The Darlington Diary


30th November 2000

Nigel and PeterRehearsal well under way here in Darlington. The cast met up for the first time on Monday in the Arts Centre. From the very beginning Keith Simmons (of the Simmons Brothers) outlined a highly organised rehearsal schedule. No popping out to the shops for us- we're either doing 10am to 10pm with breaks, or 10am to 6pm until we open. This man means business!

The cast includes someone we've working with many times before, over a period of about eighteen years- Ward Allan, who along with "Roger the Dog" will be playing the Broker's men. Our Fairy Godmother is Judy Buxton, Prince Charming Sally Taylor and Dandini Jo Sherwood. Our Cinderella is Kelly Morris, who played the same role last year at Cardiff (With Sue Hodge & Bella Emberg as her sisters) and Peter Grant from Magic FM as the Lord Chamberlain.

The role of Baron is played by Ray Meagher, taking a break from playing "Alf" in "Home and away", a seasoned veteran of over seven Pantomimes, joined by Stu (I could crush a grape) Francis, as Buttons.

During rehearsals we awaited the arrival of the legendary Postman Pat, with or without Jess.. but in the absence of his huge costume arriving, David McCaffrey valiantly played Pat in civvies.

The Townsfolk and Guests at the Grand Ball are played by Alison Booth, Shelley Clark, Aaron Francis, Nazalee Keyani,Shelley and Nazalee Leaghanne Phillips and Trinity Symons.

Our Company Stage Manager is Steve Luck, the Deputy Stage Manager is Paul Dawson, and Wardrobe Manager Liz Sunderland assisted by Louise Warriner.

In the orchestra we have the Musical Director Paul Frankish, with Dave Dryden on Bass and Steve Deneathy on percussion. 

1st December 2000

Now we are in the Civic Theatre itself, rehearsing onstage. The scenery is up and flying, and the six dancers have the stage to work on, having also left their rehearsal room. Peter and I were well into rehearsing on the set when it dawned on us that we had worked with this scenery before- in Richmond, London. That helped, as we were able to remember what exits were impossible or possible due to the size of our costumes. We may have pushed our costumic creations to their limits this time, as, at the time of writing we are unable to get onstage at all in our brand new "Woods Scene" costumes! Entering as a giant picnic hamper and huge fully laid table does have its draw-backs. I think they may have to move the forest so we can sail onstage!

Sally Taylor2nd December 2000

The ponies arrived. One of them looked at me with what I think was a look of recognition- I think we have worked with this pony before- possibly in Bournemouth. At the time we didn't exchange 'phone numbers, but I'm fairly certain. They are also veterans of pantomime, and come from Mr Lucking who supplies many ponies at this time of year. Pampered, cosseted and, I fear over-fed by the cast and crew they seem to settle in quickly. 

I wish we could! Our costumes are still all over the building. With twenty costume changes we have now filled an entire quick-change area, and a dressing room, and STILL they spill out into corridors. Next year it's brokers men or Chinese policemen for us, we mutter, as we move the rails around the building. Brokers men and policemen do not generally have more than three costumes!!

6th December 2000

Last night we did a "Public" dress rehearsal, to an almost full house, mainly Theatre staff and families and the "Friends of Darlington Civic" who support their theatre strongly throughout the year. It was welcomed, as we have now rehearsed to the point where you need a live audience to time the laughs- we were hoping there might be the odd few! Fortunately we were right, and we left the theatre that night feeling a little more confident!

7th December 2000

A second dress rehearsal in the afternoon to tighten up routines and, most importantly to time the show, as the Civic pride themselves in a pantomime that does not come down any later than 9.30pm.Time to grab a quick bite to eat, and then to watch the bouquets arrive at the stage door- A veritable florists appeared, and each and every one of them for the ladies of the chorus, then the principal ladies.. not so much as an old chrysanthemum for the Ugly Sisters. We retired to our dressing room to prepare!

The opening night was a great success- a full house and a very appreciative one. hardly any glitches, and one apt omen- as the Fairy godmother ascended the ballroom staircase, Judy Buxton's fairy shoe came off, and remained on the stair. We took this to be a sign of good luck! The good news was that the ponies behaved themselves onstage. No little "presents" left on the stage during the transformation scene. The bad news was, the reason they behaved so well was that they had already delivered, en-route as they crossed behind the stage. In the dark it is particularly disconcerting for this ugly sister to discover what he had just trodden in, especially whilst wearing open toed glitter platform shoes. How I laughed....NOT! 

10th December 2000

AaronThe Theatre hosted an after show party, attended by the staff, company and producers of the show, who all seem very pleased, and the reviews today (Saturday 9th) are all extremely favourable. Hoorah, we are a triumph! 

Now, we have a further 65 performances to give, twice daily and strive to keep each one as fresh as the last. Already the cast are stocking up on Vitamin C tablets, fresh fruit and Echinacea....glamour? Afraid there's no time for that- as all our friends working out there in Pantoland will agree, the most important things now are plenty to eat, lots of rest (probably the odd forty winks between shows) and keeping the energy levels up. AFTER ALL, THAT'S WHAT panto performing is all about- energy!

To all our mates out there who are rehearsing at this moment, have a great opening night, and to those like us, already at full steam ahead - Have a ball!!

XXX Nigel & Peter XXX

14th December 2000

Here's what had to say about us:

'Laughter so loud it rings in the ears marks this as one of the funniest tellings of the Cinderella story, but the show loses none of the fairytale magic at the Civic.

Costumes, pretty sets and a wonderful pair of tiny white ponies to end the Act 1 anchor the tale in tradition, but the family-orientated comedy is up to the minute.

The star billing is shared by Stu Francis, as Buttons, whose facial expressions are particularly funny, ventriloquist Ward Allen with Roger the Dog, whose solo spot on a cat theme is one of the highlights, and Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins, as the Ugly Sisters. Their enormous frocks and wigs are a huge delight, their malice and vanity ensures a steady stream of boos and they are never at a loss for a retort to audience reactions.

Ray Meagher, familiar as Alf from Home and Away, is Baron Hardup - there is a neat explanation of the Australian accent - and makes a kindly father to Kelly Morris' lively, outgoing Cinderella. Under Keith Simmons' direction, there is even a use for Postman Pat, whose waving always gets a warm response.'

Pru Farrier - The Stage and Television Today 14th December 2000

Kelly MorrisThe Chorus

22nd December 2000

With twenty seven shows under our belts, the Panto continues merrily along. The houses are full, and very appreciative. On the cast front sadly we have had to bid farewell to Jo Sherwood, who played Dandini. Jo suffered an accident on her way to work, and has been forced to return home. Our very best wishes to her for a speedy recovery. She has been replaced by Jodie Michaels in the role. Jodie valiantly gave up all her plans for Christmas, having just finished a long tour of "Annie" and has joined us for the rest of the run. During the interim period, the role was covered by Nazalee Keyani, who in true stage trouper fashion stepped into the role she was understudying at half an hour's notice.

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