continued the panto talk through dinner and into the wee small hours..

A whole glorious day off tomorrow- so looking forward to it. For most of us it will be a day of resting, a bit of light shopping, and for seeing friends and family. Poor Jody. He faces the Dentist’s chair tomorrow at 9.15am. No lie in for him, but these things have to be fitted in with our twelve shows a week schedule.

I’d be fibbing if I said my voice isn’t raw, and more bits of me ache than I thought possible! Twelve a week every week is a tad relentless- we’ve done 47 shows so far, and have a further 24 to follow- the regime of healthy eating and early nights continues for us panto folk for another two weeks. By Saturday evening I feel like I’ve been mown down by a truck!

Tuesday Morning Peter and I are off to the BBC at the Mailbox here in Birmingham to chat to Ed Doolan on his radio show. I think we’re on between 12.00 and 12.30 before dashing to the Hippodrome for the matinee. Then once again, we’re all off and running!

Listen to Nigel and Peter on the Listen Again function from the following page - only probably available for Wednesday 17th January.

Tuesday 16th January 2007 (Finally!!)

The day began at the BBC studios in the Mailbox- convenient, as my flat is opposite the Mailbox! Peter and I met up with the Hippodrome’s Mandy Rose to be ushered through to Ed Doolan’s radio studio for a half hour chat.

I met Ed on Christmas day in fact, as we had dinner, but Peter and I have met him several times over the years at events at the theatre. It was a jolly chat, and, possibly through the wizardry of Simon, we might be able to get a link to the broadcast- I’ve no idea how you do that, but Simon is the clever one!

During the interview we chatted about people we’ve worked with, like June Whitfield, Patrick Fyffe and Rolf Harris, and about costumes and panto in general. Ed put out an appeal for a “Jill” doll to be re-united with my “Jack” doll from The Theatre Royal here, sold for 2/6p in the late 1930’s. You never know, one might just turn up!

Two shows followed the Broadcast, followed by a “Friends of the Hippodrome” buffet in the lower stalls bar. The cast mingled with the people who support the theatre in all its endeavours, and had a chance to chat with them. Met up once again with the Mayor and Mayoress of Birmingham who attended the show this evening. Peter and I last met them at Arts Fest in the Autumn, when we all judged the “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” in the park. A thin turn out I recall- one teddy, a wooden spoon with a Teddy’s face in felt tip, and a toy rabbit. Never mind, it was the thought that counted.

The Second house today was well up for it. Extremely lively crowd, and added a few extra minutes to the running time of the show. For some  reason Peter’s reference to the local spot “Camp Hill” got an extraordinary reaction. We normally get a laugh, but this was big enough for us to wonder if someone else had come onto the stage. Perplexed we were grateful for the uproar, and yet puzzled at the same time!

Shobna continues to get big laughs with her topical references to the goings on in “Big Brother”- her “Bollywood Babe” rhyme was a huge laugh all round!

Jody you’ll be pleased to know is recovering from his visit to the dentist, and we’re all a little refreshed from having had yesterday to rest and relax.

Apparently this panto has now taken more money than any previous pantomime at the Hippodrome. Mandy announced on Ed’s radio show that next year’s panto will be Aladdin (we know that already- it’s been on our IBY diary for weeks!) but as yet there is no details of casting. Watch this space!

Wednesday 17th January 2007

Very dismal outside, and was quite glad to get into the Hippodrome and descend into the depths where it’s warm. Andy was there with the kettle on, and all was right with the world. We do actually have some jolly chats, the company that is, in our makeshift green room “below stairs”. More and more you realise what a small world the world of theatre is- you’ll be chatting away, and realise that someone you know is a mate of someone else you know, and so on.

People’s minds are turning to the next jobs, and life after panto. That’s always a sign that we’re on the last leg of the circuit. Pretty soon thoughts will be on packing up and getting stuff out of digs- I’ve already sent home a suitcase of all the things I didn’t really need in the first place!

Two shows were jolly. The Sweetie table today bore the fruits (well, cakes) of Martin’s labours. They went in minutes. Like a swarm of locusts the cakes vanished, to be replaced by a tin of sweeties by the second show.

As I go back and forth in the wings you see our twilight community during the show. People have now tended to nest or roost in a particular place at a particular time. Laura, Roanne and Helen will be perched underneath the kitchen truck. Frank will be reading his book by torchlight. Desi will probably be joking with someone by the props table (he still retains “jolliest” person in the show) while Lucy will be doing painful looking stretching exercises a few feet away.

I feed the “boys” at the same time every day. As I cross to them, Shobna will be crossing backstage- a thick coat over her sleeveless fairy frock- Lindy and Darren will be  on either side of the stage sorting the props- we have fallen into a routine. Backstage is as much a village as the village you see out front, but without the bright lights. What is comforting to an old thespian is the camaraderie that has built up so quickly. Not just between the cast, but with the interaction of cast and crew. It is indeed a happy ship here- sorry for fans of “Big Brother”, but it is possible to cram a lot of people into a strange environment and discover there are “No fits, no fights, and no ego’s” (to quote “Gypsy” the musical). Here there are professionals getting along very nicely, and getting on with things.

Our Celebrity guest in the audience tonight was Nick Owen. Nick has presented news and sport programmes throughout this region for many years, as well as chat shows. We reminded him of  our stint together- He Peter and I with The Krankies several years ago. We all appeared on Krankies TV for Border Television in a plot that involved filming on a racetrack in Carlisle. It was freezing, and the budget was, how can I put this? Minuscule! At one point the director was trying to persuade us, one by one to fall into the water jump. We all point blank refused. The catering consisted of a thermos, a few sandwiches and one twix bar. It was Nick who saved the day and marched his freezing co-workers off to the VIP restaurant, and made sure we were warm and fed. Thanks Nick- we don’t forget!

A company meal tonight at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I think it was called “Iguana” or something like that. A great success- organised by Ian Sandy- and the food and the service was excellent!

Thursday 18th January 2007

A day of foul weather and storms. By lunchtime most of the rail network was in a state of disruption, and poor Sinead got caught in it. A tree fell on the tracks in front of her train, and as a consequence she was unable to leave the train, and held in suspended animation for many hours. She alerted Andy (Dance Captain) that she couldn’t get off the train, and he did some rapid re-blocking of dance routines while she struggled to make it to the Theatre. Bless her- they finally released the passengers, and she arrived for the second show. Apparently trains were cancelled everywhere. One of IBY’s regular contributors, Lee and his friend set off from Bournemouth to see our matinee. They arrived at 5pm! Fortunately they were able to get seats for the evening show, and we had a quick chat before they had to dash to the station to attempt to get back “down South”. Thanks for making that huge effort guys, we really appreciate you coming all that way for the show.

The first show not so full, due mostly to cancellations and some late comers who braved the storms, but the second show was a feisty full house. Brian shocked me when he announced that we have only nine working days left in total. Now time is beginning to fly past!

The backstage area was (not surprisingly) cold, and on stage you could hear the huge shutters on the Hippodrome roof banging away in the gales. Nice to be secure and snug in the dressing rooms between shows- comfy beds and hot food from Marge’s kitchen to tide us over. We took a look at the list of “nominations” we have to fill in for the Panto Awards. These awards are nominated by our fellow peers, and there are categories like “Most Outstanding Performance”, “Best Newcomer” and so on, NONE of which are to be treated seriously. These spoof awards will be the highlight of our Theatre Panto Party at the Hippodrome next Thursday. This is when faux pas and quirks of human nature will be remembered, and the victims “named and shamed!”

Delighted to have many visitors after the second show- our fellow “Sisters”, Darrock & Howe who have just finished their run at Broxbourne as the Uglies there, and from Swansea Grand Theatre our old friends Jeffrey Ripton, Bryan Bellamy and Ian Cradock. We were joined by their mate John Farmer, who is currently working at the Hippodrome.

Darrock & Howe, Peter, Ian, John, Jeffrey and Bryan

It really is a very small world this pantoland. I nearly fell out of my seat when Stephen Howe told me he’d seen me strumming my ukulele in Rhyl in 1977! (well, there wasn’t much else to do in Rhyl  in 1977!) in Summer Season- also, that at one time we’d had the same agent! Roger Darrock & Stephen Howe also appear as “The Sheratons”, a black light (U.V) speciality with their cleverly designed puppets.

Roger, Stephen, Nigel and Ian

Jeffrey Ripton and his party are off to attend a special event to commemorate that superb Panto Dame, the late lamented Billy Dainty at Wolverhampton, and to co-incide it with a plaque being unveiled in memory of “Clarkie”- Clarkson Rose, that other Great Dame of the British Empire. Glad they found the time to call in and see this show! We had a great time swapping anecdotes before realising we are due back in the dressing room at 10am tomorrow morning! Great to see you guys!

Friday 19th January 2007

The 11am early morning show! This week I think we’d all worked out from last week what we needed to trim or add to a house containing 1900 school children and very few adults. The show went at a cracking pace- great response from the audience, and we enjoyed ourselves, despite the early hour!

Straight after the show we were whisked off in a cab to Lloyds bank, dressed in our spotty kitchen costumes to present some tickets to winners of a panto promotion at the bank. The manager showed us around, and we even got to go behind the counter and startle a few customers. Unfortunately no free samples from the bank, but worth asking we thought!

Dawson had popped into the bank (probably to check on Willy’s savings account- he might want to “shell Out” (sorry!) and joined the small queue for autographs. I fell for it. I just heard this voice asking  if I’d sign, turned around and there he was. He is a wickedly funny man, and I still get the giggles from the clever things Willy does if you watch him carefully!

The afternoon off (have to confess I fell asleep for a great part of it) then back to the Hippodrome for the evening show. Interesting thought- here we are, us panto people, living in each other’s pockets for long periods of time, in an unreal environment, often under the public gaze- sitting here discussing the goings on in a certain household (unreal) of so called “celebs” forced together in an unreal environment under the public gaze- are we in fact the REAL Big Brother Household here at the Hippodrome??

If so- this Big Brother household actually likes, respects and enjoys each other’s company! Pity that Channel 4 household can’t do the same eh?

Two tomorrow, and a visit from the Webmaster supreme, one Simon Curtis between shows. Looking forward to it Simon!

Saturday 20th January 2007 - From the webmaster......

First thing to note is the Record Breaking News announced from the stage at the end of the evening performance today - Cinderella this year is the first pantomime to take over £2 Million at the Box Office! And from the happy faces and positive comments around me in the auditorium last night I can see why Birmingham has taken Cinderella to its heart this festive season. This is the third time i've seen this production in it's many guises - when it was new in Southampton, then in Plymouth and now in the magnificent Hippodrome. Music has changed, there's been a couple of changes in cast and the dancers are new but the village of Rock and Roll continues to turn in a fantastic spectacle. I could never really tire of seeing this production, if anyone thinks that pantomime is dated I challenge you to see this Cinders and say that - slick is not the word!. Lovely to see the boys and lovely to visit the Hippodrome and not end up in the show - a real treat! We've finally had a team photo taken which will, no doubt, wing its way to me by the magic of Ian Sandy or an internet cafe somewhere in the next day or so! Set off back to South Wales safe in the knowledge that Pantomime is alive and well.....

In my two previous reviews i've always mentioned the songsheet and I can't leave it out of this review - Emily aged 3 was the star this time. She will remember performing in front of 1900 people for the rest of her life and that is the magic of live theatre and definitely the magic of PANTOMIME!!

Saturday 20th January 2007

TWO MILLION!!

Yes, it looks as if this panto at the Hippodrome is a record breaker-Two Million pounds taken at the box office! I believe this makes us the top earner in the pantomime stakes. The seating capacity here is huge, and we’ve certainly been packing them in afternoon and evening since we opened. Hoorah for us!

As if to celebrate, the Sweetie corner was laden with that ultimate matinee treat - Krispy Kream doughnuts (thanks, Michelle!) and disappeared by the third scene. Now we know the source of all that energy that panto thrives on- it’s sugar based!

Brian’s two children Amy and Lucy spent the matinee and (a special treat) the evening backstage. They park themselves on a bench and watch Daddy from the wings, and become additional dressers, very patiently waiting for him to come off stage to hand him his wig, and glasses for his entrance as Ozzie Osbourne, or “Daffydd” from “Little Britain”.

A very special visitor for the evening show, none other than Its-behind-you.com’s webmaster, Simon Curtis! Simon was en route from Nottingham to his home in Cardiff, and called in to see the show. I’m fairly certain he’ll be adding his own comments on the show  to this diary (see above). It was great to see him- I e-mail him on a daily basis, but apart from a few minutes outside this stage door in November (Simon was at the Hippo with the Welsh National Opera) we rarely get the chance to meet up.

“You SHALL go to the ball!”

Yes - our Fairy Godmother Shobna got to go to the ball herself, instead of sending Cinderella! Not here on stage but a ball in the real world- that mysterious place that apparently exists outside of the Stage Door! Straight after the evening show Shobna transformed from glittering fairy godmother to Hollywood super star, and swept regally off into the night in a swanky limo. Unlike Cinderella she will get to the ball AFTER midnight, but that’s a Fairy’s prerogative innit?

I creaked my way up the hill to my flat and celebrated our Two Million Pound news with a tin of Heinz  soup (tomato naturally) laced with cream cheese. It’s a different world for those Fairy Godmothers- I bet she gets them little  filled pastry things you get at posh parties- what are they called? Ginsters Pasties? I wonder if there were Turkey Twizzlers as well? Doubtless we’ll find out upon her return for the 1pm matinee tomorrow!

Sunday 21st January 2007

Starting to get cold here in Birmingham, with reports of Snow and ice on the way this week- a shock after such a mild winter! Two shows today- glowing with our “Two Million” news. Dead chuffed we all are!

The big fan heater is working backstage, pointing mostly at our quick change room. It’s funny how quick you can actually change when it’s cold, and the north wind is blowing up your gusset! Standing there dressed as a deckchair I try and hog the heater to get a heat fix before sailing onstage!

Calendar Girls

Actually, Calendar girls and boys. Certain members of cast, wardrobe and I think crew have decided to create the Hippodrome Calendar for 2007. This has been a highly secret enterprise, and one assumes all will be “revealed” at our Panto party on Thursday! Much giggling and secret whispering going on- we’ve all ordered copies and, before you ask- NO! It is NOT available outside of these hallowed walls for love or money!

Among our “Celeb” guests at the show tonight was Lionel Blair. Lionel is a veteran of pantomimes, having starred and directed them both here in the UK and abroad over the years. Currently in Birmingham for a production of Strictly Ballroom shows, he has worked with Dawson several times in panto, including a tour of Canada for Paul Elliott in “Cinderella”.

After the show we met up with Mark James and Mike Carnell Jnr. Mark has just finished the Su Pollard “Snow White” for UK Prods in Mansfield, and Mike has finished the Spillers “Aladdin” at Shrewsbury. They brought along that excellent panto book (available on Amazon and all good bookshops” named after this website- “Its behind you” by Peter Lathan. (end of advert!)

Said goodbye to Brian’s family- Anne-Marie, Amy and Lucy. They return home tonight, as indeed will we all in one week’s time! Next week will fly past- the last week always does!

A bite to eat with Lucy, Desi, Sean and Michelle after the show, then crawled my weary way up the hill to my flat. Tomorrow is battery charging day- hopefully at least eleven hours sleep tonight!

BEFORE THIS

CAME THIS

Tuesday 23rd January 2007

The final week! We’ve handed in our nominations for the Panto Awards on Thursday, The infamous calendar is being printed in secrecy, and we’ve begun to plough through the “babes” autographs- that’s where you get a sack containing all the juveniles autograph books and programmes that we sign, and pass from room to room. We’ve had the invites to the “babes” party between shows on Saturday. This is when you know it is the last and final week!

The first house were very lively for a Tuesday matinee on a cold January day. The show sped through, and before you know it, it was over. That’s the effect of having a day off!

Between shows Peter and I received a visit from an IBY regular, Terry Powell. Terry is currently working on “The Lord Of The Rings” which will open at the Drury Lane Theatre on May 7th. As Production Design Consultant Terry will be involved in what looks to be a mammoth show, even by Drury Lane standards. The existing revolve has to be removed and stored (it will be replaced after the run) and a state of the art mechanical riser will be installed, along with the wherewithal to transform the “lane” stage into Gandalph’s realm, complete with Dragon!

Terry has a career in pantomime that stretches back to the Palladium panto “Dick Whittington” with Jim Davidson and Molly Sugden, and followed this with Danny  La Rue as “The Merry Widow Twankey” in “Aladdin” (the panto that featured Wayne Sleep as Genii and Wei Wei Wong as Princess).

These pantomimes were designed by Todd Kingman. Todd was responsible for some of the most amazing panto sets at the Palladium, and thereafter on tour to major cities. Together with the costume designer Cynthia Tingey they created the West End magic of panto for many years. We had a great chat with Terry about these shows and the “Talk Of The Town” revues that he was connected with at the Hippodrome in London’s Leicester Square. This magnificent Matcham building now languishes a bit, and it would take many millions to restore it to its former glory.

Once again Life imitates Art- An article in Monday’s times reports that a Turtle has been discovered in Weymouth, 5,000 miles from home. This native of the Caribbean has been taken in by Weymouth Sea Life Park. They have named the turtle Willy!

I got Dawson to check, and  his err Turtle is intact and sitting in his dressing room at Birmingham. I wonder if someone at the Sea Life Centre went to the panto in Plymouth when we were all there two years ago?

The second show was packed to the rafters, and this one too seemed to fly by at a cracking pace. Our batteries are definitely recharged! The “Boys” were extremely well behaved tonight- the usual pushing, nudging and dressing-gown chewing had been replaced by a more gentle approach. They were rewarded by extra rations of apple (I assume readers now know I mean the ponies not Desi, Nathan, Sean, Wesley and Andy?). I’ve not heard any recent complaints about accumulations of Pony Pooh during the transformation, so hopefully that has sorted itself out..

A lovely letter from New York today from Pat Michael and Josh. I’m so pleased and delighted you enjoyed your visit here Pat & Josh, it was a true delight to see both yourselves and Jack and Ian. Here’s to the next time!

Just as we were leaving had a brief visit from Kevin Tillet. Kevin has just finished panto at the Empire in Southend-on-sea. He’s been in the rarely performed “Sindbad” pantomime. Glad to hear it was a success!

Rushed back tonight not for Heinz Tomato soup but for a treat. Shobna cooked the most delicious meal of baked cod- her magic powers extend not just to the world of pantomime, but also to the kitchen. A home cooked meal- a very rare treat. Thanks Shobna - a great end to the day!

Wednesday 24th January 2007

We’re now down to single figures- only eight performances left before we finish. Our  panto family will then split to the four winds, so to speak. Actually, three of our family will be flying away almost as soon as this panto finishes on Sunday.

Dawson will be returning home to Spain- he flies to Alicante on Monday, and shortly afterwards Brian flies off to join a cruise ship in Chile, and Shobna flies to Pakistan to complete a documentary she is filming there.

I’ll be returning to Ilford. Not quite as sunny, but I’ll get the pleasure of seeing the “Panto wot I wrote”, “Cinderella” at the Kenneth More Theatre, directed by my brother Vivyan. It finishes on February 4th.

Actually, some of us will get the opportunity for a reunion very shortly- Qdos have very kindly invited us all to their Panto Party at the Ivy in London, no less! A chance to wear our posh clothes and  enjoy the hospitality of our hosts. Looking forward to that February date very much!

Both shows to full houses today- “word of mouth” has certainly brought in the audiences. The toll of the twice dailies is beginning to show a little- some colds beginning, and some tired voices. We call the tired voice malady “panto throat”. Although we all have powerful radio mikes, you still have to give the same performance as if you weren’t miked. You need to give it “full belt” to do the part justice. Singers feel that strain more so, in the same way that dancers get muscle strains no matter how much you “warm up” before hand.

Peter and I warm up with a thirty minute gossip over a cup of tea, and a quick cough before we go on!

Afflicted by pony hair (it flies around the theatre like dust) I came out with an enormous sneeze in the quick change area- in one of those really quiet moments on stage. I heard it echo across the building! Funny, but you very rarely if ever actually sneeze on stage. If we did our wigs would go flying into the orchestra pit. No idea why, but it’s something you rarely do whilst in mid performance.

Between shows I was able to fit in a thirty minute interview with Dawson about his pantomime career, and  this will be added to the series of “Its-Behind-You” interviews in our media section as soon as I can get a copy of it to Simon.

Started a bit of packing today. Peter and I located our large wicker skips, and brought them to the side of the stage in readiness for packing away the shoes, props and the many items we bring with us like kettles, cushions and Christmas trees.

One of our highlights is watching Shobna (often assisted by Michelle) giving an impromptue performance in the wings for Brian’s benefit. Every show they come up with a brief mime or vingnette to entertain him at a particular moment in the show when he is allowed to laugh! I have a feeling these daily shows within a show might get a mention in our Panto Awards tomorrow at the Hippodrome “Leaving Do” party!

Thursday 25th January 2007

Party Day!

Everyone has their mind on packing now- our flats, our dressing rooms, and all the accumulated stuff we seem to have aquired since we arrived here seven weeks ago. However, party frocks have been kept top one side in readiness for tonight!

Company Office

The matinee was fairly sedate. Usually Peter & I  enter and say “There’s nothing out there but men!” as we address the audience. This afternoon it was “Man” singular. A sea of ladies- glasses glinting like a greenhouse effect, and very few gents. We eventually located a victim, but it wasn’t easy.

Here’s a true story. Only the location must be kept a secret. A coach party of 42 pensioners visited a large Midlands Theatre yesterday, they saw a pantomime. They returned to Swindon. 41 got off! The missing pensioner was found fast asleep in the theatre upstairs foyer! Just before the second show. “Are you seeing the panto dear?” reply “No thank you. I’ve just seen it”. The penny drops! She was returned safe and sound. I just wonder if, as the coach was leaving the theatre, whether a passing pensioner popped on, thinking it was number 54 to Bordesley and found herself in Swindon!

Between shows we gorged ourselves on Marge’s Green Room Chicken Pie (having devoured the Krispy Kreams on the Sweetie Table during the matinee) and a fair few of us retired to dressing rooms for a nap. Attending tonight’s show are Nick Thomas of Qdos along with our producer, director Paul Elliott and his wife, the lovely Linda Hayden. Got to be bright and sharp for this show!

The Lovely Linda Hayden, the lovely Shobna and Mr Paul 'I'm Not Dead Yet' Elliott!

Very good second house. It’s my injury day today. Cut my finger on the invitation, cut my toe during the “slipper fitting” scene then realised I had omitted to put on my “lucky” beauty spot- I always wear it. Well there you go! Being superstitious, I knew all would be well once I’d applied it. It was after that that the pony bit me! Charm (not my top favourite) gave my finger a good chomp during feeding time. Perhaps superstition isn’t that good a thing.

The Party Hosts! Stuart Griffiths and Nick Thomas

The party in the evening was a great success. Funded by The Hippodrome (thanks Stuart!) and Qdos (Thanks Nick!) was in full swing, with our “Panto Awards” hosted by Ian and Rodney. There were many  categories - Most Promising Newcomer, won by Nathan (this is his first panto!) and some odd categories for which the Babes, The ponies and even the stage flooring got nominated.

A Selection of Award Photos

Sean Needham won his award  for “Have I got enough make-up on, my Mum’s in”, and some awards were received for categories unprintable in a family diary!

Simply The Best!

It was a great night. Peter and I crept out around half past twelve, and the party continued I believe until 2am. Thanks to  all concerned for organising it, and especially to Ian and to Rodney for the excellent “Awards” section. Rodney himself presented an award to each of the dancers for being “Simply The Best” since he’s been here at the Hippodrome.

Bob and Martin

Daz, Lindy and Jody

Melanie Iddon

Roanne, Nigel, Peter and Laura

Tom and Holly

Thanks everyone- Cinderella and co had a ball!

Friday 26th January 2007

A few bleary faces this morning, after last night’s bash, but the show sparkles as ever- we had a few managements in for the matinee performance, a sort of Theatre Managers Coach outing- they do a panto and a lunch. A kind of Busman’s holiday I guess! The Management for High Wycombe were in, as ware the Paul Holman team. Had a visit after the show from Adrian Jeckells- and had a chat about their various pantomimes, including their recent Derby panto with our mates Gary Wilmot and Keith Simmons.

The time between shows flies by. Didn’t get the chance for a nap, and bit by bit the tidying up continues. We start in earnest tomorrow, fitting  in around the “Babes” party between shows.

Second show was a struggle- got to admit the tiredness is kicking in now, but as long as it doesn’t show from out front! Changes get a bit slower as you find yourself sitting down to put your boots on- that kind of thing!

Plans are afoot for a group of us to visit the Kenneth More Panto next week- their last week, so it’ll be exchanging one “Cinderella” for another. What bliss to just sit and watch a panto for a change!

Two  shows and the “Babes” party tomorrow, then it’ll be almost over, bar the packing. I know Sunday will fly past, the last day always does, and then this bit of panto magic will be loaded on to trucks and the theatre will be empty.. for a few brief hours. The morning after we leave in comes “Cyrano” the ballet, and the Hippodrome will turn its lights on once again.

Saturday 27th January 2007

Packed to the rafters! Even though my body tells me we’ve reached the end, the business seems to indicate we could have run an extra week or two! We can’t- as half our cast will be abroad, but it’s nice to think we could have!

The dressing rooms are beginning to look a little bare (well, except for the boy dancers room which has always looked like a small bomb has hit it!) as folk remove things bit by bit to ease the get-out at the end of tomorrow’s show. Peter and I spent the break sorting through our wicker skips. The illustrated picture shows the stuff we’ve NEVER used! Yes, this is the “not wanted on the voyage collection”. We’ve vowed when we unpack that we will actually throw some of it, rather than cart it around the country!

We had a surprise visitor to our dressing room this afternoon. None other than Kate Ford, otherwise known as Tracey Barlow from Corrie! A suspect murderess in our boudoir? Only in the “Coronation Street” plot line! In reality she’s Shobna’s mate, and she even got a quick guided tour  backstage, and  a look at the ponies, of course, during the interval. Celebs like Kate visiting a show generally sneak in just as the lights are going down, and then vanish during the interval. It’s not a snobbish thing, it’s a practical thing- If the audience are aware who is in, they might spend the show staring at the particular celeb instead of the other celebs on stage! Then of course the interval can potentially be a “mob fest”.

The two houses were exceptionally perky. This is more than can be said for poor Roanne. She’s allergic to the ponies. To be specific, the Pony Hair. It sets off her asthma. The entire backstage area is full of their fine white hair. It flies through the air. The proof is when you hold a balloon in the stage right wing, and rub it. Within seconds it starts to look like a gooseberry! Hairs are attracted to it, as they are to all our costumes. Bless Roanne. She’s tried most remedies, and tomorrow she’s going to resort to antihistamines.

The “boys” were very well behaved tonight. They watch out for me as I start to cross the stage during the scene between Buttons and Cinderella, and I have to sneak around the backcloth to avoid the front two- Buster and Buttons. If they see me, they will start to approach me, dragging a large crystal coach with them!. I have to sneak around and appear behind them with the apples!

The “Babes” party between shows. A very grand affair- almost a whole floor of the “old” dressing room block filled with food! Amazing food- enough food to feed a small army! Thanks everyone concerned for an excellent spread and wonderful hospitality from all at the Birmingham Stage School!

Got a rare chance to have a chat with Tom on Stage Door. He’s here most days, but we tend not to see much of him- he’s upstairs on reception, and we’re down below. As I’ve mentioned, Tom is our link with the “Old “ Hippodrome (along with Mandy Rose) and it’s always great to chat with him- to me he is the spirit of this building- and a lovely witty raconteur to boot!

Shobna’s “Vingnettes” in the wings during Brian’s spot are becoming compulsive viewing. We all rush to the Stage Left Wing to watch today’s err..mime. Brian, as I said before is allowed to laugh in this particular moment, and it is done for his benefit, but we’re all glued to the spot for this moment. Not since Dame Hilda Brackett (Dear Patrick Fyffe, no longer with us) played Fairy Godmother have I witnessed a nightly audience in the wings. Patrick used to surprise us each show. Shobna is carrying on this tradition!

Retired to a local café bar after the show and Peter, Martin & I cracked a couple of bottles of bubbly to celebrate a wonderful run. It has been very tiring, but it has been great fun!

Funny to think, but the next time I write this diary I’ll be on the train heading for London, and the magic will be over. Not quite though- we’ve still the last two shows to do, and to report on!

Sunday 28th January 2007

The Last Day!

Got a ‘phone call en route to the Hippodrome to say that Roanne had to go to the hospital. Bless her, the accumulation of pony hair has finally taken its toll on her. Yesterday she looked quite unwell, and indeed this morning she arrived at the theatre and was told to get herself to the hospital.

Dosed up with all manner of anti-allergic medicines she returned to work, but Ian and Rodney made their decision! Rest up for now, let the medicine get to work, and if they agreed, she could be back later this afternoon. Roanne was not a happy bunny. Determined to work she stayed in the building and fortunately, was able to get some rest.

Into the breech for the matinee stepped Andrew Ryan. Andrew was visiting en route to opening in a farce next week nearby, and was nabbed as dresser for the first show. Rodney covered some of Roannes other jobs, Laura directed Andrew as to the next change, and the next pre-set, and, bless them, the lads in the crew mucked in and helped Brian with his very quick finale change.- I guess that’s the proof of the pudding- this theatre is run by professionals  who work as a team. “No fits, no feuds, no fights and no egos” as the song from “Gypsy” says! I can think of several theatres in this country where the crew would not get involved- here, they all helped out without missing a beat!

There was one missing item this matinee. There I was in the finale, dancing around to “Rocking all over the world”, when Lucy bopped her way over to me. “Where are your boobs?” she whispered smiling, and bopped on. Ooops!!

A short break between shows. A mass exodus to the upstairs Green Room. Marge had promised to pull the stops out with her Sunday Roast, and indeed, she did! The full works! We also discovered a beautiful cake that the Green Room provided to mark the end of a very happy season..

Nothing on earth was going to stop Roanne working the second show! Dosed up and ready for battle she braved the Quick-Change area. Andrew helped out with our get-out, packing away stuff as we finished with it. The amount of pony hair flying around is quite amazing, but nothing was going to stop Roanne shoving me into my frocks tonight!

The props and costume “get-out” happens during the last show. No sooner have the dancers finished a number, then Rodney swoops and the costumes, shoes and hats are whisked away. Lindy and Darren did the same with the props, and we do the same with our stuff. By the “Songsheet” the wings are looking very bare indeed!

As always, by the time we’d reached the finale, thanks to Roanne, Laura and Andrew, all that was left to pack was what we stood up in. That being a red and gold beaded frock, eight ton of red feathers, a large wig and headdress and some five inch platforms! Just a simple outfit!

Brian gave a curtain speech at the end, thanking everyone at the Hippodrome, and everyone involved for making this such a huge success- certainly it has been the biggest grossing panto to date!

On a personal note I’d like to say that playing the Hippodrome is quite unique. It is the home of Britain’s biggest pantomimes, and yet it is still a family. Surviving from the old days of the Hippo are Tom on stage door, Frank backstage and Mandy in Marketing- and the newer members of the Hippo have ensured that it still has a great friendly atmosphere, and truthfully, it has been a joy to work here again.

To everyone- thank you for making this such a pleasure to be here, and let us never forget how lucky we are to get the opportunity to play pantomime in a place like Birmingham!

Until next year- wherever that may be!

This page was last updated 30th January 2007

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