The NEWCASTLE DIARY

2005/6

Previous Diaries

The Darlington Diary 2000/1 / The Aberdeen Diary 2001/2 / The Southampton Diary 2002/3 / The Manchester Diary 2003/4 / The Plymouth Diary 2004/5

 

Wednesday 13th July 2005

One of the hottest days of the year and yes…. It’s Panto Time!

Peter and I travelled up to Newcastle to launch the pantomime season at the beautiful Theatre Royal. A stunning theatre with an impressive portico and an even more impressive interior, set in the heart of this thriving city.

We spent the night at the Royal Station Hotel- opened by Queen Victoria it said on the brochure. I don’t think Her Gracious Majesty had quite so many trains running under her bedroom as I did, and certainly no tannoy system announcing “The train now standing at platform ten is the…” throughout the night. Maybe she and Prince Albert had royal ear muffs?

We’d been told that the press launch was to take place in the castle, in the great hall. I’m not sure what we expected, but it really was a castle..over one hundred steep stone steps to the hall, and those medieval panto dames must have been a lot shorter than we are- standing at eight and a half feet tall in our wigs and perilous block shoes there were times we had to bend over backwards to please!

Met up with Michael Harrison- Michael has written this brand new version of “Cinderella” and will be both directing and producing it. Even the music has been specially written for the show, and it all sounds very exciting, being tailor made for Newcastle and indeed for Jill Halfpenny, our gorgeous fairy godmother.

We arrived first to do some “telly”, which we did on the ramparts, if you’ll pardon the expression, and were joined by Jill about halfway through. She arrived resplendent in shimmering white and silver, wand at the ready, and  skipped effortlessly up the one hundred stone steps- not even slightly out of breath. Peter and I were still clutching the walls and gasping during the first interview!

Jill’s doing a Zola play at “Live” the theatre in Newcastle- a Herculean effort- running for six weeks, and getting stunning notices. Dead posh that..we’re not used to working with your actual thespian what does Emile Zola at the drop of a hat! She’s also very beautiful, which means we have competition- all the cameras swivelled in her direction and cameramen went a bit weak at the knees. Peter tried the old batting the eyelash trick and showing a bit of ankle, but failed to attract so much as a box brownie at this point!

We did a “presentation” to the press and group bookers in the great hall, and had a question and answer session afterwards before everyone tucked into the cream buns. I say everyone- we declined. It’s not easy eating a cream bun in gloves- even if the Queen has it down to a fine art. Delighted to meet up with Peter Lathan, author of the pantomime book “Its Behind You” at the launch. Peter’s a local lad, and was covering the launch for the British Theatre Guide. His book is doing extremely well, and has proved to be the perfect present for panto lovers- a pantomime book isn’t just for Christmas- it’s for life!

This time we were determined that Jill would see us afterwards out of Slap and costume- so many times we’ve done a press call and people we work with arrive when we’re made up, and leave before we’ve taken it off, and consequently haven’t a clue who we are on the first day of rehearsal!

Everyone at the theatre was very friendly and jolly, and helped make the day (despite the baking heat) great fun. We swiftly packed our soggy furs and sequins, and set off for the station. This has all the hallmarks of being a great season- a sparkly new script, Jill flying about the stage being fabulous, the incredible “Slosh” scene of Clive Webb and Danny Adams, and having our mates Sean Needham and Jody Crosier with us as Prince and Dandini for the fourth year running, and having Michael weave his magic over the whole proceedings!

Here’s to a great run!

Monday November 28th 2005

Here we are again!

Seems difficult to believe it, but the rehearsal period is upon us once again- this time in the outer reaches of Lambeth in a hall that has seen better days, but hopefully not better pantomimes!

I didn’t really get to grips with how fast this week was approaching- the past month has been a blur of shows and travelling. Peter and I, along with Andrew Ryan and on occasion Marc Seymour have played Newcastle, Blackpool and Birmingham with various pantomime Roadshows- five different scripts in three weeks, and I worked out on one of our lengthy journeys we’d played at one point 28 shows in twelve days.. I got back from the Pavilions Shopping Mall late last night after four shows with just enough time to throw a few things into a bag, and fall into bed..now, here we are in Lambeth.

Arrived to find a room full of familiar and not familiar faces- a difference from the past three years when the cast has remained the same. From our previous Brian Conley panto reign we are joined once again by Sean Needham (Prince Charming) and Jody Crosier (Dandini), Jill Halfpenny (our Fairy Godmother) who we met at the press launch, Clive Webb (Baron) and Danny Adams (Buttons) who I’ve worked with once before- briefly- in Manchester, and Michael Harrison our director who Peter and I have known for several years.

Michael and Irvin and Jill

The rest of the company are new to us- Lauren Hall, our petite Cinderella, who hails like Jill and Michael from Newcastle, and our dancers-with one exception- Emma Katy Adcock, who was with us last year at Plymouth, are new to us- they are Amy Burns and Amy Bruce, Jenny Dougan, Innis Robertson, Sean Hackett, Karl Williams and Ricardo Canadinhas.

The Dancers are in the expert hands of the Choreographer Jon Bowles, and our Stage Management team consists of Ray Tizzard- Company Stage Manager, who we last worked with in Wimbledon with the Rolf Harris Panto there, and Shane Thom our DSM (Deputy Stage Manager) along with Michelle Dixon and Nicholas Potts our Assistant Stage Managers.

Lauren

The Musical Director for this production is Irvin Duguid- he encountered a slight problem for the first part of the day as the hall had no power in its sockets, making an electronic keyboard redundant- I also discovered the lights in the lavatories were switched off at 4pm precisely, so visiting the loo was only possible by utilising the light from your mobile ‘phone to errr.. find your way. Quaint rehearsal hall I thought….

Looking after the vast wardrobe for this show are Wendy Moreton (Supervisor) and Amy Harrison (Assistant Wardrobe). Wendy and Amy have the large blue “Qdos” wardrobe boxes installed in the room, and are able to do costume fittings during the day, saving a lot of time when we actually arrive at the Theatre Royal next Monday.

We have yet to meet the other part of the wardrobe team-Rebecca Palmer, and our Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell, who along with the juveniles from the Marron Stage School Newcastle will be at the Theatre next week.

Michael was swift to the off, and by lunchtime we were nearing a rough “blocking” of Act One. Blocking for the uninitiated is when the director tells the actors which “side” they enter from – unless of course you are the Fairy Godmother, in which case tradition has already decreed you must only enter from “The Good Side”- Stage Right! The Sisters traditionally enter from the side that has the quick change room installed- in the case of Newcastle, this is Stage left the “Bad Side”- so that is quite fitting!

Blocking also involves the director grouping the actors, and basically ensuring they try not to bump into each other as the enter and exit. All Pantomime ‘Pro’s will inevitably drift to centre stage, and to the downstage area- I think it is to get as near to the audience as possible, as pantomime is such an “intimate” art- to almost feel as if the audience is a part of the action, which, of course- they are!

Clive and Danny

Starting at 10.30- Michael had worked with Clive and Danny for an hour beforehand to go through their vast array of props, we blocked through until 6.15pm, by which time Michael had blocked all of act one, and we had gone back over it again a second time. A few of the songs were rehearsed- including the “Sisters” number which I swear might attract passing dogs and hard of hearing bats unless Peter and I can hit the right notes.. I may be Welsh, but I sometimes feel I missed out on the musicality- funny that, coming from a musical family myself- even the sewing machine was a singer…

Yes- Panto really has started when I find myself typing that kind of thing!!

Tomorrow we meet at 10am to begin blocking Act Two.

Tuesday 29th November 2005

Spent the morning blocking Act Two. At the moment the actual scripted part of Act Two looks like a few pages compared to Act One, but appearances are deceptive- that all important word “Business” or “Business to be arranged”!

Stage “Business”- rather different to “Show Business”, is an important part of any comic’s routines- often not scripted, it sits there in the script as a mystery waiting to be unfolded by the person who deciphers it- a bit like a pantomime Da Vinci code- well, a shorter Da Vinci code.. in fact, an incy wincy davinci….Well, I warned you it IS Panto time!

Clive and Danny have brought with them many mysteries, and a lot of “Business”. One comic has Business, but an established double act  has a cornucopia of routines, often referred to by a single word or phrase. “We’re going to do the “Story Telling” Business here..This is the Slosh.. Here’s the Comedy Car Business..these are tried and tested routines that will not be seen in the rehearsal room, relying as they do on the many props and devices used by Clive and Danny.

It is a great joy to watch them rehearsing- in a way, our panto has three “Double Acts”- Clive and Danny- a Father and Son combination who bounce off each other effortlessly, Clive as Baron always trying to control the wayward Buttons that is Danny- not so much wayward as anarchic- and the kids will respond with joy to Danny’s naughtiness!

Jody and Peter - Sean and Lauren

Our second “Double Act” you could say is Sean and Jody as Prince and servant, Dandini- having now worked together in four consecutive pantomimes, they have created the essential part of being “A Double”- Rapport- they too seem effortless and at ease. The third Double Act, the ones in the frocks, are busy trying to learn the new bits of dialogue that can trip you up when you have got used to the same script for a good many years!

The afternoon passed running through Act Two blocking again, to make certain we had all remembered it- from the Ballroom scene through to our strip- a bit of “Business” again that can’t be done in the rehearsal room- too many costumes, and far to chilly to disrobe anyway! We rehearsed “The Slipper Fitting” and, without the “Business”, the second act is quite a short piece for Michael to block- but, when it’s all put in, it will probably run for about 50 minutes.

I can remember sitting in on rehearsals for panto at the Grand Theatre Swansea as a kid, and the comics would arrive with their own particular business on the first day- often the “Business” was a well established piece of panto lore- names like “The Busy Bee”, “The Echo Gag”, and so on. The Principal comic would say “I’m going to be doing the “Truth Gag”, so if Wishee and Aladdin want to run through it in the corridor…” then they would depart, the routine would be taught by the comic to the “new Boys”, and so these routines passed on. Comics have always adapted and personalised these pieces of panto business- we have one in ours in Newcastle, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Although the routine may be seen in several theatres this Christmas, it will be unique to who ever performs it, as they will have added their own special magic.

Wednesday 30th November 2005

Fine tuning today- Michael our director spent the greater part of the day breaking the scenes up into sections, and then rehearsing the individuals concerned, focussing on the details- this is an extremely useful way of rehearsing as you get to feel more comfortable with the moves and the dialogue the more times you do it.

In the meantime Jon the choreographer was rehearsing the dancers, and for a while we combined to set the cast into the scenes involving the eight dancers. In various places of the main hall people got together and ran through dialogue or “business”, and others joined Irvin the Musical Director to fine tune the songs. Having two rehearsal rooms is essential to do this, as well as the odd corridor to steal away to and run through dialogue.

Peter and I found a kitchen- the warmest place in the building, despite being completely empty, and ran through the script and our song several times. After doing the same script for three years it can be a bit testing to teach “Old Dogs” new tricks, but we’ll get there- the song may, however take a little longer! We’ve been given movement now- no, not dance, movement.. poor Jon must’ve wondered what he’d  got himself into with us two- “You know I can’t move fast in the frock Jon? “ “You can’t move fast at the best of times” (Peter) “You want us to what? Turn.. Ohh.. err all right..after what? Where? Ohh.. sorry.. No, I will get it, don’t worry…”.. Poor soul..

Jill however sails effortlessly through dance (naturally- well, she would!) and singing, all the time brandishing her Fairy wand- a stick with what looks like a milk bottle top stuck on- funny, but all the fairies we’ve ever worked with have wanted the wand in their hands from day one- it’s a comfort thing I suppose..I wonder if Jill has read all the information on the site about how you’re supposed to cross the wand from hand to hand, passing over your heart before you cast a spell..Perhaps later, she’s got quite a lot to think about at the moment as she moves from comedy scene to transformation scene to song and to her spot in the ballroom..

Finished at around six o’clock, then the joys of rush hour for us all. I think we might attempt a first run tomorrow, or a “Stagger” as they used to say.. we’ll “Stagger” through it..but for now it’s a stagger through the crowded underground back home

Thursday 1st December - Friday 2nd December 2005

Had two good full runs of the show today- Michael seems delighted, and we’re now ahead of ourselves. Obviously the “Business” has yet to be put in to the run, but that can’t be done until we’re at the Theatre Royal with all the many props- Clive and Danny will be sorting those over the week-end, and, along with the “Slosh” props, will be bringing them along on Monday.

The second run included fitting the dancers into the show, and it seems to be a very fast moving one- Peter and I have a few fast quick changes to cope with, but hopefully with the help of Wendy and her team we’ll get that sorted in the off stage Quick Change room. Clive and Danny also have a very tight change after the “Slosh”- I Imagine not so much a change as a complete sluice!

Finished at around five o’clock.

Six o’clock I started to feel MOST unwell..found myself on the crowded tube sweating and shivering, and when I got home went straight to bed- I emerged some eighteen hours later feeling mildly better- so no Friday rehearsal for me, I’m afraid. I was under two duvet shaking while Peter carried on aided by Michael our director stepping in as Ugly Sister Jordan for the rehearsal. I currently feel as if someone has my head and neck in a steel vice, but the good news is that there is no call until Monday evening in Newcastle- so an extra day to try and get over this.

Now, back to the duvet..normal transmission will continue from Newcastle next week. (Get Well Soon!!!! Ed.)

Tuesday 6th December 2005

Still in the throes of ‘flu, but with the clock ticking against me, I headed for Kings Cross station and, eventually Newcastle. Was I buoyed up with the prospect of pantomime- the glitter the glamour.. ? No. I shivered on the GNER train and wistfully thought of my bed..

Went straight to the Stage Door, and dragged my bones up to the dressing room. I’d like to say it was a nice room, but I had no idea what it looked like- Peter had no option but to steam and hang all the costumes, which will eventually go into the onstage Quick Change room. The costumes, plus our wicker skips, our twenty four wigs and paraphernalia completely filled the room. Feathers poking out of corners, spotty bloomers hanging from the rafters, and somewhere in the middle of it all was Peter putting the kettle on!

Nothing works better than tea does it? Even if it is drunk in the midst of this organised chaos. Shortly afterwards we went to the top floor of the dressing room block to the “Practice Room”, and I did my first run through since Thursday afternoon. It all seemed to be retained in the memory, but not always in the right order. This run-through involved Michael and Jon putting the “Babes”- the juveniles into the show. There are, I believe ten in each group, with three “swing” juveniles – swing being the term for “stand-by”, incase of absence or illness.

Rehearsal ended around eight-thirty, then I headed for the “digs”- the flat we’ve booked for the season which thankfully is a five minute walk from the stage door. Definitely buoyed up with Nursery food- funny how one craves tomato soup and scrambled eggs when poorly..fell into bed and  slept like the veritable log!

Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Wednesday 7th December 2005

A day of getting ourselves organised. Most of the activity today was onstage, with the crew and stage management working right through putting up the set, then with Michael plotting the show. This “Plotting”, very different to “blocking” involves the director going through all the scene changes and, in some cases, lighting changes that will occur during the performance. It doesn’t involve actors, in fact they’d get in the way!

The set we are using is one Peter & I have worked with several times- a very beautiful ex London Palladium set, beautifully painted, but generally too large for most theatres. It’s the same here- the Theatre Royal has a deep stage, but it is not the widest, and adjustments have to be made to “bring it in”. This has the effect of making it look even more stunning, with all its portals and borders looking wonderful in this very historic building. One of the oldest working theatres, the Theatre Royal has a gorgeous foyer and auditorium- and a very high auditorium- the stalls, the Grand Circle, the Upper Circle and the Gallery- Michael took Jill, Danny, Peter and myself, along with Ray our CSM right up to the back of the gallery to see what the audience will see- it is like climbing Everest! The view of the stage is still excellent from “the Gods” as they are often called, but you feel yourself gripping the seat as vertigo sets in!

With all the activity on stage, Peter & I got on with last minute additions to the costumes- sorting our props, and eventually we’d cleared the make up side of the dressing room- by artfully removing our wigs and a rail of costumes to another place in the building. Several trips to the shops- Newcastle has MANY shops!- to get bits and pieces for the dressing room, and we’d done all we could by six o’clock.

All the “principals” as they say are now on the same floor, there are only eight of us in total. The dancers- healthy younger creatures that they are..are up a flight on the next floor.

Tomorrow will be a very busy day. Peter & I will be in from ten o’clock to transfer our costumes to stage level, and set the wigs out on a table within the “Quick Change”. Act one wigs on the top, Act Two on the floor beneath the table. After that we have a sound check at mid-day, a press call (costume & make-up required) at one o’clock, then the long “technical  rehearsal” will begin at two o’clock.

Thursday 8th December 2005

Long technical….Famous last words! The technical side of this brand new show is gargantuan! It appears that Michael has drafted in every light, pyrotechnic, moving light and strobe, snow effects, firework effects and flame effects known to man!

Add to this Clive and Danny’s comedy car which, in itself contains more explosive devices than you’d find in an average panto..the carriage, four pristine white ponies and a truck load of props, and you have the makings of a long “tech!” Before the panto begins, the show gauze explodes into light, with moving lights panning over the audience as the overture plays. This in itself is a welcome return to that “frisson” of excitement that the audience feels as the show begins- something magical is about to happen!

The tech started with our prologue, running into “Fairyland” where our Fairy Queen is introduced- and, as befits this magic land, Jill is flown in on a giant star to join the dancers in a sea of dry ice and a set that would drain the national grid at powergen.

Technical things like flying take time- there are many safety checks that have to be carried out before you hoist your star aloft on.. err a star. Once this was sorted we moved onto the next scene- very swiftly Fairyland vanishes to be replaced by Hardup Hall—again, the set changes are rehearsed over and over again until they can be completed in the shortest time possible.

The Car!

Onto the entrance of Clive and Danny as Baron and Buttons. The car (their own, as with all their props and effects) is a real car. It actually drives! The car is packed with switches and knobs that create explosions, smoke and much more, and is driven on and off by the Baron, with Buttons clinging on! It really is a wonderful entrance, and possibly the noisiest and smelliest entrance I have ever witnessed. Always nice to follow something that powerful..not!!

We tech-ed on through the opening scene, managed to get our song right which was a first, then carried on with the next scene changes and costume changes. We broke for lunch, and continued. We broke for dinner.. and continued! A very thorough technical with the chance to go back over each scene, and check out each effect until we reached the beginning of the “Transformation” scene- where the kitchen transforms into Fairyland by 10pm.

Very weary- straight to bed. Call at 10am tomorrow to continue where we left off. Did I tell you about the VERY steep rake on the stage by the way? The nearer the front you get the steeper it becomes..very wearing on the feet we discover!

Friday 9th December 2005

Carried on from where we left off, tearing up Cinderella’s ticket, and then Peter and I set to trying to organise our Quick change area, as we knew we wouldn’t be needed on stage for several hours- the Transformation has to be tech-ed carefully, and the ponies have to become accustomed to the moving scenery, the lights and, of course the pyro’s that are set off during the scene. A fair few shovels were required in the early stages, as you might expect.. Flash! Bang.. Splatt!.. and that was just from “the Sisters!”

Our Quick change room now contains every costume and wig. We’ve worked out that there really isn’t time to visit the dressing room during the show. Unfortunately it too is on the steep rake, so everything topples over as you reach for it. Rails plummet forward and wigs, not heads will roll during the change. It’s a bit like changing quickly on board a ship at times!

Before and After

Outside the Quick Change entrance is currently the full sized comedy car, a  pumpkin carriage- full size, most of the scenic trucks and some ominous rows of empty buckets and wheel barrows.. awaiting the “slosh”. The Theatre Royal has only one wing- Stage Left. The Stage Right wing is only a few feet deep. During next year a major rebuild will happen, with the theatre going “dark”- i.e Closed- for a while. The seven foot thick wall on Stage Right will be removed, and the theatre extended into what was a bank next door. For now most of the scenery has to remain in the one wing.

During the day Michael and the Stage Management team ran the tech through the ballroom, and up to the “Slipper Fitting Scene” before breaking. By 7pm we had to start a full dress rehearsal, which will continue through until 10pm, and restart tomorrow from where we left off. Tomorrow afternoon is a “Preview”- a public Dress rehearsal at 2.00 with, I believe a packed house of boisterous children. Very weary actors and crew left the building, and headed for home. Still, with a show of this magnitude, you have to get it right!

Saturday 10th December, 2005

Opening Day!

A bit of a blur today- an awful lot seemed to happen in one day, and in my blurry state- the wretched cold is still hanging in there, I might mix things up! I think, as far as I can remember, we started with a Dress rehearsal at ten- we might have done a press call (not sure about that bit) and somewhere along the line I had a sandwich..or did I?

Pantomime is all about energy.As performers that is what we have to sell on stage. For a panto to work we need to crackle with as much electricity as the combined wattage of all the lights trained on us. No idea where this surge of energy came from, but by 1.30pm we’d finished a dress run, had a note session in which Michael gave some cuts- Act one is running about ten to fifteen minutes too long, and suddenly all became silence! Everyone in a dressing room quietly putting on make-up, checking the cuts, checking costumes and props. A sudden lull in all the frantic running about of the previous days. Perhaps this is when that energy begins?

Certainly by 2pm the entire cast, Stage management and crew are at heightened senses, the curtain goes up, the magical effects in the overture were greeted by screams of delight, and we were off!

Thanks to the elaborate “Tech”, the show went without a hitch. Flying cues, lighting cues and costume changes happened, and all, remember for the very first time without stopping. Amazing really! The kids in the audience were, I think suitably spell-bound, and we had an idea that we might just have a first class cracking show on our hands.

More notes from Michael after the public dress- more cuts, and some alterations. Some “Business” from Act One has now been transferred to Act two, and the running times are now One hour fifteen first half, and fifty-five minutes second half. Still a tad too long, so we’re expecting some trimming tomorrow once we’ve opened.

In between the dress and our actual opening at 7pm, the cast bustled around dressing rooms, distributing the traditional “Good Luck” cards and gifts, then we were up and running for the opening performance.

The Slosh scene is truly amazing. To see such masters of the craft like Clive and Danny, assisted by Ray our Company Stage Manager performing this routine is worth the price of admission alone. The crew were watching every second, as were the juveniles- and I shall be watching it too once I get the confidence to leave the Quick Change room instead of worrying whether I’ve time to watch when I should, in fact be changing! Fatal to get drawn in to what’s onstage then realise you follow it and you’ve not changed yet!

The show was, we felt a great success, and Michael must be very proud of what he has created. Afterwards we were all invited to a “Do” in the Upper Circle Bar, with wine and a wonderful buffet provided by the Theatre. In to see the show was Nick Thomas, the head of Qdos along with his family. This is Nick’s fifth panto opening in a week I think, and he seemed delighted at the response to the show.

Headed off to the digs tired- very tired- but secure in the knowledge that the show has finally opened, and we get to have a lie in before tomorrow’s matinee at 1pm! Hoorah!

Sunday 11th December 2005

Two shows today- 1pm and 5pm. Had some further notes to “tighten up” the running of the show, and after the matinee discovered the running times are now down to 1 hour 5minutes first act, and one hour second act more or less. The “Tightening” has affected two of our changes, so now we’ll be doing those in the Stage Left wing, aided by Amy & Beck, who pre-set everything so we can literally step off the stage, change and go back on again in about forty seconds. Act one flies past so fast for us- it’s better to be busy rather than being in a dressing room waiting around.

The Boys and Girls of our Ensemble (and Lauren our Cinders!)

Found time to bond with our “boys” the ponies once again. They too have joined the car, the carriage, the slosh buckets and the scenery outside the Quick Change room on stage! Fortunately they haven’t yet left any little “presents” for us to step into outside our door, but they seem to achieve that by leaving parcels right by the stage door instead! Certainly three of “the Boys” we’ve worked with many times before- Tonka and Crystal possibly as many as eight times, and Buttons” at least twice. I have to admit I can’t remember the name of the fourth pony, but then it’s been so busy these past few days remembering my own would have been an achievement!

Both shows went very well, and we look forward to a glorious whole day off to recharge those batteries! More news on Tuesday, when we return for a full week of Twice Daily at the Theatre Royal!

Tuesday 13th December 2005

“What a difference a day makes!”- Having that one precious day off really does help recharge those batteries. Still streaming with the after effects of the ‘flu, but brightened up considerably by the delivery of a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses for Peter and myself, courtesy of Jack and Ian, our friends from America- Thanks guys, the dressing room looks complete now!

Tonight is designated “press Night”, when the three or four newspapers will be in to review the show. The matinee was packed with school parties, and very boisterous they were too, then in between shows I took to my bed – I was not alone. No, I’ll rephrase that- in various dressing rooms panto folk were catching forty winks before the demands of the Press Night.

Finally remembered the name of the pony by the way- its “Buster”- not sure we’ve worked with Buster before, but the “boys” have settled in nicely. There is a terrible racket when the metal ramp is put down over the stairs.. a clattering of heavy hooves.. but it turned out to be Peter negotiating the ramp before the ponies arrived! We have no choice but to grip the walls and clatter down the ramp ourselves- well, if it’s good enough for our prized white Shetlands..!

Press night was, I think “A Triumph”, but we’ll find out for certain when the reviews are published tomorrow. Some cards arrived late, one from the lovely Rachel Spry, our previous Fairy Godmother for the past three years- Rachel is doing a second year in “Mamma Mia” in The West End- and she tells us how much she’ll miss doing Panto this year- Have a great Christmas Rachel!

Peter and I actually ventured out for a drink after the show- our first “outing” since we arrived in Newcastle- no time and no energy so far, but I’m sure we’ll make up for that soon. We did a radio interview with Jill this morning, so tomorrow will be the first day that we’ll have arrived at the theatre for the “half”- The “Half Hour Call” which, in Theatre time is actually 35 minutes before curtain up.

Got a chance to get some news from other pantomimes this evening. Our friend Andrew Ryan is directing the Lyceum Sheffield “Jack & The Beanstalk”, and they had their first technical rehearsal today- Andrew’s very busy as he is playing Dame as well as directing- Have a great Tech & Dress panto folk in Sheffield! Also got news of “The Panto Wot I Wrote & costumed”- The Kenneth More Theatre’s “Dick Whittington” which also is into Tech and Dress runs- I’ll get more news after both Sheffield and Ilford open on Thursday.

A swift drink, then back to the flat we have near the Quayside here in Newcastle- Hoping to be “connected” to the internet there by Thursday, so the diary can be uploaded more swiftly to Simon. At present I’m popping into the local library with my floppy. Not convenient!

The Reviews Are In!!

The Chronicle

Cinderella at the Theatre Royal until January 21

We know she can dance, we know she can act, and now we know Jill Halfpenny can sing.

The former Eastenders actress and Strictly Come Dancing winner is the star as the Fairy Godmother who puts a little bit of sin into Cinderella. At times saucy, occasionally naughty, funny and possessing that powerful voice she steals every one of her scenes.

But this is no one woman show and Halfpenny has a superb supporting cast. Danny Adams is a magnificently mincing Buttons in this traditional rags to riches tale, who enjoys a great rapport with Clive Webb’s Baron Hardup.

Meanwhile Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins as Jordan and Jodie the Ugly Sisters, and we know where the cyst bit came from, are terrific as the malevolent double act who plot against their stepsister.

While 17-year-old local lass Lauren Hall is an enchanting Cinderella who eventually gets her man. The sets are terrific, from the spectacular opening light show to the enchanting Shetland ponies and the costumes are glamorous in this seamless production.

Away from the story line, there are some great scenes, a genuinely side-splitting slapstick sketch involving paint, water and gunk, and a frantic rendition of the 12 days of Christmas, revolving around rubber boots, cooking pots and old socks.

If you’re going to treat yourself this Christmas to a panto, make sure its this one.

Mick Smith

Shields Gazette

This is the best pantomime I’ve ever seen at the Theatre Royal. That’s not to say the others were less than good, it’s just that this is a bit special.

No expense has been spared to bring a superb show to Newcastle, and, with Jill Halfpenny heading the cast as the Fairy Godmother, her magical combination of singing, dancing and Geordie homeliness meant the feel-good factor kicked in from the off.

Michael Harrison’s script (he also directed and produced the show) maintains a cracking pace throughout the two hour show. The non-comedy bits (the storyline) with Sean Needham (Prince Charming) and Jody Crosier (Dandini) are kept to a minimum to allow the comedy to continuously flow. The sound of regular loud shrieks of laughter from kids (and grown ups) was wonderful.

Too many pantomimes rely on an individual star to carry the show, but with Cinderella every single character was so well acted it was a joy each time they came back on stage.

Danny Adams as Buttons established himself as the zany crowd favourite, and his double act with Clive Webb as Baron Hardup was a delight. The Ugly Sisters, Nigel Ellacott (Jordan) and Peter Robbins (Jodie) likewise , and Lauren Hall charmed the audience.

In addition, the live orchestra, the costumes, the lights, the explosions, the real car, the miniature horses, the wonderful sets, great dancing, spraying the crowd with water, foam fights and the side-splitting 12 days of Christmas finale made this a  must see event.

Ed Waugh

Wednesday 14th December-Thursday 15th December 2005

Very busy with the packed School matinees here. Clive and Danny and Peter and I have made slight changes to the matinee performances, very subtle changes, but the Schools house respond differently to the mixed audience of the evening. The main difference for Peter and I is that the school audiences Boo a lot more! That’s not a bad thing when you get boo-ed for a living, but it can slow things down a bit! A few gags change in the matinees, and some gags work better with the mixed audience than they do with schools “en-mass”. It’s a sort of “fine Tuning” I suppose, adapting to the house .

Danny and the girls........

Rose Harrison at the Theatre Royal co-ordinates the educational programme here. Peter and I, along with Andrew Ryan played our Pantomime Roadshow here to ten schools a few weeks back, and now Rose is following up with backstage tours and some drama workshops for school parties during the mornings, before the Matinee performances. Wish I’d had this when I was in school! It must be very exciting to go backstage, go onstage and then settle back and watch the show- keep up the great work, Rose!

Things have started to settle into a routine here now. Changes that seemed frantic are much easier, and you can start to notice that the ponies are starting to get into position at the same time each day- they don’t seem concerned that Peter and I are doing a very fast change in the wings right next to them- still haven’t found the time to feed them their carrot and polo mints yet, but that will be sorted very soon!

Heard from both Sheffield and Ilford pantomimes tonight- they opened this evening (Thursday) and both were a great success. Hopefully I’ll go to Sheffield on one of our Mondays off, and will have to wait until the last week of January to see the Kenneth More panto at Ilford. Best wishes to Andrew Ryan and to Nick Wilton, both giving their Dame Trott and Sarah The Cook respectively- glad you’ve opened and are a “triumph” chaps!

More Reviews.........

The Journal

“The Funniest Panto the girls had ever seen”

Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle until January 21

Theatre-Goers ended up having a ball at last night’s dazzling performance of Cinderella.

With all the trademark lavish sets and costumes we’ve come to expect from a Theatre Royal pantomime, this slick and very funny working of the classic rags to riches tale soon had us all in the festive mood.

Heading the cast this year is Gateshead’s Jill Halfpenny who plays the Fairy Godmother in a performance that is nothing short of spellbinding. The former Eastenders star and winner of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing has a lovely comic touch. She had the audience in the palm of her hand from the word go.

And Jill gets the chance to show off some of her fancy footwork when we’re treated to a stunning Strictly Come Dancing number.

The tale of Cinderella needs little introduction .Poor old Cinders is left slaving away while her ugly stepsisters-and they weren’t lying-go off in their finery to Prince Charming’s ball. Cue the Fairy Godmother, who waves her wand, and we’re treated to a magical “you shall go to the ball” scene, featuring the cutest little white Shetland ponies.

Cinderella is played by 17 year old Washington girl, Lauren Hall. Lauren, who played Wendy in Peter Pan at the Theatre Royal two years ago positively sparkles in the part.

Joining her are two of the best ugly sisters in the business. Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins have performed their roles together for 25 years- and it shows!

They make a genuinely funny double act and don some fantastic costumes, that even manage to put Newcastle’s Christmas lights in the shade.

And Danny Adams shone as a fresh, energetic Buttons.

My own Prince Charming was busy babysitting last night, so keeping me company were three delightful young reviewers.

Daughter number one, Serena, and her classmates Francesca and Madeleine, all aged nine, thought the show was the funniest panto they had ever seen.

Katherine Capocci.

Friday  16th December 2005

Outside in the “real” world the streets of Newcastle are heaving..Just getting around the city is difficult with the throngs of shoppers, and the queues in the shops snake out to the door. Our “Free” time is in the morning, and, at the moment I’m no early riser, so the morning involves attempting to get a sandwich for between shows, and the odd necessary for the digs- I found myself getting very irritable as I queued for my cheese and ham sandwich, and decided to head to the dressing room early just to escape the mayhem outside. Is it me, or is Christmas getting earlier each year? I watched a bus driver dressed as Santa having an argument with a taxi near the theatre, and wondered which world really is real! In our world all is ordered and rehearsed, calm and peaceful- yes, we do wear silly things on our heads, drench each other in foam and have the odd theatrical flash- but then isn’t that like any office Christmas party??

Two shows- again, all school children in the matinee, and mixed in the evening. The School kids really respond to Danny’s naughty Buttons, and really get into the story-line, which is comforting- with all the sophisticated gadgets and gameboys they surround themselves with, they still cheer the hero and boo the villain as their Victorian counterparts would have done. In between shows Peter & I pottered about- we’ve yet to take the “slap” off between shows and go out- I’m sure we will at some point, as we have a good two hours between shows before “the Half”, and we have got the make-up down to a fine art over the years- about seven minutes to put on, and three to get off! We’ll probably venture out when we get fed up of sandwiches every day!

Saturday 17th December 2005

If anything, the shops were even busier- apparently the sales have started? The mind boggles! Two shows as usual- no school parties though, being a Saturday, and a very responsive lot they were too.

Our dressing room has the added luxury of a “Walk in” Fridge- well, in the absence of a fridge, we have a balcony area..well, it’s actually a fire escape, but if you use your imagination it could be a balcony-fridge combined. It’s on the balcony that we keep our goodies chilled- sandwiches, milk..the odd bottle of champagne naturally.

The Fridge!

Unfortunately Peter managed to dislodge said bottle of bubbly while taking the air, and it plummeted fifteen feet to the ground. It must be good stuff because although we waited for the crash, there was a dull thump. It has landed intact fifteen feet below us! The bad news is, we can’t get at it! So near and yet so far eh? I was tempted to dangle Peter by his ankles and providing him with a long fishing pole, but decided against it. At the moment it accompanies the deceased pigeon that decided to end its mortal coil  in the basement.

Had a visit from our director Michael this evening, and he remarked at how vociferous the audience is- they seem to be having a ball! Michael will return tomorrow to watch the matinee before heading off on his rounds of the pantos- I think he’d been to Croydon and Bradford in the past few days, with Llandudno to follow.

Two shows tomorrow- 1pm and 5pm. The “Young Things” went out on the town. We settled for slippers and Horlicks. We really MUST get out more!

Sunday 18th December 2005

Some Dames kick the bucket- this one kicked the wheel-barrow. Let me explain..

The highlight of Clive and Danny’s “slosh” act involves a wheel-barrow brimming to the top with foamy creamy gunge. Because of the steep rake here, the barrow is filled, wheeled into the wings- near the Quick-Change area, and “Chocked” up with a plank of wood to prevent it from leaking, and keeping it level.It stays there until it is wheeled on at the very end of their routine.

Enter one short sighted dame- me- wearing five layers of clothing ready for the “strip” routine. I have no idea HOW I did it, but..I did. Yes- I managed to kick the plank of wood as I passed by. It all seemed to happen in horrible slow motion!

The Barrow!

The barrow tipped over- fortunately in the opposite direction to me, then a torrent of slosh began to surge downstage, covering the wings and threatening to flood under the backcloth and sweep Clive and Danny off their feet. Like magic nine of our intrepid crew appeared from nowhere, and using their cupped hands, shovels and cloths scooped up the slosh and began pouring it back into the wheel-barrow! It had to be at least three-quarters full for Clive to fall into it- and, by wringing out the very last drops Michelle and her “boys” managed it at the very last second.

I was very shame-faced! Made worse by everyone saying “don’t worry- accidents happen”..All I can say is the drinks will be on me in the pub on Tuesday for our heroic crew!

There was a follow-up. Yes- it gets worse..about an hour later I discovered the “domino effect”. You see, the stage floor here is very ancient. It is actually boards. You can see cracks of light beneath your feet. Beneath the wheel-barrow is the understage area. A cross-over to get from stage right to stage left. Little did I know it is also used as a holding bay for the Juveniles. To keep them out of the way of the slosh before they enter. Ohhhh dear.. you’ve guessed it.

Like a scene from “The Exorcist” white gunge began dropping on them, much to their surprise. While chaperones hurriedly moved the “babes” out of the way of my avalanche, the “Elex” guys- the chaps who look after stage effects, dry ice and ..well, the electrics were dashing below stage to capture and contain the gunge before it hit the electrics and blacked out central Newcastle. In the words of Brittney- “Ooops, I did it again!”

I think I’ve created a white Christmas in Newcastle Theatre Royal by accident. Sorry everyone!

Returned home after the show greeted by an explosion of fireworks over the quayside- no- nothing to do with me, honestly, as the start of the Newcastle Winter festival- very pretty it was too!

Tuesday 20th December 2005

Enjoyed a day off- and the evening spent watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire- it was a choice between Harry and King Kong, and with King Kong at three hours and ten minutes Harry won. Perhaps Film-makers should take a leaf out of Panto directors books, and do some cutting! If we did a panto that long we’d soon be playing to thin houses!

Both shows went well today, with the customary snooze between shows- the art is to balance your cushions correctly so that it’s not possible to roll over and destroy your make-up, and mash your false eyelashes! I imagine it would be a pretty scary sight to come across a somnambulant Ugly Sister in a dark dressing room- like something out of “Tales from the Crypt” I’d imagine!

As a company, we’ve just started to think about New Year’s Eve- a lot of us will be here over the New Year, and we’ve only just had the time to think about what we’re going to do- probably left it very late to book somewhere,  but we’ll make a few enquiries in the meantime. I wonder if any restaurant or venue has the room for thirty people at this late stage? Today we had the draw for the company “Secret Santa”, where you pick a name from a hat, and buy them a gift- value £5- to be opened on Boxing Day- it’s always a very badly kept secret who you’ve chosen, and this year is no exception!

Wednesday 21st-Thursday 22nd December 2005

Well.. I don’t feel quite so bad.. The wheel-barrow went over again today, and I was nowhere near it! Once again our valiant crew leapt into action and saved the day- however, a solution has been found, under our very noses. Stage Weights- those heavy devices that have held stage flats up for all these years turn out to be the perfect size and shape to rest the base of the wheel-barrow in, making it virtually impossible to tilt or slide even on this steeply raked stage!

I’ve noticed the rake is beginning to take its toll- Peter and I totter about in impossibly high shoes for most of the show, and as a consequence on this rake you feel as if you are being pushed forward. The nearer the front you get, the more you feel a tinge of vertigo, and the back starts to ache. I remember this back-ache from The King’s Theatre Edinburgh, but this theatre has an even steeper rake.

My boys are getting their treats now on a twice daily basis- Tonka, Buster, Buttons and Crystle get polo mints or slices of apple as soon as we come off from being vile to Cinderella and making her tear up her ticket. We do a quick change just before that scene in the wings- Beck and Amy lay out the frocks and shoes and wigs on the floor of the wing, and just as we are in them, the ponies arrive and take their positions in the spot we occupied a moment before- it made me think how backstage is run like a well oiled machine. I’m not saying anyone is well oiled.. but the whole process of scene change and costume change is like clockwork. Clive and Danny exit from the messiest slosh ever performed, and behind the brief front-cloth scene that invisible army of crew and stage management get to work.

Clive

In seconds the stage cloth full of slosh is folded and transported out of harms way. Slosh buckets and tables vanish to the wing, while a small army armed with cloths wipes away any potentially dangerous slippy slosh, another army moves in a large bed, and two large dressing tables, a giant bed head flies in, and two large flats are carried onstage by a crew with maglight torches held in their mouths while others check for stray pools of slosh. All this in an incredibly quick time. It is quite something to watch a transformation to rival Cinderella’s coach going on in our own private world the other side of the foot lights.

Tim on the crew had a birthday today, so we all celebrated in a pub nearby, So Happy Birthday Tim!

More Reviews!! The Stage

Jill Halfpenny is something of a rarity as a star turn in panto. Unlike the plague of vacuous reality TV stars that infect our stages over the Christmas season, she actually has some talent. Appearing here as the fairy godmother she displays a fine pair of lungs as well as the twinkling toes that helped her win last year’s Strictly Come Dancing.

In fact, the whole production is as slick and professional as any festive show you are likely to see this year. Much of this is owed to Danny Adams who turns in a show-stealing performance as Buttons. A farcical cross between Lee Evans and Joe Pasquale, he executes the comedy set pieces with aplomb and effortlessly gains sympathy with his little lost boy persona.

Lauren Hall, meanwhile, is sugary sweet rather than saccharine as Cinders, panto stalwarts Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins tread a fine line between comedy and cruelty as Jordon and Jodie the Ugly Sisters, and Jody Crosier defies the odds by injecting some personality into the normally bland role of Dandini.

And the show looks great too, with Cinderella’s coach, complete with real life miniature ponies, having obviously set Qdos back a few quid. Some savings do appear to have been made elsewhere though - the cute animal costumes worn by the stage school kids in a forest scene look identical to those used in last year’s production of Snow White.

While we could have probably done without being showered with water, lettuce and bacon-flavoured crisps by Buttons, and the ‘mistakes’ during the show were almost certainly contrived, this is a top notch panto and it’s clear that the audience was having a ball.

 

Friday 23rd December 2005

Weather quite mild here- consequently it’s quite hot backstage under the barrage of lights. Being on stage is sometimes like I imagine Victorian London to be- Lighting designers are very fond of using “Cracker” smoke machines that pump a fog onto the stage, it makes the “moving Lights” and “Gobo” effects look more impressive, but from our position it sometimes makes seeing difficult! Now Dry Ice- that is my favourite effect- that combination of dry ice pellets mixed into a device that heats it and pumps it out into a sea of cloud at low level. Our Fairyland opening uses tons of the stuff, and it really does look very beautiful, doesn’t make you cough, and evaporates in seconds!

Delighted to have a phone call from Peter Thorne, our fellow Dame. Peter is just down the road in Durham, and Peter (Robbins) and I have known Peter for over twenty years, when we first all toured in “Wind In The Willows” for nine months or so. Peter later played Dame at the Kenneth More, and has played Dame all over the land ever since. Like Dawson Chance, Peter lives in Spain, and flies over every panto season. We’ll be catching up with all the panto gossip when he visits us in a few weeks time.

I think all of us have completed our Christmas shopping, squeezed in the precious little time we have before and between the two shows a day. Tomorrow we have two earlier shows- at 1pm and at 5pm, so Christmas for all of us here at the Theatre Royal officially begins at 7.35pm tomorrow!

Sorry one of my holiday pictures!!! How did that get here.......Ed.

Saturday 24th December 2005

STOP PRESS!

Well- Christmas Eve is a magical time here in Pantoland- and tonight was even more magical here at the Theatre Royal.

In this make-believe world of Fairy castles and Prince Charming meeting his Princess to be, our very own Fairy Queen has fallen under a spell..Sit back, because once upon a time..

After the second show the curtain fell, and panto folk dashed for the dressing rooms to head to wherever it is they will be spending Christmas Day. The Sisters headed for their onstage quick change room to hang up their finery, and a few of the Stage Management team and crew were in the wings about their business.

I emerged to head off the stage when I noticed Jill, our Fairy Queen had been held back on the stage, in her gold finale costume- a photo call perhaps? But wait.. there heading on stage was her boyfriend Craig- Surely he was at home now?

In one beautiful romantic moment, as he went on bended knee we realised- Craig was proposing to Jill- bearing an engagement ring! A breathless pause- Jill was taken completely by surprise.. could it be..? The answer, of course was YES!

Can you imagine a more romantic moment- on stage at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, on the finale set of “Cinderella” on Christmas Eve? That must be a first in the history of this beautiful historic building, and a memory they will both treasure.

Before I head completely into Barbara Cartland prose, can I just say on behalf of all of us here in Pantoland, Congratulations Craig and Jill!

And a VERY Merry Christmas to everyone out there in the magical world of pantomime!

26th December 2005 - Boxing Day

I think everyone enjoyed a glorious day off yesterday, and now its back to work- these next ten days or so are the busiest for theatres all over the country, with tickets sold out well in advance.

As a rule, the Boxing Day matinee can be a bit of a let-down- audiences are often exhausted and very laid back after all the hectic preparations for Christmas day, but fortunately we had a very “perky” audience, who were definitely up for some fun.

Between shows we had our “Secret Santa” ceremony on the stage, where everyone participating gets to open the present they’ve received from their unknown benefactor. The cast member who came out best was Sprocket the dog- he belongs to Ray and Michelle, who got two presents- a chewy dog treat in one parcel and a squeaky ball. The squeaky bit lasted forty minutes until he reduced it to an inaudible hiss with his teeth. I got an almanac containing thousands of  little known facts- perfect for dipping into between entrances, and it’ll set me up if I ever come face to face with Anne Robinson again!

Danny had a minor altercation with the comedy car door in the matinee, catching his sleeve in it and slamming his elbow in it, but the trouper he is, he carried on regardless- he spends a great deal of the show falling, tumbling and being very acrobatic. I personally concentrate on just standing upright on the lethal rake here!

Another mishap- Ricardo one of our dancers had problems with a capped tooth that had worked itself loose. He had family in, and was attempting different ways of securing it. “Do you think chewing gum will work?” “Bluetack?”.. He poked his head into our quick-change room during a change..”Do you think Polygrip would work? I wondered if….”

In the words of Catherine Tate “How VERY Dare you!” Bless him, he wasn’t asking if I personally had a tube of Polygrip about my person (and NO, I do not! Before you ask) but it was a very amusing moment! He then compounded the deed by saying “Oh no.. I didn’t mean.. I just thought well, it’s not worth asking anyone younger because they wouldn’t know what I was talking about!”.. How VERY dare you!! It made me chuckle throughout the matinee!

Michael our director was in this evening. Since we saw him he’s been to see Bromley, Richmond and Wimbledon  as well as Darlington pantomimes, and is off to Llandudno tomorrow. He gets about doesn’t he?

Sean, Jody and Jeff came back to our flat after the second show, and we made an attempt to get through the tons of food we have left over from Christmas, but hardly made a dent in the fridge. That’s Boxing day for you!

Wednesday 28th December 2005

A snowy day here in Newcastle- not enough to worry about delaying the shows for coaches to arrive, but a fair sprinkling.

I think it was between shows that I began to ponder the glamour of the theatre- “An actor’s life for me”..determined to get a nap in (which I didn’t) on the curious “Z” bed that was here when we arrived, I decided to dine between shows.. broke the ice seal around the door of our “Walk in fridge” to discover yesterday’s sandwich (Egg and something green) sitting there on the steps of the fire escape, covered in snow.

Ahh the glamour of it all- a frozen egg sarnie past the sell-by, me wrapped in an old fleecy dressing gown, well past it’s sell-by, and staring at myself in the mirror- well past the…anyway!

Michael our director regaled us with panto gossip from far and wide, and we were joined by Sean (Prince) and his partner, Lauren, who is visiting over the New Year, and by Jill. As you walk around the building you can hear the odd sneeze, wheeze and cough- Jill’s suffered for a few days, as has Jodie, and Amy, and a few  of the crew. Mine has virtually cleared up, and I’m taking every vitamin supplement known to man.

The shows were packed as usual, and I made a point of watching the transformation scene from the wings- very beautiful it is too. As the coach and four ponies enter the stage is filled with snow effects from a snow machine high up in the grid. Ironic really, art imitating nature, as outside it was snowing as well- unless for economy someone just opened a roof vent and let it all in on cue?

The dancers have put up a list to see who is interested in going for a New Year’s Eve meal after the show. We’ve left it very late, but might still get in somewhere if we try to book tomorrow..

Tomorrow Peter and I have a bit of a mad dash between shows. We finish the matinee at 4.30pm then, dressed as ladies (as you do) get whisked off in a car to Newcastle BBC studios. We arrive around 5pm and go live on camera fifteen minutes later on BBC 24 the cable news channel. Although we’re facing the cameras in Newcastle, the interviewer will be in London, and we’ll be answering questions on ..what else? Pantomime- the traditions, the changes, the future. It sounds very interesting, I just hope we are!

Went back to the flat early to complete this glamorous gourmet day with a tin of Heinz Spaghetti on toast and an early night. Where are those days of wine and roses?

Thursday 29th December 2005

What a long day! The matinee was full of jolly people enjoying themselves, which always buoys you up, and it sped through. Amy and Beck  from wardrobe helped us do an additional quick change when, at the end of the finale we got back into our “spotty” costumes- the ones we wear in the kitchen scene, dashed to the dressing room and re-applied the make-up, then dashed out of the door and into a waiting cab to go to the BBC in Newcastle.

Arrived in very snowy conditions and were ushered into a waiting area where we enjoyed that well known BBC hospitality- yes, a vending machine cup of coffee, then went into the studio where they had set up the camera, radio microphones and a large projection of the Theatre Royal as a background for BBC News 24.

At 5.17 precisely we went live, being interviewed on a link from London BBC. That means you hear the interviewer, but don’t actually see them. All you see is a giant picture of yourself on a monitor. We did a brief interview talking about the changes we’ve seen in pantomime, the reasons why panto has survived and finally, the importance of the role of Dame in panto. Then it was all over, as soon as it had begun!

The nice gentlemen at the BBC asked if we’d mind calling in unannounced on the Radio Newcastle studio to surprise Martin, their presenter. An opportunity to plug both the panto here and indeed  this website couldn’t be missed, so we agreed. Poor Martin. Mid way through doing his traffic reports in walked these two towering visions of loveliness and plonked themselves down in his studio! To say he was taken aback would be an understatement! To be fair, he quickly regained his composure, and we did a very jolly fifteen minute interview before dashing back to the theatre in a cab.

As we neared the theatre the taxi driver looked in his mirror and said “So what’s the panto at the Royal this year then?” Deep sigh from the back seats. “It’s Cinderella”. “Oh. So what do you play then?”. Deeper sigh from back seats. “Guess” I said.. long silence from front. “Do you want the front or the stage door?”.

We slowed down near a pub. A gentleman was standing near the wall, pint glass in hand staring into space. Then he clocked the two passengers in the cab now stationary at the traffic lights. The expression on his face said it all. “I swear I’ll never touch another drop in my life…” We reached the stage door and dashed inside into the warmth!

Had fifteen minutes to wolf down a sandwich, then it was show-time again. Another very jolly show, with a very lively audience, and a good time had by all. Jill’s cold seems much better- I think Jodie’s is on the way to improving but poor Amy dancer was not a well girl, and didn’t do the second half- feeling unwell and dizzy it would be very unwise to whirl around the stage at breakneck speed. An early night and lemsip for Amy.

Had a meal after the show- a welcome change from a constant diet of things on toast and sandwiches, then through the icy streets and an early night. As I said- a long day!

Friday 30th December 2005

The snow has melted here, thank goodness- negotiating a slippery hill then spending all day on the severely raked stage is not good for the back! Another two shows today- you can still hear a few hacking coughs backstage, but on the whole I think everyone with a cold is improving. Amy our dancer is much better, and Jill and Jodie seem much improved. Hoorah!

A slight hiatus during the second show. Standing in the wings shortly after the curtain had gone up I overheard the possibility that we might have to halt the show for a short while. It seems some fibre optic cables had worked themselves loose high up on the top of “The Star Cloth”- this is a cloth with fibre optic lights that goes behind the main “Show Gauze”.

If there is a problem like this it is the Company Stage Manager’s decision after consulting with the “Stage LX”- the resident stage electricians- as to whether we stop or not to carry out repairs. The cables themselves were not a major problem, but they might tangle with the gauze and cause a problem, or snag. Ray’s problem was that with the lighting states set up on the main lighting computer, anyone trying to repair the cables behind the show gauze would be visible to the audience. A bit distracting!

Ray decided to wait for the next scene change, when Sean and Jody sing a song infront of a front cloth, and indeed as they did the bar holding the star cloth was flown down onto the stage, the problem fixed in seconds, and it flew back up out of sight of the auditorium. Crisis averted, all done and dusted!

The dancers have managed to find somewhere to spend New Year, a restaurant very near the theatre, and I think I speak for everyone when I say how much we are all looking forward to TWO WHOLE DAYS OFF! Panto twice a day is tiring, and those two days will make such a difference to us all, especially those suffering from colds and coughs- we return on Tuesday next- 3rd January 2006 to begin another week of twice-daily here.

To everyone out there in Panto Land- Have  a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Seeing in the New Year at the Blue Coyote in Newcastle!!

Tuesday 3rd January 2006

Travelled back from Sheffield this morning for Newcastle. Had a great evening watching “Jack and the Beanstalk” at the Lyceum Theatre last night. Just the thing for a day off- another panto! It’s directed and written by our friend Andrew Ryan, who also plays Dame Trott- superbly I might add! Thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it was good to revisit the beautiful Lyceum once again. Peter and I did panto there a good few years ago, and have always had a great affection for the building, a very skilful blending of the original auditorium and foyers combined with modern, spacious dressing rooms at the back.

The show was great fun, starring Malandra Burrows as Jack, Thomas Craig as Fleshcreep, Sarah Thomas as the Fairy and Pete Hillier and Richard Colson and Gemma Moss, as well, of course as Andrew with his many fast costume changes, his strip and ballet routine and a wonderful pathos scene with Daisy the Cow. With the exception of Ilford’s Kenneth More Theatre, this will probably be my only panto visit this year, as so many will have finished before we do here in Newcastle.

Arrived early- always wise to choose a train that gives you a few later options incase there are delays on a matinee day! Everyone seemed rested after the luxury of two days off, although the colds and sneezes are still going around the building. Matinee went very well, with no incidents to report. During the show I got a text from Fellow Dame Bobby Crush- Bobby just finished his run at Crewe’s Lyceum last night, and is just about to get aboard a cruise liner for the Caribbean- alright for some, eh?

Between shows had a visit from another Dame- Peter Thorne. Peter’s in Durham’s Gala Theatre, and called in to say hello. It was so good to see him- we rarely meet up now he lives in Spain, and we were able to catch up over a cup of tea in the sister’s boudoir before the evening show.

Quite a few pantomimes around the country will be ending their runs this Saturday or Sunday- we still have three weeks left to play, and, so far with no sign of an empty seat in the auditorium. I have worked out I’ll get through a further thirty four apples by then, as my “Boys” have to be fed after the kitchen scene. The ponies now start to make chewing noises as I pass en route to the quick change room in anticipation of the apples. It’ll take me three weeks to try and persuade “Buster” not to grab my finger at the same time as the apple..but we’ll get there!

Two shows tomorrow, and a company meal to look forward to on Thursday.

Reviews of the 'Play wot I wrote'! from The Stage

Dick Whittington - Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford

Daniel Wright and Isobel Hurll

This really delivers what it promises - “traditional, spectacular family pantomime” - emphasising spectacular. The great set is backdrop to Nigel Ellacott’s continual kaleidoscope of no-expense-spared, colourful, shiny, glamorous costumes with added bling. Courtesy of the theatre’s own amazing, historical treasures and Soho’s Mr Behal.

There is immediate impact as Loraine Porter’s warm hearted Ilford Fairy, with a neverending stream of EastEnders puns, is matched by Isobel Hurll’s imperious, impressively elegant, glamorously beautiful Queen Rat.

This highly visual, furiously paced show has great fun with the Queen Rat’s Squeakest Link.

Adam Gaskin is an appealing, extra fluffy Cat, Owen Smith shows comedy talent as Rat-a-Two-ee, Philip Allinson is a strong Sultan. Robert Quarry is idiotic as Bosun Bilge.

Lee Bright’s likeable, handsome hero teams nicely with Laura Medforth’s jolly Alice and both sing well. Nick Wilton’s rotund Sarah specialises in comic anarchy. Nicholas Pound’s Alderman combines good looking maturity and a gorgeous singing voice.

Busy, brilliant lighting includes a great disco number. Mark Brock’s inventive, inhouse laser light show plus an imaginatively conceived black light undersea scene advance the plot. Stuart Rush is the musical driving force. Loraine Porter’s energetic choreography even has tap dancing Beefeaters.

Wednesday 4th January 2005 - Meet The Team!!

The Crew

From Left to Right

Tim Stabler, Glen Armstrong, Richie Patrick, Dan McGrath, Stevie Bell (Flyman), Keith Cadwalladar.

Not photographed- Simon Martin (Head Flyman) James Turse and Graham Taylor

 

The Wardrobe!!

Amy Harrison and Beck Palmer

Not Pictured - Wendy Moreton (Wardrobe Mistress)

 

The Followspots

Adam Mills and Vicky Sandison

 

The Electrics

Couldn't be found to be photographed because you couldn't hear them and it was dark......only joking boys! New Camera not working!

Stu Middleton, Adrian Gummer (sound operator), Chris Winn (LX) Nathan Reynard (LX) and Ken Gorman

 

The Stu!

Thursday 5th January 2005

I’m not sure if the majority of schools go back next week in Newcastle, but so far we’ve seen full houses each show- including the very upper circle. Some theatres around the country have suffered a drop in attendances over these past few days as their schools have gone back, and parents don’t like to arrange an outing the day before a new term, and, of course school parties can be reticent about an outing as soon as they have begun the term time. Touch wood we’re fine so far!

Certainly there were a lot of ladies of a certain age in this afternoon- as far as the eye could see- it was like a specsavers convention, and you could be blinded by the double glazing in the auditorium, but they had a wonderful time- didn’t seem to mind the odd dousing with water and slosh even- game old girls out for a good time! Peter and I had a job finding “our man” in the audience, but there were one or two dotted about we discovered!

After the second show we set off for our very first “Company Meal” at “Zizi’s” restaurant in Grey Street. Thirty five of us, with meticulous pre-ordering of food to speed things along, and a great chance to unwind and socialise in a nice relaxed atmosphere- well done “Zizi’s”, you did us proud! I got the opportunity to chat to Irvin our Musical Director about Glasgow and the personalities and theatres there- he has worked there in his native land many times- Peter and I have never played in pantomime there, but have toured there with different shows in the past.

 (L) Shane, Nigel, Adam, Vicky & Guest  -  (R) Michelle, Ray, Amy, Clive, Beck, Dan

 

Jill, Tim, Craig, Irvin, Shane, Adam

 

A great evening out, and I think we all had a good time. Just what you need to break the week up I think!

 

(L) Nick, Sean H & guest, Lauren, Innis, Jenny, Michelle  -  (R) Vicky, Karl, Ricardo, Sean N, Amy, Amy, Peter, Sean H & Vicky's guest

Friday 6th January 2005

A day of visitors- I was delighted to meet up with my former drama lecturer, Graham Davies, who I haven’t seen for over thirty years! Graham and his wife are visiting family here at Newcastle, and took the opportunity to meet up and see the show after all this time. A great start to the day.

The shows were packed out again, and in between packed away the Christmas tree and all the festive bits- Twelfth Night after all, and took that opportunity to give the dressing room a quick spring clean. Amazing the tat you accumulate during a panto run!

A bit of drama in the second show- poor Pete, who looks after the ponies along with his Mum suffered an injury. I’m afraid two of “my boys” were to blame. Apparently Tonka and Buster were heading into their truck when a passing lady unfurled her big umbrella. That spooked the ponies, and they managed to tread on Pete’s feet with considerable force. Remember- never put your brolly up when ponies are present..

With Pete out of action the lot of pony handler for the stage fell to Nick ASM. The handlers not only look after the ponies in the wings, they also lead them onto the stage, suitably attired during the transformation. Nick to the rescue. Wendy organised a rapid costume fitting, and shortly afterwards there was our Nick unexpectedly centre stage leading his team of ponies.

Despite their rather unfortunate incident I gave the boys extra rations- carrots for shock, and the usual apple, and as soon as it began Nick returned to the wings and the crisis was over!

A very special occasion tonight, as we had a visit not just from Michael our director, but from Paul Elliott, who came along bringing two theatre managers as guests- the managers of Belfast’s Opera House and Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre. It is always a delight to see Paul. He gave us our first E&B pantomime twenty four years ago, and has directed us in panto many times over those years- we did our first panto for Paul at Stevenage, and then set off on the circuit with Rolf Harris for a few years, with Les Dennis, Gary Wilmot, Ronnie Hilton, Linda Hayden, June Whitfield, Rula Lenska, Dennis Waterman, dame Hilda Brackett, Windsor Davies, through pantos with Britt (Ekland) June Brown, Stefan Dennis..back to pantos with Rolf again - on to several seasons with Brian (Conley) the list seems endless! Paul seemed extremely delighted with what he saw this evening, and was full of praise for the show and everyone in it, which is very heart-warming.

A few drinks after the show, then back to the digs. Thank goodness for Marks & Spencer and the microwave wonders it supplies!

Saturday 7th January 2005

Two shows, and a day of visitors, all of whom have a connection with this website!

Peter Leatherby

Delighted to meet up with Peter Leatherby and his party, who had travelled from Glasgow to see the show. Peter has been a regular contributor to its-behind-you.com since the beginning, and  has provided us with lots of information for our annual diary of pantomimes. Today was his birthday, so Many Happy Returns Peter! He owns a very extensive collection of pantomime flyers and handbills, and   is an avid collector of  panto paraphernalia. It was great to finally meet up and say “hello” after such a long time.

The two shows had a few hitches from my point of view- nothing earth-shattering, but minor technical hitches of a costumic nature! At the end of our strip Peter and I hold a pose, the lights black-out, and we unhook ourselves from the washing lines around our waist that are held by Amy and Beck in the wings. In theory..! My washing line got tangled around me, and in the blackout I was struggling to unleash myself and exit before Lauren’s song that happens in a tight spotlight just in front of me. By the time I got unhooked I had to leg it across the stage in the dim light while she sang on oblivious to the scampering sister behind her!

The second show  had a few boobs too- literally! Let’s just say I had a problem with my matronly bosoms, and leave it at that! In short there was an unseemly scrabble in a quick change while a substitute was found!

Between shows had a chat with Andy Garton. Andy works Front of House here at the Theatre Royal , and has been in touch regarding the diary. Andy had mentioned that the diary was interesting to some of the theatre’s hosts, as it gave an insight to life behind the footlights. In the same vein I wondered if Andy would like to contribute to this diary with an insight into a day in the life of the Theatre Royal from the F.O.H (Front of House) viewpoint. He’s agreed- so we can look forward to finding out more about all the work that goes into dealing with the most important part of a theatre’s existence- its audience! Thanks Andy- look forward to reading it!

To end the day we had a visit from David McNeill, the director of the pantomime in Carlisle, at the Sands Centre. David has been a regular contributor to this site as well, and  had brought his two sons along to see the show. David’s panto this year was also “Cinderella”, and at short notice he’d had to step in as Ugly Sister due to the ill health of  one of his company. David presented us with two beautiful engraved “Cinderella” glass coasters- thanks David!

Finally, as we were in the pub after the show, got a chance to chat to Danny’s friend Johhny Mac, who has just finished panto at the Lyceum Crewe as Wishee Washee in “Aladdin”. Johhny was in that panto with our old mate Bobby Crush who played Widow Twankey- the same Bobby who texted at 5.45pm to say he sailed at 6pm for the Caribbean, just incase we’d forgotten! What thoughts that created as I picked my way through a Gregg’s cheese sandwich in the dressing room as the rain lashed the windows!

Sunday 8th January, 2005     

Earlier shows today- 1pm and 5pm. The last two shows of the week, the time when your body tells you that you are ready for the day off! This steep rake is certainly taking it’s toll on my feet and back, and the same for Peter. I sometimes look longingly at the slippers I have (yes- comfy slippers for between shows!) and wistfully wonder if I shortened every full length costume we have, would I get away with it? Could I wear slippers hidden beneath my gowns and enjoy a few moments of bliss?

Sadly ‘tis but a day dream. We need the height to be all the more larger than life as the Sisters, and, as Beryl Reid or whoever it was once said- it all starts with the shoes! Still, it’s a dream here that might just come true for the Sisters who follow us into this theatre- apparently during the close-down when the theatre extends into the building next door they may well remove the raked stage at the same time, thus making it a much more pleasant experience for Panto Dame and ballet dancer alike. Fingers crossed- we who suffer now hope you lot who follow don’t!

Had another visitor today- Lynsey Britton, our Cinderella for the previous three years! Lynsey is currently appearing in “Guys and Dolls” at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, and has been appearing in the lead during the run in her position of “cover” to Sarah Lancashire. Last year Brian Conley, this year Ewan McGregor and Nigel Harman!

Lovely to see Lynsey again- and indeed strange to see her heading “out front” to watch the show which she told us that she thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a very different show to the one she did with Jody, Sean Peter and myself, and she loved every minute of it! She’s also been to Dartford to catch up with Brian (Conley) and Dawson (Chance) recently, and had a great time watching their “Aladdin”. Sean, Jody Peter and I (the Conley Company!) went off for a Chinese meal after the show, and caught up with the news and gossip over a crispy duck!

Had a phone call from Ray Meagher (We did Darlington with Ray and Stu Francis a while back) to say goodbye, as he finishes his run as the wicked Abanazar in “Aladdin” in Bournemouth tonight. He described that last night rush as everyone does a show and packs away their belongings as people “running around like headless chooks”-and says he’ll get in touch when he gets back to “Summer Bay” and resumes his life as Alf in “Home and Away” in sunny Sydney.

A lovely moment I relished today. Before the first show Richie the Head Honcho of the stage crew was showing his daughter Amy (aged four or five I’d guess?) around the stage. She wanted to see Cinderella’s crystal slipper, as you do..

Peter was setting up stuff in the wings, dressed in his “civvies”, not  yet in make-up. When she was shown the slipper Peter said to her “Now I know where the slipper is, I can steal it from Cinderella and marry the Prince”.

“Oh “ said someone- “Now the Ugly Sister knows where the slipper is!”.

“No” said Amy.. That’s not the Ugly Sister, that’s the Ugly Man!”

Bless her- she gave me so much joy and mirth I almost forgot my feet ache!

A Whole day off tomorrow! What bliss! To those of you who finished Panto  runs over this week-end, enjoy the rest – put those feet up for a short while, I’ll be doing the same in a few weeks!

Tuesday 10th January 2005

Two shows as usual- we had wondered whether the houses might be less full now that the local schools have gone back, but indeed no. The second house especially was a very “perky” one, and a very lively response. At the end of the show we stayed onstage to meet up with a local school- St. Alban’s R.C.Primary. The pupils are doing their own production of “Cinderella” in February, and quizzed us all to pick up a few pointers for their performance!

Talking to the crew today, it seems that this infamous raked stage may well remain- it looks as if the budget for refurbishing the stage area won’t run to that. I went shopping for a cheaper solution, which I found in the local “Boots” the chemist. It’s called “Party Feet”. Two curious pieces of clear squashy plastic, very similar to chicken fillets that you put inside your high heel shoes to relieve pressure on the err balls of your feet- it claimed on the packet that I could “Party all night, shop all day”.

Frankly, just walking onstage without feeling like the Little Mermaid on her first land legs would be excellent. Got to say though that they did seem to help, but have a tendancy to flop out, and you end up scrabbling on the floor looking for something akin to a giant contact lens!

Sean (Needham) hasn’t really had a day off this week- he flew to London yesterday morning for a cast meeting of “Buddy”, the musical, and flew back to Newcastle this morning. He starts rehearsing in two weeks time for a tour that will take him all over the country for the following nine months.

The backstage area is now the home of the Super Hero- or Super Villain even. Yes- despite dressing up twice a day for six weeks, the cast have decided they are having a Fancy Dress Party! It seems everyone has been raiding wardrobes, scouring charity shops and heading for the costume hire shops to become a super hero or villain. We look set to have Supergirl and Batman meeting Indiana Jones and even Popeye and Olive Oil at a venue to be announced on Thursday! Speaking as one who dresses up twenty-four times a day, six days a week, I think they’re all mad, but it has given everyone something to plan for mid week. Expect some wacky photographs after Thursday when we’ll reveal who went as who!

Visitors today- delighted to see Paul Barratt (Peter and I did pantomime at Darlington with Paul as Stage Manager) who has just finished Llandudno’s “Jack and The Beanstalk”, and Lisa Riley, starring in “Jack” and her guests at the matinee. Got a chance to chat to Paul and Lisa in the pub afterwards- Lisa has previously worked with Clive and Danny for several years in “Goldilocks”, when she played the Ring-Mistress of the Circus, which is the setting for Goldilocks of course. Had we been watching telly tonight (which we weren’t- a bit risky during a quick change!) we’d have seen Lisa in “Holby City”. I think Lisa will be seeing the show again tomorrow evening before heading for Bradford to catch up with Lesley Joseph in “Snow White” at the Alhambra.

Wednesday 11th January 2006

MEET THE BABES! Part One

(From L to R)

Meryll Pacitti, Jennie Klotz, Dayna Nichols, Amy Forster, Daniel Henderson, Robin Larkin,

Amy Fenwick, Lizzie Klotz, Caroline Bommell and Sarah Coleman

Thursday 12th January 2006

A Front of House Diary by Andy Garton

 

It takes 1 Duty Manager and 17 Theatre Hosts (glam name for usher/ettes) to keep things running Front of House during the panto season - 4 in the Stalls, 2 in the foyer kiosk, 2 on the merchandise stall in the foyer, 3 on the Grand Circle, 3 on the Upper Circle, 2 in the Gallery, and 1 in the cloakroom.  When full, the theatre holds just under 1,300 people, split over the 4 floors and the 8 boxes.  As Nigel & Peter have already mentioned in the diary, the Royal is quite a high theatre, and the view from the back of the Gallery isn't for the faint hearted!

 

The Duty Manager has overall responsibility for the smooth running of things FOH.  Before the show s/he prints off a list of everyone who's booked for that show in case audience members turn up without their tickets (which happens on a surprisingly regular basis), and is always contactable by radio before, during & after the show

 

The Hosts arrive at the theatre 45 minutes before curtain up, then have 10 minutes to have a gossip, straighten out their uniform, finish off their make up...  At least that's what the blokes do, not sure about the women...

 

35 minutes before curtain up and the Hosts are all on their respective floors, programmes in arms, meeting and greeting the public, and waiting for the announcement from the Duty Manager to come over the PA system announcing that the auditorium is now open and the audience can take their seats.  The announcement comes, the doors open, and the Hosts get trampled in the rush for seats.  5 minutes before curtain up, the 3 minute call comes over the PA system.  Yes, I know that's cheating, but if the stragglers think they have 3 minutes rather than 5, then tend to hurry up a little bit more :-)

 

The 2 and 1 minute calls come, then the final 'the performance is about to begin' - just enough time to round up any lost souls, have a quick look into the auditorium to see if there are any empty seats (it's handy to know where any latecomers need to be seated, as it can be quite dark in the auditorium once the show starts), then shut the doors and breathe a sigh of relief.

 

The first half is usually spent with one Host inside the auditorium making sure that everyone's behaving themselves, and nobody's busy taking photos - in spite of announcements when the auditorium is opened, there are still people who think they can't be seen taking photos of the show from their seats.  It's actually easier now to spot than it used to be - camera flashes are highly visible but hard to track down, whereas mobile phones with cameras on are very easy to spot because of the glowing screen.  Getting to them is another matter though - it's either down to shining your trusty torch at the perpetrator, or making your way along the row to them, which in itself is quite a task!  As Victoria Wood once said, people never know how to let you past - it's either the 'legs to the side', 'full tip up of the seat' or the 'half crouch touching the Quality Street'.

 

While the auditorium police check for cameras and people running amok, the other Hosts replenish stocks of sweets, drinks, popcorn & programmes, stick the kettle on, discuss last night's Corrie / Celebrity Big Brother / the latest Dan Brown novel, and complete a couple of Sudoku while they wait for the interval.  As panto usually brings with it a large selection of flashes, bangs, smoke and generally scary characters (plus of course this year there are buckets of water, lettuce leaves, eggs and crisps making their way auditorium-wards), the Hosts have to be ready to calm children down who find it all a little bit too much - sometimes it's the children's first time in a theatre, and it can all be quite overwhelming.  Fortunately there's a TV monitor on the Grand Circle where they can watch the show safe in the knowledge that they're far enough away from the action.

 

20 minutes before the interval (just enough time to see the Sisters in their fantastic picnic costumes) one Host from each floor (and two from the Stalls) goes down into the depths of the theatre to pack the ice cream trays ready for the interval.  The freezer room is quite small, and when you've got 5 people all trying to manoeuvre round each other, fill trays and get out as quickly as you can, it can feel quite cramped.  Fortunately the Theatre Royal has some very patient staff members, so there are very few cases of brutality involving ice cream cones.  Once the trays have been set out upstairs, there's just time for a quick peek into the auditorium and an "Aaaaaaahhhh" at the ponies, then it's time to brace yourself for the rush for strawberry cones (though I personally think the sticky toffee tubs are much nicer).

 

During the interval there's 20 minutes of frantic selling of refreshments - during the 2005/06 panto run there will have been approximately 35,500 ice creams sold, 8,300 bottles of water, and 4,900 cartons of juice, not to mention the hundreds of bags of sweets, tubs of candy floss and boxes of popcorn.

 

After the interval there's a tidy up of the FOH areas while the Hosts cash up, pay the money in to the Duty Manager, and beg the bar staff for leftover hot dogs.  There's a general rush to the auditorium to hear Ray's latest joke at the start of the 'slosh' scene, then it's plain sailing to the 12 Days of Christmas and the final curtain.  Once the audience has been released into the wild again, the auditorium doors are closed and a dedicated team of cleaners move rapidly through the auditorium, which usually looks as though a popcorn bomb has exploded in it.  There's usually about an hour to clean the theatre from top to bottom and reset for the next performance, which when you see the size of the building is no mean feat!

 

The Hosts go and raid M&S / Fenwick / McDonalds for food, then from 6.15pm it all happens over again - time to put on the lippy and a smile, and go and meet the public once more.

 

We are aided in our job by the fantastic Box Office staff who sell the tickets in the first place, and to Barry & Ron, our night security guys.  Not forgetting of course our first and last contact as we come in and out of the theatre - Tony, Ray and Bob, the stage doorkeepers.

 

I hope that's given a little insight into what goes on during a panto performance day at the Theatre Royal.  Next time you're in, don't be shy - come and have a chat with us.  We don't bite unless there's a full moon, we love to hear when you've enjoyed yourself at the theatre (we usually only get to find out when things have gone wrong, not right), and if you have the correct change when buying a programme (they're usually £2.50, hint hint) we'll be your best friend for life.  Well, maybe not for life, but you'll certainly get an ice cream in the interval that hasn't been kicked across the freezer room floor :-)

Thanks to the Cinderella cast & crew for making 2005/6 a memorable panto for us all, and to the audience for helping us to enjoy it all so much.

Friday 13th December 2006

A Super Heroic time was had by all last night- our Panto Fancy Dress “do” held at the “Blue Coyote” just around the corner. The day passed quickly, with people popping in and out of dressing rooms showing each other their secret costumes. My “Peter Parker” wig, bought from a joke shop turned out to be more like Snow White on a bad hair day, but fortunately Riccardo was at hand with a pair of scissors to give it a trim. Definate make-up stars of the night  were Jody for his “The Joker” make-up, and Danny’s inventive “Dangermouse” and Sean Hackett’s friend Shah’s “Beetlejuice”.. Oh and Peter’s Cruella Deville that was definitely different to his “Sister” visage- subtle, but different!

As official photographer- I was Peter Parker after all, I had great fun teaming up villain and hero for exclusive shots for this diary. I did get a moment of crisis when I had to turn into my alter ego Spiderman and team up with Ray as a web spinning duo, but that’s all in a night’s work!

Our cast list is as follows: Michelle: Lara Croft. Ray: Spiderman, Nick: Zorro, Beck: Pamela Anderson as Barb Wire, Sean Hackett: Batman, Adam : The Boy Wonder- Robin. Shah as Beetlejuice, Amy: Poison Ivy, Emma Katy: Wonderwoman, Lauren: Supergirl, Shane: Superman, Sean Needham as Indiana Jones and  Jody as The Joker.

These characters were joined by Jill and Craig as Olive Oil and Popeye- complete with tin of spinach for emergencies, Peter as Cruella, Danny as Dangermouse, Karl as Actionman, Riccardo: Catwoman , Amy: Batgirl, Adrian as a warrior from “Stargate”, Robin Hood arrived brandishing his bow and arrow, and the party commenced!

Great fun- Certainly a first for a panto outing as far as I’m concerned, and congratulations to Ray for sorting it all out for us!

 

Sunday 15th January 2006

Two shows- early ones before the very welcomed day off. Both shows packed out, which is cheering, and gave us the energy boost required at the end of a long week. The last week of the run will be upon us when we return on Tuesday, and if it runs to form will fly past.

Theatre is an amazing place for group effort- the pantomime itself of course is a group effort- it takes a great many people to create the show each day- the actors, musicians, the crew, the juveniles, the stage management and LX and sound guys, the front of house, stage door and pony handlers- and in times of need everyone “mucks in”. A point in case this evening when Amy (Wardrobe) was unwell- the dreaded shivering and feeling sick. Into the breach stepped crewmen Dan and Glenn to help Peter, Beck and I in the immediate need for quick changes, and by the interval when Amy had been sent home, in stepped Dancer Jenny who acted as dresser for the second half of the show.

Jenny you see suffered an ankle injury on Friday, and has not been able to dance on stage. However she’s been in, keeping an eye on the dance routines from out front and backstage, and now here she was doing our very quick changes! Thanks Jenny, and Hope you feel better soon Amy!

Jody’s two Grannies came to see the show yesterday, and had a great time it appears. Jody told us a lovely story that, after the show one of his Grans turned to him and said “Do you know, there was a woman in the seat behind us who laughed all the way through the show! ”Bless! It reminds me of the Usherette at a theatre we were at once who stopped some excited children as they entered the auditorium to see the panto with “Now you behave yourselves. You’re not here to enjoy yourselves you know!”

Had a swift drink with the guys from the crew after the show, then returned to the digs for an evening dozing infront of the telly. A day off tomorrow- normal service resumes Tuesday matinee!

Monday 16th January 2006

MEET THE BABES! Part Two

(From L to R)

Kirsty Little, Emilie Bommell, Hayley Johnson, Emilios Souri, Bethany Hall, Caroline Davison,

Daniel Henderson, Georgia Payne, Jessica Warne and Jessica Dewhurst

Tuesday 17th January 2005

Well, the final week is upon us. Already thoughts are turning to packing, both in digs and at the theatre. You find yourself looking around the dressing room and wondering if you really need this, or that, and can it be packed away in advance. Good luck cards of course have to remain in place until the last minute, we’re a superstitious lot us thespians. One prime example was during a visit from Rose Harrison. Rose and her assistant Claire had masterminded the Panto Roadshow we brought here recently, and brought us a pack of “feed-back” from the schools- letters from kids and teachers, drawings, all very interesting reading. During our conversation Rose mentioned the “Scottish Play” as we actors refer to it by name. A big “No No” in a dressing room- it had to be sorted of course by her leaving the room, knocking, swearing and returning to break the spell.. Yes, possibly a load of old “Codswallop”, but us lot backstage rely heavily on luck- we respect it!

Delighted to have visitors tonight- Andrew Ryan arrived having just finished his Sheffield run in “Jack & The Beanstalk” as Director, Author and Dame- he must be exhausted. Also watching tonight’s show were Jack and Ian, who had come up from London via New York to watch the show. Jack is something of a “Matcham” expert- Frank Matcham being one of this country’s finest Theatre architects of the Victorian and Edwardian Era. This beautiful theatre is a stunning example of his work from just pre 1901. A very avid Theatre Buff, as is Ian who has recently finished an exhausting tour of Japan and the States as principal dancer in the “Grand Diva’s” ballet company- a company of male ballet dancers who become Prima Donnas of the ballet stage performing in tutu and immaculate make up and, of course, En pointe! Ian’s next engagement is in Venice during the carnival at the theatre there. If my feet ache because of this raked stage, what must his be like after dancing across the globe on his toes?

Jack and Ian invited us out to a beautiful meal after the show, and we had a chance to catch up on news and theatrical stories during the course of a lovely evening. They fly back tomorrow. Thank you so much chaps- it is always a great pleasure to see you!

Wednesday 18th January 2005

Two very lively shows today- the evening show had a few “Whoopers” in.. those ladies who laugh so much they make a wonderful “Whooping” sound that seems to set the rest of the audience off into even louder laughter- god bless ‘em! The sort of ladies who, in the days of Norman Evans or Arthur Askey would have been forced to loosen their stays incase they burst them laughing! Now, if you have to ask what on earth stays, combinations or directoire knickers are.. well, perhaps you are blissfully ignorant!

Michael our director was in once again, and will be with us tomorrow for the Theatre’s end of run party. Nick Thomas, the head of Qdos will be joining him, and no doubt one of the topics of conversation will be “Next Year”. Oh yes- as the main diary on this site shows, thoughts and plans are currently being drawn up for the pantomime seasons 2006-07. Almost before you’ve limped into the wings on the last night your thoughts are on where you’ll be next season, and what you’ll be doing. All over the country a stellar cast of performers are already in discussion with their agents and managers- “The Tops” we call them- the people who theatres would like to top the bill of their pantomimes next year. Then, as they get taken into the fold, the rest fall into place. A will be better playing opposite B. C would be good to go to X  but not with A as they are too similar.. it’s all like a big jigsaw with the key pieces being put on the board first, and the rest of the cast fitting in alongside.

A fair number of people who visit this site take great pleasure in “second Guessing” the dream teams being assembled by managements, but I’m always prepared for the changes that take place- venues decide they want a different subject, artistes are not available, subjects change, scenery might be too big, not big enough.. it’s a very difficult thing to second guess, but great fun never the less!

As I write this I just remembered Peter and I are doing that “Teacher’s TV” TV interview tomorrow. Good job I remembered- as I said earlier, this week IS moving swiftly! So a very full day tomorrow- two shows, we’re doing that telly from 4.30pm to 6pm, the Babes are having their party (sadly we’ll miss it!) then we’re ALL having our party after the show. The Theatre’s day starts with the arrival of the TV crew from Anglia to film the backstage tour and Rose’s workshop with the children in the rehearsal room, and will finish when we all dash off, “Suited and Booted” for the party venue at 10pm!

Thursday 19th January 2006

The matinee performance went swiftly, followed by the Babes party in the rehearsal room. Sadly Peter and I couldn’t attend, but I hear it was great fun, with the Marron school pupils putting on a show for their guests, and a very grand buffet.

Talking of food- isn’t it interesting what people collect in their dressing rooms? Some may do a jigsaw, some have flowers.. Lauren, our lovely Cinderella seems to be engaged in a science project. She appears to be developing a new mould culture to rival Louis Pastuer. It came to my attention that in her, how can I put it..bohemian dressing room (it looks like it has been ram raided) she has fruit left over from opening night. I duly inspected, and here is the offending collection. A very furry strawberry, long deceased, and some grapes well on their way to becoming raisins.Lovely..

Meanwhile, in a dressing room nearby, Peter and I were sat, dressed as ladies answering very serious questions about theatre, Commedia D’ell arte and Joseph Grimaldi to the camera crew from Anglia Television for “Teacher’s TV”. We are passionate about our subject matter, and didn’t stop burbling until the battery on the camera ran out, and then some more! We did an hour, which I assume will get edited down- I hope it does!

Second show pretty uneventful..I recall in one of the two shows today that Clive’s comedy car whilst undertaking a tricky three point turn on stage suddenly went into reverse, heading for a brief second into the stage left wing. You’ve never seen two Dames move so fast in your life! Glad I had a clean pair on, as Norman Evans would have said! That gets the adrenaline flowing!

Jon Conway, Jill, Nick Thomas, Michael Harrison, Catherine Rooney

Nick Thomas, Jon Conway and Michael our director were in tonight- the Royal Flush of Qdos, so to speak, and came backstage afterwards glowing with praise. You can never get too much of that! They joined us afterwards for our “End of Term” celebrations at “The Blue Coyote” around the corner from the theatre.

It was a great night out, and we had a chance to chat with theatre folk front of house, backstage, in the box office.. and a chance to catch up with the Qdos news from Nick (Thomas) and Jon (Conway) and chat to Nick’s wife and to Catherine Rooney. Catherine was here at the Theatre Royal in “Snow White”, in the title role, and has just completed a lengthy tour of “Beauty and the Beast” for UK Productions.

I wasn’t the last to leave at 2pm, and I believe several of the company headed on to the local casino, employing shall we say an unusual mode of transport- That will remain a mystery, but I’m sure it was a riot! A great time had by all, and tomorrow it’ll be business as usual!

Friday 20th January, 2006

Nothing like a matinee house full of  screaming kiddies to revive you after a late night! Both houses packed today- the business here has been pretty amazing. Pretty soon we’ll be able to announce an exclusive as to who will be here next panto season in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and I hear the box office is buzzing with party bookings already in anticipation of another smash hit!

Delighted to welcome Peter Tod today backstage. Peter came to see the matinee, and take tea in the sister’s boudoir as he did so many times when he ran the Hippodrome Birmingham, one of our all time favourite theatres. Peter was responsible for putting Darlington, Bradford Alhambra and the “Old” and the “New” Birmingham Hippodrome on the map, and continues to be involved in major theatre tours around the UK. Peter has been a great friend to us, and got involved with our panto roadshow from the very beginning, when we toured it under the banner of “Cadbury’s” sponsorship- many times since we played the Hippodrome with Rolf Harris and Gary Wilmot  we’ve been booked by Peter for Roadshows, Arts Festivals and, to our delight, to act as hosts (well, hostesses!) for the opening of the New Hippodrome. Peter thoroughly enjoyed the show, and we look forward to meeting up soon.

Sean and Loren

Clive and Danny had a special visitor tonight- Danny’s brother Jonathan Marx, who has just finished panto, and will shortly be joining them on tour with their company “Circus Hilarious”

Peter and I began the process of packing up today. We folded up that extremely comfortable “Z” bed in the dressing room, and brought down the large wicker skips ready for packing tomorrow. The large one takes the bigger items, including the Xmas tree, the Touring Tea Set and various props, and the smaller one takes all the shoes, (eat your heart out Imelda Marcos) tights, hats, gloves and accessories. These two will join the two costume rails, the wig rail, the boxes and cases that will be taken from Newcastle to Beverley Yorkshire, then down to London in a week’s time, ready for us to unpack.

It’s always sad to start moving out- taking down the posters and cards- Jill and Craig came for a cup of tea and remarked on that, as they attempted to find somewhere to sit amongst the packing cases. After tomorrow, the next person to applaud our costumes will be the Dry Cleaner!

Tomorrow the last day- it’ll fly past, everyone rushing around packing, exchanging phone numbers and addresses- our panto family will split to the four winds by the stroke of midnight!

Saturday 21st January 2006

A tinge of sadness, a hint of relief! We got through it- twice daily, every day for six days a week with the magic still intact! This panto family now has to part, and  I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say how welcome we were all made here at the Theatre Royal, and indeed in Newcastle itself. They told us Geordies had a friendliness that was infectious, and they were right- Thank you Newcastle!

The day flew past as expected. Both houses packed to the rafters, with the very top “gods” gallery heaving. A great sight on the last night. Dressing rooms were stripped and packed, and during the last show we were extremely grateful to have the help of Glen and Dan  who helped pack away our stuff in between their stage cues. With their help by the time the curtain came down we were completely packed, and all our stuff was ready to be loaded into one of the three huge Paul Mathews trucks that were parked outside in Shakespeare Street. Thanks guys- you made our last night so much easier!

Craig and Jill

I fed “My Boys” for the last time before they too set off in their truck, heading eventually for Reading where Mr Lucking stables his panto ponies. Hopefully we’ll see them again next year in…Well, we’ll have to wait for the official announcement to say where.. but I’m sure they’ll be with us again!

The Trusty Keepers of the Stage Door!

During the first show Peter experienced “Revenge of the Slosh!”. As we came down the steep staircase (clutching each other as usual in what appears to be solidarity, but is in fact added security) he managed to step on some blobs of slosh that dripped down from above- the cloth high in the grid and went down! He was unhurt, and giggling when Jody stepped in to assist him to his feet, but the words “Mother has had a fall” came to mind! Those awaiting their entrance were alerted as the usual sound of the crowd cheering or Booing (depending on how many kids are in) went from “Hoorah” to “Ooooh!” as he hit the deck. True pro that he is we still bowed on cue to the finale music with his feathers (and we wear many) only slightly ruffled!

Peter was secretly delighted, as in theatre superstition, to fall onstage means you will return, something we both look forward to in the future!

Glen

Two “Riccardo-isms” today- overheard while in the dressing room or the wings..one being “Ohh he’s not young, he’s in his twenties”.. and the other, upon hearing the news that the Whale that valiantly swam up the Thames had turned belly up and died near Embankment was “Oh yes, when they turn over they die.. I know this because I’ve got this aquarium at home and my guppy…” Bless!

Thanks to Dan and Glen, and with help from Amy and Beck, we were able to say our goodbyes to cast and crew before leaving this beautiful building, leaving all our costumes ready to be loaded. We’ve made new friends, enjoyed the company of old friends, and like Cinderella, we’ve had a ball! On behalf of everyone in the company once again we say “Thank you Newcastle! Here’s to the next time!”

All Packed!

EPILOGUE - The Encore Review

Encore Magazine: February 2006

More Than A Ha’Penny’s Worth!

On leaving the theatre, my last impression was an awareness that all the ingredients of a successful show had been on display here. Excellent lighting, the most amazing costumes I’ve ever seen, lots of laughs and the discovery that JILL HALFPENNY has a superb singing voice. She intro’d with “Land of make believe” followed by the running theme “Watching over you” before stepping out of character to reprise her 2004 Strictly Come Dancing jive routine (“I’m still standing”) at the ball to rors of approval from the audience. Her voice is powerful, rich in texture, and her enunciation crystal clear. I will be astonished if the West End doesn’t come calling her again very soon. Here she was on home turf as the prettiest of Fairy Godmothers. Her choice to perform in local dialect was well received by the packed house.

But importantly this was one one star show. She was ably supported by a strong company. CLIVE WEBB (Baron Hardup) and DANNY  ADAMS (BUTTONS) are a rare father and son comedy act. They provided zany slapstick and quick fire gags throughout. The well-worn wallpapering sequence never disappoints and is invariably fresh to each new generation of kids.

The sustained laughter of children is the true barometer of a panto’s appeal. On this occasion the mercury was rising in only one direction! NIGEL ELLACOTT and PETER ROBBINS (Ugly Sisters) camped it up with panache. The extravagance of their costumes, especially the hats, defy description. They skilfully managed to achieve that delicate love-hate relationship with the kiddies perfectly.

SEAN NEEDHAM (Prince Charming) and seventeen-year-old LAUREN HALL (Cinderella) not only looked the part, but proved they too could warble, by enchanting the romantics among us with a lovely duet “To be here with you”.

The most striking scene occurred when the royal carriage arrived drawn by white Shetland ponies with footmen in regency costume amidst gently falling snow. This gorgeous blue-tinged scene evoked a collective gasp of admiration from the auditorium.

Prior to the finale the frantic “Twelve Days Of Christmas” routine was hilarious and well deserving of the sustained applause. Ponies apart, there were no gimmicks in this production. Special effects? No need, simply traditional panto at it’s glorious best with a happy smiling enthusiastic set of performers enjoying themselves every bit as much as their well satisfied audience.

STEPHEN JOHNS

This page was last updated 11th February 2006

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