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It's behind you! Oh no it isn't. Oh yes... Is the
life of a pantomime dame all slapstick, panstick and lipstick?
joins in the banter with ugly sister Simon Bashford.
Seventeen years as an
ugly sister in pantomime and still going strong - Simon Bashford wouldn't
have it any other way. This year he'll be donning the wigs and gaudy
costumes once again in Sunderland, and if the audience are hissing and
booing like maniacs when he makes his final curtain call, it's a sure sign
he's put on yet another great performance.
Actors come in many shapes, sizes and varieties. Whilst there are those that
will always yearn to play Hamlet, there are also those who are most at home
in their actors' skins as pantomime dames. It's the dames all the way for
Springing from the parochial surroundings of Rugely in Staffordshire some
thirty or so years ago, Simon recalls, "In the seventies and early eighties
in the West Midlands, the idea of making your career as a dancer and singer
was not really the accepted thing. This kind of aspiration was generally
more taboo at that time."
He was prepared to fight off the taboos - which takes courage and a good
dose of determination. Fortunately he had support from his parents. Simon's
father was a part-time singer on the club and variety circuit and the desire
to perform ran in the family blood. Father Bashford agreed for Simon to go
for singing and dancing lessons where he busied himself in the basics of all
musical theatre performers - tap, jazz, ballet and voice.
Back in the day
By the time Simon reached the age of sixteen he was pretty adamant that
musical theatre was the route he wanted to follow as a profession. He
auditioned for drama school at the London Studio Centre and was accepted.
It's unusual these days to go to drama school at sixteen and entrance at
most drama schools now has a minimum age of eighteen. Very often students
have studied Performing Arts at Further Education level before applying to
drama school, with these interim studies offering a mixed bag of practical
and academic work.
Things were different in 1983 - the tap shoes were on and the song sheets
were out as early as possible - and not an essay in sight.
Simon performed his way through three years of study at the London Studio
with a college production every Christmas and a summer show at the end of
every year. His first professional job came along whilst he was still
studying - a pantomime no less, and enough for the bug to set in! It was
made all the more memorable working with cast from the Carry-On crew,
including Kenneth Connor, Jimmy Edwards, Keith Barron and Suzanne Danielle.
There was so much to learn from these seasoned actors and comedians:
"I was a bit like a sponge and learnt so much from watching these performers
and observing their craft."
What a character!
Simon is now several years and several pantos down the road from his 1984
debut as a chorus dancer. He's worked for the past seven years with Jim
Davidson's panto production company and has relished every moment. So how
does Simon manage to keep these dames so fresh and zappy?
"One panto producer will always be different from the next in terms of what
they want. That, and always working with different people keeps you on your
It's the characters, Simon explains to me, which give a panto its basic
structure. At the heart of the story there's always a boy meets girl
scenario such as Cinderella and Prince Charming or Aladdin and the Princess.
The plot line is always set up so that there is some adversity that gets in
the way of the love-match such as poverty or belonging to the wrong class
system, or the wrong family or being betrothed to somebody else. Love,
though, in pantomime always wins through in the end.
The stock characters include:
Cinderella is an
interesting exception in that the ugly sisters are both the dames and also
the baddies which means that there's lots of fun to be had, and explains why
Simon hasn't been able to tear himself away from those conniving divas.
There'll be time for the other more mumsy dames later in his career.
The Principal Boy -
used to be played by a girl but is now nearly always played by a
good-looking well known actor or boy-band personality. Darren Day is
playing Principal Boy in the production Simon will appear in this year
The Comedy Boy - usually a wishy-washy silly character who has a
tendency to get things wrong but always gets the audience on his side,
such as Buttons in
The baddies, like Abanazar in
The Principal Girl
plays the love interest.
is the panto Simon has most affection for. In fact it is the most favoured
panto across the country. Why is that?
"It's the best subject and always looks stunning. As a story, Cinderella
goes right through to the end. With other pantos you get the plot in the
first half, and the story may then be wound up by the beginning or middle of
the second half."
"In these instances you get a 'Front Cloth' routine which is basically a
comedian with song sheets and a comedy set. He, and it's usually a he, sets
up the finale and has loads of fun with the audience. It's usually the role
of the Comedy Boy. But Cinderella is the most complete panto."
Long may she, and Simon reign.