Venue Cymru, Llandudno - 2011/12

 

28th November 2011 - First Day of School

Well, after a very long time preparing, the birth of another Pantomime is just around the corner. A year ago it was Beanstalks, and now it is Pagodas as Aladdin rehearsals began today!

Back in Twankeys wardrobe the costumes are packed, and awaiting collection. I’ve trimmed back this year so I’m only taking with me One Dress Rail, Two large Wicker Skips, a Table and a large costume box. The box came with the costumes I bought in the auction of Danny La Rue’s collection a while back, and I like the thought of it travelling back and forth around the country just as it used to. One of the Wicker skips has “Moss Empires” stamped on it, so that too has seen some panto journeys! All these will be collected by Rory at Qdos on Sunday, to arrive at The Venue Cymru the following day.

So, with the fourteen costume changes sorted, and a few home comforts added to the skip- the all important furry rug and pillow for the between show “Nana Nap”, the script notated and highlighted, it’s time for the rehearsal day. It has come around amazingly fast this year!

MEET THE CAST

delightful thing about this year’s rehearsal venue is that it is literally half an hour away on public transport. I set off an hour and a quarter early today, and spent the first fifty minutes stationary- in limbo, a packed commuter train, no open windows and no doubt “leaves on the line”, dashing into rehearsals with about a minute to spare! No frappacappucinno for me sadly. Hey ho.

I have to say, after so many years of often working with the same cast, it is a strange feeling walking into a room full of stranger even if they soon will become new panto friends and family- I didn’t know a soul, and I think for everyone it is very much “the first day at school”.

Jason Gardiner- our Abanazar I had met before. We chatted about the fact that a year ago it was Jason who brought the “This Morning” Television team to look at life backstage at Dartford “Jack & The Beanstalk”, and little did he or I know we’d be on board the Aladdin Express this year together!

Jason of course is the judge on “Dancing On Ice” among his many projects, but has an impressive back catalogue of theatre, musical and West End credits to his name. This might be his first pantomime, but it is most certainly not his first theatrical enterprise- he’s been there and done it many times and oft!

There is a definite Welsh element to this year’s panto- which is as should be when playing Gwalia- I’m a Mumbles boy from Swansea, and our Aladdin, Marc Mulcahey hails from South Wales as well, as does The Emperor Of All China (obviously) played by Tim Morgan. Our Deputy Stage Manager Lisa Mair Briddon hails from North Wales, so the Principality is well served! We are looked after with great care by our Company Stage Manager, Rachael Presdee. I think I’ll find myself slipping into the old accent more and more as each day passes!

The lovely Princess Of China is played by Lucy May Barker, and the seductive Scheherazade by Rebecca Parker.The Chief Of Police is Michael Anderson. My other son, Wishee Washee is played by Liverpudlian John Evans who is celebrating his fifth season at Llandudno, and has just arrived back from a cruise liner where he has been entertaining.

A shorter cruise was taken by our Director, Simon Delaney who arrived from his native Ireland on the Holyhead ferry, and the joys of motoring through North Wales and down to London for the start of rehearsals. Our Musical Director is one of several Matts, if you’ll pardon the expression- we have three Matts at least- MD Matt Smith, Lighting Designer Matt Eagland and our Choreographer, Matt Cole.

Said hello to Matt and the six ensemble very briefly, as they leave us to work in the big hall- the absolutely enormous hall recently vacated by the RSC doing “Hamlet”. Its not a panto I’ve heard about before this Hamlet thing, apparently there’s a Dame- Gertie her name is I think, and a good Ghost Gag…

Talking of posh players, the lift in our sumptuous rehearsal studios- the finest I have personally been in since The TR2 in Plymouth- appears to have persuaded Patrick Stewart to “voice” the lift. Those beautiful articulated tones announcing “Fourth Floor” are a pleasure to listen to!

The large room next door to our rehears room is now filled with the familiar blue Qdos wardrobe boxes. Already hard at work sorting through them is our Wardrobe Mistress, Elly Tattersall, who I have had the pleasure of meeting many times in the past, and her assistant Charlotte Jobson. The room was crammed with Black and Gold glittery costumes (the finale I’d presume) and a set of Lilac costumes that might be for the fabulous cave scene. I love “Aladdin” if only for the best costumes in Pantoland.

The morning was spent having a read through- starting with the chairs in a circle introducing ourselves. “My name is Nigel and I am a Pantoholic.. Hello Nigel!…” that kind of thing, followed by a read-through. That took until lunch, and then John (Wishee) Simon (Director) and myself retired to a pub- for work purposes and a cola, and that’s the truth! To look at a bit of re-jigging of script. In breaks during the afternoon John and I continued with that and had a jolly time being creative in a pencil-sucking “do your essay” kind of way.

Simon cracked his directorial whip, and we blocked all of Act One by the end of the day. I had a brief session with Matt (Music) Smith croaking out some numbers- poor soul he managed not to look too pained.. and by 6pm the day was over, and it was back on the tube.

So- the panto train has got passengers, and is starting to leave the station. Tomorrow we get to go in “The Big Room” I believe – certainly the largest rehearsal space I have ever seen, and we’ll do a run of the Act One we did today before moving on.

Somewhere in the lower depths of our rehearsal space I heard the dulcit Aussie tones of one Dame Edna Everage! The First Family Wimbledon Panto is rehearsing here too- we’ve yet to bump into them, but the week is young. Just follow the trail of Gladioli I guess!

Right. Lines to learn. Tea to drink. Nos Da as we say in Wales!

28th November 2011 - All Blocked

Day two in the Aladdin House… started early going through the script changes with John (Wishy) and Director Simon, joined by Marc (Aladdin) as we attempted to knock the additional bits of business into place. This morning’s scribe was to highlight an Elephant. Only in pantomime…

In this production there is no Daisy The Cow- that is SO last year.. we have an Elephant that Marc will enter astride in all his glory as Prince Aladdin. We’ve not actually seen it yet as bringing an Elephant to a rehearsal space that doesn’t allow pets is just not on, but this two person pachyderm prop (did you like that? And they think we just wear ladies dresses and throw sweeties..) will be the subject of a number of gags, along with some other comedic additions.

Throat feeling very rough today but again “Dr. Stage” or “Dr. Rehearsal” in this case kicks in, and by the end of the day I felt a lot better without the need for Lemsip. The rather splendid cafe at this venue helps too- It truly has the best facilities for the theatrical set possible. It’s busy too- in addition to the “Dick Whittington” Wimbledon rehearsals here they were housing at least three other rehearsals and auditions for the Disney Lion King.

The big room we rehearsed in today is magnificent- I cannot stress this is as good as it gets- and I’m very grateful! Even the view is great- a rehearsal venue with windows?? Wow!

Over lunch managed to run into Eric Potts, Dame and Director of the Wimbledon show and have a very brief “hello” before heading up to run Act Two. Caught a glimpse of an extremely youthful looking Barry Humphries today, on a break from his role as “Guardian Of London” in the cafe, and caught a few minutes with former KMT (Kenneth More Theatre) performer Nathan Vaughan Harris who was attending an audition.

Today Simon led us through the blocking of Act Two, so that by 5.30pm we had blocked the entire show, and spent a while going through musical numbers. Now it is a case of getting it filed in the correct order in the brain. Connecting the words which are more or less there to the moves which will get there with a bit more practice. There are new props here and there which will need to be sourced, and our ASM Frances Mason will have that in the remit over the next few days, along with assisting Lisa and Racheal with the organisation of this production.

Costume fittings go on in the room next door to the rehearsal room, with Elly and Charlotte. Tomorrow the Ensemble will have wardrobe calls in between rehearsing with Matt(Cole). Our full ensemble are Aaron Sweeney Harris- who I’ve worked with before in Nottingham in “Cinderella”- lovely to see him again (even though briefly as we are in different rooms!). He also appeared as Dandini in Nottingham during that run. He is joined by Stephen Johnson and the Ensemble ladies are Kerry Crozier, Emma Cooper, Hannah Varnham and Rosy Thompson.

We will all get together for full company rehearsals on Thursday and Friday. I’ll be seeing them a little sooner when I go in to throw myself on the mercy of Choreographer Matt and be placed into “Poker Face” as Lady Gaga. I’ll need a good poker face when he asks about my dancing skills! In those heels… You’ll be lucky!

Finished at six o’clock, and back to peruse the script. Ten o’clock call tomorrow for a run of Act One and I think later Act Two.

30th November 2011 - Sorry, is it me?

Day three in Pantoland, and under the whip cracked by Simon, we are already running the two acts. This morning in the BIG hall we ran Act Two, stopping to join Matt (Eagling) at the piano to sing through the songs as we came to them. I say sing- everyone sang and I croaked. My throat has a distinct Kermit quality to it at the moment, hopefully it will go away by the week-end!

Lucy (Princess) and I teamed by accident today. We both turned up in stunning Green, and made a very fine pair of Jade book-ends. Director Simon thought it was a tribute to him and the Emerald Isle, but it was a fluke, honest! We could audition for “Wicked” I suppose?

Running the Act means that your brain starts to take in the “Where and the What follows” questions that you need- associating which side you enter and exit from, and linking up the action in your mind. I tend to think in terms of exiting near to the intended “Quick change” area which will be Stage Left- the Bad Side.

Its not a “Bad” side other than in Panto Tradition it is the Villains side. Confusingly only immortal villains though! Strictly (not dancing!) Strictly speaking Abanazar could come on from any side, as he is an aspiring magician who has no true power until he holds the lamp. Now King Rat on the other hand would only enter Stage Left as he is, like the Demon King an “immortal” through and through!

Confused- well, of course we can go on about Stage Right and the “Good side”, mostly inhabited by Scheh.. Scheze.. Sheeshe..By our Enchantress in this production- the legendary story teller of the Arabian Nights. I’ll tell you what- if all of this has given you a taste for Theatrical superstition and custom, we’ve got a brief fact sheet on that one. For loads more on “Aladdin” as a panto- scenery, story- the panto versions and all things oriental, look at our “Pantomime Storybook” section and Wallow in Eastern Delights! Some great illustrations and old posters there by the by!

Anyway- we ran Act Two with songs all morning, and when folk were not involved they called in for a costume fitting with Elly a few doors away. For me it was a day that I really wanted to try and do “without the book”- meaning I would try to leave the script aside and try and remember it. I more or less did this, with the odd “Sorry is it me?” moments! There really is no prompter in the theatre- and has not been in my lifetime, so those cartoons of actors getting lines hissed at them from a bump in the stage are comic creations. You’re on your own!

Lunch in the venue- and so good too- there’ll be a goodly struggle next week when it comes to getting some of the, shall we say “snugger” frocks? Today another sighting of Eric Potts and Dame Edna, and a joyous reunion with Musical Director David Roper! David is MD for the First Family Panto rehearsing here, and it was great to have a quick catch up. David reminded me we first did panto together 22 years ago! We were both children I assume…? The panto was “Cinderella” naturally, and our stars were the very lovely Windsor Davies, Janet Dibley, Dawson Chance, Cheryl Taylor, Natalie Cleverly (Who I speak to regularly) and the incredibly talented the late Dame Hilda Bracket- played by lovely Patrick Fyffe.

Afternoon spent in the SMALL room doing musical numbers for an hour, and then running Act Two. We spent a while on some comedy “Business”- Simon is a master of this- I love comedy “Business”- and he set the beginning of a routine involving “Frozen” characters being posed in positions that, when unfrozen lead to Pie In The Face stuff. I mean, this is the way to spend a Winter afternoon eh? We get paid to experience this! It is going to be great fun this bit.

Jason belted out a fine solo and a duet with Rebecca, the Enchantress, Schez.. Sheher.. Sheher.. and next door the six ensemble along with Matt (Cole) and his assistant were whirling around in the dance studio. Costume fittings, people running through lines in corners, scripts being left to one side as everyone went off the book- the stuff rehearsals are made of really.

As I went into the lift I could hear King Rat booming out as I passed the second floor- Magic is being made on every level today!

Returning home I gave Panto Supremo Gyles Brandreth a call. I wondered if he knew the transmission date of a piece we did together for “The One Show” on the Drury Lane Pantomimes and Celebrity. We’re not sure, so it is something to look out for over the next few weeks if you happen to catch the show? We recorded it in the Summer backstage at Shrek in Drury Lane.

Gyles helped me with a Twankey Request. I now have the line given to me “Widow Twankey, I don’t believe I have had the pleasure?” and I wanted to ask the Master of Theatrical Wit what the correct and definitive reply should be. It came back in seconds. No, I’m not telling you! That is now between me and Tim Morgan, and I’m delighted to write it into the script.

Gyles B is donning the frocks this season- no, NOT as Panto Dame, but as Theatrical Grand Dame- Lady Bracknell in a Musical version of “The Importance Of Being Earnest” which opens at the Riverside Studios in London next week. It has the same run as our show- finishes on the New Year, so sadly I won’t be seeing it. Hopefully it will transfer into town as they say, and I can catch it then. Have a great time with Lady Bracknell Gyles! Riverside today, Downton Abbey tomorrow!

Right- more running tomorrow with some of the songs and dances incorporated I believe. I’m loving these rehearsals, as you can probably tell!

1st December 2011 - Cloaking Device

Day Four- Every time I travel in the lift at the rehearsal venue and hear Patrick Stewart’s golden tones announcing “Fourth Floor. Doors opening”, I think why oh why didn’t he throw in “Warp Factor Three..” at the same time? We have our own cloaking device in the BIG room today- it is Marc (Aladdin’s) fabulous end of Act One Finale cape, in the “Cave of Inspiration”.

I jest not if I say it fills a room, and since a picture paints a thousand words, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves! I think Aladdin should use one of his wishes to allow his Mother to appear wearing that instead, but it might mess with the plot. Deeply envious of this amazing creation.

I called into the joint temporary Wardrobe and Company Office today briefly. It does look very jolly and extremely Glitzy. The casual observer would be able to tell which panto we are doing faster than you could say “Open Sesame!”.

We worked through the show today with Matt (Cole) and his assistant Gary Netley putting the Ensemble into the scenes with Simon. To add to this we will have the juveniles joining us next week when we reach the Venue Cymru- they are being rehearsed up there as we speak. This is the first day that we have all been together, and it starts to feel like a show- we are using the full space. We can see the dance routines and are being added into those as well.

John and I spent a while doing “Twankey Boogie Woogie”, and I had a while being shown the Lady Gaga routine by Matt and Gary- they have very kindly performed the magic that is theatre to make me appear to be dancing while in fact the hard work is being performed by an amazing group of six dancers who are giving it their all. I’m always deeply impressed by singers and by dancers- watching Jason and Rebecca going through a routine with the six ensemble was amazing to watch- that takes a lot of discipline and skill that dancing singing lark! Staying upright is a major achievement for me!- In these heels at any rate!

So we ran scenes, we ran routines and we tidied up some dialogue and business- comedy business. A pretty full day- as I left a 6pm Marc was having his huge cape unfurled for the third time. We’ll pick up from the beginning of Act Two tomorrow.

A short blog tonight- and probably tomorrow- I have to pack! I have a suitcase bigger than me sitting here empty, and I plan to throw things into it tonight and tomorrow, ready to wheel it down the high road and onto many tubes and trains on Saturday.

Meanwhile, up in Blackpool Andrew Ryan is about to give birth to a brand new “Snow White”. Panto Dame Andrew has put on his Director’s hat, and for the past week and a half has been directing the UK Productions panto for the Grand Theatre. Deep into full Dress Rehearsals now, it opens tomorrow. Here’s huge amounts of Best Wishes for that opening, and then Andrew will see it on both shows Saturday (when I’m rehearsing and then travelling) before he leaves for Bradford. His Alhambra rehearsals for “Robin Hood” start on Monday!

Newcastle has opened- Huge success I hear, and congratulations to Michael Harrison and To Chris Hayward and Clive and Danny- and to Nottingham Playhouse where my mate Jeffrey Longmore has opened- he has 60 shows to go now!

Right, off to find my phone chargers, hot water bottle, fluffy dressing gown and teddy bear- its time to pack that case!

2nd December 2011 - First Run

Well, day five in the Aladdin house, and we have had our first run-through. A run through being, of course what it sounds like- we started and somewhere along the line, we finished! Hoorah for us but mostly a very big hoorah for Simon- he’s the captain of the ship that is now testing those unchartered waters! We could do nautical references all night, but I have to finish packing, so I’ll stow that.. yes.

Matt (Cole) and Gary set my shall we call it “Copa ” number- the one I do wearing a great deal of plastic fruit and a great deal of sequins. I’ve re-written the number in honour of Llandudno, and it was left to Matt to choreograph Aaron and Stephen into the number. I basically stand still, look pretty and concentrate on croaking out the funny lyrics while the boys whirl like dervishes (can one say Dervishes? I have never been to Dervishia?).

We followed this with Matt and Simon setting the Harem Number. This is like a bit of “Allo Allo meets Carry On Up the Harem”. Not to give too much plot away but a number of gents are disguised in wigs and feminine apparel to fool Abanazar into giving up the lamp. It is ridiculous, extremely silly, and the most fun five blokes can have in a rehearsal room that I’ve encountered- except for rehearsing “Five Guys Named Moe” obviously- I mean in the crazy world of Panto as seen through Simon’s eyes!

After lunch we set to the “Run-Through”, joined by Mathew from the Qdos Office watching. A fresh pair of eyes in the room- someone who hasn’t heard the jokes each day for five days! Yes he laughed- a lot, so that was an added bonus! We ran I think about one hour and ten minutes or so first half- but we did pause here and there to sort things out, and then I lost track on Act Two- I have five costume changes/Entrances in the first act, and something like nine in Act Two total, so I’m a bit busy in that section. I did a rough timing on one change- looks like forty seconds, and another (I have a bit of “Love Changes Everything” beautifully sung by Tim Morgan) is about one minute, so it will be quite tight. Fortunately Elly will be looking after me in the Quick Change area, and so I will be in extremely capable hands! One thing less to worry about!

Still watching the dance routines in awe- Jason, Rebecca and the six dancers are just so advanced for Day Five- the dances are edgy, fast, hugely watchable and exciting. A bit like us boys in the Harem dance really! Hey- I get to briefly Tango with Jason Gardiner- there could be a second career here!

We all took part in Jason’s blog for his website- details and links to follow, and did some pieces to camera for the blog- this will be up and running very shortly. Double blog to look forward to- and Simon broke the rehearsal at around 6pm.

Heard from Andrew Ryan in Blackpool- the opening night of the “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” that he’s written and directed for UK Productions has been a great success! Another panto has been born. Delighted for all of them! Read a great review of Hackney panto too- with my lovely “Jack” from last year Wayne Perrey as Prince, and directed by my mate (and ex Dandini!) Susie McKenna.

Right- The very final bits of packing to do now- I’m dreading the tube journey tomorrow as I have to take my giant of a wheely case into rehearsals. Two trains and everywhere you go flights of steps. The case is more like a wheely bin its that big, so I fear I might not even get on a train if its crowded. I think I’ve got everything. The Christmas pressies are wrapped and left at home- and although this is the shortest panto run I will have ever done, I just have this tingly feeling it might just turn out to be the most fun. Watch this space!

No blog tomorrow as I will be doing a run through until lunchtime, then struggling through the streets of London wheeling my goods and chattels to the railway station before getting my FIRST CLASS train to Llandudno. Ohh free cups of tea and a bourbon all the way. I knew show biz would be like this. Actually- and this still floors me- the FIRST CLASS ticket is fourteen pounds CHEAPER than the Standard fare. I know, not worth going there- I shall just sit back, read my script and dunk a bourbon all the way to Llandudno Junction. 

4th December 2011 - Beside the Seaside

Day six- a long day, that started at home in the dark and ended in Llandudno in the dark!

In between we had a full run-through in the BIG room, the whole company, and a very useful one it was. Simon started with his notes from yesterday, tidying up a few straggly bits of dialogue and business, and then we went for it, ending at around 1.30pm.

At the same time those giant wardrobe boxes were being repacked and sent into the goods lift to arrive in Llandudno tomorrow. As I walked away from the Jerwood Centre (yes, now it can be revealed!) with John (Wishee), there, on the pavement awaiting collection for Wimbledon was Dick’s bundle, if you’ll pardon the expression, and a fairy wand. It said it all I thought!

Mr Evans and I had a very unpleasant trip through the cram packed underground to Euston, and an incident in a lift best left unsaid- but the result was two grown up laughing uncontrollably in a lift on the way to the First Class Lounge. Not good form I tell you..

The room had quite a few suitcases in it as the majority of us were heading up to Llandudno by various trains and cars. I think the driving time is something like five hours or so, and the train today took three and a half hours. I had to change once, at Llandudno junction, a mere six minutes from Llandudno.

It was quite quite deserted- in fact I was the only person on the platform. I lie- I was the only person in the station! Like Arnold Ridley’s comedy thriller “Ghost Train” the 7.28 to Llandudno glided in to the small and deserted platform. No-one got out, only I got in, and by quarter to seven I was in a taxi heading for the digs.

Delighted when I got a phone call, and a few of us met up here in the hotel for a drink or two before exploring the delights of a Sunday night meal- always tricky to find. There were more choices here than there are in Wolverhampton, so I won’t say a word. Chinese, and a further drink with Marc, Simon, Tim and Michael and it was time to put on the nightcap and head up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire..

This morning I went for breakfast- joined by Marc who stayed last night, and then looked out on my new surroundings. Bear in mind it was pitch black when I arrived. Stunning! I’m right on the prom, looking at all that scenery and sea, with The Great Orme looming on one side, and the Venue Cymru on the other. Despite driving rain the “Queen of Welsh Resorts” was looking very regal indeed!

Had a stroll around the prom and the shops on the hill going down from the gorgeous Empire Hotel passing the fabulous St George’s Hotel.. (if I keep doing product placement I might just get a free tea on the terrace!) and the really lovely Edwardian and Victorian fronted shops. The iron work and canopies built when Marie Lloyd was “Following The Van” and Vesta Tilley was “Waiting at the Church” are still standing here. The Palladium cine-variety is a Weatherspoons, but the front is preserved- even the Grand Theatre remains intact but now the inside gutted to create a nightclub.. it is a very very pretty town though, even in the rain!

Since this is out only Sunday off in the run, a few of us thespians decided on the full Sunday roast thing- the carvery- and after that the other full Sunday thing- the nap!

Before resting my eyes for a while I took a stroll to the theatre and watched the two huge trucks unloading scenery into the dock door at the back of the theatre. You can’t move in the foyer for posters, banners, bunting and even menu holders advertising the panto. I’ve never been bunting before I don’t think? I sipped a Frappamocchacappochino in the foyer and listened to the box office taking bookings for “Aladdin”. THAT brings you back to reality with a start! Yes it is all on sale- selling really well too- and it is up to us to deliver the goods. That script is going to get a good reading today before any fancy nancy nap takes place, oh dear me yes!

In the words of the cute kid with the hair and the cute dog- no, not Tin Tin- “Annie”- I think I’m gonna like it here!

6th December 2011 - The Arena

Well, we were told we would be rehearsing in the large conference and arena at Venue Cymru- and it is a large space. A VERY large space. This was ideal as Simon wanted us to rehearse with as many of the big props as we could during the period before we actually go on the stage and the set “proper”.

I was sent a short video clip from Shaun backstage here with an amazing “stop Motion” view of the two day get-in and fit up- from empty stage to a stage crammed with cloths, prosceniums, banks of lighting and large flown pieces.

VIDEO OF FIT UP

Our larger than life props included the Elephant- ably worked by Stephen and aaron, with Marc balancing astride, and our Rickshaw. At the moment I have a problem as I am too big- costumically- to fit into said Rickshaw. Everytime I cram the crinoline and petticoats in it I get caught. We’ll have to work on that one!

We worked our way through all the parts of the show that involve the juveniles today- two sets of children from The Pearl Shaw school of performing arts. The Red and The Blue team to be precise. All the musical numbers were run twice, once for each troupe, and all the scenes involving the children.

 

We also had an hysterical half hour witnessing John (Wishee) in his Samuri “Fat Suit”, which he inadvertantly put on back to front. The “Moobs” being on his shoulder blades! It really was watch this and weep time, and it will be a truly magical bit of comedy in Act Two!

We rehearsed from 10am until 9.30pm today- with breaks obviously, and ran Act Two in this vast arena space. My costumes arrived about tea time, and hopefully tomorrow in a break I’ll be able to sort them into the on-stage “Quick Change” area on Stage Left, and arrange the few that will go into the dressing room. Tomorrow I would like to “Tech”- that is to say Dry Run my strip which needs to be looked at. It helps to “Dry Tech” it a couple of times minus the twelve layers of clothing, as it takes so long to put it all back on each time when it goes wrong!

So that was Rickshaws, Elephants, Samuri Suits and even a suitcase of magic lamps sorted. Tomorrow Simon guides us around Act One in the arena, and hopefully we’ll get on stage at around 7pm.

If you get a chance to watch the fit up film please do- it just shows what goes in to rigging the stage before we set foot on it. Magic!

A few drinks back at the Hotel, and another three session day tomorrow!

8th December 2011 - The Tech - Part One

Tuesday afternoon we bid farewell to our friend the Arena- it was a great place to rehearse, and we finished with a word run through- a “speed” run we call it, to see where the flaws lie in the memory. I have a couple of lines that no matter how much I try, I can never quite get right- so this really helps. Once you have the added distraction of scenery, costume and effects, it can be a problem if those lines are not pounded in to the brain!

Simon led us to the theatre- a major moment in any rehearsal process. The day the actors get to move in to dressing rooms, sort out their stuff and finally meet the crew and musicians. I had taken an hour and a half off this morning to get together with Elly (Wardrobe) and set up shop in the Stage Left Wing. To my great delight- thanks to Co Manager Rachael and a hard working but hugely well humoured crew, my Quick Change room had been built, lit, and even had a mirror installed!

 

Elly and I put the rail in, unveiled the frocks, set up the table of wigs, the shoes boxed below and the large “Laundry” table was assembled like a Jigsaw! I had marked on the table in felt tip (over white velcro) where all the dozens of laundry objects, baskets and knickers and socks were to be placed. Laundry Lego!

Dressing room is warm, and my neighbours are Lucy and Rebecca next door, with the dancers across the way. It has a tv so you can watch the show on the show relay, and already I’ve set up the tea stuff, the Christmas tree and the furry rug for the forthcoming “Nanna Nap” between shows.

During the evening the cast, crew and sixteen juveniles had the added bonus of getting on to the set- the guys here are almost a day ahead- you can see the speed they approached the fit-up in the video on the blog . We worked scenes out of costume in readiness for the Technical Rehearsal *The Tech* which begins tomorrow.

A very lovely gesture was that this morning we were invited to a “meet and greet” with all the theatre’s staff, and crew. We were introduced by Sarah Ecob the theatre manager- I had a really great chat with her about the Arcadia Theatre that used to stand on the very site where we had our “meet and Greet”- and to Roger Richardson the Assistant General Manager, and we got to meet our Bass Player and Drummer- Steve Brickley and Neil Rowland.

Wednesday was the First Tech- to tech run Act One- from the opening in Abanazar’s Lair right through Twankey’s Laundry, to the 3D Sequence in the cave. Normally a tech can be a tad fraught, people are hanging about- costumes and shoes can be a problem and sometimes tempers can be frayed.

No- not in this village of “One Long Poo” in the City Of Peking all went superbly. Simon skillfully and with great humour and patience, aided and abbeted by Rachael (Co Stage Manager) and Lisa and Fran- and a very jolly crew- we got through the whole of the act actually having fun doing the job – and, doing it properly. Got to say I have rarely enjoyed a tech, and we ended this one running the amazing 3D sequences- dodging flying dragons, giant bananas, hurled rocks and even going under the sea. Big kids we were having a good time- the kids are going to be over the moon at the effects- Sadly we can’t actually see them, but Simon has plotted our “sight Lines” so it looks as if we can. The nature of back projected 3D means we don’t get things poked out at us… In a cinematic sense.. yes. Oh stop… ! Its panto…

I got through my five costume changes- Being a show off I tried wherever possible to keep out of sight until the entrance to get a reaction from the guys and girls on stage. Sad, but it gives me pleasure! No raked stage (that means it is flat. Blissfully flat) so my toes won’t go black and my legs won’t ache so much.

We did our job, we laughed a lot, and even got a break to do some swift shopping- Princess Jasmin is a quick shopper I have to say, and I was greatly impressed by her retail skills. I knew we had something in common! Some more amazing dance routines to watch- quite stunning with Matt (Cole) checking lines and positions. The boys, girls, Jason and Rebecca performing some stunning routines. “I can’t be tamed” is one of my especial favourites.

Matt (Smith) took me through my Gaga song- I was still growling it quietly- on day three of the anti biotics, the foul tasting Sanderson’s specific throat tincture and the lozenges. A week ago we tried out Gaga and nothing came out of my mouth. I was fearing that growl was it. Oh my goodness- never underestimate the skill of a great Musical Director. Matt has got me singing an octave up, twice as loud (still not a threat to Lesley Garrett…) and I am hugely grateful to him for coaxing out the volume! Deeply grateful Matt!

A few drinks with some of the company in an amazing venue- the “Palladium”, now a Weatherspoons- a former cine variety theatre preserved in all its glory. Then bed. Well- this blog, then bed.

Call tomorrow for 9.25am tech run of Act Two. My seven or eight changes and two songs and another 3D sequence.

You know what? I’m loving this panto. It might be Panto number 36 0r 37 or whichever it is, but I am loving it! The elements are all fitting together nicely for a great season!

10th December 2011 - The Dress

Well, the days are now a little blurry- the gales have subsided- not that we noticed them in our pantoland bunker- no windows backstage to speak of, which is quite odd if you consider the breathtaking beauty of the bay we are facing!

Now today is Friday, and we’ve had two full dress rehearsals and a press call- what on earth did we do yesterday? Ah yes- Yesterday (Thursday) I was too tired to blog- i remember thinking i should, then Tim and Michael called by my hotel and I had a few glasses of rose instead. Sorry, but there comes a time in the day when uploading the pics loses out to a cool glass after a long day.

Thursday we did a Tech run follwed by a Dress Run- I think we did two runs, I’m a bit fuzzy on that one, doing a three session day- i.e 10am to 10pm. I know that the Thursday Dress/Tech run was not my best in terms of changing, and there were several places where the quick changes were faster than we’d ever anticipated. In one scene I exit as the song “Love Changes Everything” starts, dressed in my Copacabana costume and can only make it a few feet into the wing to take al that off, and the shoes and put on a Blue full length gown, a huge pleated collar, a necklace, shoes, a wig with a big blue headdress, a set of blue sleeves and grab a hanky- to weep into as my son Aladdin gets wed! I enter half way through the song.

The quickest change is currently about 29 seconds total, and there was a fair bit of heavy breathing and i might say the odd naughty word here and there as i legged it across stage. Turning right instead of left I managed to appear briefly in the 3D scene. Lord knows what was in three D…

so it was a tad rushed and a tad fraught that rehearsal. Elly and I worked out methods of sorting this. Doing more changes actually in the wing, a few feet from the stage, me doing less travelling from side to side, and I think tomorrow we’ll get it sussed!

This morning, Friday was a 9.15am call for notes from Simon- our director leaves us on Monday, and we are so going to miss him. As Captain of this Panto vessel he will have launched us, set us off on our maiden voyage and cracked the champers over our blunt end by Monday. We will miss him- a lot.

After notes we tidied up a few straggly bits. We did a run of the show in costume again, and this time it was a lot cleaner. My changes, thanks to Elly were swifter and less breath consuming- and the show has tightened with each rehearsal. We need a real live audience now!

By 2pm we were in make-up for the first time, and did a press call, followed by a full all out this is it Dress Rehearsal which went extremely well! Personally I was delighted. Every change, even time to catch my breath this time- Yes, we now need Joe Public to come and pay their pennies to see this piece of very impressive panto!

Highlights today were: Jason in his prologue, kicking his toy cat off stage. It flew up in the air and caught on the proscenium, dangling there throughout the show. The perfect ploy for backstage jokes about, err,, felines. Yes indeed.

Other highlights? The reaction of the children watching the rehearsal- the second set from the Dancing Academy. They were a great team to play to and despite seeing the 3D about five times they are still raptuous about it. Other highlights? I really enjoy doing the Elephant scene with Marc and John, the Twankey Boogie Woogie with John and the dancers, and watching “I can’t Be Tamed” with Jason and the ensemble.

Our “Ello Ello” moment is huge fun- Tim, Marc, Michael, John and myself are in Harem Costumes, with Rebecca in glamorous Enchantress mode- it is very “Carry On” and one of my great favourite moments. Adults behaving in a silly way for children. You can’t beat that!

Hoorah for us- no homework. Early finish and we all got together and surprised a sleepy restaurant in Llandudno with the unexpected “hello- do you have a table for twenty two available. Like now?” Had a lovely Italian meal, then a few drinks in a pub.

I walked back along the prom. I have got to tell you, in all honesty, Llandudno is beautiful. It looks like a refined Cannes or Eastbourne, pam trees, the pier lit up, and only white Georgian/Victorian houses along the prom. How lucky am I to have this pleasure each morning and evening? My friend Rob Clayton texted tonight wishing luck for tomorrow. His Newcastle panto has now opened and has had amazing reviews. He is loving his season. I am loving this season. I texted back “living the dream” and I wasn’t being Schmaltzy. Yeah, a glass of Rose too many maybe, but you know what, we are so lucky that we are doing what we love- in the footsteps of those who trod before.

Tomorrow we open ! 2.15pm and I think 7pm.

12th December 2011 - The Opening

Saturday loomed- I am writing this four shows down the line by the way. My friends refer to this is “Nigel has dropped off the planet!”- you really cut off the outside world during technical, dress and opening a show. Nothing else exists, and you are too tired at the end of the day to even turn on the telly. Then it gets a lot more relaxed. Just two shows a day!

Yes- we opened, and though I say it myself, I think we are a triumph! The first show was pure adrenaline, as it always is. A few funny lines get trampled as people are not used to there being a laugh at that point, and those moments are noted, filed and a pause is left by the next show. The audience (a full 1,500 ) loved it, and it seems to be paced, slick and very spectacular. 3D is quite something. The audience began by wearing their 3D soecs from the very beginning, and after about ten minutes Widow Twankey had to request they take them off until told to put them back on! A sea of yellow glasses peering at you waiting for something to pop out is highly unnerving!

I made all my changes, I remember all my lines and moves- the house roared and boo-ed Jason who played Villainy to the utmost- they Ohh-ed and Ahh-ed at children on stage, Nelly The Elephant, at our silly harem routine- they screamed “Hiya Wishee” at John who cracked me up with a thrown in topical gagt about 5p levy on carrier bags in Wales- in short the time flew past, we all sweated profusely, and had “what’s next??” moments, but we were a triumph!

For additional coverage of the Panto here, visit Jason Gardiner’s official facebook pages- he is blogging a panto diary daily, with video interviews with the cast.

Second show was my technical nightmare. As soon as I entered on my rickshaw, pulled by Stephen and Aaron I KNEW my radio mike was dead to the world. Later discovered it was damaged possibly by the action of climbing into the cart. Certainly I made my first minute or so of opening gags in my very loud “actoooooor” voice, bellowing to the back row! They heard me, I was pleased to note!

A hand waving a hand held microphone in the wings indicated I was now on “hand held”. Very “Vegas” I thought. Very “Hello Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to Twankey’s Casino. Hey, what’s your name Sir? Been playing those slots, Buddy”. That kind of feel! That was done, I exited but then the offending microphone has to be removed, thus a lot of scrabbling with Ade on LX (Electrics on stage) trying to find my pack (ooer missus etc) from beneath my many garments. The new microphone had been wired, so I’m now rushing to re-dress, stuff a sharp piece of wire up my stocking top whilst climbing into a fully laden laundry table and washing basket wig. Nice!

No excuses however- I went wrong in the Lady Gaga Routine. Realising both Matt (Choreographer) and Andrew Ryan, Dame of the British Empire were watching, I was aware that turning 16 bars too early and crashing into six dancers saying “ohh sorry dear!” might be noticeable to the trained eye!. I did much apologising. Act one was not good for me, but great for John (Wishee) who was going great guns. I think everyone else had the odd minor hic-cup- however Jason and the Dancers were going a storm whenever I looked up from a change. Oh then the cake stand I wear on top of my wig snapped, and I was left with just three cakes- actually a “Muffin Top”. Thanks SO much to Paul Lee and the guys for fixing it so brilliantly and so swiftly by Sunday morning. Much appreciated Gentlemen!

Act Two- thankfully the gods smiled, and I had a good one. I’m glad, as it is my busiest. Many changes, lots of running right up until the songsheet. I now get into half of my “strip” upstairs in the dressing room (more light) at the end of Act One, during the “Cave” scene- so that is four layers or ten pieces if you want to be accurate. With a dressing gown I can now clamber up to the “boys” room for a cuppa with Tim and Michael, until we’re joined by Marc when he finishes Act One.

Marc had an extra rehearsal call to “fly” his wonderful cape in the cave. Remember I photographed it in the rehearsal on this blog? It is now attached to flying lines during the action and whoooshes up into the air in a “Folies Bergere” moment. I love it. He so should wish for his Mother to appear wearing it and settle for a track suit in gold.

Having opened with a matinee, we were quickly into the evening show. I don’t take my make-up off in between as a rule, so it was nice to relax, and not have to touch myself up (in a make up sense) until the “quarter” or later. It all stays put as a rule, apart from lippy and a few cracks needing polyfiller! A sandwich, a custard slice and a chat with Andrew Ryan, visiting from his rehearsal in Bradford. He’s in his first week of “Robin Hood” and managed to get over to Llandudno to see the opening night.

The evening show was more of a triumph. Great buzz, a larger quota of adults in, and some gags getting better response to the evening audience. Gags better times, expecting the places where there will be laughs and applause, and a tad more confidence. I sailed through Lady Gaga without actually knocking anyone over!

We had a few visitors from the Rhyl Panto “Snow White” in tonight- local lad Craig Ryder- he was here last year as Dandini, and Andy Jones (formerly of Powys and Jones) and his wife Wendy.

Visiting also were Lucy May’s family and friends from Lincoln, and Marc’s Brother Mike, along with Dan O’Connor. Dan is known to regulars of its-behind-you for his panto appearances at Aberdeen and Hull while he was on our screens as Neighbours Ned Parker, and currently he is in Hollyoaks.

We had a brief drink on the theatre after the evening show- hosted by Roger the Assistant General Manager in the restaurant- stunning views over Llandudno promenade- everyone turned out in best bib and tucker and a few bottles of bubbly opened to celebrate.

We are delighted but also a bit sad. We now say goodbye to Simon Delaney our director. Not just our director but our pack leader and seriously funny guy. His comedic skills- the skills that have featured him in film and television and the incredibly brilliant play “Stones In His Pockets”- have been hugely welcomed. Simon is responsible for the show, and for this very happy company. We all hope it will be the first of many- Bon Voyage Simon- you sail across the seas from glamorous Holyhead in the morning. We all thank you and …in the language only the cast would appreciate.. thank you for “Kevin ” and “Sausage”!

SUNDAY:

Two shows today- BUT an actual rehearsal free morning, so we were not called until midday for a warm up before the show. I had time to go up the Orme (that really is the expression here. The Orme being the huge mini mountain that is a bookcase to Llandudno Bay- the Little Orme being the other end naturally. A drive up to the top looking down on this glorious coastline, the tiny church of St Tudno (where Llandudno gets its name. Llan meaning Church. Church of Saint Tudno.. Get it?)

Had a cuppa in Fortes cafe, and got into the theatre for the 1pm show, followed by the 5pm show. Delighted to see Duggie Mounce, premier Panto Dame at the foot of our Pagada. Douglas is giving his Nurse to Snow White at Rhyl for UK Productions. Rhyl is very close- he came to the matinee. Hoping to return the favour on a day off before we finish.

Both shows much calmer. Time to tweak bit. Time to cut a few bits that are superfluous- John and I have cut about four minutes out of the show to date, and as we gauge the gags we might trim a bit more. Less is more in comedy. An extra few words and a gag can be flattened if it is not crystal clear. In essence a gag is a telegraph. We signal to the audience that it is funny and we signal when to laugh. Its technical as much as it is …. oh hark at Stanislavski.. moving on..

I bought the “boys”- Marc, Tim and Michael a Fart Machine. I knew this was a necessary addition to the dressing room, and fell for it myself while sitting down to a mince pie. This is why we went into the Panto business. Helplessly falling about laughing even when you know it is a remote controlled fart machine is the reason we continue to wear silly harem dresses, wigs, call each other silly names and get paid to do it twice daily! The show. They don’t actually PAY us twice a day… Hmmm.. there’s a thought….

Huge good wishes for the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford’s opening show tomorrow. “Jack And The Beanstalk” what I costumed opens Monday with a 10am show. Have a fantastic opening Guys! Best of luck for Christopher Marlowe as Dame Trott! I’ll be seeing the show first week of January!

Returned to the hotel, and joined by Matt (Music) andTim,Michael, Racheal, Lisa, and Elly, we had a fish and chip supper, curries and a few drinks before winding down and heading for telly land by 9pm.

DAY OFF tomorrow- Monday. Few of us meeting for Lunch, laundry to do, some plan to go “Up The Orme”, or down the Pier.. some shopping and a chance to get some much needed sea air in this rather splendid resort. Signing off until Tuesday! Nos Dda.

12th December 2011 - The Reviews

A couple of reviews that came in earlier today- Monday 12th December

“Aladdin” Venue Cymru Reviews:

REVIEW: Aladdin brings panto fun to Llandudno

Published date: 12 December 2011 : North Wales Pioneer

Published by: David Waddington


PANTO fever entered the third-dimension on Saturday when Aladdin opened in Llandudno.

Showing at Venue Cymru until December 31, the seasonal staple saw song, dance, comedy and ground-breaking technology combine as an enviable cast took to the stage.

Set in ancient China, the plot follows poor laundrette owner’s son Aladdin, whose love for a beautiful princess keeps landing him in hot water.

But when the evil Abanzar tells Aladdin he will make him a prince if he collects a magical lamp from the Cave of Inspiration, he soon finds himself caught in the middle of a magical adventure.

Renowned for presenting celebrated traditional pantomimes with modern twists, returning producers QDOS failed to disappoint.

ITV’s Dancing On Ice judge Jason Gardiner as the sinister Abanazar – decked out in a long leather coat and villainous goatee – excelled in the dastardly role; clearly relishing the boos and hisses (of which there were many) as he slinked around the stage.

But it was the second-half opening number which gave the audience a chance to enjoy his all-singing, all-dancing performance, with energetic and razor-sharp choreography compelling to watch.

In usual panto style, the comedy came thick and fast from the outset, with returning John Evans leading the charge as Wishee Washee.
Throwing out gags and one-liners, the generation-spanning jokes had the audience in hysterics throughout.

But there was more comedy to come courtesy of Nigel Ellacott as the extravagantly dressed panto dame Widow Twankey. Ranging from picnic inspired ensembles to a Lady GaGa get-up, the over the top wardrobe was only surpassed by a devilish dose of double entendres and the singling out of audience member ‘Barry from Chester’ who faced the brunt of Twankey’s advances throughout the show.

A mixture of popular hits and Disney classics made-up the varied soundtrack to the evening, brought to life by Marc Mulcahey as the eponymous hero, who embodied the true panto spirit: wholesome, a bit cheeky and on-form with the young and young at heart.

Together with love interest Princess Jasmine, played by Lucy May Barker, the performers proved to be some of the strongest singers seen in recent years, with their pitch-perfect duet numbers a highlight.

But they weren’t alone in their impressive vocal talents, with Tim Morgan as the Emperor of China tackling a powerhouse rendition of Love Changes Everything to keep the night eclectic, and the mystical Scherazade played by Rebecca Parker also enjoying solo numbers while providing plenty of friction with Gardiner’s baddie; all complimented by the perfectly synchronised back-up dancers.

But Aladdin wouldn’t be the same without a genie, which is where Aladdin offered something new to the panto cannon.

After donning the fetching 3D glasses, all-ages were subjected to flying bats, attacking snakes, and a computer-generated genie, which worked astonishingly effectively, adding to the lavish spectacle of the show.

Ticking off all the requirements for a memorable panto including side-splitting comedy and jaw-dropping effects, Aladdin is certainly a magical family show not to be missed.

 

Aladdin

Published Monday 12 December 2011 at 16:12 by Victor Hallett

It’s marketed as the panto with 3D special effects and, courtesy of Amazing Interactives, they prove to be rather good. I’m not sure about the Disney genie but the rocks, the bats and the snake are very effective. Best of all is the lamp itself which appears to hover just out of reach. The special glasses are a bit awkward but this is undeniably different.

On stage proper it is sumptuous in its costumes and scenery. Nigel Ellacott’s excellent Widow Twankey certainly benefits from the costumes, moving easily between silly dame confections and slinky glamorous numbers. He even does a very funny striptease routine.

John Evans is his usual ebullient self as Wishee Washee, and the two really get the audience involved.

Marc Mulcahey and Lucy May Barker make a fine Aladdin and Princess.

Jason Gardiner as Abanazer looks the part, dances superbly and his “New lamps for old” scene is splendid. The trouble is that to personify wickedness he speaks very slowly indeed. So his scenes with Scherazade, lively Rebecca Parker, are in danger of coming to a grinding halt.

Overall this is a big, spectacular, fun pantomime with the 3D to give it an extra kick.

13th December 2011 - Tea in My Chamber

Strong gale force winds battering the coastline here- so strong they could literally sweep you off your feet at the junction of promenade and the winds rushing down from Snowdon.Good Job it was yesterday that Tim and Matt (MD) decided to climb up the Great Orme! They took this photo of a photogenic Ram while they were there. The Ram is the picture on the left!

Bracing walk to work as you can imagine- for a 10.15am show! The first of this week’s schools only matinees. 1,500 excited kiddies. We who are about to bellow our lungs out salute you!

I have to say the first one was a learning curve. You very quickly learn what schools will and won’t find funny. All panto humour is aimed at a wide cross section of ages- from toddler to Grandma- but for this week it is exclusively the Primary School Key Stage One and Two- the 6 to 11 year olds.

They have a deep and overriding respect for the story.They follow the plot, they respond to the plot, they interact with the plot and if you are lucky some of the gags will work. Big laughs can vanish on an established gag, whereas Marc as Aladdin saying “Oh I fell on my bum” is tantamount to stopping the show. I know toilet humour works- all these years of touring the Panto Roadshow has taught me to respect the rule of toilet in Primary School education!

They absolutely LOVED the 3D. It was astonishing to hear the huge reaction when the first boulders fly out of the cave. The screams at bats, snakes and squeals at the Genie. What a clever clever person it was that decided to get this created for this piece of Theatre!

Had a few nice comments on my appearance on BBC’s “The One Show” last night, with Gyles Brandreth. Gyles has now opened as Lady Bracknell in his musical, and we had a chat. The programme insert we did was about celebrities in pantomime- but in 1880, and one particular scandal involving a lady called Belle at Drury Lane. It was a lot shorter than we first filmed it (back in August at Drury Lane) but I think the sad demise of Belle bit of the story was a bit of a downer, so it got the chop! I’ve had several requests today to do Radio Interviews on panto history, but not sure I’ll be able to fit them in. They left it a bit late didn’t they!

Not long between shows. Had a visit from Chris Ryde from Equity, our Union between shows- haven’t seen Chris since Plymouth, and good to touch base. He swiped my debit card and exchanged it for a new Equity Card. Oh! New cards for Old! New Cards For Old! Sorry…. it is early…

Second house I had a quick chat with John Evans and with Rachael Co. Stage Manager and changed a few of my gags- they are more Primary School Only gags- silly poems in place of the gags that work with a mixed age range. It worked out better, and I enjoyed that one more as a result.

Poor Marc has a poorly eye. Oh and a bit of a poorly leg. Trouper that he is you would never have an inkling, but there have been a few optical gags abounding. From “Aye Aye” onwards. Keep taking the tablets Marc!

Between shows I’ve been organising a meal for twenty three of us on Thursday- the show ends at about 5pm so we can dine out for a change- at a very lovely Hotel here- a favourite of mine. We also had a standing invitation to a reception at the Mayor of Llandudno’s parlour.

5.30 having braved a horrendous gale, Michael and I arrived at the Town Hall- a very lovely evening hosted by The Mayor, Cllr Greg J T Robbins. The council here looks after a population of over 20,000 but this rises dramatically during the Summer with the influx of visitors, swelling to 60,000!

We were greeted, wined and buffeted! A lovely spread including Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith- a rich tea bread which is a speciality of Wales- and had a really interesting illustrated talk on the history of “The Naples Of The North”, or “Queen Of The Resorts”. Amazing to see the influence of one family, the Mostyn family on its creation as a resort. Another chance to chat with Venue Cymru manager Sarah Ecob again, over a glass of vino.

We got to sit in the posh councillors seats, and inspect the Mayor’s chamber. That is a room not a piece of porcelain- unless you are in panto, in which case it is potty!

Had a really lovely couple of hours- we met the current Alice In Wonderland- a tradition here in Llandudno- like a carnival queen, or May Queen, a young girl is chosen to represent one of the resort’s most famous summer residents- Alice Lidell, the real life young lady that inspired Lewis Caroll to write about. The St.Tudno Hotel here was where she first stayed aged eight, and sadly the family summer residence has been demolished.

Out into the storm again- I had a few drinks in the Palladium, a converted Cine Variety Theatre with Lucy, Michael, Aaron, Stephen and our ladies Hannah, Rosy, Emma and Kerry. I found this framed poster on the pub wall- Norman Evans, one of the finest Dames ever- the inspiration for Les Dawson- in his “Over The Garden Wall” sketch with bottom of the bill the double act Mike and Bernie Winters. 1955.

Early night, another 10.15am show tomorrow, half at 9.40am, warm up at 9.25am.

14th December 2011 - Early Doors!!

Two early shows again today. The prom was actually quite peaceful, and the strong winds have gone, so walking to Venue Cymru- all five minutes of it, was a delight. I got into base make-up early- by 9.30am in fact so I could do a bit of a warm up- watching everyone doing their vocal and physical nudged me into this habit- I have no idea what I’m doing, but I waggle my arms and try and hit a few notes.

Discovered that we had a “Babe Crisis”. One of the Juveniles was poorly, and we were now running one short. Seven instead of eight Pearl Shaw junior dancers. What happened next is the stuff “42nd Street” the musical is based on! I’ll let the young lady in question tell you herself, as she wrote me this blog between entrances.

At 10.30 am the young lady from the opposite team was sitting in the auditorium with her school mates on her school trip to see the panto.

“My name is Rachel, and I started the day in the audience watching the panto but the next thing I knew I was up on the stage.

My opposite was ill so Caroline (our dance teacher) came to get me from the audience. I ran down to the dressing rooms to get ready and put my make up on. I got to perform infront of my school!

They were cheering everytime I came on the stage!

It was so much fun!

R.Bradley

That I imagine is what young folk call “pretty cool!” wouldn’t you? We did two shows today- a short break of about forty minutes between, and finished at 5pm or thereabouts.

Between shows I drew teams for a Fantasy Football League. No, I have no idea what that is either- but Matt (MD) apparently is in some sort of league with our mutual mate Dean Chisnell. Dean as regular IBY readers will know was Prince with me in “Cinderella” at High Wycombe and the following year (along with Aaron) at Nottingham. Dean will be taking over the title role in “Shrek” the musical at Drury Lane in early February. I had to text a photo of the draw to Mr Chisnell as proof of the earth shattering results of my drawing bits of paper out of a plastic bag, and Matt and I posed for this official photo in the dressing room. I expect Dean to recognise my contribution to sport- Dean being a sporty kind of chap, and take me up Drury Lane for High Tea.

The hotel that has looked after us all so amazingly well- the “Can-y-Bae” on the promenade hosted a farewell buffet for us. The hotel is hugely theatre friendly, and theatre folk pass on the “must stay there.. must call in for a drink” in the lovely theatre themed bar- owned by Michael and Dave it has been a haven to us for the quiet drink and the odd nibble. The guys very generously put on a great buffet tonight to bid farewell, as the hotel (like many here ) will close this week-end for the Christmas Break. Thanks gentlemen- your generosity to the passing thespian is gratefully acknowledged!

I went on to a Quiz Night at a local pub up on Church Walks, near the bottom of the Orme. I know, there’s no stopping me! Matt, Rachael, Lisa, Daz and Gaz (a double act if ever there was) together with Neil and Steve in the band met up in a lovely pub- the oldest in Llandudno. An open fire crackling, two gorgeous dogs roaming around- heaven!

We tried our best and came…. third. However there were a mere one and a half points between third and first so we held our heads up!

Two tomorrow plus our posh meal at The Empire. I am so returning here for a holiday sometime soon- in the summer preferably- it truly is a delightful place- great hotels, pubs and of course- entertainment!

16th December 2011 - Show Pictures

Two shows today, both schools matinees which flew past. The theatre was very cold for the past two days, but today we were basking in tropical heat backstage. The 3D continues to be a huge hit with the school children. All the scenes involving it are greeted with enormous screaming, yelling and cheering- the decibel level is astonishing- they LOVE it!

Over the next few blogs I’ll add some photographs taken by Venue Cymru at the Dress Rehearsal – excellent they are too, and I’ll search out any others that might be around. Here are a few from Act One to start with.

The action starts in the village of Won Long Poo- with Abanazar (Jason Gardiner) and Schehereazade.. Schezzhere..Schaazz..with the mystical keeper of the Arabian nights (Rebecca Parker) pointing Abanazar in the direction of Peking. Here we meet the Twankey Clan- Aladdin, ( Marc Mulcahey) his brother Wishee Washee (John Evans) and their Mother, Widow Twankey.(Myself- Nigel Ellacott).

Twankey-enters in a Rickshaw, accompanied by Stephen and Aaron.

Aladdin has looked upon the face of Princess Jasmin,(Lucy May Barker) and incurs the wrath of the Emperor of ALL China (Tim Morgan) and The Chief Of Police (Michael Anderson).

16th December 2011 - Michael and Aaron

Well, the unexpected always surprises! Got a phone call this morning from John, my son Wishee. He had already spent forty minutes stationary in his car waiting for the roads to clear. A lorry had jack-knifed in the road ahead, and this, the only road leading into the area was completely blocked. Nothing was moving, and the authorities had yet to tackle the scene. He still had an hour and a half before the show, and I told him I was sure he’d make it. I was wrong!

Correct proceedures click into place. Now THIS is when you understand the job description of Company Stage Manager. It is Rachael who makes the decisions, and sets the course of action that follows like a well drilled routine. At one hour before the show the understudies are told to “stand By”. Generally every principal is covered by another- and as a rule there is a rehearsal for the “Covers”. Our is- believe it or not, between shows today!

So- with no official rehearsal, Michael (Chief Of Police) went on stand-by for the role of Wishee Washee, and Aaron (Ensemble) on stand by for Chief Of Police.

The dancers are quickly re-staged- without Aaron there will be just Stephen in some routines, and routines where Aaron will have to quick change from Police Chief to Dragon, or Police Chief to Guard or Harem Dancer… and the dressers briefed to do unusual costume changes. Elly wardrobe swapped over costumes and we remained on Stand By until “The Quarter”.

By 10.15am Rachael made the decision that John would be unable to make the show- he was still not moving and by now feeling pretty miserable and frustrated at his plight- and that Michael Anderson would be Wishee Washee for this show. This means even if John arrived after the first entrance the role would continue to be played by Michael, not to confuse the audience.

Its difficult to know who to fee for the most- poor John, unable to do anything about his situation- a major accident is unavoidable- or Michael and Aaron thrust into the actor’s nightmare! Never having said the lines aloud, or moved, or sung the songs, other than in your head!!

As it turned out it was a great show- Michael was totally 100% ready to go on, every line and every gag and a lovely performance as Wishee. Aaron swore I am his jinx! Each time I have worked with him he has gone on as an understudy. He too excelled. Boys you truly done good!

John arrived close to the finale- he needed a good strong cup of tea and a hug for his harrowing and frustrating journey, there is nothing worse than when things are out of your control, but here he is safe and sound- and as the saying goes, the show must go on, and well done to Michael and Aaron!

17th December 2011 - The Empire and more Panto Pics

A blog vanished into the ether! I did this blog and it simply faded into thin air. Forty minutes of downloading gone in the click of a button! Simon is sorely missed as he heads off to fabulous honeymoon land for Christmas! Still, I will do it all over again!

The Empire Hotel- one of my favourite hotels in the UK was the venue for a night out.

After days of snatched and hurried sandwiches- some from a garage labelled “Bakers’s Choice”- I’d hate to see the rejects, we all decided to treat ourselves to a slap up four course banquet at this glorious hotel at the foot of the Great Orme!

It was like entering a Dickensian Christmas scene! Deep leather armchairs, open fires, christmas trees in this Victorian themed hotel, one of the jewels in the North Wales Crown. I was last here when my panto roadshow was booked by the then North Wales Theatre, now Venue Cymru to bring my Pantomime Roadshow to North Wales. (Hint Hint! They loved it. Book me again. Autumn 2012 still have a few vacancies. See “Roadshow Section of this site!).

The Empire is superb. Beautiful setting, great restaurant (Watkins) and superb service. We had a fantastic meal, coffee in the lounge and a great relaxing evening. All dressed up and somewhere to go!

I also include the rest of the Act One pictures taken by Venue Cymru at The Dress Rehearsal.

Twankey Meets that nice Mr Abergavenny….

And goes a bit Gaga!

17th December 2011 - Meet The Crew - A New Review - More Pics

Although there are 21 of us up on stage visable, the pantomime could not even open its doors to the public or raise the safety curtain without the army of theatre staff and stage crew who keep the well oiled wheels of the show rolling! Backstage we have stage crew, elex, sound, flies, follow spots, stage management in addition to wardrobe staff, stage door and of course the army of “Front Of House”.

Here is a list just of the backstage crew!

Technical Crew

Steve Cridge – Chief Electrician (Head of Lighting – LX Board op / Stage LX)

Aidi Jones – Deputy Electrician (LX Board Op / Stage LX)

Andy Wynne – Deputy Electrician (LX Board Op/Stage LX)

Follow Spot 1 – Laura Smith

Followspot 2 – Dave Young / Ian Traynor covering Dave’s Day’s Off

Shaun Parry – Deputy Electricain – Ran LX Fit Up in Steve’s absence – is now assisting Theatr Colwyn’s Fitup/Rehearsals then enjoying Christmas and New Year Off in Cornwall! (TC is our sister venue in Colwyn Bay – they open on Saturday)

Bryn Rosenwould – Head Of Sound

Sef Herman – Sound Assistant

Both Sound guys setup sound then handed over to Mac (Employed by QDos) for the rest of the run.

Stage Crew

Dresser- Helen Wink.

Stage Right Wing

Keith Guy – Stage Manager

Charlotte Owen – Crew

Joe Webb – Crew

Stage Left Wing

Martin Smith – Crew

Katie Boughen – Crew

Gary Smith – Crew

Flys

John Hughes

Mal Parry

Other crew covering Days off
Ian Traynor

Amy Garstang

Other crew covering Leave over Christmas:-

Christina Harris

Jake Dooley

Tom Mather

Stage Door

Billy Milne

Wayne Sharman

That is a LOT of people running this show! Thank goodness, or we’d never get past the opening number!

A few more pictures to add of Michael and Aaron’s performances as Chief Of Police and as Wishee Washee yesterday:

Not faceless- I’m pointing my big torch!

And a new review from the local newspaper:

Daily Post December 16th 2011

Review: Joanne Roberts.

Traditional but with a 3D Twist

This Aladdin has all the elements of a great panto.

Aladdin at Llandudno’s Venue Cymru has two stand out features: cutting Dancing On Ice Judge Jason Gardiner as a truly sinister Abanazar plus 3D effects that are stunning.

I went along with my son and five year old nephew and as I was explaining on the way that the show included 3D special effects, my son piped up, “surely if it’s a pantomime it is 3D anyway”. So I came back with the ultimate parent come back “just wait and see”.

Aladdin tells the story of the young son of a Chinese Washer Woman who falls in love with the Emperor’s daughter. He is persuaded by an evil sorcerer to go in search of a magic lamp- cue 3D special effects of snakes, dragons, genies and mists. It has to be seen to be believed.

The adventure kicks off with all time Mr Nasty Jason Gardiner as the evil Abanazar. He was suitably sinister, and managed to frighten the life out of my nephew, who was getting ready to leave until I managed to persuade him to join in the chorus of booing that the rest of the audience seemed to be revelling in.

John Evans is back in Llandudno for his fifth year in a row, in a role that seems to be made for him. He is brilliant as Aladdin’s slightly dim brother Wishee Washee and has the audience in the palm of his hands. The children love him with his silly outfits and daft antics. He really did steal the show.

Widow Twankey was played by Swansea born Nigel Ellacott, who entered on a rickshaw in typical flamboyant style sporting a very fetching outfit that looked a bit like a lampshade, but you wouldn’t expect anything less. This was just the first of many equally impressive outfits, and the prelude to a great performance.

Aladdin is great fun for all ages, and the stunning special effects make this pantomime extra special.

20th December 2011 - Twice Daily

We are now into the routine of Twice Daily. It has been a bit of a slog this week as we’ve had the early shows- those 10.30am and 1.15pm shows, then the odd one out- Friday at 10.30am and 7pm, then two days of 2.15pm and 7pm. Had to keep an eye on the handbill this week to ensure there was no confusion!

The weather has been pretty rough and we’ve had a few days of torrential rain. A short walk to the theatre left me exposed to rain, gale force winds and then icy hail. I arrived dripping for the “warm up”, and had to literally warm up in my dressing room, clutching a sandwich bought from front of house. This is the glamour of twice daily!

Had a lovely surprise between shows on Sunday. My Brother Vivyan turned up with our friend Owen Smith- it was kept a secret- Vivyan had booked the tickets and hotel well in advance. I really thought I’d have no visitors being in North Wales this season, and so far Duggie Mounce has been my only caller, popping in from nearby Rhyl!

Lovely to see them both, and as Owen is a friend of Lucy May, they’ve known each other since Lucy toured in “Annie” aged nine, we all went out to a very lovely restaurant, and had a great meal after the show. Owen is working on a pantomime outside London, so bless them, they both set off at 6am the next morning for the long drive home, arriving in time for Owen to start work at midday. Thank you SO much for coming all this way to see me chaps!

This is food weekend- we had today (Monday) off and a few of us- Tim, Michael, Rachael, Matt and myself returned to the excellent pub where we had a roast last week, and chilled out in my new apartment- I moved yesterday into a flat with a sea view. The lovely “Can-y-Bae” Hotel where I’ve been so well looked after (along with the rest of the company on our evenings out there) by Michael and Dave is now closed for the Christmas Break.

Tonight, joined by Lucy we watched “Super 8″ surrounded by local turkey and cranberry pies, sausage rolls, chocs and a bottle of Lanson, courtesy of my Brother! All rested and ready for ten shows next week.

21st December 2011 - Imperial Night

Well, a special visit today, from our producer Jonathan Kiley. Jonathan has been busy Directing pantomimes- recently returning from Belfast, and from producing a good few Qdos pantos around the country. This is his tour of inspection, and he called on us second show today- Tuesday.

Thankfully- and not surprisingly, he was delighted! We know it is a cracking great show, but its nice to show it off! The man from Qdos he say “Yes!”, and we adjourned to the nearby rather beautiful Imperial Hotel for a few drinks in the rather grand surroundings. The Grand is a Victorian time warp, huge high ceilings, a splendid Spa and pool and a beautiful Christmas tree. We felt duty bound to have a group photo around the tree, and sent a copy to Simon our Director who was delighted that Jonathan was Delighted!

We miss you Simon!!

Here are a few hazy pics of the Hotel- joined by Marc’s parents, Mandy and Mick and joined by Dan O’Connor- Dan met up with Jonathan for the first time since appearing as Jack in Qdos’s Jack And The Beanstalk at Aberdeen and in Hull.

Meanwhile, back in the dressing rooms earlier, everyone has settled into their second homes. I thought I’d add a few pics of the luxury that is backstage at the Venue Cymru!

23rd December 2011 - Proper Poorly

Proper Poorly was a catphrase used by Veteran Dame and Comedian Reg Dixon. I worked with him at the Coventry Belgrade in the late 1970′s. Proper Poorly fairly describes today at The Venue Cymru!

Forgive the short Blog. I wrote a lengthy and witty one, hit publish button just as T Mobile decided to go down (it barely works anyway here on the edge of the coast- about one bar for phone and two for mobile dongles) and lost the lot! Since I have been poorly at it is half past mid night, please accept this shortened version!

Yes, first asm Fran went down with the Lurgie, then two wardrobe looked decidedly peaky, and then I had a mad scramble of a dash to the Gentleman’s Excuse me two flights up straight after the Finale last night. It looked like a mass striptease dash on the stairwell and corridors- I have about six items of underdressing at the end of the show, all zipped up the back, and you can only imagine the haste when all is not well down below!

Tonight- a day later and seven visits to the excuse me later, I’m fine. The restorative powers of Immodium, rest and lots of liquids!

Poor Hannah fared not so well, and was taken off the show for this evening and sent home where she can shiver and shake in a darkened room. The dancers were quickly re-staged, and Emma appeared as A Groton in her place.

A Groton is something that looks like a shaggy staffordshire Bull Terrier in a Chinese sort of way, and chases Aladdin and Wishee. Terrible fate to be caught by the Grotons I imagine!

So Rosy had the physio in to attend to a small injury, and Aaron too had similar symptoms as I did, and shared the immodium round delivered by Matron- AKA Rachael Company Manager. We need fresh veg I reckon, and no more sandwiches between shows!

Four more shows to Christmas day and a full and proper meal! Looking forward to that!

Bedtime. Short blog but complain to T Mobile! Widow Twankey needs her beauty sleep!

23rd December 2011 - Medium Poorly - And The Crew Pic

So- upon arrival at the Theatre today, we were greeted by a message from Rachael on the tannoy. I thought I heard right, but I had to check. Only in Pantoland would you hear the speech “ and I will be playing the back of the Elephant” from a company manager. Nowhere else in this wide, wide world!

Poor Aaron had succumbed to the lurgie, and was at home shivering and.. well, let’s not go in to that.. feeling poorly for, as it turned out, both shows. The good news being that Hannah is back, and this nasty virus is, as happened to me, confined to 24 hours tops. Already I’ve noticed hand sanitiser gels have appeared in all the toilets and on the props tables, so this novo virus or whatever it is, will hopefully be halted sooner than later. Backstage is very similar to being opn a ship, or in a school or hospital, where these things spread quite rapidly.

For now, Stephen had an easy show- with Aaron down, he could hardly throw himself about the stage solo, so he gets to watch a good few dance routines and play a guard, a harem guard – aided by Michael who has doubled up to play harem guard and Chinese dragon, and even filled in for one of Twankey’s Copacabana boys along with Emperor Tim for my number in the second half. Thank you boys, it stopped me feeling lonely out there without my maraca wielding boys tonight!

Rachael duly played rear end of Nelly The Elephant tonight, and performed dead on cue. Or Pooh actually, if you want to be pedantic. Rachael will never forget this night. But then Elephants never forget so it kind of works out even…

Here’s a chance to Meet The Crew- these are the legions of guys and girls who make the show happen- it takes this many people to put the magic into Pantomime- without them this place would be a box with seats. Thanks to one and all!

Both houses were delightful and very good- they worked as hard as we did! John and I remarked several times on their generosity in laughs and applause- a good crowd.

My “man” tonight – the audience victim I pick on- was acutally from the small village/town of Llanfairpwlchgwyngechgogerychllownbrobwlchllantissiiliogogogogoch!- Yes that one (appologies for the bad spelling as you’ll all notice!). He thought he’d got Widow Twankey when he proudly announced his address- but Widow Twankey repeated it flawlessly. Don’t mess with the South Wale-ian Sir!

Enjoyed both shows. As pure novelty I took the “slap” off, and went to my flat between shows- a first this season. It made a change to be at home for two hours sorting out a Christmas Tree and stuff, before returning to the theatre to briefly re-adjust a bit of the 3D sequence.

This has altered my quick change from 33 seconds to 25 seconds. Pahh! With both Ellie and Fran on the job I still had ten seconds to spare second show.A fie upon your re adjustments Mr Genie Of The 3D Lamp!

Right- tomorrow is busy. Two shows, an early start- Tim is out shopping not as Emperor of All China but as a thespian in search of stuffing if you’ll pardon the expression. He is braving M&S in Llandudno for Stuffing and something else- a vegetable I think? Dan and Marc are probably already basting the Turkey- “Ohhh you know boys and girls, I plucked it, I stuffed it, I shoved it in the oven. Ohhh I could have killed it….” Ready for our festive Christmas Day Lunch at the Malcahey residence, joined by Mr Ryan on leave from his Bradford Panto.

I have to get my “Secret Santa” present and some Christmas Day Tea items such as local Bara Brith, and Mince Pies and some tasty Snowdon Welsh Cheeses- Have I told you how much I LOVE this town? It is glorious- every day I find more local shops selling local produce, local restaurants- not chains, and Hugely helpful people. Even though the guys at 3 have failed to get their dongle to work in my ageing laptop, they have tried for over three hours with no complaints. People TALK to you in shops. They stop and say “Good Morning” on the Prom. People are actually friendly, interested and jolly nice here. No wonder it is a premier resort/ If it is this nice in the Winter- Wow, the Summer must be amazing.

A great night at The Albert pub after the show, a plate of Sandwiches, a few glasses of wine and the pub’s two beautiful dogs to fuss over- Lisa and I walked along the deserted prom, the waves breaking over the beach- yes, this is the place to do panto all right!

26th December 2011 - Christmas in Pantoland

Hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas Day? Spare a thought for the Panto folk travelling back this morning- Boxing Day Morning to get to their Theatres bright and early. Spare a thought for the London Panto people facing a day of Tube strikes- Wimbledon especially, as well as those on the outskirts such as Ilford, Broxbourne, Rickmansworth and Bromley.

Christmas Eve was a day of two great shows- the audience were as up for it as we were, and John and I passed each other in the corridors beaming- we’re having fun and the audience is having fun- nothing better!

We had a full house too! Aaron now recovered, as has Hannah, everyone was back on form. Jason is suffering an injury to his back, caused by his mike pack. In The Harem Scene he throws himself to the floor each show, but on one occasion he fell on to the microphone battery pack strapped to his waist, and that has caused some damage. On stage you would have NO idea- this man has danced his way through countless West End Musicals with ice packs and painkillers, and the same here. The only help with being a Baddy is that you can grimace in character. Wish you better Jason.

After the second show the theatre emptied in minutes- everyone travelling to spend Christmas Day with family and friends fled the building. Being an early show the place was deserted by 7.45pm. Those of us staying here have made our own arrangement. When you think we only met as a company of strangers a month ago, such is the magic of theatre, we are now all New Friends- a second family for the Holidays.

Christmas Day was spent at Marc’s flat- a fantastic meal cooked by Dan and by Marc- a gargantuan Turkey of Dickensian proportions, and a fridge packed with champers. Joined by Andrew (Ryan) who had driven over after two packed shows of “Robin Hood” at The Alhambra Bradford, and by Rachael (popping back to Sydney was never really going to be an option) and Tim, we had a truly wonderful day eating, drinking and watching a DVD of “Elf”.

A magical moment was Tim being able to spend time with his wife and his children through the miracle that is Skype. They showed Dad their presents and Megan the dog made an appearance live on screen. It truly is an amazing thing and although it will never make up for not actually being there, it certainly helps.

The morning began with a scenic drive over The Great Orme to look back at Llandudno in the sunshine. It ended walking along the prom when an elderly couple approached me. “Are you local?” they said. I relied I wasn’t. “Oh we wanted to know how to find “Aladdin”. “pardon?”

“Aladdin, the pantomime. We’re going tomorrow and wanted to know where the theatre is in advance. Is it far?”

I was delighted to point out Venue Cymru along the promenade. I wonder what they would have thought about Widow Twankey pointing the way to Pantoland?

Well, heading in to the theatre now for Two Boxing Day Shows at 1pm and 5pm.Its-behind-you regular Daniel Dawson and Ant will be watching the second show, and I look forward to his blog of the many pantomimes he will have seen by the end of the month. Over twelve I think?

28th December 2011 - Boxing Day and Secret Santa

Everyone returned safe and sound after spending Christmas as far afield as Bournemouth and London. We had two early shows today, and a busy hour in between them- today is the Babes Party between shows and our “Secret Santa”, which Michael organised- a five pound-ish limit held on stage.

The babes party was held in their dressing room below the stage, and involved their own “Secret Santa” ceremony, hosted by Marc.

We had a fun time then a quick dash upstairs to have our own Santa ceremony which was a nice jolly tradition in pantomimes all over the country.

Both shows packed today, and a very appreciative audience. There are a great many holiday-makers here too, as I evidenced on the prom, with more people strolling along than I have seen in the entire time I’ve been here.

Had a delightful visit from IBY Regular Daniel Dawson and Anthony- time for a chat about all the many pantomimes they have seen to date- Newcastle( I think he has seen it three times?) a great favourite, and “Robin Hood” in Bradford, and to date we are his favourite “Aladdin”- he will be seeing Northampton, Bristol, Bromley, Wimbledon, Southend, Dartford then Birmingham as well as Stoke’s Adult Panto with Jonathan Wilkes, and a few other pantomimes. How amazing is that. He will submit his blog, and is quite definitely the IBY roving reporter! Lovely to see you both Guys!

Tuesday 27th December

Oh dear- just when everyone was on and the health scares seem to have died down- that fickle finger decided to point at Michael. As Chief Of Chinese Police Michael has to maintain law and order and partake in the odd chase- this one, involving his juvenile police force ended in a slip, and a painful sprained ankle. It swelled up quite rapidly and Rachael escorted him to the local A&E to get it checked out. He returned hobbling about half way through the same show, with a swollen ankle and many ice packs. He fully intends to be back on by Thursday, and even if he uses a stout cane for support I think he will indeed be on patrol by then.

Aaron stepped in second show as Police Chief- we coped first show as it occurred during the first main scene. I had to enter a few seconds after Michael went crawling off into the wings in obvious pain (me dressed as a laundry table, as you do) as Aladdin is about to be executed. The mouth was saying the funnies, but my eyes were watching him crawl to assistance- a really surreal experience. Face and mouth performing comedy, eyes and brain looking at fellow artiste in pain. It is what we do- we simply carry on panto-ing.

So, by now Aaron has been a guard today, a dragon, the chief of police, a harem attendant, chief of police, a dancer and chief of police. Michael limped to the back of the auditorium and had the surreal experience of watching a show he is in!

A few of us returned to the Can-Y-Bae Hotel , re-opened- Michael and Dave there have seen the show four times- we must be doing something right! Had a few drinks, a Pizza and just chilled in their theatrical Bar. Tomorrow evening is Bowling night. The pace is hotting up- only a very few days left to enjoy this great panto experience!

29th December 2011 - Wednesday 28th December

Very blustery day with near Gale Force winds ripping through the town. Forced to abandon my Prom walk to work as it was near impossible to stay upright!

Back in pantoland Aaron is on all day today as Chief of Police, with Michael taking Doctor’s orders are resting up in his digs. It looks quite likely that he will be back on tomorrow with or without walking stick!

Doing our warm-up this lunchtime on stage I noticed that Daz was looking after the huge 3D projectors that live at the back of the stage. His control area is partitioned off, and looks like it should be used to fly something, like a harrier jet- all the 3D is controlled from a laptop, and expensive equipment it is. He told me that the projectors and all the paraphanalia that goes into them could almost reach half a million pounds! Each projector in excess of £150,000 (there are two in operation but four in total) and even the lenses cost around £3,000, with the bulbs a mere £2,500 giving one thousand hours of life! Astonishing.

I’ve no real idea how it all works, other than the voice of the Genie is Derek Griffiths, veteran pantomime star and frequent Abanazar , and that apparently the two colours red and green are slightly offset so that when you wear the “special” glasses it merges into 3D. No wonder it causes such a stir with the audiences. They absolutely LOVE it!

The Babes are now alternating as usual, but now, having had a party for each team (red and Blue) they are now, like all of us approaching the final few days. Time is flying by. Bit by bit we are starting a subtle packing here and there too. I am all geared up for my “get-out” on Saturday second show, with help I should have it all packed by the finale.

Great to see Qdos production chief Mark Sherwood in today. Mark is doing his rounds of the pantomimes. During the year he co-ordinates and prepares the vast technical teams that make the pantomimes run smoothly- the hidden army (to the audience) of technicians who create the look and the sound and the effects of pantomime.

Both shows packed. My only disturbance being that the man I pick in the audience vanished! I think he moved seats or maybe headed for the bar, but he wasn’t there for the second half- my brain quickly re-adjusting gags that were aimed at him and now no longer relevant. Actually dried stone dead in my scene with John and Marc as the brain was on that reworking rather than what I was actually saying! Sorted it out by the end and Twankey married the Emperor for once!

Evening across the road in the Bowling Alley. Four teams of cast and crew, and a very jolly night. Overall highest score to Aidi from crew with a score twice that of most of the rest of us. I think he may have gone bowling before once or twice!

Two tomorrow, hopefully back to a full house of characters in Peking!

30th December 2011 - Missing You Michael

Sadly our hopes that Michael would recover soon from his injury were not to be. He’s now got a cast on his ankle and has been told to rest it- so sadly, with just two days to go we’ve had to say our early goodbyes.

It is a little like being in the Jungle- one of us has left the camp a few days early. He watched the show with his parents- they had booked to see him, which is such a shame (however I believe they still had a great time) and were taking him home with them after the show.

His costume was hanging there in his space in the dressing room, and I managed to get a picture of Michael just before he departed.

The matinee was full to the rafters and a good 1,000 in tonight as well. Already everyone’s thoughts have turned to packing. I’ve started clearing my dressing room- it has no costumes, they are all in the Quick Change room onstage, and will take my cards down tomorrow but keep them in the room- too superstitious to do otherwise!

Rachael has sorted me out my “packer” for Saturday night- it is quite easy this year as both the skips are in the Quick Change, as is the rail- accessories, washing lines, shoes and tea set in one, wigs in the other! The large laundry table has its own bag, and the costumes get zipped up onto the travelling rail.

I’m also packing at the Apartment. I’ve had two weeks at the delightful “Can-y-Bae” with Michael and Dave, ten days at this seafront apartment- I am listening to the waves crash onto the beach as I type this past midnight- and tomorrow I move into the rather grand Hotel for a couple of pampering days to round off the stay. Cases packed, one at the theatre, one with me- It’ll be a slow journey home via Robin Hood’s Camp in Bradford and Hardup Hall in Birmingham!

Michael- from all of us here in the Village Of Won Long Poo- we will miss our Chief Of Police, and we will miss our mate. Wish you a swift recovery and a good rest! Pob Hwyl!

31st December 2011 - Babes in the Pit

Well, just when you thought it was safe to go back in to the water… Opening number second show a sudden moment of confusion and one of our “babes”-Niamh, vanished over the edge of the orchestra pit. A moment of heart stopping shock for all concerned, but plucky girl she clung on and was caught by the Bass Player, Steve. Great catch Steve! In fact from now on he may well take on the title of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s “The Child Catcher!” but in a heroic way.

We had no idea how little Niamh had fared, but very quicky- you can imagine how quickly everyone moved, it was confirmed that she was shaken, but fine. In fact she went on the next number, joining her seven team mates, and then in need of a treat, got a slushie and the chance to watch Act Two from the very self same pit, seated next to Hero Steve.

I was given the task of telling the audience that all was well- the show of course had carried on, and just incase the audience were apprehensive, I entered to save my son from a beheading, and announced all was well in Pantoland, before returning to the problem of my errant son, taking frequent peeps at the Princess,ok peeps?

In between shows delighted to get a visit from Lee Redwood. Lee was on his panto tour, seeing Colwyn Bay this afternoon, Bradford Tomorrow and us tonight- he too has loved Birmingham Hippo Panto with Brian (Conley) and made me very excited at the prospect of seeing it on Tuesday, after I’ve seen Bradford’s “Robin Hood”.

Lee has been coming to see me in panto since he was a wee thing, in Southampton at first I think, and Peter and I used to look forward to his visits with news of the different pantomimes he at first had seen, and then the ones he had presented- he did one in his home town of Bournemouth at the Pier Theatre and several others in the locale. Now he is presenting the entertainment in a Leisure Complex there, and has just finished producing, writing and performing Dame in their “Jack And The Beanstalk”- he works indefatigueably (whew big word for 1am) for panto and I’m kind of proud I might have had a bit of influence in those pantomimes he saw as a kid. Here’s to a great panto next year Lee.

Lee had recently hired a set of UV Puppets from local act Safire- and by co-incidence I met up with Safire- AKA Stuart Loughland and his wife Jane at the Venue Cymru party tonight in honour of both Llandudno panto and Colwyn Bay’s “Jack & The Beanstalk” at Theatr Colwyn. This venue runs both pantos, with Stuart & Jane presenting the Colwyn one- Jane appearing as Fairy and Stuart in his first Dame Role as Dame Trott! Lovely to meet up with them both at the “Do”

We had a lovely evening- again, great hospitality shown by Sarah the manager and her superb staff- lovely hot buffet and a disco for the young kids from the Pearl Shaw schools, appearing in both venues, and the bigger girls and boys too!

It was a great chance to mingle and chat- John made an excellent speech outlining how much fun we have had, and what a close knit team we’ve all been, with a super crew who have made this panto such a very special one.

A few drinks, more food and Tim and I left around midnight to stroll down the prom, and I’m now sitting here in the very lovely four star hotel- my end of term treat for two days thinking about how hugely lucky I’ve been to have been a part of this company and this show.

Tomorrow two last shows. I will be genuinely sorry to finish- I could quite easily do another two or three weeks without feeling tired, and both Tim and Marc were saying the same at our table. One show at 1pm the next at 5pm, and then like magic everyone will have vanished from the building in the space of time it takes me to get my make-up off- like Christmas Eve the dressing rooms will be deserted.

2nd January 2012 - Close Sesame!

Aladdin’s cave closed tonight finally after just over three magical weeks, and five weeks in total.

Like the genie’s appearance, it needed someone to rub the lamp and produce the magic- that person is Simon Delaney, our amazing Director. He has created the fun slick and special show that we’ve had the pleasure of presenting twice a day at Venue Cymru.

The next bit of magic being a lovely and talented cast- In the words of the musical “Gypsy”, “No fits, no fights, no feuds and no egos- Amigos, Together!” This joint effort has provided us with a happy company and created a new panto family.

Each day we’ve got together for a fun warm-up before “The Half”- here are a few pictures:

The two shows today sped past- this is what happens on the last day. Already our thoughts and minds are on packing, travelling and in doing the best two shows to bow out on. Bless Michael and Dave from our friendly Hotel, The Can-y-Bae- they booked yet again, bringing more people with them for the fifth, possibly sixth time, cheering us on from the circle second show.

By the time we reached “between Shows”- just over an hour, I had virtually emptied my dressing room, and had the two skips ready for the “get-out”. Everything was in the Quick Change Area, and Elly had visited “Staples” to secure me a large box to replace the original box that had belonged to Danny La Rue that we believe was inadvertently thrown out by the cleaners. That was one well travelled cardboard box that.

Visited by Sarah the Theatre Manager between shows to say goodbye. I thanked her for the hospitality we’ve all received from the theatre and its staff. Next year will be “Peter Pan”, so I hope NeverNever Land is as happy a place as Peking has been to us! As you see by this photo, even Aladdin thinks finishing a fab season is Pants!

Had help from of Christine in the crew to pack as we go, so that by the end of the show I was left with just the clothes I came off from the finale in. Time being of the essence tonight- due to the date- New Year’s Eve, the actual get-out of lighting, scenery and costume boxes will be done on Tuesday, after the Bank Holidays. Venue Cymru is “dark” this week until “The King & I” comes in, so the lorries will arrive in three days time.

Not so for the Qdos staff- Rachael and Lisa along with Fran on Stage Management and Elly, Lisa and Helen had about forty-five minutes to pack props and costumes ready for the theatre to arrange their collection on Tuesday.

They were not alone- I telephoned my mate Ray Meagher at the Palace Theatre in between shows- his stint in “Priscilla” ends tonight as well, and the curtain falls for the last time on this long running musical. Everything- props, scenery and wardrobe will be shipped to South America on Tuesday, and the company had a similar forty-five minutes to leave the building before “lock Down”, when the theatre would be locked tight until their get out on Tuesday Morning. Some of “Priscilla” have been there for years- hopefully they packed in advance! Bid farewell to Ray who returns to Australia week after next.

Here in Aladdin’s Cave I finished the last show standing on stage hugging everyone before they vanished- and as I predicted yesterday, vanish they did. As I made my way up the stairs in my dressing gown, removing my microphone folk sped down the staircase and through the stage door- there was a family or a party waiting for them somewhere in the country!

By the time I removed my make-up most people had gone, and when I was in my “civvies” I walked down onto the stage to check on my skips and boxes- the place was deserted!

How weird is THAT? Twenty minutes before 1,500 people watched actors, musicians and saw the magic created by the stage management, crew and technicians. Now, in that brief passage of time I was alone on that stage, about seven people left in the building- our stalwart Qdos Stage Management and wardrobe filling props boxes and big blue wardrobe boxes.

The cave had magically closed- and my panto family were already on the road heading for home. I had texts during the night, and towards midnight. Tim and Marc had hired a car and I think got home about an hour after midnight, others made it by 10pm.

The curtain fell at 7.45pm. By 8.25 I too left the building. Thank you Llandudno- you have given us all a truly splendid and happy pantomime season. I’ll miss all you lovely “Aladdin” guys!!

11th January 2012 - The Final Update - The New Pictures!!

With thanks to Sarah Ecob at Venue Cymru and especially to Gary Smith for taking these photographs, we are delighted to be able to share “Aladdin- Act Two” At long Last!

Twankey’s Laundry rocked to “Twankey Boogie Woogie”, followed by my strip- Elly and Helen hidden behind the screen with Lisa and Fran standing by in the wing! Sixty Seconds to take off twelve layers of clothing, ten minutes to get into it all during the interval, four people plus three musicians to help remove it in sixty seconds!

Aladdin enters astride Nelly The Elephant- much mirth and merriment following a messy departure!

Aladdin, now Prince Aladdin arranges a Royal Wedding and we all get to change costume once again. Now Rich Twankey and her boys bring a little Tropicana into downtown Peking!

The versatile Aaron by now was playing Chief Of Police (Michael having left in the care of the A&E ward) AND several other roles- His Police Chief wielded both a mighty truncheon and some sizzling Maracas!

A Royal Wedding Procession- Tim as Emperor declaring “Love Changes Everything”.

Jason’s Abanazar took to the Musicality stage along with Rebecca in “The Lamp Is Mine” and performed a neat Adagio with Head Girl Rosy when required!

Despite singing about it the lamp Wasn’t his- and Aladdin aided by John as Kung-Foo Fighter Wishee reclaimed the lamp and the Princess. The Emperor asked Twankey to marry him and got a big surprise!

All that remained was a 3D farewell to the Genie and a songsheet hosted by John before the Grand Finale. A blur of Gold and Black with a flash of red, and the pantomime was over!

Thanks Llandudno- We loved every minute!

This page was last updated14th February 2012

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