Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 2012/13

 

Monday 20th November 2012 - The Adventure Begins!

Well, the year has flown by, and once again it’s Panto time!

Rehearsals for “Jack & The Beanstalk” begin on Monday (26th November) and after a week in London we move to Wolverhampton where the show will rehearse on stage, tech and dress runs taking us up to opening night on Saturday 8th December.

I’ll be starting my annual Dame’s Diary blog here as from Next week onwards, and hope to keep everyone up to date on the rehearsals, performances and backstage life at the Grand in Wolverhampton.

Although I’ll miss seeing most pantomimes this year, fear not! Once again the intrepid Daniel Dawson will be undertaking his epic journey around the UK and will be blogging his panto experiences for us here at IBY!

A Whole year since the last Diary began- since then I’ve finished “Aladdin” in North Wales, having made a lot of dear friends and fallen in love with the town of Llandudno, I’ve done press calls in Wolverhampton, hosted a panto Quiz Night banquet and a panto horse race at the racetrack, and bonded with my new friend Tallulah The Tapir from Dudley Zoo. While we were in Dudley with the Roadshow a couple of weeks back I took the opportunity to introduce Tallulah to Andrew Ryan and Nathan Daniel- and let Tallulah see me out of Dame Trott disguise!

What a year- I’ve costumes the Kenneth More Theatre Cinderella during the summer and produced a lot of new costumes. Simon has produced a beautiful baby girl- Millie! Not on his own I hasten to add, but with his lovely wife Chloe- they are settling into nurseryland a very contented threesome! I’ve been an app- on a poster for the Zoo, that was a first- and I’m skyping live to schools tomorrow (Wednesday) from Skype HQ in the guise of Dame Trott to answer questions on life in Pantoland to schools around the UK.

Talking of schools- Andrew, Nathan and I finished the Roadshow after sixty performances and nearly 18,000 children entertained and educated in all things Panto! Nathan is now rehearsing Aladdin in Newcastle, and Andrew is directing “Snow White” at Mansfield before rehearsing for his Hippodrome Birmingham “Robinson Crusoe”.

Me- I’ve packed the costumes, loaded the wigs and they will head up to Scarborough on Monday, ready for loading with the scenery and Qdos costumes a week later.

Let the magic begin, and please join me on the journey!

Trott's Titbits - Day One - 26th November 2012

I can’t believe that a whole year has passed since I was last in this rehearsal room! The very same set of rehearsal rooms- the ritzy, airy and beautiful rehearsal rooms where I last embarked on the “Aladdin “ adventure, sailed off to Llandudno and had an fabulous time! Another year, a different panto and a completely new cast- the ship is setting sail once more!

You don’t just get one panto at these rehearsal studios in South London- you get THREE! This week there are three productions on three floors. “Snow White”, the First Family Production starring Priscilla Presley, Jarred Christmas and Warwick Davies on the ground floor, “Cinderella” The Qdos Nottingham Pantomime starring John Partridge, Sheila Fergusson , The Grumbleweeds,  and old mates  Paul Gabriel, Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins- on the other floor, and our Qdos “Jack And The Beanstalk” completes the hat trick!

First person I bumped into on entering was our Musical Director, David Lane. David was MD for the Hippodrome  when Peter & I did Pantomime there the first time, and has been on several shows we’ve done in the Midlands. Lovely to see him again- and a few minutes later I met up with David Roper, who is MD for Wimbledon, and caught up with his news. This after a minute in the building! It is going to be a great week for catching up with Panto folk, I can tell!

We have a nice big airy and- most importantly- warm set of rooms upstairs. For the first half hour the company was all in one room, and then we split- Ensemble going with our choreographer Steven Harris to a large room to work on numbers, Wardrobe- that’s Bek Palmer Supervising and Saeni Green Assisting, they went to a room where they can carry on doing fittings with the cast, and the rest of us, under the leadership of Andrew Lynford our Director, remained in the room to begin blocking Act One, with our Stage Management team headed by Company Stage Manager Nicola Candlish. Our Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) is Neil Wilder, Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) Dave Bratley, and our Acting ASM/Giant Operator, Paul Rivers.

The company- very many names to remember, as there will be Eight ensemble and a further seven of us in the show, to be joined next week by a set of juveniles- so you could see a full house of around twenty-three bodies on stage in the Finale!

Heading our cast are  stars of stage and Television and screen- Sherrie Hewson, playing Lady Joyce Temple Savage, the Giant’s P.A and in charge of turning the Village into an extension of the Benidorm Solana Resort, and fought at every opportunity by the intrepid Keith Harris and Orville The Duck- not forgetting Cuddles The Monkey!

Keith works on Dame Trott’s Farm- which is where I come in, which nestles in the village presided over by King Crumble, otherwise known as Ken Morley. Ken’s relationship with Sherrie on a street in another time (when she was known as Maureen to his Reg) involved a waterbed  that still remains in the forefront of Soap Comedy Gold!

Fighting Lady Temple Savage along the way is Fairy Fortune, played by Birmingham and Wolverhampton favourite, Niki Evans, fresh from the tour of “Blood Brothers”, and my son Jack comes to us from “Hairspray” and the “Any Dream Will Do” Show- in the guise of Ben James Ellis. Completing our line up is The Princess Apricot, Sophie Brooke-Ford.

It is such a lovely thing to see Eight ensemble in this day and age. We have four ladies- Sian Harriman, Angela Sheppard, Bryony Thompson and Frankie Armitage, and we have four gentlemen- Lucian Collier, Oliver Dale, Mathew Hartley and Robert Tregoning.

Day one – the intention Andrew (our director) said was to block- that is to say work out the moves, entrances and exits of Act One by the close of play tonight.

The script, as always happens in every pantomime gets anylised and things taken out, and things added. The new rewrites are written in in pencil, and then taken home to digest by night. I was looking around the room when it dawned on me that quite a few of our cast (no names!) had actually begun the rehearsal day one OFF the book- this means, they might be HOLDING the script, but they had LEARNED the script! That frightens one!

I’m a pedantic learner me- I need to bash the lines into my skull by repetition and I have to have the script neatly laid out, with additions and deletions to learn. I “see” the page in my head and therefore, when I get home I often type out new pages to stick on top of the scribbled altered script- a but OCD but it works for me!

Keith (Harris) and I did a little bit of work on a new short “Milking Scene” that I’ve just typed out tonight (11pm) and glued into my script, so I can learn it – I can now “See” the lines and where they come. I hope I can learn them soon too!

Other events of the day- a wardrobe “First”  for me. I attended my first Wardrobe Call in thirty odd years! Since I always bring my own costumes (they were collected from the store this morning and are now in Scarborough) I have not had to attend any Qdos fittings. This show there are two specific costumes which come with the show, so I ended up in Wardrobe, a grown man, clambering into a huge padded Telly Tubby, and a bird costume. If anyone had burst in and yelled “Paxo” I might have become very nervous!

Whilst in the third floor loo who should I bump into- Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins! I know its not quite the Ivy Club, but it was a social gathering of “Sisters” and Dames! I hope we’ll meet up in the café and grab a coffee before the week is over, if our schedules allow.Also ran into the lovely Lesley (Brown) and Beryl who are running the wardrobe as ever for Nottingham Theatre Royal, and hope to get a chance to chat later in the week. So lovely to see them- it has been two years now since we shared a rehearsal room in Putney.

We indeed blocked all of Act One, with many laughs along the way. This show has some very funny people in it, and it shows! Finished around 6pm and I’m called tomorrow mid morning to work on the Milking Scene with Keith and then carry on regardless!

28th November 2012

Day Two in the Big Beanstalk House! A day when Keith and I (Orville was taking a nap) ran through the “Milking Scene”. This nice bit of Trad Panto business involves a stool, a bucket, and of course two ensemble members- in our case four. Four of the lads will be alternating Daisy, or “Day Zee” as our ip to the minute bovine companion is called.

We worked the routine out and then ran through it several times with each .. err Cow, until we had it off pat. … get it? “Cow- Pat?”- you can tell we are well into the spirit!

The rest of the day was spent with Andrew blocking the rest of the show- Act two, and running through the blocking. We are at the stage where bits you scribbled in yesterday are rubbed out, and the script is starting to adapt- my fetish for a clean page means I’ll doubtless end up retyping it and gluing in it, but that can come later!

Didn’t spot the “Sisters” Martin Ramsdin & David Robbins in the building today, but I did have my lunch sitting opposite a Holloywood Star- Priscilla Presley. She was about five tables away, but it was a very “Hollywood Canteen” moment! The “Snow White” company are on week Two here in the rehearsal rooms.

A Lot of script to learn at the moment, and no time in rehearsals as I seem to be bobbing on and off quite a lot- glad we’ve organised a quick change area to be installed in the Stage Right Wing at the Grand Theatre!

Exciting morning ahead having a visit to the dentist- my filling popped out- not good timing! Then tomorrow we start to run the scenes again!

29th November 2012

I had the morning off, and spent it visiting the dentist! Not a good time for a filling to fall out, but better now than during the run! I bumped into Keith when I got to the rehearsal room- we both have an archive of panto and variety in our brains, and I think that a “Spotlight” feature on Keith will be forthcoming by the end of the run!

Talking of Spotlight features, I’m hoping to complete and send to Simon a very special spotlight feature on a dame who made his Dame Debut at the Grand in Wolverhampton- Freddie Lees. One of my pleasures during the run, between shows probably, will be to complete the list of all the many pantomimes he’s appeared in since appearing at The Grand with several live lions! I get a cuddly Duck and a Monkey, but live lions- the full story will be in the feature, so look out for Spotlight On Freddie Lees coming your way shortly!

Today Andrew ran us through Act Two and in between I had a music call with David and a dance call with Steven. I use that term Dance Call loosely, as Steven got his eight amazing dancers doing amazing things around me and very kindly makes me look as if I’m moving as well! With all that fruit on my head at the time it’s probably safer I don’t move too much! We’re talking about my “Copa” number!

We ran the scenes in Cloudland, in the Giant’s kitchen and back on earth. Sherrie has been appearing on loose women as well, and has been putting in very full days. The show is now taking shape under the watchful eye of Andrew, and today we had a sample of Giant Blunderbore. The Giant will be a very very big giant, and very sophisticated in his various mechanisms- I won’t give too much away, but for rehearsal purposes Paul (Rivers) put his stilts on and helped us do scenes with Blunderbore. In performance the Giant will be a great deal taller and a pretty ferocious ally for Sherrie to terrorise the village- and a great part of the fun of doing “Jack” is getting on the set with the giant props- huge thrones, tables and I imagine cooking pots!

Steven - our choreographer on a rare break!

Director Andrew with Neil, Dave and Paul

No sign of the other companies in the rehearsal venue today- I think our breaks didn’t co-incide, so I’ve not bumped into the Nottingham mates since Monday- perhaps we’ll bump into each other tomorrow.

The legend that is panto has spread far and wide- and I will be giving an interview to a spanish newspaper, based in Barcelona, trying to explain Panto to the Spanish readers- not an easy task! At first I thought there might be a connection with Sherrie’s “Benidorm” appearances, but apparently it is a feature about British humour and traditions at Christmas!

Ken in King Crumble’s Village

So today was a lot of running scenes, learning lines, and “putting it together”. Tomorrow Keith, Ben and I will be working on our song in the Dairy, and on the song that ends the first half, and during the afternoon the ensemble will join us. This is when Andrew and Steven work them into all our scenes- remember we haven’t seen them since Monday morning, as they’ve been next door working on all the dance routines.

Keith- Talk to the hand!

Newcastle Panto has opened- and is now up and running, so I can’t wait to speak to Chris Hayward, playing Empress Of China there, to find out how it is all going! By Monday when we are all installed in Wolverhampton a lot more pantomimes will start rehearsing all over the country.

Sherrie- direct from the Loose Women studio

29th November 2012

A very productive day in Pantoland! Today we ran the show in the large rehearsal room with the eight ensemble joining us, and the dance routines and most of the songs slotted in.

This is when you begin to see the show as a whole I suppose, thinking about it. There are times when we, the performers become an audience- we’re seeing dance routines executed in front of us for the first time, and we hear numbers we’ve only read the lyrics for in the script. It is a day of coming together script wise too- my first day without using “the book”, the name we give to the scribbled in, and frequently coffee marked script we have clutched like a liferaft for the past three days! The book was down, and although obviously we flounder (many nautical references tonight!) while fishing (oh dear) for lines- mostly we are all now completely sans script.

The script won’t be abandoned for a while- oh dear no! It is used to confirm “what’s next!” and “Am I IN this bit” as the show is unfolded, and brought back when cuts happen, as tends to do after timings are taken on runs.

Having all of us in one room was very heartening- like when new celebs join you in the jungle camp! We certainly fill the vast space a little better now! We ran the show top to bottom, with numbers inserted, and had some time today to go into more detail on certain scenes. Andrew removed some words here, added a few beats there to tighten the flow of the dialogue, and to tighten the timing in comedy routines. There’s not a shortage of timing with the comics in our show- it is rare to have this many established comic performers in one panto,and a director who references comic routines and knows his comedic history- and it shows, even though I say it myself. Keith’s comic timing plus Ken’s comedic timing plus Sherrie’s wealthy of comedy timing plus (I hope) mine adds up to a bit of zingy dialogue and we hope, loads of laughs! There is a silly scene which I think is beginning to be a contender for favourite, involving grown men doing silly walks – you can’t go wrong can you?

Andrew (Lynford) and I discussed today the fact that we have known each other for something like Twenty Five Years! Andrew was a local lad who spent quite a time doing shows at the Kenneth More Theatre East London as a young man- in fact while still at school, and before he headed off to appear regularly in “EastEnders”- I recently went to see his show at the Arts Theatre- he directed it- about the comedian Max Miller- and Andrew is a wealth of Variety references that go over most heads except – perhaps not surprisingly- Keith, Ken, Sherrie and Myself”. References to “Elsie And Doris” aren’t picked up by the younger crew!

I ran my Copa number through twice today, and all seems well. I’ve not actually turned around to see what is happening around me- I’m too intent on the new lyrics “wot I wrote”, but by the speed of the bodies hurtling past me, I think Steven has choreographed up a storm. We all loved watching the “I’m A Believer” (not a Belieber as I believe is the phrase!) routine- that is going to be hugely popular with the kids- its a good get up out of your seat and dance moment.

In the lunchbreak I went in search of the elusive Nottingham crowd, and tracked them to a pub across the road! Had a lovely gossip and catch up with Paul Gabriel, Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins, and lovely to meet Adam Booth and Chris Milford. Shame is was so short a time, but glad we managed it this week. Also heard from my Llandudno mate John Evans- he’s rehearsing a few miles up the road for “Peter Pan”- and we had a text chat during the journey home. He’s having a great time as Mr Smee and enjoying the company of Barney Harwood and the superb Captain Hook that is Michael Howe.

Sherrie has been a busy lady today. I may have this wrong but I think she did one Daybreak appearance and one- possibly two “Loose Women” appearances today- her last this week until after Christmas. He guest today had been Ann Widdicombe- starring in Panto herself again this season with Craig Revell-Horwood.

I was a bit weary heading for the tube, and preoccupied reading texts. That is how I heard the tube announcement…”Alight here for Buckingham Palace…” when I should have been four stops in the opposite direction. I’ve played the odd “Palace” but this was the wrong one at the wrong time! I added thirty minutes to my journey home!

30th November 2012

Another full day in Pantoland. Most of the company worked on musical numbers during the morning, and then we did a few “tidy up” scenes before lunch, in readiness for a run of the whole show this afternoon.

Managed to bob in and say “Goodbye” to Martin , David and Paul from the Nottingham show lunchtime, and once again dined in the presence of Hollywood Royalty- well, I had my lunch in the same room as Priscilla Presley, and she is playing “Wicked Queen!” Actually I dined with Miss Hewson, Mr Morley and Mr Harris as well!

The afternoon run was a revelation- we indeed have a show. It started, it finished and it seemed really rather good for four and a half days rehearsal! The thing I felt most comfortable with was not holding the script, and actually knowing what scene came next without having to look at the script.

Bek and Saeni sat through the runthough making wardrobe notes. The costumes have all now been fitted and are heading to Wolverhampton- I ran through my order of costumes with Bek, and was delighted to find she remembered some of the changes and strip routine from  four years ago at Nottingham! I ran through a very rough mime of “The Strip” with David MD as well- timing it at a breathless one minute ten seconds to remove about fourteen items of clothing! Talking of David- or Daves.. we have two, so Dave Bratley ASM is now going by his nickname “Posh” in the blog from henceforth. David and Posh…? This is getting like Celebrity Squares!

A first social gathering to celebrate the first stagger through of the show- actually went for a drink afterwards with a good few of the company before getting the correct tube home for a change!

Tomorrow we run through- hopefully stopping as little as possible to allow Andrew to do a timing on the show. For now some serious packing ready for the off on Sunday!

1st December 2012

Last day in the Big Broth… in the rehearsal room in London, before the entire company decamps (I think I made that word up) and heads for Wolverhampton. The weather is turning decidedly chilly, so I’m very pleased that this year digs have become a hotel, and that hotel is near the theatre. If it does become snowy at least I can brave the storm for a ten minute walk!

We went through the show in the morning, and took a short lunch break, starting the first non-stop run through at 1pm. At this point the senses sharpen a bit more, and off we went! Joined for the run by Mathew Campbell fromthe Qdos office- and very pleased we were- by now we all know the gags- and so it was good to see his reaction, and relieved at him chuckling and laughing in the right places!

The first half we think will be (allowing for laughs – please let there be many!- and audience responses) about One Hour and Five or ten minutes, and a second Half of about Fifty Minutes perhaps. Rough timings at this stage, but optimistic- certainly Director Andrew seemed pleased with this. It is good to do the first non stop run this early in rehearsals. I know the bits I need to brush up on- and, as always it involves musical numbers. I always find it odd that I can play musical instruments with no bother, but find the art of singing and counting bars not so easy. Practice makes perfect we hope!

There were a few large wheely suitcases in the rehearsal room- Sherrie, Ken, Keith and Niki will be heading North today, and the rest of us tomorrow. We won’t be arriving at the Grand Theatre en mass, as on Monday we’ll be rehearsing in a studio about fifteen minutes walk away. The stage will be kept free for the get in on scenery, lighting and (I hope) costumes- I’m assuming my one rail, two wicker skips, large table and cardboard boxes will by now have joined the scenery!

When I arrived home after rehearsal there was time to ring Andrew (Ryan) to find out how his “Opening” day went. Andrew is directing “Snow White” at the Palace Mansfield, for UK Productions. He did the same at Blackpool last season. The show opened this afternoon and was, as we say- A Triumph! He is now heading back to London ready to start rehearsals for Birmingham on Monday. Its all go in Pantoland!

For now, I’m typing this quickly- even if you don’t read fast, as the old gag went- so I can pack this laptop and slide it in my over stuffed suitcase, ready to blog away when I arrive at Wolverhampton on Monday. Feel free to leave a message to say you’re reading it- either on this blog or in the IBY messageboard. It helps to know someone out there is reading it!

Until Monday and the Sunny Midlands-as they say in Dudley- Au Revoir!

3rd December 2012

Our first day in Wolverhampton as a company! We’ve all done press calls here during the Summer and the Autumn, and most recently Sherrie turned the lights on here- but finally we’ve all arrived en mass.

Today’s rehearsal was in a studio Theatre near to the town centre, and we’ll be there tomorrow as well. At the moment the vast array of scenery and lighting is arriving at the Grand Theatre, and when I passed this afternoon the dock door- the large one only opened for a “Get-in” or a “Get-Out” was open and you could look at the stage, crammed full of senery and giant sized props. Dame Trott’s cottage had been assembled,and was incongruously next to some Gold “Walk-Down” treads, and outside the dock, on the pavement was a familiar Cooking Pot (I spent a five weeks popping in and out of that at Dartford, and a large throne made out of bones- of Englishmen I suppose?

We ran the show in the morning in readiness for the arrival of the juveniles. This year’s two troupes of children are from the Classic Academy,and as usual are in groups called Red team and Blue Team. These teams alternate performances, so we run all their scenes at least twice, with Steven and Andrew slotting them into the scenes.

Highlight of the day was meeting a star we’ve heard a lot about, for a good many years and had not seen up until this point. A shy retiring performer who adorns Keith Harris’s arm and truly- and I mean this- truly has a life of his own. Orville the Duck ladies and Gentlemen. Orville was in the house!

From now on Keith doesn’t get a look in, as all eye contact seems to be on Orvilles big appealing eyes. Only Day Zee the cow (yes, a modern twist on the tail. err tale..) has bigger eyes. Daisy too made her first appearance in the rehearsal room, and tam Oliver and Lucian and Team Bob and Matt later, will be working Daisy in her dance routines and her acting scenes.

Never work with animals and children? Too late! They are the staple diet of a Giant of A Panto like “Jack & The Beanstalk”.

Another highlight of the day was getting access to the dressing rooms. Tat bare, unlived in almost characterless space will become a second home, and will take on the trappings and charcteristics of its occupant in a blink of an eye. The seasoned “pro” puts two items straight into their Panto room- A kettle and a nice thick furry blanket or rug to sleep in- the essentials of panto life since Dan Leno I’d imagine!

I managed to get said rug,pillow, blanket and kettle installed, and got my make-up on the counter, and that’s about it for now. My costumes arrived late, and will try and make time tomorrow late afternoon to put the costumes and wigs into the Quick Change area- yet to be built, but well under construction,and will have only Two Costumes in the dressing room- Act One Opening, and Act Two Opening (Two out of a dozen) as all the others will live on Stage Right in the Quick Change Area,where I spent most of the show.

A big thank you to those who replied to my enquiry “Is there anybody out there!” reading this-I’ m not a twitterer (I wonder if Orville Tweets?) and it was reassuring to know this isnt just going into the ether!

Right- bed. running through again tomorrow wih the Juveniles in the afternoon, and we start at 10am. Hope to get a few backstage photos by tomorrow evening to add. Nighty Nighty as we say in Beanstalk Land- to which the reply has always been Pajama Pajama.

Memo to self. Nigel, try NOT to introduce yourself as Twankey in your song. That was SO last year!

5th December 2012

Apt that on National Panto Day here we are Technical Rehearsal day!

Apologies for all the photographs appearing in a clump at the top. I have NO idea why this is happening, and I’m sure I’ve pressed the wrong button. I’m sure Simon will put me on the right track soon. Bear with me!

Yesterday was a rehearsal in the morning, running the children from the Classic Academy through the show in the hall, then we were broken for the day.Managed to sort out my dressing room as well- very cosy it is now!

As a Dame who brings his own costumes, this means an opportunity to “set out your stall”, and with the aid of Bob, Qdos Production Manager, and Andrew Director, I was able to sort a very valuable piece of real estate in Pantoland. Namely, A Quick Change Room.

By room, readers of this blog will know from previous Pantomimes, the term means an area, a space constructed out of bits of flattage usually covered in black cloth, used as “legs” or borders- and in this case carpeted. So, although next door to an exterior door that can let in near arctic winds, it is secure, cosy and VERY near the stage right wing! It began small- about the size of a cubicle in Evan’s.. and got bigger as the realisation that this Dame don’t travel small hit home! Thanks to the extremely helpful guys on the crew I now have a room big enough for me, Fiona (She will be dressing me through the run) and the dozen costume changes.

Lovely to see Wardrobe supervisor and Designer Heidi Harper from Qdos today. She called in to sort out a few problems that she rectified very quickly, before returning to Scarborough. We- Sherrie, Keithy and myself bumped into Mr Cutchie in the street. Peter Cutchie is the Chief Exec of this lovely theatre, and a staunch supporter of my Panto Roadshow! Like many other Theatrical bosses, he’ll be off tomorrow to London for the official opening of the new West End Musical “The Bodyguard”, produced by Qdos’s Michael Harrison and David Ian. More of that later!

By Today- Wednesday, we started the Technical rehearsal. The long days start here. The aim today from 11am to 10pm was to run the technical side of the show- slowly, and carefully- the sound cues, lighting cues, effects, set off the five second “Gerbs” (the big flashy fireworks) and pyros, and add to this mix scene changes, costume changes and Growing Beanstalks beside spinning cottages! And guess what? Due to Andrew’s direction and Bob’s Skill- the efficiency of a good crew (used to the big shows getting in and up quickly) and a patient and good humoured cast- we did just that!

Beanstalks grew. Dames did their strip with Fiona never having seen it before- Cottages were constructed, Giant UV Butterflies danced across the set and, heros of the day- Bob and Matt brought Day-Zee (our rapping cow) to life. Those lads deserve huge praise. Working a cow- the feet, the eyes, mouth and ears and mouth is a strenuous job in an ordinary run, but in a tech rehearsal you can spent three or four times longer INSIDE the costume than you ever will when the show is running.

Our brave lads spent a long time rehearsing the Milking routine, dance routine and “selling The Cow” routine under extremely hard conditions. They never complained once, and although thoroughly soaked when they got out of the “skin” as we call it- they were still jolly and smiling. I tilt my wigs to you boys, and to Lucian and Oliver who will do the same tomorrow.

I got to drive a vehicle on stage today- I use it in act two. I won’t give the plot away, but it is actualy the first time I have actually driven/ridden a motorised vehicle- well, batterised vehicle. It may not go very fast but I was delighted! I get to test drive it again tomorrow!

I was a bit apprehensive about driving said vehicle, and mentioned this to Paul (Giant) who replied- and I swear to you, in all innocence he said the following “Ohhh They’re designed to be driven by the elderly. You’ll be fine!” He actually blushed when he saw my face and tried to backtrack. Too late!! The words had popped out of his mouth. I told him I’d be blogging that conversation. There you go Paul!

Managed to pop out front and watch a few bits from the auditorium- the scene with Sherrie buying the cow from Jack (Ben) is true comic genius and very very funny! I love her costume and watching the timing that she has in the scene- one of a select group of ladies who has played Dame in Panto, she will bring the house down in this spot for definate!

Tomorrow we tech Act Two- I’ll report on that one afterwards. In the meantime I’ve been getting reports on the glamorous night that folk had in London’s West End- the opening of “The Bodyguard” and the Ritzy party afterwards- shame I cant be there, but it was great to get the news on the show- everyone saying how fabulous it is, and how amazing the lighting was, and the leading actors were apparently stunning. I got to chat briefly with Peter Tod, formerly the Chief Exec of Birmingham Hippodrome- he raved about it. Wish I could have been there- I’ll have to wait until February though!

6th December 2012

Here’s a copy of an interview/article on The Art Of The Pantomime Dame, taken from different perspectives, and published last week in The Independent. It features one of our newest and youngest Panto Dames- Lee Redwood.

Here’s the item:

Christmas is a time when odd things happen in the name of tradition – bringing trees indoors, men coming down chimneys, eating brussels sprouts – yet few are as barmy, enduring or well-loved as the pantomime, and its bloke-in-a-dress star: the dame. Here, five different dames explain why there’s nothing quite like it.

The traditional dame

Berwick Kaler is something of an institution in York: he’s been starring in the Theatre Royal’s pantomime for 34 years. He writes and co-directs it, too. This year, the 66-year-old dons his dame outfits again for Robin Hood and His Merry Mam (13 December to 2 February). The York pantomime has a devoted following: people queued overnight when tickets went on sale in March.

“Panto must be local. For me, it’s the last bastion of community theatre. There’s things [the audience] look forward to every year, but they’re not morons – I go on and say, “It’s the same nonsense as last year with a different title”, but if it was, we’d have no audience

“I just adore pantomime. My career’s taken me all over – film, television, my name above titles in the West End – but I wouldn’t mind being remembered as a dame. Everybody underrates pantomime, but it’s an art form and not everyone can do it.

“You can be the funniest actor in the world and you put on a frock and suddenly you become very unfunny. It’s really difficult to understand what makes a good dame, but it is the face more than anything. Make-up and all that – I’ve never used it.

“No woman would be seen dead in what I wear on that stage. They’re costumes. And they weigh a ton! I wear about 10 or 11 throughout the show, and it’s about £1,000 for each.

“The fear for me is, when do I retire? I don’t want to go on stage with a Zimmer. I have given a bit of the slapstick to other people, but I still do handstands and trapeze.”

The junior dame

He may be only 22, but Lee Redwood, entertainments manager at Bournemouth’s Adventure Wonderland theme park, has worked on pantomimes since leaving school at 16. This year, he’s also a dame in Cinderella at the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne Minster, Dorset (21 December to 5 January), playing an Ugly Sister, a role he takes very seriously.

“A lot of people pooh-pooh young dames. Admittedly, there are a lot of young dames who don’t do the research and they come out as drag queens, and it doesn’t work. I play my character a lot older than I am, which helps. I’ve always been into panto. As a teenager, I’d read up as much as I could about it: the history and what different people wear.

“My school was an all-boys school, very academic and sporty … I wouldn’t say I was bullied, but people would take the mickey. But it’s very liberating – as a dame, you can be a bit risqué. I’m actually quite shy but, putting on a frock, loading your face with make-up, putting a wig on – you can go out there and be someone completely different.

“I’ve got my own wardrobe of costumes and wigs, and I’ve become quite knowledgeable on a sewing machine; it’s a lot cheaper.

“It’s definitely not female impersonation. But that’s not to say dames shouldn’t have glitzy costumes and show their legs. It’s a caricature of a woman – there’s no high-pitched voices. A bloke in a dress falling over with bloomers going everywhere is funny; a lady doing that is not as funny.”

The famous dame

Paul O’Grady brought his alter ego, Lily Savage, out of retirement two years ago to do pantomime and she’s back again, playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin (7 December to 5 January). She’s appearing on a specially created 1,900-seat theatre inside The O2, making it the largest pantomime in London.

“Twankey is a single mother, she’s at odds with the police and the bailiffs, she runs a laundry and she’s got an errant, work-shy son – so it’s perfect for Lily, she’s a real working-class character.

“There’s loads of outfits. In the first half, before Twankey gets wealthy, they’re a bit Chinese hooker: multicoloured, vile, everything’s got tassels. I’ve gone for the ankle boots – they’re practical, comfortable – with the striped tights. That’s my nod towards traditional panto. Then, in the second half, when she gets money and goes very Vivian Nicholson, well, then it’s all bling.

“There’s some pretty fabulous costumes – to look at, not to wear, I have to say. They all weigh a ton. It’s no place for sissies, panto, you have to come out and charge around the stage. If anyone wants to lose weight – do panto!

“I get really annoyed when people sneer ‘Oh, panto’s the last-chance saloon’. It’s not, because it’s such a difficult thing to do. You walk a very fine line between entertaining the children and the adults. A good panto should be laced with innuendo that children can get a whiff of. If it sails above their heads, then you’re laughing.”

The alternative dame

David Hodge, aka Miss Dusty O, is well known in London’s club scene. But this Christmas she takes her couture gowns to the Leicester Square Theatre, for London’s adult panto Dick! (until 20 January), playing a drag-queen dame in a production that’s definitely not suitably for family outings.

“It’s got all the elements of a traditional panto, the Dick Whittington storyline, but it’s the grown-up, filthy version. It’s very blue, but it’s very funny. It’s got every taboo thrown in, and it just kicks them to bits, really.

“‘It’s behind you’ would have rude connotations … .

“People like rude things, let’s face it. And throwing me into the equation has added a whole new layer. Audiences are so used to seeing me fronting clubs and DJ’ing. I run a club at Madame JoJo’s [in London] called Tranny Shack, and we’re bringing the whole club to see Dick! one night.

“The traditional dame is a caricature, not a drag queen. Well, this one, looks-wise, it’s me. It’s very much high fashion, couture, slick, none of those giant boobs and wishy-washy outfits. They’re all Vivienne Westwood. I’m known for that. When people book me, that’s what they want: the high finish, three hours in front of the mirror, a wig that doesn’t look like it’s been slept in.”

The Bollywood dame

Antony Bunsee is making his pantomime debut with the south London-based theatre group Tara Arts, in their second Indian-style pantomime, Dick Whittington goes Bollywood (5 December to 5 January), in which Bunsee will be wearing a fat suit and a sari.

“Panto is like Christmas: it’s a remembrance of your own childhood. Everyone at Christmas has reference points from when they were kids. This one’s slightly different, because it’s Tara; it’s got a multicultural spin.

“Panto is a rolling stone, it gathers references as it goes along. Any panto you see now will have references to TV, Simon Cowell, The X Factor, all that stuff – so you can have references to Bollywood, too, as long as people get the joke. Our audience – mixed-race, English, Asian, south London, Afro-Caribbean – they’ll come along and they’ll all get something.

“I totally honour this tradition, I love it. It’s unique. Somehow, pantomime reminds me of the Olympic opening ceremony: it’s British, it’s bonkers and it’s the good end of vulgar.”

7th  December 2012 - The First Dress Rehearsal

Well, a long day and my feet hurt! However, it was well worth it. We ran the Tech of Act Two this Morning from 10am onwards until lunchtime. I got to power up my mobility scooter and drive it about the stage- trying desperately NOT to pretend I was a Dalek and being very blase about my first powered flight!

Dashed around the shops lunchtime- I give you this, Wolverhampton, you have hidden depth, and shops! The shopping arcades go on for quite a way, and I did well on my foraging.

The afternoon was still, thankfully a “no make up” rehearsal- so the idea was to do a complete non stop Dress Run with every technical bit in it, and we repeated this “proper” in the evening. We went “up” at around 7pm and discovered the first half is One Hour Ten Minutes with a second act of about 55 minutes. Not bad!

We treated the Dress rehearsal as the real thing. This is where Fiona comes into play. Fiona is my dresser for the run, and she has organised the Quick Change room until it is a hive of activity and efficiency. How it warms my cockles to see the many strip layers laid out in the right order, the shoes pointing the same way for speed and efficiency, and every change noted and- it has to be said quoted to me as I dash into the Quick Change area. “What’s Next” I say, unfairly, as Fiona has yet to discover- but she knows! Hoorah!

The run was good if a tad exhausting. This is the FIRST time we have done a non stop run. I had no idea of how much time I had between entrances to change. Fiona & I treated each and every change as if it were Lightening Quick, and I was surprised that in most cases, it IS a quick change. No hanging about in this show!

I crashed my mobility scooter into the scenery- Who knew I’d be asked to reverse?! I went off the wrong way and made the crew laugh being caught between a rock and a hard place- I made every change- Thank you Fiona, and I lost my heel in the finale as I came down the stairs- it fell off. Thank goodness I opted for the “let the boys take your hand and assist you down the staircase” route! The heel will be replaced tomorrow!


Yes we raced through it- it was mostly about changing, about getting very sweaty and very hot and then a second of sipping hot tea in a thermos in a cold Quick Change room between having been a Deckchair and about to be a Robin.. Yes, the glamour that is Pantomime, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Miss Hewson, Mr Lynford and I decided we’d earned our drink at the Hotel Bar tonight. Called at 11.30am for notes with Andrew, then a full make up and all (with photos) dress Rehearsal Two in the afternoon, followed by a full out, sold out private  yet public Dress Rehearsal in the evening! Yes, it is almost time to wave farewell to rehearsal and Hello to Twice Daily!

7th  December 2012 - National Panto Day News

Some reports on yesterday’s second National Panto Day!

Oh yes it was…

Panto Day 2012: A Huge Success!

On Wednesday 5th December panto passionistas across the world came together to celebrate the magic of pantomime. In total, over 150 theatres in the UK, America and South Africa participated, with Panto Day tweets reaching a global audience of 1.5 Million.

Throughout the day casts across the country tweeted behind the scenes pictures and posted their Panto Day photos on Facebook. Panto Day’s Six Live Tweeters shared their every move from wake-up to walkdown, providing a fascinating insight into the Industry in Panto Day’s new project for 2012: ‘A Day in the Life of Pantoland’.

Whilst Craig Glover stopped for Percy Pigs on his way to rehearsals, Craig Daniel Adams was being hoisted into the flies as Peter Pan. Tweedy the Clown shared the secrets of his warm up and as Kevin James provided a lesson in panto Villain make-up, Robert Pearce gave an insight into a pantomime technical rehearsal. Jane Deane tweeted live from the rehearsal room as she received direction and blocked her text and in addition to the ‘Panto Day Six’ Dame Sarah the Cook took over Loughborough Town Hall’s Twitter to tweet her every move.

Panto Day’s Facebook page filled with panto posts and messages and currently hosts over 200 pantomime posters and photographs, capturing the 2012 season for future generations. Theatres posted examples of their warm-up routines and set-build process and alongside all the good luck messages and behind the scenes sneak peeks, panto companies were also celebrating in true theatrical style.

Paul Holman Associates, who are producing 13 pantomimes this season, got their casts to celebrate with a Panto Day tribute inspired by Depeche Mode’s ‘I Just Can’t Enough Enough’ featuring producer Paul Holman himself, whilst the Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne’s Ugly Sisters video-blogged about the day, complete with panto inspired ‘12 Days of Christmas’ . The staff at the Courtyard Theatre, Hereford showed they could perform just as well as their on-stage counterparts and photographer Sally Maid launched her ‘12 Dames of Christmas’ project.

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East shared Jack and the Beanstalk rehearsal footage, whilst the cast of Snow White at the Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock shot their very own mini-Panto Day documentary complete with interviews and behind the scenes tour.

Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre blogged at regular intervals throughout their technical rehearsal, whilst at their 10.30am performance of Snow White, tweets from Mansfield Palace’s twitter account came every 5 minutes, offering followers a unique ‘Tweet-Seat’ view of the show. Twitter account @MansfieldPalace also conducted interviews with their cast online, whilst earlier in the day on ITV1 Christopher Biggins and a host of other panto stars joined This Morning‘s panto fun, complete with Big Fat Panto Quiz.

At 7.00pm John Barrowman and Priscilla Presley joined Matt Baker and Alex Jones on the One Show sofa to talk about their pantomimes in Glasgow and Wimbledon and throughout the day BBC Local Radio Stations Newcastle, London, Suffolk and Nottingham invited panto guests onto their shows to talk about the genre and its enduring appeal. In the evening Panto Day even enjoyed a surprise mention from Jeremy Paxman on BBC Two’s Newsnight!

Wednesday 5th December saw the launch of the Panto Advice Page with Panto Dames, Comics, writers and directors contributing articles whilst on Twitter ‘#panto’ tweets reached over 1.2 million people. When combined with ‘#pantoday’ tweets, the global twitter Panto Day audience peaked at 1,579,267 users with #panto trending for many with ‘tailored trend’ settings.

Theatres used the day to celebrate their pantos past and present, with many also revealing their titles for 2013.

Panto Day Co-ordinator Simon Sladen said:

“The whole of Pantoland came together on Panto Day to celebrate this glorious art form. Using social media, panto passion was shared throughout the land, with theatres and companies entering into the spirit of things; the results of which can be seen and enjoyed on celebratepanto.co.uk and facebook.com/pantoday2012. Wednesday 5th December was well and truly alive with Panto Day buzz and I’d like to thank everyone who participated and made the day such a great success. With Panto Day 2012 ‘behind us’, here’s to 2013!”

8th  December 2012 - The Public Dress Rehearsal

Today’s adventure was a note session followed by a full Dress Rehearsal in the afternoon. This rehearsal was not an open one, but it was full make-up, and treated as if it were a show. This gave us a second timing on the two acts as well. As always, I found this an exhausting experience, and I’m pretty certain Dresser Fiona did too! It was not as frantic as yesterday, as we both had an idea of how long we had to change today, but I was a soggy mess by the end!

Funny to think in a matter of a day or two I’ll be standing around in my costume, acres of time to spare, not a bead of sweat wondering what the fuss was all about. Everyone looked splendid in full costume and make up- how healthy we all look! You’d swear we’d seen fresh air and daylight recently!

Had a chance to relax between this run and the public run. Peter, the gentleman who runs Dudley Zoo (home of my friend Tallullah The Tapir of course) paid for all the seats and gave them away to various organisations. Schools, Scouts, Beavers and Brownies and the like! How about that? It looked like about 900 seats, it might have been more.

7.15pm we went up to a huge roar, and with heightened and sharpened senses (a few snips and cuts to watch out for during the action) we got our first taste of audience reaction. Goodness me, they reacted! Mostly children they went for it hook line and sinker. Sherrie was drowned in boosas she berated the citizens of “Wol-Ver-Hampton, a dreary backwater!” and her Joyce Temple Savage persona had just the right balance of villainy and comedy!

Keith, Orville and Cuddles got huge responses, and though I say it myself, the rest of us got a pretty good response too- Ken, Niki, Ben, Sophie, Paul the Giant and myself got great reactions, and the ensemble were a blur, changing from Courtiers to Cows, Guards to Butterflies and back again!

We open Today (Saturday) with a proper full house matinee! That’s it now- no passing go until sometime in late January!

9th  December 2012 - The Opening Show

We’re off and running. And I do mean running. I don’t think I’ve done a panto where I’ve literally not sat down during Act One before, and a very short (maybe four minutes) break in Act Two. It’s good though, as the energy and pace is maintained. I don’t even get a chance to have a cuppa in the interval- by the time I’ve disrobed in the quick change room, plodded upstairs, put the kettle on and changed into Act Two opening, it is time to get downstairs and straddle my mobility scooter!

I’ve taken to making a flask of tea which I take down t’pit on my way to work in the sequin mines! I get to sip my tea in the one moment of relaxation, listening to three grown men being TellyTubbies from the Quick Change room in the wing!

We had a few trimming notes this morning, then went to get ready for the first matinee. Like every year, I find myself listening to the total silence that comes from the dressing rooms. Later there will be chatter, banter, radios and TV’s as people prepare, but before this very special FIRST show, you can almost feel the concentration.

Matinee opening show flew by- another soggy show! After Tuesday there won’t be a bead of sweat on my forehead, but for now, its still fast fast change and on. Thank goodness for Fiona dressing me in our secure quick change- everything is laid out as I fly in, and set up again as I fly onstage!

The audienced cheered, yelled, screamed and boo-ed in all the right places, and we lost about four minutes on the run with our snips and cuts.

A quick nap between shows, wrapped in my furry rug lying on the floor of my dressing room- lying on my back (doubtless snoring my head off) so I don’t dislodge make-up and eyelashes, and then it was time for the Second 7.15pm show. Delighted to see Andrew Ryan who has come up from his rehearsals for Birmingham this afternoon to see the show, and now moves into the Hippodrome on Monday. They open in a week.

I’ve fallen off the planet this fortnight- no time to send greetings to mates who have opened, not a card written, but now I can catch up on the rest of pasntoland. Britt has opened in Windsor, Damian at Sheffield, Nathan Daniel at Newcastle with Chris Hayward- I think Ceri has opened in Cardiff- I can find out all about everyone else now we’ve started the twice daily routine.

Peter Cutchie and The Friends of The Grand Theatre invited all of us to a party to celebrate the opening. Had a chance to chat to Gordon who heads the thirty year old “Friends Of The Theatre”. He saw his first panto here in 1948! I’ve told him I’ll be interviewing him for IBY during the run!

Note to my favourite Dame, Freddie Lees (I know he’ll be reading the blog). Freddie did his debut Dame here at the Grand for Humphrey Stanley and the stories will be featured in a “Spotlight On Freddie Lees” to come shortly. Freddie- The Theatre has a sound recording in their archive of Humphrey Stanley telling the tale of your real live Lions here at The Grand! I’ll secure you a copy!

Good luck to Ian Parsons and the Swansea Grand Theatre exhibition of 100 years of Swansea Pantomimes. I SO wish I could see it! My Brother Vivyan will be making the trip this week.

Right- time for today’s two shows at 2pm and 6pm then a day off!

11th  December 2012 - Sunday and Monday

Sunday’s shows are the earlier ones- at 2pm and 6pm, meaning we finish earlier, and everyone will be heading for the open road and visits to home in many cases.

Had a visit from Michael Harrison and Kathryn Rooney. Michael, as head of Qdos Pantomimes will be calling in on nearly all the pantomimes this year. In addition he’s producing and directing Newcastle, which opened to great notices last week, and Birmingham which is in its “tech” week at The Hippodrome.

In addition Michael has co-produced the Brand New Blockbuster West End Musical “The Bodyguard” which had its press night and official opening at London’s Adelphi Theatre last week. Pretty busy huh?

Kathryn is appearing as Polly Perkins at the Hippodrome, alongside Brian Conley, Lesley Joseph and Andrew Ryan as Mrs Crusoe. I’ll be visiting Birmingham each week, so I’ll be able to say hello to old mates and new friends during the next six weeks.

We bade farewell to our Director Andrew today. He has now started rehearsals for Southampton where he is co-directing, and will be back to see us on the 22nd December I believe. So now we’re on our own!

Michael and Kathryn enjoyed the show, and a mere heartbeat later I was sitting in the Green Room of the Birmingham Hippodrome with them both in a break from their rehearsal on Monday. The get-in was happening on stage, and I can see on the monitors how huge the scenery is- very impressive. Passing wardrobe I ran into Tony Priestly, supervisor, and marvelled at the acres of yellow plumes and headdresses that make up the “Inca” costumes- Vegas eat your heart out!

Lovely to meet up with Brian Conley, looking fit and well after having had a break after “The Jungle”- It seems only yesterday we were doing “Cinderella” together- I think we did seven years on the show, and finished nearly four years ago at Nottingham.

Really enjoyed my day off in Britain’s Second City- The Bullring, The fabulous Christmas Market from Germany that is set up in Victoria Square- this is the place to do that Christmas Shopping I tell you!

I read reviews for David & Martin, the Nottingham Sisters- well deserved chaps! Nice press there I must say!

Also ran into Lovely Lesley (Joseph) and caught up on some of her news, and Martin Hinkins who will be running the corner for the Hippodrome Panto Season. It has a nice “buzz” to it, the Hippodrome, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it once our run finishes on January 20th.

For now, I’m back in Wolverhampton, and about to go in and do today’s two shows. Reports as and when things happen, and I’m hoping to add interviews with various stars and with the backstage crew as we go through the run! Hopefully I’ll find enough going on to do daily blogs as usual!

12th December 2012 - Press Night

Tonight was press night- had quite a large turn-out according to the Theatre Chief Exec, Peter Cutchie. The show went very well, and very fast. Lots of laughs and a good mix of children and adults to perk things up.

My faux Pas of the evening involved the old Two legs down one knicker problem! I somehow managed to shove both my legs into the one “leg” of the bird costume I wear in Act Two! I had no idea until I hopped on stage and thought “Hello! Not hopping far tonight!” I kept my wings firmly to my side- so no, I actually DIDN’T get in a flap!- as there was a hole where the other leg should have been. Poor soul- can’t even dress himself now!

When we did the Panto Roadshow here a few weeks ago, we publicised a competition. The children had to submit a drawing of a Mural for the Circle Foyer of the Grand, based on Jack & The Beanstalk. I met the joint winners last night- and their entries have been transferred to the theatre wall by a professional artist! They were both very excited and got 100 tickets each for their school to see the panto, and a year’s supply of free tickets to visit the Grand ! Here’s Louise from Education sorting through the something like 700 entries!

A few pictures here courtesy of the Grand Theatre’s Facebook Page!

The reviews to follow later on today- but in the meantime I’m off to the Theatre for two shows today!

13th December 2012 - The Review

Full to the rafters matinee, packed with schools! That certainly raises the roof when Sherrie asks them to Boo louder!

The Local paper has brought the review out, and I think it rather likes us! Hoorah! Here is today’s “Express and Star” page twelve:

Well, this year’s Grand Theatre production of Jack and the Beanstalk has all of the above in spades.

 In fact it’s got plenty more besides, with some exemplary performances from Sherrie Hewson, Ken Morley and Keith Harris and co elevating its status from good to great.

 A delighted audience braved one British tradition  seasonably cold weather  and were welcomed into the warmth of the Grand for something perhaps even more quintessentially British  a stonking panto.

The theatre has rightly accrued an excellent reputation for its annual spectacular and the historical setting was perfect for a show which more than paid homage to the panto institution.

Ticket sales are up two per cent on last year and families will certainly get their money’s worth over the coming weeks.

Other theatres may boast more “A-list” stars but the dynamics of the Jack and the Beanstalk cast was what made this such a riot.

Hewson, best known for her risque antics on daytime chatty rant Loose Women and her role in ITV’s Benidorm, led from the front with a typically off-beat performance.

She revelled in playing the evil Lady Temple-Savage but her natural and nimble charm shone throughout.

The former Coronation Street star, who, looks stunning at 62, also showed off her comedic talents with a couple of delightful turns as a Swedish maid and a 1960s hippy.

When the cast was unveiled a few months back it was the reunion of Hewson and Morley, aka the Street’s Maureen Naylor and Reg Holdsworth, that was the main attraction and despite their Corrie heyday approaching 20 years ago they showed the old chemistry was very much still alive.

The pair performed an adorable musical skit and the only disappointment was there weren’t any more scenes with just the two of them. But this is the panto that leaves you wanting more. At just over two hours it didn’t feel overly long in the slightest.

Talking of wanting more, you can just never get enough Keith Harris and Orville in your life and they were the undoubted star turns.

Believe it or not, it’s a 30-year-old routine now and Harris has certainly honed and perfected it over the decades. He moves seamlessly from enchanting the kids to tickling the folks’ funny bones with simple, honest good-natured humour.

That little green duck must be the saddest puppet on the planet but for some reason he’s also one of the most lovable and his scenes were unquestionably the most popular. He also got the biggest cheer at the end.  Closely followed, that is, by seasoned panto performer Nigel Ellacott, who played Dame Trot.

If you want more innuendo than you can shake a stick at, or simply a dress disguised as a deck chair or another frock with a pelmet containing a full-blown tea party (this has to be seen to be believed) then the Dame delivered.

Her ongoing love interest with audience member Jeff was a regular source of amusement. And the Dame also took away the prize for best song, an uproarious and distinctly Black Country take on Barry Manilow’s Copacabana (altogether now sing, “at the market, at Bilston Market”).

Local lass Niki Evans provided the majority of the musical highlights with a graceful performance as Fairy Fortune while the cheeky Ben James-Ellis was excellent as Jack, as, too, was Sophie Brooke-Ford as the woman he wooed, Princess Apricot.

A word, too, for Day-Zee the Cow, a quite remarkably well co-ordinated Friesian that displayed dance moves most of us can only dream of pulling off during a night out.

They even managed to just about get away with a Giant Blunderbore, no doubt painfully constructed for one scene only and who must have stood at least 10ft high.

Great cast, great music, great comedy, great crowd, great theatre, great panto.

Catch it while you can. Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Grand until January 20.”

The matinee was taken up with photographer Sally Mais- and very jolly time it was too- Sally is doing a project for National Press on “The Twelve Dames Of Christmas”- and I guess I’m one of the twelve! I wonder which calendar girl I am? She has already photographed Kenneth Alan Taylor, Graham Hoadley, and will be going to see Chris Hayward tomorrow in Newcastle. She took hundreds of shots and I think it ends up as just two pictures of each “subject”. Deeply honoured!

Our Evening show was a cracker too- again 1,400 (I think?) all having a really good time. My driving skills (on the madge mobile) were atrocious this afternoon. I managed to bump into clouds (yes they are actually made of wood!) and park badly, so I spent half an hour careering around the set and parked in a manner that Jeremy Clarkson would be proud of!

We had a Panto cast in tonight in the circle tonight- The cast of “Cinderella” at The Oakengates in Telford. Lovely to briefly see them afterwards before dashing.

14th December 2012 - The Birthday Girl

Had the luxury of a lie-in this morning, followed by a ramble around the designer shops of Wolverhampton.. Primarko and Armani- “Salvation Armani” being the most popular! I spent a good while looking for a festive “Onesey” in Primark, but since Ben- our Jack wears one in the show, they have sold out! He is that fashion icon on stage obviously. Not a onesey to be had!

Arrived to find Niki Evan’s dressing room bedecked with balloons, banners, buckets of red roses and champagne- she is indeed today’s birthday girl! Her 40th no less- how good to spend it working and doing what you love eh? No time to celebrate though, as we had the usual two shows. The matinee packed to the rafters with school parties, and then the evening- a particularly jolly crowd I thought!

It was this evening I had one of those “oh dear” moments- when the brain decides to close down for a few seconds. As Keith Harris enters my dairy I am supposed to say “hello Keith, Where’s Orville..”quite simpler you’d think eh? He has no furry green duck on his arm.. I have had the script a while. Oh no. I glide towards him and ask in full delivery- “hello. Where’s Keith?”

He looks at me. “I’m Keith”.. “I’m here”. The audience fall about. I blush to my roots- well to the roots of my wig. One of those little moments in panto!

On the plus side my parking has improved. I’ve not demolished a cloud in three shows so far, and am getting very cocky in the Madge Mobile!

Between shows Keith and I went front of house to say hello to the Elmhurst Ballet School, based in Birrmingham at the BRB. They were here with (Dr) Sue Barbour, who began her stage career with her famous family as a Stilt and Puppeteering act- I saw Sue perform a stilt “Giant” speciality at the Swansea Grand Theatre, and again at the London Palladium. She recently got her Doctorate and is publishing on pantomime. How lovely to see her after all these many years! Here is a picture of us in the circle bar!

We had a few online reviews published today. Here they are:

Birmingham Mail Online:

Trust a cheeky monkey to thrill hundreds of children in the audience and provide a cracking finale to this happy pantomime.

Cuddles the chimp may be No. 2 in the pecking order to that daffy duck Orville, but his late appearance after the demise of the huge and nasty Giant Blunderbore ignites youngsters who are no doubt well past their bedtime.

Operated, of course, by the legendary Keith Harris, Cuddles has the kids – and mums and dads – howling with laughter at his rather rude antics.

Ventriloquist Harris has been around a long time, but his act is as fresh and funny as ever and certainly the highlight of this enjoyable, if slow starting, panto.

Loose Women star Sherrie Hewson plays Lady Temple-Savage, the giant’s glamorous henchwoman, Nigel Ellacott is a very amusing Dame Trot and Niki Evans plays Fairy Fortune. A special mention for Day-Zee the panto cow with a realistic moo and an ability to deliver milk – by the bottle.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs to January 20.

 

Stourbridge News:

WHEN a green duck and a monkey puppet can leave young children and grown men rolling in the aisles with laughter, you know panto season has well and truly arrived.

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre’s festive heart-warming offering of Jack and the Beanstalk is the perfect tonic for a chilly winter’s night.

Headed by Sherrie Hewson, Ken Morley and the legendary Keith Harris, the panto is laugh out loud fun from the off.

Although undoubtedly the stars of the show are loveable puppets Orville the Duck and Cuddles the monkey, an act which ventriloquist Harris has honed to perfection over his 30-year career, with his scenes leaving the entire audience shrieking with laughter.

Sherrie Hewson hams its up fabulously as the panto baddie, Lady Joyce Temple-Savage, the terrifying giant’s right-hand woman and it was great to see her reunited with former on-screen Corrie husband, Ken Morley as King Crumble, albeit for one musical number, which included quips to their infamous waterbed scene.

Nigel Ellacott takes the role of Dame Trot and it was clear to see why he is one of the country’s top panto dame performers, as he sashayed his way through the show in a variety of outrageous outfits, including one which cleverly revealed his affections for an unsuspecting audience.

Returning Tamworth X-Factor star, Niki Evans and Any Dream Will Do contestant, Ben James-Ellis, provide the majority of the musical numbers in their roles of Fairy Fortune and hero Jack Trott while Sophie Brooke-Ford portrays a sweet Princess Apricot as Jack’s love-interest.

And complete with a moving and speaking 10ft ogre and a magical growing beanstalk, what more could you want? The show runs until January 20.”

Evening show over we cracked open a few bottles of bubbly and celebrated Niki’s birthday afterwards, joined by The Head of Qdos Nick Thomas and agent to the stars, Phil Dale in the dressing room. A very jolly evening- and the first of at least three birthdays to be seen during this run. Ben is next, followed by Ken!

15th December 2012 - The Evacuation

What a surprising day at Panto Towers! The day started for the Ensemble quite early, as they had their first full “Understudy” rehearsal. For the uninitiated, this means the ensemble have been picked to cover certain of the principal turns in the panto. Lucian is covering Keith (but most likely NOT Orville!), Matt is covering me (we’re so similar you’d not tell the difference, give or take a few years!) Bob is covering Ben, and so on. This was a call for them to sort out the unthinkable which must be thought.

Generally in cases of illness panto folk persevere- but there are times when illness or injury can prevent an artiste from appearing. It is always severe. No-one likes being “off”, but we can compromise. Voices are precious in a winter-time when colds and sore throats abound, and cutting back on this song or shortening that routine can help save voices and performers. Understudy calls are essential and also good on the future CV.

It was raining- it rained heavily all day without let-up. I kept abreast of the rehearsals at Britain’s biggest Panto- The Hippodrome in Birmingham during the day. It really does sound rather fabulous, and I can’t wait to see it as soon as we finish our run. It opens tomorrow- Big Best Wishes to Andrew, Brian, Kathryn and Lesley for tomorrow matinee!

Keith has a sore throat- a condition made worse when you consider he is the voice of three characters- Keith, Orville and Cuddles. By very merit of occupation, a sore throat is very distressing to a Ventriloquist as much as it is to a singer. He is a trouper of the old school is Keith, and battles on, with the result that you would have no idea he was suffering. I’ve experienced this through my years of being lucky enough to work with puppeteers and “vent Acts”- starting with Ken Wood, then Ward Allan and Roger The Dog, Bob Carolgees and Spit The Dog and of course Dawson Chance, currently wow-ing them at Swansea Grand Theatre.

Talking of Swansea Grand- If I were not upon this stage I would be in my home town celebrating the exhibition of “100 Years Of Pantomime” set up by Ian Parsons and Qdos. Instead my brother Vivyan attended. He was House manager here as was Peter Sandeman- it was lovely to speak to Peter the other day, and here he is in a photograph from the event. The exhibition runs throughout the panto and there is a brochure to accompany it.

Here’s a picture of Vivyan with Matt Cole, this year’s choreographer at Swansea. The lovely Matt was with me last year in Llandudno!

Now.. the afternoon show. Heard the old adage- “The Show Must Go On?” well it did. At the very beginning of our first day here at the Grand Theatre our company manager Nicola gave us all a very firm grounding in the house safety rules. We took it all in. If the alarm sounds and there is a recorded voice- then whatever the reason, be it drill or not, you comply. Immidiately.

During Act Two the backstage lights automatically went to full up, as did house lights. The recorded voice told us to evacuate, and indeed we did. Front of house, audience and cast- in a hugely impressive well ordered and efficient manner. Hats off to the backstage resident team and the amazingly well trained Ushers and Usherettes. The entire house of 1,100 people evacuated the theatre in no time at all- and with great calm and co-ordination.

The fact that the audience ended up in the street in the pouring rain along with three gentlemen dressed as Tellytubbies- namely Ben, Ken and Keith only added to their enjoyment. Dame Trott looked like Marley’s Ghost in a white hooded dressing gown, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. We chatted as we tried to find shelter and were counted for the rostra.

The sight of an entire panto cast of villages, tellytubbies, Fairies and Heroes along with their audience lining the street of a rainswept Wolverhampton is quite unforgettable. I was fortunate I had disrobed as the voice (why WAS it an australian recorded voice?) told us to leave in an orderly fashion- otherwise a very large red breasted bird would have joined the throng!

A short while later we were re-admitted- the alarm was a glitch, but it proved that everything that should be in place was in place, and after a short break we re-commenced where we left off.

Here are a few of the Crew and Wardrobe !

Not since The Birmingham Hippo evacuation when the Fairy Godmother (Judy Cornwell) and her Elves took over the Slug & Lettuce  have I seen such exemplary behaviour! Well done The Grand FOH and Backstage team. The show DID go on. We dripped a bit but we carried on regardless!

The Evening show packed to the rafters as the matinee was, with the company off for a Curry after the show. Here’s to tomorrow. May it be a tad more routine!

19th December 2012

Back from a day off, and very jolly it was too. I got to Birmingham on Sunday Night in time to say hello to the Hippodrome Company in the bar- They have now opened and have their press night tonight! Many of the top papers there, including Mail On Sunday and Observer- keep an eye out for those reviews!

My visitor on Sunday was Jack Watters- Jack is a pantomime aficinado with a knowledge of Matcham Theatres that belies belief. He has been to pantomimes since his childhood in Scotland, and today, for example managed the matinee at Birmingham Hippodrome and then the evening here at Wolverhampton! He has a few more lined up to see, including Richmond and “Aladdin” at the O2. Not bad considering he returns to work in America in January!

Today between shows the Ensemble had their vocal call. This involves singing through the show’s tunes with David the MD,, the session very informally held in the front Stalls next to the pit. This means that Bob for example can try out the songs belonging to Jack, and Matt, who covers me doing the two numbers I have been involved in.

Keith’s voice is better – helped by the day off too- and Cuddles the Monkey was in great form this evening. The show was cracking fun, and sped by. My visitors this evening were Michael And Dave, mine hosts from the “Can-Y-Bae” in Llandudno. Readers of last year’s Dame’s Diary will recall that they looked after me superbly at their lovely seafront establishment for the run. It was so lovely to see them here and have time to have a drink with them and Sherrie after the show. I am in contact with John Evans on an almost daily basis- he’s giving his Mr Smee in Llandudno with Barney and Michael Howe and obviously having a fantastic time.

A big thank you to Keith for providing the Its-behind-you archive with another treasure. He very kindly presented me with a beautiful framed collection of the Post Office Pantomime Stamps, issued back in the late 1980’s featuring a Principal Boy, A Cat, A Genie, A Dame and a Fairy Godmother. This will most definitely take pride of place on a wall!

The Twelve Dames Of Christmas!

A few links. I was hugely honoured to be asked to be one of photographer Sally Mais’s Dames for her photographic project- Twelve Dames In Twelve Days in the lead up to Christmas. Her superb backstage photographs, including some of us Dames can be seen on  12dames.com/the-blog/ and some variants on http://www.12dames.com/

Included in the portraits of dames in situ are Ian Lauchlan at Coventry, Kenneth Alan Taylor at Nottingham Playhouse, Steve Elias at Hackney Empire, Phylip Harries at Theatr Clwyd Mold , Leon Craig at Oxford, with more to follow. The photographs are stunning, and Ex Actress Sally has captured the genre beautifully. I am indeed very grateful to be included in this work- Thank you Sally!

Another link well worth visiting is featuring the Thursday evening BBC presentation of Michael Grade’s History Of The Pantomime Dame.

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p012k7td

Directed and produced by Michael Burke, this two hour programme goes out on BBC4 at 9pm on December 20th. In the documentary Michael Grade explores what has made the panto dame an enduring feature of British life. Veteran Dame Berwick Kaler discusses the art of the Panto Dame at the Theatre Royal York.

I spent several hours discussing background and historical detail with Michael Burke for inclusion in this programme, using information from its-behind-you as reference material. I’ll have to watch it on Catch-Up as like most Dames in the UK I might be a tad busy when it is broadcast!

So- tomorrow another two shows- and again on Thursday, then surprisingly we have Friday off! The reason is that schools all over the UK break up that day, and it is not the ideal day for shows- after that it is full steam ahead until the latter part of January!

I plan to look at the archive of the Grand Wolverhampton and report back with pictures, and several projects abound for this blog- one of the crew will do a day’s blog, as will stage management and wardrobe I hope- I’d like to ask one of the Juveniles from The Classic Academy to do a “Day In The Life Of” a panto juvenile, and photograph people in their dressing rooms- looking at the different ways we all make these tiny rooms our home for almost two months. Plenty more to come and reports on the shows as they happen!

20th December 2012

Still packed to the rafters in this beautiful auditorium. It’s a great “house” to play, as the shape of the circles- Dress and Grand make for an intimate feel. Some theatres, especially modern ones with stadium seating feel distant. This place, like Swansea Grand- a very similar auditorium, feels like the audience is up close and personal!

Today’s events- Wednesday that is- The Official Opening of the Gents Lavatory by Miss Hewson. A good few years back Peter Robbins and I decorated the Lavatory at Darlington Civic. This time I’ve tried to bring a festive but understated look to the gents first floor loo. It is already decorated in what I think you call Teal, so getting matching decals for windows and doors from the designer shop “Poundland” wasn’t easy! We now have minature lit up trees on each cistern, battery operated candles, tinsel (naturally) and an array of fragrant products to suit the modern man. We were deeply honoured that Miss Hewson came the vast distance up the stairs to cut the ribbon. An event witnessed by Mr Morley, Miss Candlish, Neil and myself!

The Telegraph featured the “Twelve Dames Of Christmas” article, showcasing Sally Mais photographs of Dames backstage in various theatres. I noticed a new one has been added of Chris Hayward in Newcastle, and some new ones I’ve not seen of Graham Hoadley in Twankey Costume. The link to the newspaper online is: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/9756313/The-12-Dames-of-Christmas-panto-performers-photographed-by-Sally-Mais.html?frame=2432440

 Between Shows Paul, who carries the huge weight of Giant Blunderbore on his shoulders, offered to show a few of us a keep fit regime. Dame Trott is, of course, as slim as a pin, but there is the odd frock that can feel a tad tight sometimes- so I’m hoping Paul’s coaching will sort that out. Joined by Fiona and Niki, we did what I think is called “Circuits” followed by scrunchies or something like that- whatever it was it involved lying onstage in ungainly positions while the usherettes looked on bemused from the stalls! Niki is already a fitness follower- I can honestly say I have never seen high speed skipping like that- she does about eight minutes non stop a day. Paul, ex acroloon and trainer must have wondered what he’s started- Fiona and I being novices at the scrunchies. The rake on the stage didn’t help either- it makes a sit up a marathon event.

During the interval of the second show we got a double helping of Sherrie Trifle. Sherrie was on the television in her “Come Dine With Me” from a few years ago, doing untold damage to an oven ready turkey in a kitchen that looked like the Cairoli family were using it for a slosh routine. It is a very funny episode, involving Hannah Waterman and David Guest! So there she was in Panto costume watching herself in the break. Funny old world, isn’t it?

We extended our after show club of two at the hotel to eight- joined by Si and Bek, Neil, Paul, Nicola and Ken. Had a very jolly evening with a glass of wine. Two shows tomorrow and then the additional day off on Friday! More Christmas Shopping in the Bullring!

22nd December 2012

Ben’s Birthday!

After a day off, we returned to the Grand for two packed shows, and the added bonus of Ben’s Birthday Bash. Our hero Jack is Twenty-Four today. Dame Trott’s lad celebrated with Daisy The Cow and chums after the second show at a local venue that laid on a room at the top with hot and cold running buffet and fire-eaters!

I’m not sure why there were fire-eaters, but I think they do a regular spot in the nightclub. Those of us with a fondness for hairspray kept very far back during the display! Thanks for a great party Ben- it was a really nice evening when we all got together socially- more to follow in the new year.

I’m searching for a copy of the picture we all had in the local “Express & Star” today- a really impressive two page centre spread of “Who is Who” in the Panto. A picture of cast, crew, front of house, management, marketing and everyone involved in the Grand Theatre this panto season, along with a list of names. It won’t scan very well, so as soon as I have the photo I’ll add it to this Dame’s Diary.

Here’s a pic of Griff, the Resident Technical Manager, Nicola and Vicky Price from the Marketing Department.

Delighted to get a mail from Freddie Lees telling me that its-behind-you.com came up as a question on TV’s quiz programme “The Chase” yesterday! How about that? Along the lines of “What form of theatre is associated with the website…” Simon and I are well chuffed!

It is so hot backstage! I think the weather has turned very mild here (helped by continuous rain) and maybe the heating is on full- but it is a very warm experience backstage. I feel it most when I am onstage singing “Milking The Day Away” wearing three quarters of my strip costumes under a thick checked coat and wig. However, Dancing Daisy The Cow must feel it even more. At one point one Dame and two parts of a cow- Oliver and Lucien today, were standing outside the scene dock in the open air cooling off between entrances. Semi Tropical is a word I’d give it!

Had a mild misfunction of the microphone tonight. I think I dislodged something whilst doing my strip (as you do) and it became flatulent microphone. The sort that makes rude noises as you walk. I confessed to the full house that I’d had baked bean and Sprout Curry, and used a hand mike for the rest of the scene. Soon as I exited Frank and John rushed around a new one. How’s that for service?

Confession. An iconic moment in panto and what do I do? I get my furds wuddled.Jack has sold Daisy. I open the bag that Jack has given me in delight. I peer inside. I scream. “Jack!”. I move centre stage. “This isn’t a bag of Beans.. It’s a bag of… OH!!”

I’m still blushing! Thankfully the audience fell about laughing and we rapidly repeated the excercise with me getting it right this time!

Here are a few pics from Panto Day and The Grand’s Blog:

Right- I’m off to do two shows now- earlier ones today (Sunday) at 2pm and 6pm. Only two more sleeps to Father Christmas!

24th December 2012 - Christmas Eve

A Very Merry Christmas from all of us at the Grand!

Have a wonderful Day!

Photograph: Express & Star

26th December 2012 - Boxing Day

Returning after Christmas- that sounds like we’ve been away on long holidays when, of course, along with every panto in the country, we’ve had the one day off! Some have travelled long distances, and others, like me, were just a few miles down the road.

The Boxing Day Matinee can be notorious as a hard house to play. Audiences stuffed with Turkey dinners and a little too much booze can be hard to win over! Our matinee were very perky and the evening the same.Traditionally of course this was the day when all pantomimes opened- then ran through until mid February.

That thought made it all the more sad to learn that one panto- The Echo Arena panto in a Big Top in Liverpool has closed. It cancelled several performances before finally calling it a day on Christmas Eve. How terribly sad for the performers and crew (as well as the audiences booked) that this has happened.Our thoughts go out to all those panto folk today.

Here in The Grand we had something that is now more or less a tradition around the UK. The Panto Picnic between shows! You all bring something- be it left over turkey and mince pies, or food you’ve got from M&S and put it with all the other offerings on a table on stage!

Nicola organised the whole event, and it was a lovely hour spent on stage- without having to sing, dance or remember lines! Santa made his appearance, looking curiously like Paul Rivers our Giant, riding not a sleigh but a mobility scooter. Funny that! Towing a Dame’s wicker skip laden with “secret Santa” gifts for all the good boys and girls in the company!

I’d offered my services up as lounge pianist for the dining experience, giving our resident MD a rest- he and his gentlemen of the orchestra joined cast and crew on the village green so to speak.

Keith had his family in to watch the show, and it was lovely to meet up with them once again, then after a swift clear away the stage returned to preset for the opening of Act One.

I think I’ve become too cocky with my driving skills. I notched up the speed of the mobility scooter from snail to mildly brisk this evening, and consequently crashed into three clouds while reversing during the show.Must try better.. or else Churchill and Gio will be called for!

The Twelve Dames Of Christmas feature online has been completed, with Chris Biggins the last Dame to be added. Sally Mais Blog in completion can be found on 12dames.com/the-blog/

There are a lot of stunning Dame Pics on this site!

Ben’s Birthday day before yesterday and Paul’s birthday tomorrow. We celebrated, Miss Hewson, Paul and I back at the hotel with a pre birthday drink. Apparently the world went mad in the sales today- we missed it all in our fairytale setting of two shows. Might venture to the odd shop later this week, but keeping away from cold bearing crowds of people seems the best thing at the moment. Lots of sleep, lots of food and our celebrity Fat Club starts again tomorrow. Exercising between shows resumes then.

Hope everyone in pantoland had a great day off, and for many this will be the first full twelve show week- one of the very busiest of the run. Packed houses everywhere I hope!

28th December 2012

Thursday brought two packed houses.The streets of Wolverhampton are busy, but nothing I imagine like the streets of Birmingham, or the Arndale Centre, Bluewater and lakeside! The sales make getting a cup of coffee or a meal nigh impossible! In search of something warming- and a change from sandwiches, which we survive on between shows, I ordered a bowl of soup in a café. Forty minutes later I abandoned it! I found a take-away offering soup.

“Do you have any soup?” “I’ll go and look”. The lady returned. “Yes”.

“ Can I have some please”. “I’ve only been here a month. I don’t know how to do it”.

Exit mumbling under breath. Yes, I got another sandwich! It’s all glamour here in the wonderful world of show-biz!

Between shows we restarted “Fat Club”, or Keep Fit regime instigated by Paul. It is his birthday today, and you’d think he’d be kind, but no. We were boot camped into a complaining collective, but all agreed we needed the work-out. While we did sit ups and push ups – never easy in lashes- some of the crew practiced stilt walking skills, with Crew Bob getting the hang of walking in the Giant’s enormous boots, helped by Alex. It is a bit like moonwalking, as you have to lift the stilt boot quite high to take each step.

Both shows were very jolly. The show speeds past- I only have one short break in the whole of act one and two when I am not changing, and that is a few minutes in the quick change with my thermos of tea. Yes, I told you it was glamour all the way! Sometimes Daisy the Cow and I can be found in the alley which is just the other side of the door to the Quick Change, cooling off in the evening air. It is very mild still, and the backstage gets very warm by second show. Apparently I will be getting a fan tomorrow. This could involve someone waiting at Stage Door with an autograph book, but I think they mean the electric variety!

To celebrate Paul the Giant’s Birthday, a gang of us went to an Italian Restaurant after the show and had a very lovely evening. Such a change to eat hot food for once! The restaurant owner was delightful and kept plying us with bottles of wine- he told us he had fond memories of Messers Biggins And Zerdin dining there often when they did panto. Chris knows a good restaurant when he sees one!

Well, its Friday, and the houses are packed as ever. Can’t get over how intimate it feels- you can reach out to these lovely Victorian Auditoriums, they bring the audience so close to you, as compared to modern theatres. When I’m doing my feeble exercises between shows I find myself not excercising, but using it as an excuse to look at the ornate plasterwork, the carving and gilding in the proscenium and on the ceiling. This one I believe was designed by Phipps, and seems to have an agricultural theme- no goddesses or cherubs, but lots of what looks like wheat sheaves, open pods and pastoral designs. Maybe I should be concentrating more on push ups and sit ups!

Niki did today’s keep fit session- it involved a lot of fast skipping, so i kept out of this. I don’t need to do anything to my legs- they ache enough in high heels on a raked stage without further duress! Skipping furiously were the wardrobe contingent- Fiona, Bec and Si, together with Nicola, Paul and myself. I was the one lying on the gym mat staring at the architecture.

Half way through the week of twelve shows. Time flies. Hard to believe that this time last year I was packing ready for the Panto to finish on December 30th.If you venture on to the Skype Website (and Skype in the classroom) you should find a great short video showing my mate John Evans from Llandudno as Mr Smee- Skypeing live to Great Ormond Street Hospital, and my good self Skypeing schools in the UK in my guise as Dame Trott! You can also view it on:

http://www.solondon.co.uk/peter-pan-panto-in-llandudno-and-london/

Great news tonight that Vincent Hayes has been awarded the MBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours! Huge congratulations Vincent! The Brick Lane Music Hall and its forthcoming Grown-Ups Pantomime is hugely honoured by this award. A very worthy recognition of all the hard work from Vincent and his team at Silvertown’s Music Hall!

Ended the evening back at the Hotel with a drink with Sherrie, Ben and Paul, putting the world to rights!

31st December 2012 - New Year's Eve

Well, the Panto Lurgie struck at Dame Trott Boys And Girls- The poor soul is now croaking her way through the show. I felt a lessening of volume about two days ago, and since then despite every trick of the trade, it has deepened. Last night I sounded like the love child of Dierdre Barlow and Barry White!

Whilst deeply annoying that you no longer have control over your golden organ, I can count myself lucky that I am not a singer. A Dame could possibly sound this way, but a singer would be at a complete loss. The tricks of the trade employed, apart from the usual Lemsips, and the odd Fisherman’s Friend are:  Nice and horrid.

The “nice” rememdy is a chinese herbal linctus much favoured by the “West End Wendy”- the singers who rely on perfect throats to sail through Wicked, Les Mis and the like. I was first introduced to this remedy by Michelle Potter, currently in Mama Mia- and highly recommended by Louise Dearman, currently in Wicked. It is a thick cherry flavoured liquid you can dilute with hot water and add a spoon of honey. The West End swears by it, and I have a giant bottle.

The second “Nasty” remedy is a horrid tasting vinegar concoction as old as panto I think! It is called Sanderson’s Specific, and you gargle with it before attempting to swallow it. It is very unpleasant but it can provide a bit more volume to get you through a show. I’ve been regularly using both during the past few days, and haven’t noticed a jot of difference! Add to this an occupational hazard- a very stiff neck, brought on by the combination of heavy wigs, raked stage and heels, and poor Trotty is in need of a day off!

Fortunately we have New Year’s Day off, after twelve shows. Looking forward to resting the voice. The neck has been sorted superbly by Paul, who, as a former Acraloon and current acrobat is used to dealing with injuries and sprains. Thank you Mr Rivers for allowing me to look left, right then left again before crossing the road!

The shows are going superbly- even with a voiceless Dame- and packed to the rafters. Getting some lovely feedback on line, including one comment I’ll add to this blog from Ian Carr who saw the show on Friday. Thanks for the lovely words Ian!

We’ve had a few meals recently- so good to have proper food in place of sandwiches. We all joined Sherrie, Ken and Sherrie’s friends, X Factor’s Johnny Robinson and Karl Newton, editor of This Morning and Producer of Loose Women- at the Italian. The company went out afterwards for a boogie and the boring Dame took the path to bed!

We also had a jolly Chinese Meal last night, joined by Paul’s family, Sherrie and my friend Daniel Dawson.

Daniel, as readers of IBY will know, spends the festive season seeing as many pantomimes as he can, and very kindly blogs his experiences, and gives his personal awards at the conclusion of Panto season. To date he has seen Twenty-Two pantomimes this season, and there are more to come! He arrived here in Wolverhampton fresh from Southampton Mayflower, and is seeing the Birmingham Hippodrome tomorrow. It is an epic journey around Pantoland, and it was great to catch up with him last night!

Our Director Andrew Lynford arrived yesterday to see the matinee, and to give a few “tightening up” notes about the show. Pantomimes can “stretch” a little bit, and the Director and Choreographer will make a visit during the run to put it back on to the course if neccessary. It was good to see him, and we’ll be seeing Andrew before the end of the run- hopefully for the last night festivities as well.

Talking of “last Nights”, a few pantomimes around the country ended on Saturday, and some on Sunday. I noted that the Shaw Panto in London has finished, and Llandudno Peter Pan has flown off to Neverland, even if Barney Harwood hasn’t ended his journey. Barney will switch roles and head to Cardiff to stand in for Joe Pasquale on certain pre arranged dates. Joe will be dancing on ice on a few days during the run there.

I’ve missed out on “Fat Club” while I’ve been, in the words of Reg Dixon “Proper Poorly”- I wonder how many readers of this blog will even recognise or remember dear old Reg? That is going back a bit in my history- to when I played Goose in Coventry!

Two shows today, and hoping my voice will hang on in there. Thank goodness for Fiona in the Quick Change room. It is like having Matron in the ward 24/7 as she checks if I’ve taken my medication and helps me change effortlessly and makes sure I have everything I need to hand. Thank you Fiona- You are the wind beneath my wigs!

Happy New Year to everyone in Pantoland. I shall return in 2013 with further adventures, including Blogs from The Babes, From The Crew and wardrobe, and features on our Stella Cast.

Have a good one everybody!

3rd January 2013

Well, the lurgie is finally subsiding, thanks to the nice Doctor and his lovely antibiotics and the odd wee steroid! Voice is back to full power, and I can do the whirling Strip Routine now without clutching the proscenium arch for support at the end! We’ll get there in a day or two. I think I may have passed it on to Niki, but you’d never notice. That powerhouse of a voice is unaltered by the fact that she is streaming with cold. Not even a jot of difference!

New Year’s Eve was spent in the delightful company of the Hippodrome Panto Cast from Robinson Crusoe, and a few of the cast of “Nine To Five” The Musical at the Alexandra Theatre. I arrived around ten o’clock, and met old and new friends from the companies as the evening progressed in a venue near the Theatre. Here’s Michael Harrison, Kathryn Rooney and Paul Bouchier with the lovely Lesley Joseph!

The Conley Clan!

Lovely to catch up with the Conley Clan- Brian, Anne-Marie, Lucy & Amy (so grown up with each passing year), and to talk over good “Cinderella” times with Brian and Anne Marie- it seems like yesterday, and yet it must be four years ago. So much has changed in that time. Lovely to chat to Lesley Joseph, and to Kathryn Rooney and Michael Harrison. Obviously the talk was of things in Pantoland, and I know that we all toasted our dear friend Ian Sandy, who is no longer with us. There has to be be both a memorial show and a part of the Hippodrome bearing his name this year.

Chatted to friends Andrew Ryan and  Martin Hinkins, and had a great evening with a vast buffet. Outside you could hear the fireworks up in the Square heralding in 2013 to the streets of Birmingham. How blessed  am to be doing a long run pantomime with lovely people so near to my mates in Birmingham- Hoorah!

Nigel and Earl R Perkins

Andrew Ryan & Earl

Back in Wolverhampton all’s well. Met up with Tony Courts and Steve- Tony was Stage Manager at the Ilford Kenneth More Theatre for many years. He and Steve filled me in on seeing the 02 panto “Aladdin” with Paul O ‘Grady which they enjoyed very much, and a few pantos they have seen. They are off to the Hippodrome tomorrow.

Andrew Ryan & Lesley

Tony Priestley

The show progresses- I have to admit that being ill I wasnt really aware of anything apart from my own bit. It is a strange job when you can’t even blow your nose when you want to, or sneeze on stage if you can help it! A funny job that means you drip with cold and smile ALL the time! Never mind, we chose it, and I’m not about to complain! This show goes so fast- my eleven or so changes fly by, and we’ve come to the end.

I’ve asked the Juveniles if they would send me some photographs and a blog from their prospective- this should be published very soon. I’m hoping to get front Of House soon and look at the Grand’s vast archive of Pantomime and report back on that with luck. I know this sounds really strange, but.. Since I got here I have NEVER been front of house! I have NEVER passed the front of the theatre- I have no idea if there are photographs. I do not know what is in the foyer! You have two paths- one leads from the Hotel to Backstage, the Other goes past the front of the Grand. I have never strayed off that path! I must do this and take a few photographs!

Sherrie Hewson and I sitting in a Doctor’s waiting room in the outskirts of Wolverhampton. A glamorous sight! Both a little bit poorly, both a little bit tired- we celebrated with a cup of tea in the local department store before heading for the prescription counter at Boots. I tell you, it is a glamorous life here!

Evening spent with Sherrie and Ken attempting to identify a celebrity in Big Brother. Who ARE these people? Claire ok.. Frankie The jockey Ok.. but we are still googling the others!

Right- tomorrow is a day for feeling much better- no more sweating and trying to catch my breath- hello Steroids, Here comes Trotty!The houses are full, the audiences are great- more and more pensioners now- I LOVE that audience!

Patricia Michael, Principal Boy of the ’70’s and ’80’s- a shining example of what a REAL Principal Boy was like- Pat has once again presented the Panto wot I wrote- this year “Cinderella” in Connecticut USA. She’s forwarded me some of the notices. It is fascinating to read the American view of Pantomime. Pat adapted this script, along with Jack Watters to make it more USA friendly- and I’m indebted to her for this, and for taking the art form she excelled at into the American present! Thank you Pat. Loved the reviews!

4th January 2013

Incredibly mild outside, which is lovely for the brief few hours of daylight we see in Pantoland, but the knock on effect is that it is very hot backstage- and those quick changes now require a touch up of make-up between each entrances to stop it from sliding off!

The odd lurgie lurks in these greenhouse conditions- Niki has her now streaming cold, and Sherrie has one- fortunately thanks to the nice tasty pills my chest is much better and the voice is back where it belongs. Up in the Company office Nicola, Posh and Neil have discovered that doughnuts and cake might be the magic talisman that wards off the lurgie.

Imagine a vampire movie, where the room is bedecked with garlic and crosses? They have done the same with industrial sized packs of cake and biscuits. It might just work to ward off the evils..

Houses continue to be large and very vocal- they love a good Boo here!

The Classic Academy Babes have very kindly taken over the blog today. Here it is:

Red Team

A day in the life of a Juvenile Babe at The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Hi, my name’s Megan, I am one of the 16 Juvenile dancers, from Classic Academy of Dance, who Auditioned back in July 2012, to perform in this years pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.

There are two teams, Red team – Megan, Holly, Jude, Sophie, Lauren A, Lauren J, Aimee and Harry. Blue team – Saskia, Evanie, Lara, Tegan, Courtney, Reece, James, Ellie.

We started learning our routines in October, having lessons on Saturday and Sunday’s.  we then had to rehearse every weekend for five weeks before the panto started.

Some of us have performed in pantos before so we knew how hard we had to work to get the routines spot on.  For the babes that had never done panto the first week is always hard as you have to adjust to all the hard work.

During term time we have to attend school everyday before we come to the theatre to perform. Each team have to perform in 36 of the 72 shows, and generally these are done over two full days. The day at the theatre starts at 1pm and we usually finish at 10pm.  It is a very long day and because we have to attend school it can get very tiring.

It is a real honour to be selected by our principal, Miss Lizi, to perform. Miss Lizi, was part of the dance team who actually auditioned 15years ago to win the contract for the dance school, who are based in Willenhall, and they have been providing the Babes ever since.

Blue Team

I have asked the team members how it feels for them to be part of such a wonderful show, this is what some of the team members have to say.

“It’s a wonderful experience, I feel so lucky to be performing on the stage at the Grand Theatre”.

“This experience has inspired me to audition for more roles at the theatre”.

The cast and crew make us all feel so welcome. They are very kind to us. I would recommend any young person who has dreams to perform to follow their dreams and live it.

From all of the babes, we hope to see you in the audience very soon. Thanks you for coming to watch the show.

Megan and the babes.

The local paper ran an article about the wardrobe at the Grand Theatre today, so I add it to the blog. I think the pictures were taken very early on in the run, just before Fiona and I sorted out the Quick Change room in the Stage Right Wing.

The link to the set of pictures can be found here: From The Express & Star.

http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2013/01/04/behind-the-scenes-with-wolverhampton-grand-panto-costume-staff/

January 4, 2013 10:59 am

Behind the scenes with Wolverhampton Grand panto costume staff

He may not be the biggest star in the show – but Nigel Ellacott has the most impressive wardrobe for this year’s pantomime at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre.

Some of the colourful costumes taking centre stage in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Grand Theatre Saeni tries on a table skirt with Bek Palmer, right, and Vicky Price from the Grand’s marketing department

Nigel Ellacott in one of the costumes as Dame Trott

He plays Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk and wears 14 flamboyant costumes which have to be washed and ironed after every show.

Mr Ellacott said: “With 12 costume changes in the space of two hours and 20 minutes, It can sometimes be hard work being a panto dame – the quick changes especially can be tricky, all those layers, sequins, hooks and petticoats.

“In those moments, I rely heavily on the help of my wonderful dresser Fiona who is always on hand to assist a dame in distress. But it’s great fun too and as a ‘glamorous older woman’, you can’t beat the attention.”

Wardrobe supervisor Bek Palmer works behind the scenes to make sure there are no hiccups and each costume change goes off without a hitch.

She said: “Nigel has the most elaborate costumes but Sherrie Hewson’s are pretty impressive too. She has outfits with feather collars and lots of sparkles. She also has to dress up in disguise as a milk maid because she plays the baddie.

“We must have about 50 costumes in total which we have to wash at the end of the night then in the morning we dry and iron them. We spend about two hours each day doing the laundry.

“We’re usually the first in and the last out and if a costume is broken and needs repairing we have to come in extra early to fix it.” The costumes (apart from Nigel’s) are supplied by Qdos Entertainment which will stage 24 pantomimes throughout the season. The company begins preparing and sourcing costumes in January for the end-of-year shows and garments are said to cost thousands. Miss Palmer said: “We have a set of Teletubbies costumes which cost a few thousand so you can imagine how much others might cost.

“When Qdos send us the costumes we have a week of rehearsals where we have to fit each one to the different actors. When they get on stage they might find something too tight, trousers might rip or a snap might break so we have to get everything right for the shows.”

The show stars Sherrie Hewson, Coronation Street’s Ken Morley and Keith Harris and Orville.

6th January 2013

Another very warm day in Pantoland! It is roasting on stage, and there were many visits to the alleyway between entrances to cool off. Dame Trott, Daisy The Cow and some overheated crew could be found there today, savouring the delicious waft of Sizzling Beef from a nearby Cantonese. It is SO hot on stage! The worst moment for me is under dressing the strip, then putting on a thick quilted coat and going on to sing and dance “Milking The Day” away. Forever to be called Sweating the pounds away I think!

Here are some further pictures of that amazing Painted Mural designed by two local children, and one of us together on the day the mural was unveiled!

Had a visit from IBY regulars Ron & Dougie tonight. Lovely to see them both, fresh from Eric Potts and Pudsey The Dog at Woking, and en route to see “Aladdin” At Newcastle where they’ll hopefully meet up with Nathan Daniel and of course Chris Hayward. They enjoyed our show very much, and great to catch up- not having seen them since my Roadshow in Glasgow in November.

Also in tonight was Andrew Lynford- his last visit to a show he must be proud of. We are loving performing it- I can honestly say, despite lurgie and colds and heat, it is a joy to do, and I am not even slightly tired yet after so many weeks- we have two full weeks left and quite honestly, I could do another two on top of that. The show flies by- its a lovely group effort and thanks to Andrew for directing it that way! We got a few drinks in the hotel tonight with him and it was great fun.

With so little time left, there are still a few things I need to do. One is to rehearse a new entrance for my table costume. There is a way to improve it, and even at this late stage I’m keen to work on it- Andrew has some suggestions, and I’ll be running them tomorrow with kind permission of Nicola and MD David Lane.

I’m also hoping to revisit my girlfriend Tallullah in Dudley Zoo before I leave, and am looking at next Monday to revisit Dudley Zoo and spend some quality time with my favourite Tapir!

It is great fun this show- and I’m enjoying the stories and wealth of anecdotes that you get from a cast who have- how shall we say- put quite a few pantos under their belts, and have had an amazing journey or two through the Biz we call “show”. We will never run out of stories!

Right- Two Tomorrow, and each day my voice is stronger, my cough is vanishing and sadly the steroids are decreasing! Oh Happy Pills, I will miss you!

Great reports on the Ilford Kenneth More Theatre “Cinderella” I costumed- I hear it is a cracking show, and very swift moving, and most importantly from my point of view, it looks lovely! Hoorah. It is sad to work on a show all summer and then not ever get to see it! The costumes were on hangers when I left for Wolverhampton, and they’ll be in Dry Clean bags when I return in February! So pleased it is doing so well!

Here is a link to the Newspaper article on my dear dear friend Ian Sandy- I have published it on the main page (thank you Simon for doing that so swiftly) but this has had additional photos added, including pictures of Ian with both Peter Robbins and I, and with Andrew Ryan and Ian at Arts Fest in Birmingham.

http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/tributes-to-ian-sandy-the-gentle-giant-386440#.UObjKdSqr6A.twitter

10th January 2013

An odd day in our twice daily schedule. One show at 11am (in make up at 10.25am) and the second show at 7.15pm! I quite like this arrangement. My years of Panto Roadshows starting at 10am has accustomed me to performing to school children from 10am onwards. This was no exception! The theatre was packed to the rafters with school parties. Three schools I recognised from our recent Panto Roadshow- and also there was a large group of visually impaired folk.

To assist enjoyment of the pantomime Janine has organised a “Touchy Feely” session before each show, so that those with visual difficulties can come up on stage before each performance and experience the feel of the props, the fabrics on the costumes- feathers, sequins and the like, as well as having things like the Giant’s Boots provided so that the scale of Blunderbore can be calculated. It was a lovely session this morning (repeated in the afternoon) chatting to them, and indeed getting to say hello to the several beautiful guide dogs who were on the stage before the 11am show.

Si was wearing my Copacabana costume in the morning, and Bob stood in this evening- with Angela wearing Sherrie’s Lady Joyce Temple Savage Purple Sequin costume to help the groups discover fabrics by feel.

Angela had her birthday yesterday! Here’s a photo of the birthday girl!

While I was at Dudley Zoo for the Press Call, I made an “app” which I’ve just seen in a video format. The actual app comes to life rather more effectively when you wave your iphone in front of the Dudly Zoo Banner- this will, I hope give you an idea of what it is life, minus the sort of “jumps out at you” appeal of the actual app!. Two takes in the Tarantula House! You can’t say fairer than that! Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eczi0U4hsxA.

Evening show was very jolly, again with a group having the show “Audio Described”, and a very “up for it” audience. At Last it is cold outside, with a slight hint of snow to follow! Hoorah! At last the stage is a nice temperature!

A Cool Cow!

We had Qdos Royalty in to see the show- a second visit from Qdos Head Nick Thomas, Sandra his wife, Peter Cutchie the Head of this lovely Theatre, and from our producer Jonathan Kiley. Afterwards we were invited out to a very lovely meal and had a great evening out. They were all very complimentary about the show, and it was so nice to meet up with everyone from the Qdos family again.

Tomorrow shows are back to normal. Keith with I imagine Orville and Cuddles are at Dudley Zoo, where one of the three of them is opening their brand new office suite. I’m hoping to be there on Monday for a last look around our sponsors grounds and the historic Dudley Castle.

11th January 2013

The Grand Tour!

 A Two Show day today, packed to the rafters again, with a matinee that had a sea of school children in the stalls and Upper Circle, and a sea of pensioners (Bless ’em) in the Circle. The show was extremely vocal, and it is quite something to see the level of interaction and enthusiasm tat children bring to the party. When the King asks the villagers if there is a volunteer to fight the giant, every hand shot up in the stalls! he boo-ed Lady Joyce Temple-Savage with increasing volume, and the larger school was absolutely delighted that their teacher was picked to be Dame Trott’s Boyfriend for the afternoon!

Keith arrived at the theatre direct from Dudley Zoo, where he and Orville opened their brand new offices.

The between shows event today comes to you courtesy of Adam Starr. Adam ushers Front Of House Here, and very kindly offered to conduct the Starr Tours of the Grand. I’ve not been Front Of House since I came to see the Krankies here about three years ago, and a splendid tour we had. The “We” being Nicola, Posh Dave and Neil,accompanied by Kate from marketing. Kate was all set to show me my interactive Dudley Zoo App, cleverly encoded in the poster that has featured front of house since we arrived. It tells you all about Santa’s Wonderland, Jack’s Grotto and all things festive. Ah… it is way past Christmas now, and my poster has been replaced with a cut out Friesian cow!! Not to worry, I’ll see it at the Zoo itself when I go to visit Tallullah on Monday!

Talking of Cows- or to put it an udder way… Damn this panto talk!.. Talking of Daisy The Cow, she has her own Find Daisy competition and stand in the foyer, and features in photographs all over the place. Here she is selling ice-cream, now selling tickets. There she is behind the bar! I had NO idea she Moooo nlighted… oh dear dear me…..all over the Grand!

Adam started us off in the foyer, where the original plaque stands from the opening of this theatre in 1894. The architect is, as we knew Mr Phipps, and a very fine job he did too. he theatre has many passageways and corridors. Adam showed us the various routes that 50 Front Of House Staff use. He told us about the Grand’s Two Resident ghosts and Ghoulies..We were sore afraid, not wishing to be caught by the ghosties and certainly not by the….. Will this panto speak NEVER end?!

Ghost number one was active this very afternoon according to Adam. He seems to have some connection with glass and the shattering there of- Bar staff must be very happy to have someone to point the ethereal finger… While Adam was discussing the forthcoming Trott Tour with a colleague, and discussing Mr Purdy the ghost, a downlight shattered a few feet away. Ooooooh!! Spooky indeed!

The second ghost is a lady who seems to prefer the box on Stage Left- she apparently leaves a waft of Lavender perfume behind, and Adam thought she was a victim of a fall back in them olden days. There was a faint whiff I have to admit, but I blame the zoflora myself.

We went to look at the Wall Of Fame in the bar- photographs of the famous stars who have played here- pride of place being the legendary Marlene Dietrich in the 1960,s. What did the Hollywood Diva make of Sunny Wolverhampton a she stepped off the plane from Hollywood I wonder? Home from home no doubt…..

On the walls can be found Frankie Howerd, Billy Burdon, The Beverley Sisters, The Batchelors, Gracie Field’s “Clever Little Brother” (his billing) Tommy Fields.. There’s Ivor Novello, Olive Gilbert, Frankie Vaughan and Jack Tripp, alongside Billy Dainty- this is a huge reminder that Wolverhampton Grand was and is, of course, a variety house- Panto, variety and the like predominates the history of this palace.

With 1,204 seats to fill, it is amazing to see it packed. We all sat in the steep upper circle amazed at how wonderful the view is.. we tried to ridiculously narrow Row G up there, where for some near forgotten reason the row has been crammed in so your knees touch your neck!

We sat in Boxes, looked at the huge follow spots up there- so steep that children love to stand and make bunny shapes with their fingers against the projection of light.. well I think it was Bunny Fingers they were doing at me the other matinee… yes, I’m sure it was.. definitely!

All too soon our tour was over. Adam, you are a Starr by name and by nature, and your sheer enthusiasm for this Grand old lady of a variety theatre is infectious! Thanks for showing us the building you hold so dear. We had a great time!

Returned via Stage door and had time for a quick sandwich, before the second show. What an amazing audience they were. So very up for having a good time! Had one of the best “come-backs” from the man I had picked to be Dame Trott’s Boyfriend. I am standing there, dressed as a Robin (as you do) and said “Daryl, I have never felt so Cheep”- to which he replied loud and clear “But you’re still a tasty bird!” Brought the house down! Thank you Daryl in Row A!

A few drinks at the hotel with Sherrie, Ben, Ken and Paul then off to dream of lavender ladies haunting the dress circle!

12th January 2013

Show 60! Can’t believe that the time has flown so quickly! I looked at the number of shows and I think the speed of the show plus how busy I am during it means time flies by. Fiona and I inhabit our little enclosed world of the Stage Right Quick Change room, constantly taking things off, putting things on, and the show speeds on beside us! I have one little gap during which the tea flask is brought to the fore and I have one short song and a quick Telly Tubbies routine to drink it in, and that is my sole break from changing in the two hours and fifteen minutes of the show.

Today was a signed performance and an audio described performance. Packed again, and it was a delight to see the “touchy Feely” tour taking place before the matinee, when the visually impaired can experience the size of the Giant by gauging the size of his boots, and feel the fabric that is Daisy The Cow. Today Matt modelled my Copa Costume and Bryonie wore the Temple Savage Sequins for the tour.

Daisy. What can I say? She is after all just a head, a body and two pairs of legs on the floor. Inanimate and lifeless. In the hands of the accomplished performer – well more than one obviously!- this piece of cloth and felt and rubber transforms into something that is alive. Through the skill of the operator this cow can break hearts- and so it should be. I have watched June and Paul Kidd play Cow, I recall the Chuckles- Barry and Paul operating the Cow as the Harmon Brothers, but our Daisy is truly brought to life in this show. You feel a huge wave of empathy in the Selling The Cow scene- she really is a living creation. Well done guys- as an ex “Skin” artiste of Cats, Horses and Geese, I really do salute you! Daisy Lives through you .

Sean was our signer for today’s show. It was a joy to watch him Act out the very heart and soul of the story through his sign interpretation. Anne was our audio describer, and I think The Grand does itself proud in its approach to those who are not as fortunate as the rest of us, and can create the magic of panto through these techniques. Thank you both!

Two tomorrow then our very LAST day off Monday!One week left of this pantomime. Where did the time go!

Lovely to get a visit from Qdos’s Adrian Lesurf today- he is on panto eleven I think, with a good few more to see before it all ends at the last few days of January and the first week in February .

Off to see Tallulah at Dudley Zoo on Monday- I’ll be sure to take some pictures to share with you on return!

15th January 2013

The last week! After sixty two Shows and a public dress rehearsal, we are down to the final twelve shows here at the Grand!

Yesterday was freezing, and snow fell over Birmingham and over Dudley. Off to Dudley Zoo dspite the weather to see Tallullah the Tapir once more before heading off. Tallullah and her brother Chico were relaxing indoors (not surprisingly) and we had a bit of quality time in her enclosure before setting off to se the rest of the zoo. The snow was melting and the Meercats were all huddled around a heat lamp by the Castle, while the Capuchin Monkeys were lying on the hot water pipes of their large greenhouse like enclosure which has trees and leafy places to explore. A lovely time at the Zoo, and had a chance to chat to  the Zoo’s CEO, Peter Suddock before leaving.

Peter and Dudley Zoo sponsored that packed public dress rehearsal where he gave away more than a thousand free tickets to community groups, schools, charities and organisations! He will be visiting us at the panto again on Friday to say goodbye.

Many thanks to The Zoo’s Julia Lockett for arranging these visits.

On Friday I had a visit from Peter Tod. Peter for many years ran the Hippodrome in Birmingham (and before that both Darlington and The Alhambra) and it was lovely to catch up backstage, and again in Birmingham on Monday with all his news. He was instrumental in taking the Roadshow around Birmingham and also a show we created celebrating the history of the Hippodrome.

Back in Birmingham the Cast and Crew of “Robinson Crusoe” have two weeks left- they started a week later than us. Andrew Ryan- Birmingham’s Mrs Crusoe is pretty swift with applying make-up, but in the youtube clip below you’ll see how fast he can be!

Andrew Ryan invites us backstage and into his dressing room at Britain’s biggest Panto, Robinson Crusoe & the Caribbean Pirates to see his transformation into the unforgettable dame, Mrs Crusoe.

A packed house this afternoon, and a very jolly one. In the upper circle is a school I’ll be visiting tomorrow as Dame Trott. I believe they have won a “Grow your own Beanstalk” competition, so I’ll be there to witness this! Vicky Price and I will set off around lunchtime to visit the school before the matinee.

Daisy the Cow- show stopper!! At the end of the final scene Daisy joins us on stage when Lady Temple Savage gets her come-uppance and does a little joyful high kick, Daisy’s hoof flew off! It flew into the air and landed on stage, revealing a red primark sock on one of her three legs! The audience and entire cast and crew fell about laughing! One red faced Daisy took a bow!

Full house this evening with quite a few groups in, including Guides, Darby & Joan clubs and a group from Mencap. It was a lovely show- it might ring a bell with the company, but it was a very lively audience.

Back at the Hotel putti9ng the world to rights with Ben, Sherrie, Ken and Paul- the time is flying past now, and from now on every evening is taken up with entertaining friends or going out for last night parties and the like. I’ve already made a tentative stab at packing the unused costumes and Lo! There, trapped inside a plastic fold up crate in the Quick Change Room was my missing gold coloured bracelet. Fiona and I were delighted- I lost it the first week, and it has emerged in the last! I am relieved. They belonged to the late, great Danny La Rue, and I would have been very upset to break up the pair first made for his Plymouth Mother Goose back with my friend Patricia Michael!

I’m in a school at lunchtime tomorrow, as I mentioned, so it is off to bed with me. Nighty Nighty, Pajama Pajama as we say in Pantoland!

16th January 2013

A long day in a frock! I had to be at the theatre earlier than usual to get ready to visit a school. In fact the school came to visit us yesterday, so it was my turn to call in and say “Hello” from Dame Trott.

Back in September Jack sent a few schools a pouch containing five magic beans.. and the competition was launched to grow the finest beanstalk in the land! St Paul’s not only grew a Beanstalk through these autumnal months, but even made arrangements to water it during the Christmas Holidays!

Accompanied by Vicky Price from Marketing, and Louise Bent from Education we visited the school, chatted to teachers and children, caused mayhem visiting a few classrooms to surprise the pupils and declared this beanstalk to be the winner!

Back in Pantoland there were two shows to follow, so I ended up in make-up and costume for about ten hours today! Both shows went well, and flew by. Had a visit from Panto “Sister” Lee Redwood. Haven’t seen him since we did the Hackney Empire Show in the Summer, so it was great to catch up on his panto news. Lee has just finished his “Cinderella” run at Wimbourne, and is going across to see the Hippodrome Panto tomorrow. Here he is with our merry group back at the Hotel.

It was party night at the Hotel as it is Ken’s Birthday! He can celebrate it once again tomorrow at our Panto Party, but we had the official ceremony of blowing out the battery operated candle here at the hotel, and toasted his good health into the wee small hours. A long day but a fun evening!

17th January 2013

Nearly there! Just as we approach the last few shows, down comes the snow! So far the main roads are clear, and hopefuly it will clear to allow our visitors to come and see us over this coming week-end.

Two shows today, still packing them in. The afternoon show was one in which I actually cracked up, and disgraced myself by “corpsing”, but in my defence there was justification! In the scene where Jack discovers the Princess is missing we all rush to the front to hear him read her ransom note. I am in my Copa Costume with the long train. Paul Rivers, in his Fairground costume rushed, stepped on the train and completed a wonderful pratt fall- an “up and Over” Chaplin-esque pratt fall landing at my feet. The audience roared and I’m afraid I lost it! Ahh the magic of live theatre!

I told Paul afterwards that superstition says that if you fall over or trip on stage it means you are returning. He told me last time he was here he fell- but then I pointed out as part of the Acromaniacs troupe I expect they all fell at one time or another!

During the interval the Juveniles visited Princess Apricot’s Nail Bar to have some glitter applied. I expect she’ll be doing this for the other team tomorrow. The “Babes” have a between shows party on Saturday.

Between our shows there was no rest for the crew. The scenery was being photographed from the auditorium, so they set up various scenes. I took the odd snap here and there.

Now- our crew. Without these girls and guys the show would not go anywhere. There might be a twenty two bodies on Stage at any given point, but unseen there are up to eighteen people making the magic happen. They comprise of: Onstage- Mark Adams and Mark Ryal with Bob, Alex, Jane, Martin, Neddy, and Josh .

Wardrobe- the resident wardrobe are Fiona, who looks after me, and Laura who looks after Sherrie and Pippa, in addition to Bek and Si the Qdos Wardrobe ladies- then up in the Fly tower we have Dan and Sicky (no one has explained his nickname yet!) with Adam, John and Bonzo on Follow Spots high up in the back of the Upper Circle. Stage LX completes the crew, that’s Simon and Stick.

Tonight was our End Of Show Party- and the snow was still falling. A Good time had by all with a buffet, drinks and of course an “awards” ceremony! For some reason I got the “Old Pro” award. Fancy!

Everyone in their glad rags and all of us looking stunning. I believe the party continued there until 1am then carried on at another venue until the wee small hours. The slightly older contingent retreated to the Hotel, and I was under the duvet by 1am!

It is the next day now, and I’m gazing out at a lot of snow- traffic is cautiously moving, but it is still snowing. Just heard that this afternoon’s matinee at Birmingham is cancelling as the school parties booked cannot get in, or in many cases the schools themselves are closed for the day. The cast all there at the theatre for their early show, but without an audience mainly brought in by coaches, there isn't any option. Hopefully the roads will clear by tonight.

18th January 2013

Indeed the snow came down! Looked out of the window at the Winter Wonderland that was Wolverhampton! It is not so bad here really, but you know looking at it that it will affect the business. Got news that Birmingham had to cancel the matinee as I mentioned before- due to schools closing and lack of transport.

Here at the Grand we did a matinee, but there were some gaps where a party had cancelled or failed to arrive. Not so the intrepid “Sisters” David Robbins and Martin Ramsdin arrived from London, accompanied by their Nottingham Panto Company Manager Mike Chalmers,  after a four hour journey through the snow. They arrived in time for a catchup in Dame Trott’s Boudoir, and watched our matinee before dashing through the snow to see the Hippodrome’s evening performance.

They had a fabulous run at Nottingham in “Cinderella”, and are now catching the last rays of pantoland before it sets over Birmingham and Bradford!

It was a fun matinee, with the audience making up in volume for numbers- and between shows I began a slow start to the packing that is to follow this weekend. The theatre won’t do the “get-out” on Sunday after the show, they will start it on Monday morning. My costume will, hopefully, be packed and labelled to go by a few minutes after curtain down!

Had a very lovely surprise this afternoon. Courtesy of Peter and all at Dudley Zoo, I have officially adopted Tallullah The Tapir! How good is that! She sent me a little note, presumably written in her own four toed front foot (she has three toes on her back feet)and sent me lots of pictures! I am so delighted and grateful thanks to all at DZG!

Evening we felt a tad peckish (as always) so headed to the Chinese with the ladies and gents of the ensemble, Ben, Paul, Ken and Sherrie for a jolly night out before putting the world to rights back at the Hotel.

Now I’m packing- proper packing. Tomorrow I’ll be giving my huge suitcase to my friend Owen Smith – he will be visiting with my Brother Vivyan, and along with my lovely friend and wardrobe lady Sarah Ford, they will be seeing the evening show tomorrow.

Owen will take my luggage to London and I’ll be heading to Birmingham for a week of Panto viewing at the Hippodrome from Sunday onwards until the end of their run. Only four shows left here now!

19th January 2013

The snow stopped today, but it is mighty cold. No longer complaining about how hot it is backstage I can tell you! Standing there dressed in nothing but a deckchair you do feel a cold snap around the holidays..

Arrived at the Grand early to discover we’ll be doing today without Niki. She has been called away due to family illness and all our thoughts are with her over this difficult time.We’re all sending you lots of love Niki.

Sian, The Fairy Fortune understudy took over and had a brief rehearsal with the Musical Director David and ran through her moves. Sian has been prepared for this for a while, and sailed through both performances without dropping a line or missing a beat! Well done! The importance of those understudy rehearsals over the past weeks cannot be underestimated, and the audience were with her from the start.

Today was a busy social day during which we managed to do two packed shows. Great audiences for both performances today- really up for a good time. Sian may have been word perfect but sadly Trott was not! Dame Trott that is. In the first show I said to my son “Ohhh, I know you Jack Tripp….” I have no idea where THAT came from! Jack of course was one of our premier Dames and indeed played this lovely theatre in Panto a few times- I’ll put it down to an unconscious tribute to one of our leading Panto persons!

My second show faux pas was very funny- for the audience and the cast. I am meant to tell Daisy that Jack will take her to market, “And find someone to love you, and well, sort of sell you to them…” No. Not tonight. I got my furds wuddled and declared “and sell ME to them”. Daisy shook her head and the audience laughed a lot!

Social day- between shows the Blue and Red team had the “Babes Party”, with lashings of lemonade in their spacious dressing room up in the rafters. That was fun. Lots of photographs, autographs and food of course!

In between shows I was delighted to receive Pantomime Royalty in my boudoir. I had a visit from the legend that is Jean Bayless. Jean was Principal girl in no less than three London Palladium Pantomimes- one being Humpty Dumpty, and another with Jimmy Tarbuck. She was, of course the very first Maria in “The Sound Of Music” when it opened at the Palace Theatre in London, appeared on Broadway in “The Boyfriend” for a year, taking over from Julie Andrews, and appearing for three years in TV’s original “Crossroads” among other shows.

I worked alongside Jean in a beautiful tour of “Perchance To Dream” in the ’80’s, and it was a huge joy to meet up with her and take her on a tour of backstage before seeing the panto. Accompanying Jean was my friends David and David- David Hartshorne being related to the late great Dorothy Ward, Doyen of Principal Boys and their party.

During the evening scene the brief “ad Lib” moment Ben and I have when I send him off to bed was a very funny one- the audience roared when he declared “I’m not the stupid one in the family. I didn’t buy the only house in the street with three walls…(pause) its draughty!”

Also in to see the show tonight was my B rother Vivyan, Owen Smith, Sarah Ford- readers of previous Diaries will remember Sarah as wardrobe on my “Snow White” and the previous “Jack & The Beanstalk”, and with Sarah was her friend Sean. We all congregated back at the Hotel afterwards for drinks and snacks that stretched far into the night, joined by Ken, Sherrie, Paul, Bob and Angela. I was actually the first to retire! The last two shows, packing and a get-out ahead means an early start tomorrow.

Final two shows tomorrow- let’s hope the snow is kind to us all in pantoland.

20th January 2013 - The Last Day

The Last Day!

The final two performances here at the Grand Theatre. Outside the snow was falling thick and fast, but the local radio announced we were completely sold out for both performances.

Great news that we have Nicki Evans back for the last two shows. Despite very little sleep and having driven a long distance she arrived at Stage Door and once again that huge voice was soaring to the rafters for the final shows!

We had two fantastic houses, appreciative and extremely jolly. The Matinee audience was very hardy too- guess what? Yes, the fire alarms went off again, and it was a case of “Everyone out!”

We first heard the distant tinkling of the alarm during the village scene just before I change into my Copacabana. I am so pleased it was before! Standing in the snowy backstreets of Wolverhampton in sequins, a long train and a feathered headdress is not a good idea!

When the alarm changes from bell to bell and automated voice over, the lights go to full up backstage and in comes the curtain. Audience and cast met up in the street for a chat and the odd photograph in the snow! One lady asked me if I could do a “shout out” for Charlotte who was five today and got missed out of the list, so I duly obliged when we returned twenty minutes later. The curtain rose to a huge cheer from the audience, and like the horse burgers we’ve all read about later- “They’re off!” – back to the show.

Between shows there was a flurry of packing from every dressing room. With the bad weather closing in no-one wanted to hang about after the show. Car windscreens were cleared, luggage was loaded and dressing rooms began to return to the empty ones we first encountered two months back. My room was cleared and I left an “emergency” few make-up items incase I needed a quick touch up, as you do. All I leave unpacked is my “Honey Bear” mascot that hangs in my dressing room. Ever since Suzanne Kaye gave him to me in “Mother Goose” some thirtyfive years ago he is always the last thing I put away before leaving the dressing room for the last time.

As usual I have a packer for this second show- and Pippa from the Grand swiftly packed everything as Fiona and I finished with it. As I’d exit stage Right the wig was whipped off my head, the boots vanished and the frock was inside a costume bag before the next entrance! The same was happening with the props with the two Paul’s packing as the show went on. Since there is no crew “get-out” tonight the crew leave, as is customary either just before the finale or afterwards. They have been incredible. The Grand has an amazingly friendly and super efficient in house crew, and there were many goodbyes at the end. Thank you Gents and Ladies for making the place such a joy to work in!

Our Director Andrew Lynford sent his best wishes for a great last show- Thank you Andrew from us all for a great show!

Ben and I had fun in our “bedtime” scene for the last time- the audience loving his grumble at his mother for selling Daisy when she has spent all our money on expensive surgery and “that operation no-one is allowed to talk about”. Huge laughs and great warmth from the house!

It was sad as it always is. Sherrie was welling up before she reached the finale steps. We’ve been a family here- as most pantomime companies become- and all the weeks together on and off does form a bond. Now it is back to “the real world” of other jobs and our own families. Sherrie starts “Loose Women” on Tuesday, and hopefully She, Ken, Ben and I will meet up in Birmingham to see the Panto.

The babes- all of them, both troupes were on- howled and sobbed their way to Princess Apricot’s dressing room and Jack’s dressing room- attempts by Ben and Sophie to console them were futile!

I will miss Fiona who has looked after me and coped with my colds and coughs and attempts to step into the wrong frock over these past weeks. Thank you Fi – “simply The Best”- and a huge thank you to the Stage team of Nicola, Posh Paul, Paul Rivers and Neil who have run this show like a smooth vessel in full sail!

We didn’t do silly last night pranks- there was no need, the show gets huge laughs on its own merit, but we did all enjoy this last show, and the audience certainly did. CEO Peter Cutchie called in to say Goodbye to each and every one on his day off- much appreciated, and our thoughts are with the crew tomorrow as they start the mammoth “get-out” at 9am.

Thank you lovely Grand Theatre and all who look after you- a fab season! Goodbye to the cast and crew who I hope will enjoy this Dame’s Journal now they have time to read it!

I’ll add to this blog with some Birmingham Panto News as I’m here for the week at the Hippodrome- pics of their show to follow! However- from Wolverhampton –Goodbye!

Until next time!

Nigel

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