2008/9

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 / The Newcastle Diary 2005/6 /  The Tamworth Diary 2006

The Birmingham Diary 2006/7  The Wycombe Diary 2007/8

 

 

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Cinderella - Press Call 5th June 2008

A beautiful sunny day for the Sister’s return to Nottingham! It’s been eleven years since we were last here in “Cinderella”- doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?

Looked after in “Royal” fashion all day by the theatre- Lucy Thomas the press officer making certain everything ran to schedule. Lucy was here last time we did panto at the “Royal”, and it was great to see her again. While we were getting our costumes sorted out in the dressing room we ran into Dawn Offilier. Dawn and her sister Michelle were dressing us last time around, and, although she doesn’t work in the wardrobe department now, we’re hoping she’ll drop everything (not literally!) and be with us this time too.

Greeted by James Ashworth the Managing Director, and by Jonathan Saville (The head of marketing and development), and by Dick at the Stage Door, it really was, to paraphrase Norma Desmond “as if we’d never been away!”

Didn’t actually get to see anyone from “our lot” until we were in full make-up and costume- the building is pretty vast, and the first time we ran into Paul Elliott (Producing and directing, along with Paul Robinson), Michelle Potter and Brian Conley, we were already decked out and ready to go!

We were all ready and in costume by 12.15pm, and then went up to the circle to have our photograph taken with none other than Pudsey Bear- The Theatre and Qdos are making collections for Children In Need during the pantomime run this season.

The theatre looked magnificent as ever. Apart from having one of the most imposing front of house and exterior, the auditorium here is just magnificent. The set for Tommy Steele’s “Dr.Doolittle” was on the stage, and Tommy was in the building- we didn’t run into him however. I’m not sure if he could cope with the Sisters as well as a two headed Llama in one day!

The Circle bar was where we were to meet the press and some of the group party bookers. Paul Elliott introduced us, and Brian revealed that he too had appeared in panto here before- almost twenty eight years ago, in the chorus with Little & Large! That I never knew before!

After the introductions Lucy led us to the portico of the theatre where Cinderella’s coach and a large snow machine were set up ready for pictures. One big disappointment for Peter and myself was- No Ponies!! Yes, our “Boys” won’t be with us at Nottingham- like many theatres it has a no animals policy. I fear for Dawson Chance and Willy The Turtle! We’ll have some of the gentlemen of the ensemble bringing Cinderella’s coach onto the stage as we did last visit. I guess I’ll have to feed them before they appear each day instead. Hope they like carrots…

We had a lot of “telly” and Press there to watch us all bake under the searing sun, and get an avalanche of snow on our heads, just to point out the silliness of panto- mind you, only a short while ago it really was snowing, so maybe not so silly!

We had Central ITV news and BBC Midlands today filming, along with the radio stations- BBC Derby, Nottingham, Trent FM and the press. We were joined by one of the TV presenters who also gives weather reports, so obviously we started with the snow falling before the camera panned to Michelle and Brian sitting in the coach. Bet a few viewers stopped in their tracks at the snow scene as they were ironing their bikinis!

Photographs done we all went back to the bar where a buffet was laid out, along with fizzy drinks- courtesy of the theatre and Moet! A series of radio and press interviews followed, then Brian and Paul Elliott left to record some radio commercials that will be aired on Trent FM over the festive season. Michelle, Peter and I retired to the dressing rooms and changed- in a hurry. Nottingham is FULL of shops- those shops must be explored!

Peter and I had travelled up the previous day in the hope of finding a flat in the centre of Nottingham, and, although we haven’t yet secured one, we did explore the beautiful area of the city around the Castle, known as The Park. That is where we’ve set our hearts on staying- a mere ten minutes walk from the “Royal”, and in a leafy very quaint area with some lovely new apartments and beautiful Georgian houses, now mostly turned into flats.

On our last visit eleven years ago we shared digs with a large brown rat. Nice as I’m sure he (I always assumed it was a he) was, I’m not keen to repeat the experience. Santa popping out of the fire-place would be welcome, but Roland was not!!

Michelle, Peter and I wandered the streets of Nottingham marvelling at the many shops- we were a little retail starved last year at High Wycombe- and got the train back late afternoon.

Nottingham is a glorious City with a stunning theatre- plus our mate Kenneth Alan Taylor will be appearing as Widow Twankey just up the road at the Playhouse Theatre, so with our Qdos family of Dawson, Jody , Michelle, Brian and all, we are in for a wonderful season!

Tuesday 25th November 2008

Pencil sharpened, face scrubbed- off to the first day of pantomime rehearsals- “Cinderella” the Nottingham version!

Actually it is the second day- yesterday the dancers and choreographer, stage management and musical director met up with our director, and we all join them today to start blocking the show.

Time to introduce our cast- beginning with the veterans of the Conley Campaign, and then this year’s new cast members- starting with the star of our show, Brian Conley. Brian has recently returned from The Chichester Festival Theatre where he’s been appearing in “The Music Man”,winning the award for Best Performance in a musical from the TMA- The Theatre Managers Association. Even more recently he’s made appearances at the Palladium and was on the Paul O’Grady Show, the night before last!

Michelle and Brian

This will be our sixth year with Brian, as “Buttons” since this show began life at the Mayflower Theatre in 2002, and will be our umpteenth show appearing with Dawson Chance, who plays Baron Hardup, along with his sidekick Willy the Turtle!

The canteen at our rehearsal hall in West London was aflow with “Luvvie-dom” as we greeted Brian, Dawson and Michelle Potter, our Cinderella., and Dean Chisnall as Prince Charming. Dean first joined us as Prince last year at Wycombe, then went into the Savoy Theatre with “Never Forget” for six months, ending just in time to join us once again! Delighted to be working once again with Martin Hinkins, our Deputy Stage Manager- Martins runs the show from the prompt desk, and is delighted to be spending Christmas in his home town this season. The man responsible for staging and choreographing this year’s show is Paul Robinson- as he has done many times before, joined once again by Rossana Stocchino as assistant choreographer.

So, including Peter Robbins and myself, I think that is the line up of the “Old Team”, now for the “New”. Dandini is played by Eaton James, also one of the “Never Forget” lads, while the Fairy is played by Denise Pitter who has made many appearances in pantomime and musicals, including “Buddy”.

Denise

This year we have EIGHT dancers and FIVE Musicians! The Ensemble were introduced at the beginning of the morning session, and then Rossana took them into the larger hall next door to us to continue the choreography. They are, in alphabetical order:

Toby James Anderson, Lorna Boulivent, Gemma Formaston, Aaron Sweeney Harris, Sergio Giacomelli, Nathan Holliday, Jessica Hosken and Hayley Ellen Scott.

Our musical director is John Ranger, and our Company Stage Manager is Maddie Baylis. Joining the stage management team this year are Kerry Sullivan and Dan Bartrope. This isn’t the whole team, as next week when we arrive at the theatre we’ll meet up with the rest, and introductions will be forthcoming. Joining us next week, direct from Edinburgh King’s Theatre will be Paul Elliott who will have opened “Aladdin” at the King’s and then will join us as Executive Producer and director for our technical week.

If you’ve any illusions of the glamour of showbiz, there are moments- Michelle has flown in from New York where she’s been seeing a great many shows, Dean and Eaton have arrived from the Savoy Theatre,  Dawson has flown in from Spain, where he resides, and Peter & I have come down from Bradford!

The rehearsal halls may be distinctly unglamorous- in fact I spent a good few minutes trying to work out if the giant cobweb was a left over prop from Halloween or real…and it’s a tad chilly (rehearsing in coats and scarves has always been the lot of the panto performer!) but just when you begin to think if the glamour has gone, Brian Conley blithely announces he’ll be leaving at 6pm prompt, as he has to get to Number 10- Downing Street!

That is a very good conversation stopper in a rehearsal! It turns out Brian is off to Number Ten not to discuss his tax with Gordon, but to attend a reception hosted by Sarah Brown, associated with Brian’s involvement in the Caron Keating Charity appeal. He was whisked away from rehearsals to that loftiest of addresses, while the rest of us headed for the tube!

Michelle and Paul

Yes, it is a glamour filled life I thought- there, just above us (unseen as yet, because they’re working so hard) are pantomime legends-The “Fan-Dabbi-Dozi” Krankies, Ian and Jeanette, rehearsing “Peter Pan” for Wolverhampton along with our former Prince Charming, Paul Nicholas, who is playing Captain Hook. Hopefully we’ll meet up in the canteen during this week. I bumped into Andrew Lynford in the said canteen- Eastender’s Andrew isn’t appearing in panto this year, but has become a roving producer for Paul Holman’s many pantomimes, and was paying a call on a few of his artistes in a break from his rehearsal schedule. Good to meet up with Andrew again.

During the day we “blocked” all of Act One, and got as far as the Ballroom scene in Act Two. At first you can’t quite recall where you were and what exactly you said last time, but it all comes flooding back pretty quickly. Dawson seems to have the best recall in the room, and, should we be a bit lost, Martin has “The Bible”- the Stage Managers book which has word for word, move for move and everything you’d need to know from how long a scene runs (to the second) to which underscore was playing during a scene. And people think we all ad-lib and make it up as we go along?! A big NO to that one!

Peter and I finished at around five O’Clock- we got off early for good behaviour I’m sure, then off into the chilly West London night until the call at 10am tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 26th November 2008

Made it to rehearsal at the stroke of 10am- I would have been earlier but I was so engrossed in reading about Gordon Ramsey (or was it Gordon Brown- memo, must ask Brian how he got on at Number 10 last night) that I shot past my tube stop, and had to retrace my steps!

Peter and Dawson

We picked up blocking from where we left off- and started with the entrance of Dawson and Willy, which we follow, and then lock poor Cinders in the err.. the err… ah! You see, this year it is a different set. None of us can recall working on it, although we suspect Brian might have in Southampton a few years back with Danny La Rue, and Brian Godfrey.

Paul (Robinson) Martin and the curious sisters took a look at the photographs of this set. Instead of our usual “secret panel behind the Fireplace” set, this one seems to have two large wardrobes. Martin asked Maddy to check with the scenic store to establish if they were “practical” (i.e can we open the doors and fling Michelle in with abandon) or are they prop? The answer was they are indeed practical, but there is no false back to the wardrobe. Hmm…

This means There isn’t a secret panel, and that Michelle would have to stay in the confines of the wardrobe until released by the Fairy. We suggested a flask, a torch and a copy of “heat” magazine, but I think they may well remove the back of said wardrobe, and enable her to nip off.

Back to the blocking! We eventually sorted out the blocking. Sadly since I’ve got so used to the central fireplace, the “old dog new tricks” mindset took over. Too many years of moving to the same spot at the same time to delete. Bless! I got there eventually, thanks to the patience of Paul the director!

We continued on to the scene involving Dean and Eaton- The Slipper Fitting, and blocked our way through that, and finished with several runthroughs of the opening number.

The “Funky” opening, in the village of “Rock & Rap” is a tricky one. It is choreographed to the Nth degree, and we have to fit in dialogue to the music and to the Click Track. Meanwhile the entire narration (timed to the beat) is in the hands of Denise as Fairy. She’ll be way up above our heads on the night, sitting on her giant floating crescent moon, and timing her words to fit in precisely with the music for quite some time. Denise took to it like the proverbial duck to water! I guess when you are a “proper” singer, you have that talent- counting the beats and all that- on her first go she gave it a very impressive rendition!

The rest of the day was to be spent concentrating on the songs, and the sword fight between Eaton and Dean- so we were allowed to leave a little earlier. As I was leaving I got a text from Brian Godfrey! Spooky that! Brian will be giving his sister in Northampton with Jimmy Osmond (No, Jimmy Osmond is NOT the other Sister!) and will be calling into the rehearsal tomorrow for a chat & a coffee during our break! Little does he know we can quiz him on the set, if indeed it is the one he was in at the Mayflower.

No sign of the Krankies again today! I fear they have them locked upstairs with a bottle of pop and some jam sandwiches- we never see them in the canteen. Maybe tomorrow?

Thursday 27th November 2008

Today we moved from our small room into the big hall- always a sign of development in a rehearsal- it marks the first time that the ensemble join us, and we put the show together, like the oversize jig-saw that it is. All the various components- the dances, the songs, the routines start to get stitched together.

We did a run through of the show right up to the finale- withy stops, starts and adjustments, and going back over scenes- it is truly remarkable how quickly Denise and Eaton have got up to speed with the rest of us who have done the show, well..a few times more than they have!

Just before rehearsal started got the opportunity to meet up with Panto Dame supreme Brian Godfrey in the canteen. The elusive Krankies- Ian and Jeanette were discovered having a cuppa, meeting up with Brian who had been with them last year at Wolverhampton. Also joined by Tony Priestley who will be weaving his costumic spell over a few pantomimes this season.

Brian was able to confirm that the scenery we have is in fact a Tim Goodchild Design (at least he believes so) that he and Brian Conley appeared in front of at Southampton, and was able to give us all a few pointers on the entrances and positions of the trucks- it appears that where we now have an elaborate clock in the middle of the staircase there was (briefly) once upon a time a fountain! It changed colour to match the dresses of the ball guests as they entered, looked spectacular, leaked and was never seen again!

During a break from rehearsal ran into Jeanette & Ian again- they are a true joy to spend a tea break with- They gave me several new jokes (none of which are printable!) and cracked us all up throughout the break. These guys truly are a National Pantomime Treasure!

Rehearsed through until 6pm, and called tomorrow to do a full run-through of the entire show, with all the elements included. Not bad for day five (and day four for the rest of us) is it?

Friday 28th November 2008

A full run-through of the whole show this afternoon, with all songs and dances included- this is the “half-Term” test! The way it goes indicates how the show looks like it will pan out. We all passed!

Paul (Robinson) gave us notes at the end, reminding everyone not to let the concentration or pace drop, and telling the company that essentially rehearsing the script is now done. Next week is technical, and once we’ve rehearsed the two sets of children into the show in rehearsal rooms, we’ll be in the theatre, on the set and rehearsing for the technical staff- the rehearsal won’t be about lines or nuances- it’ll be about lights, sound and scenery!

Maddy, our Company Manager gave us some notes on what is likely to happen next week, and supplied everyone with very detailed maps for both Theatre (hard to miss- its HUGE) and the rehearsal room, which is quite near to Nottingham Playhouse.

Peter and I have a flat which, as it turns out, will be very near The Playhouse- so hopefully once we’ve settled in we can call on our mate Kenneth Alan Taylor, and have a bite to eat before he does a matinee. This year Ken celebrates 25 years of presenting panto at the Playhouse, and will be directing and giving his Twankey in “Aladdin”. It is a very long run- it opens today, and continues until January 24th I believe!

The last time we played Nottingham the Playhouse had “Aladdin” on, and we managed to get to see it- hopefully this year we can do the same- it is great fun when two companies can meet up, and hopefully socialise after our shows, and with luck we’ll all find time to do that this year.

Everything was packed up at the rehearsal room by 5.30pm. We bumped into Paul Nicholas on the way to the train. Paul has been rehearsing with The Krankies all week, giving his evil Captain Hook- it seems only yesterday he was our Buttons, or Prince Charming!

Setting off for Nottingham on Sunday afternoon. First call for Peter & I will be 2pm in the rehearsal room on Monday.

Monday 1st December 2008

Arrived at Nottingham yesterday evening, and located our flat which is delightful, and very central-a few minutes from the Theatre Royal, from the shops, and indeed very near to the Playhouse Theatre as well. Hoorah for us!

Alas- not Hoorah for another cast member. Received a phone call from a very weary and cold Michelle. She had arrived at her digs and, despite having a key that allowed access into the porch, had not been given the code to get in. She had telephoned, banged on the door and yelled to no avail, and even after a retry at midnight, still there was “no room at the inn” so to speak. That, boys and girls, is how Cinderella ended up in the Ugly Sisters living room on an Ikea couch wrapped in a Primark fleece!

Even by this morning she had received no explanation, and beginning to wonder if she had in fact imaged booking her eight week apartment!

Bolstered up with a good fry up, we all set off for the rehearsal rooms near to the Playhouse, and rehearsed the two sets of ten children into the show. This means, not surprisingly that you rehearse the scene twice, and it mostly involves dance numbers, apart from the ballroom scene in Act Two.

Paul Elliott was expected at around 4.30pm, coming to watch our run-through having just opened his hugely successful Pantomime at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh. Paul knows everything there could possible ever be about producing a pantomime, and so his imminent arrival sparked off a series of private rehearsals- Sisters going through their new material (Yes, we DO have a few new gags thank you- bloomin’ cheek!) sword fights being honed, and generally that level of concentration that Mr Elliott commands and, indeed, deserves.

Peter and I, joined by Eaton and John the Musical Director noticed we were rehearsing opposite the Playhouse, so called in for a cup of tea. In the distance you could hear their matinee performance in progress, and it was a strange experience to go from the world of Cinderella to the world of Aladdin in the space of one hundred yards!

The run through for Paul Elliott was crackling with energy, and we were relieved that Paul seemed delighted at the end. Much praise heaped upon our “Newbies” for pulling out all the stops and a great compliment paid to us all- “As Fresh as the First Time” from Paul, which, after all, is the driving force behind every show, isn’t it?

Celebrated with a bowl of soup and cheese on toast watching Biggins doing his adverts in between “I’m A Celebrity”. He of course will be giving his ebullient Buttons in Southampton this year, and will by now have turned his room into the customary “home from home” he always has.

Tomorrow Peter and I will attempt the same. We have the day to sort out our costumes and skips, set them up into the quick change area on Stage Left, and sort out the dressing room. The costumes comprise two rails, the wigs number twenty-four, and give or take the oversized Ice-Cream cone, Deckchair, Picnic Basket and fully laid table, we hope to get every sequin and feather in place by about 6pm. Be interesting to see if we achieved this in tomorrow’s entry!

Tuesday 2nd December 2008

Well- Cinderella hasn’t got to the ball yet, but she does have somewhere to live! Michelle moved into a flat this morning with all her goods and chattels. We shall miss her on the sofa, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of her over the next seven weeks!

The morning was taken up with Sisters Shopping. This is a ritual that is as old as Pantomime itself I imagine- since the first Dame trod the streets of a town in search of a bar of carbolic and a bit of brick dust to powder their cheeks.

Peter and I adhered to these traditions, only we started with the obligatory smoked salmon sandwich at John Lewis (Damn, there are mighty fine shops in this here town. This sure ‘aint Wycombe Toto….) before heading to Wilco and Primarko the designer shops.

The dressing room is to be our home for the next month and a half. We’ll live in it more than we will in our apartment, and therefore it needs to be stocked up before the Technical rehearsal so we can forget about the real world, and emerge, blinking into the light around about next Tuesday! This involves buying spare toothbrushes, toothpaste, Listerine (close contact with fellow actors y’know) as well as shower gels, shampoos, adapter plugs, mince pies, cosy fleece throws and plastic baskets to store your belongings in.

Staggering back to the very beautiful Theatre Royal we searched out the dressing room. How lovely this theatre is. We’re in Number Two- as soon as we both entered Peter and I were transported back eleven odd years ago, sitting in that room (occupied then by our mate Judy Cornwall) and laughing a great deal of the season. Now we’re in it, and bright and lovely it is- newly refurbished in the summer it has fresh white walls, new carpet and- as anyone who has read this diary in previous years will appreciate- it has A SOFA!

A Sofa provided. We didn’t have to beg, cajole or (I blush) steal one from another room- it was sat sitting there saying “Lie here. Sleep Here between shows”.. AND a fridge! Panto heaven, I tell you, with nice neighbours- Brian is next door, as is Denise, and Dawson and the entrance to the stage is a few feet away. We were justifiably as happy as pigs in..pokes.. we truly were!

During the afternoon we did sound checks with the radio microphones, while Theo the chief sound technician checked the levels at different parts of the auditorium. This actually was the first time in all the rush and bustle that we stood on the stage and gazed out onto this gorgeous auditorium. If you think it looks good from the auditorium, you should look at from where we are standing. Not one tier, not two but three gilded tiers of seats in the stalls and two circles, and a stunning roof to accompany it. I’m not sure of the architect, but pretty certain Frank Matcham was involved in restoring the auditorium at some point in the Edwardian era. Matcham I believe had built the theatre next door to this one (now sadly demolished) and I recall Rolf Harris telling us that in the 1960’s he remembered both stage doors being in close proximity- that explains the rather odd way you enter the Stage Door today- it is actually on the wrong side to the dressing rooms, having formerly been the opposite end.

Oh I’ve rambled! Sorry..back to the rehearsal! Paul Elliott in highly jovial mood spent the entire day lighting the show, and Peter and I moved the costumes and wigs into our vast “Quick Change” room which Mack the Stage Manager had built on Stage Left. It has tons of room, and we spent a couple of hours filling it with two rails of costumes, one rail of feathers, and two tables of precariously balanced wigs. The Theatre Royal has a steeply raked stage. You will hear me whingeing about this many times during this diary as my feet and calves cramp up with pain..but for now it is difficult to keep the wigs from toppling- just like at Newcastle everything wants to roll down to the floats!

Finished around 6.30pm and went for a lovely turkey dinner with Brian, Michelle and joined a little later by Denise. It was a spur of the moment meal, and a very delightful one. Ta Brian!

Tomorrow’s call- 10am for the start of the Technical. Estimated to finish at 10pm. Mmmmm!

Wednesday 3rd December 2008

Called at 10am for the Technical rehearsal of Act One- this to be done in costume, but thankfully no make-up! Not wearing make-up means that when you get a break, it is possible to nip out for a bite with all haste!

The Tech rehearsal is the one that you know is going to be long and thorough. The director may run a scene then re-run it to tighten up scene changes and costume changes- it is, after all the first time the stage crew have moved the set around, and the first time the wardrobe department’s dressers have assisted with the costume changes.

We had an alarming Tech Rehearsal- literally..Every alarm bell in the building went off with deafening effect. Stage crews went to investigate, artistes continued to rehearse until we were told to evacuate the theatre, and congregate in the street outside. Do not pass go, do not collect your valuables. On hearing the first bell I was in mid change, and speedily changed into jeans and a warm top, so luckily I wasn’t the one standing outside in the cold waving at passing trams in a primark dressing gown and 50 denier tights like one sister I could mention!

The street filled up with furry animals- rabbits, badgers and the odd five foot squirrel, and were joined by villagers, princes and barons in various states of semi-dress. Who do you look to in emergency situations? Yes! The Producer and Director. Paul Elliott spotted a pub opposite opening its doors expecting the odd punter requiring a glass of stout, and ushered the entire theatre company inside.

Those two barmaids were made of stern stuff! They never once questioned or gave a puzzled look, oh no. “What can we get you?” they enquired of the twenty-odd thespians filling their pub, and that’s when Mr Elliott very generously called out “Coffee and Hot Chocolate” all round. He was, also the only one carrying money on his person!

I think we were in the pub for about twenty minutes when the fire chief gave the all clear, and we returned to where we left off, passing some bemused and grinning Firemen en route.

We got up to the Woods scene by lunchtime, and returned to it around 2pm. I have to say that this scenery is very impressive. It has a three dimensional aspect to it that make it quite something. The gates to Hardup Hall are actually solid metal. I had a shock when I exited and gave the gate a dainty push (not wanting to damage the canvas) and realised it was solid! The set is covered in mouldings and carvings. The rose motif is everywhere, with sculpted flowers not painted ones. I must get out into the auditorium tomorrow and see it from out front- it looks good from the stage I know that!

We got through to the transformation scene, which I didn’t see- Peter and I are using all our available time doing last minute additions to costumes (Peter is adding hot-dogs, sauce bottles and the obligatory rubber chicken to his Hamper Wig) and going through the costume order with Wardrobe. There might be time to watch bits of the Tech tomorrow hopefully.

A fifteen minute break, and then we ran the entire Act One without stopping- a few costume changes will get quicker as we go on, and a few moves will be changed, but basically that is it for Act One until tomorrow evening. We finished at around 6.30pm. Daytime tomorrow we’ll tech Act Two (starting with the Ballroom) and continue into the afternoon, then do a full Tech/Dress of the whole show in the evening. That means that Paul has gained almost a day, giving us two full dress rehearsals before we open Friday evening.

Called at 10am tomorrow.

Thursday 4th December 2008

As predicted- a long day! The Tech restarted at 10am and we ran through Act Two, from Ballroom to Finale, took a break and then ran Act Two again, and finished off the day with a full run of both acts, ending about 9.45pm.

To prevent whingeing and extreme pain in the extremities, I’ve resorted to wearing slippers during the tech (when my shoes are not visable) and only putting the heels on at the very last second in an effort to forestall the bruised toe and backache scenario that often follows a long Tech. Shoes and heavy wigs are meant to be worn for short scenes, not for standing around in, so this method seems to have worked for me.

I took one look at our Ballroom staircase and decided that the high block heels were going to be left in the costume skip this year. It is very tall, and very steep, and is broken up into three sets of stairs, one curving. Since Peter and I can’t look down at the steps in our wigs (and the crinoline dresses hide the floor anyway) it is quite scary. Add the raked stage into the equation, and I’ve downsized my shoes, and take the corner very very slowly.

John Ranger

The rehearsal went well- I don’t think there were many problems , and any problems there were were ironed out by Paul in his note sessions in the stalls after each tech run today. Notes might be costumic- a missing pair of gloves, a costume that needs to be shortened, or scenic- gauzes that are too far downstage and need to be changed over- they might refer to sound, or to lasers (operated by “Laser Les” ) or notes to the band, delivered to John our Musical Director.

Wardrobe have increased now. Due to having such a large ensemble, two sisters changing constantly, and Brian’s quick changes, we have an additional wardrobe person on board as from today. In our corner, so to speak we have Lesley, head of wardrobe, assisting Peter, and I have Hannah or sometimes Beryl- both ladies alternate. We made all our changes without problems, give or take the odd mishap- my deckchair strap broke as I entered, and I had to hold it up with one hand, but then deckchairs can be a nightmare at any time can’t they?

Dressing rooms are getting sorted out I noticed, and once we’ve opened tomorrow and things settle down we can refine those areas. Ours looks like we’re preparing for a famine, with tins of biscuits and mince pies in tins, while the dominant feature is the red and gold chaise longue.

Delighted with our sofa, we also spied a piece of panto history- the very red plush chaise used in this production by Danny La Rue. He sat on it and sang “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” whilst being pushed around the ballroom by flunkeys! It was there, amongst the unwanted bits of scenery looking in need of a good home, so we’ve got that in our dressing room too!

Sofa's are a Sisters Best Friend!

Talking of scenery…we are supposed to lock Cinders in a cupboard. (Last year it was behind a fireplace!) The cupboards were wheeled into the Boudoir and they are enormous- I’ve had smaller digs on tour. We were just working out which one to pop Michelle into during the tech when, wonder upon wonders, discovered that between the cupboards the seemingly solid wall painted with giant perfume bottles actually had a secret panel set in it. Paul rejigged the blocking, and now Cinders gets hurled into that abyss. I must ask Brian Godfrey if he knew that his former boudoir had a secret panel!

Tomorrow the main call is for a full dress rehearsal at 2.15pm. That means full make-up, and full costume. There will be photographs taken during it for the theatre to put out front. Then it will be opening night when hopefully all this hard work will come to fruition. But for now, Peter & I ended this glamorous whirl that is “Show-Biz” with Toast and them beans you get with little sausages in them. Ah yes- Nursery Food!  Nanny DID know best!

Friday 5th December 2008 - OPENING NIGHT!

We’ve opened! Hoorah!

Did a full dress rehearsal this afternoon, all the way through without stopping, full make-up and costume, then had a few photographs taken for the Theatre, and notes in the stalls with Paul straight afterwards.

Before the show I’d dashed about getting the last of the first night prezzies sorted, and was taken aback by how busy the shops are- credit crunch? Dashed back to the theatre and decided I wasn’t setting foot outside again for love or money! Todays food has therefore been two different sandwiches and a bag of crisps, eaten in the dressing room between calls.

Paul was extremely delighted with our dress rehearsal, and gave a few notes to tighten the show a few notches. We have gained a play-on for our main entrance, previously not required, but now we have further to travel. Paul asked us to think of what we’d like, and we both thought of “Sex and The City”! Poor John the MD- an hour before we open he’s asked to create a further sixteen bars for Piano, trumpet, bass, drums and Sax. He rose to the challenge, and indeed we had our new music on the opening. THAT is the magic of pantomime! Sheer graft!

We had a quite half hour before the show went up. You could feel it in the corridors and backstage. No noises, no banter- for the first time since rehearsals began at the theatre everyone in their own room getting on with make-up, and just preparing I guess.

What is great to watch, as veterans of the Brian Conley Panto, is the “newbies” standing in the wings laughing at Brian’s routines. Although they’ve seen them etched out in rehearsal, they have not experienced the audience effect up until now. It is very refreshing to watch!

We tried out our odd new gags, and with the exception of one (no, not saying which one) they can all stay. Two got a round of applause, so they stay, and one got a slight wry smile, so that goes! Our local reference to a posh school wot the sisters claim to have attended got absolutely nothing, so we’ll change that tomorrow, and keep trying until we hit the one everyone finds the funniest. The audience will teach us in fact.

A full house- great to see, and a very lovely standing ovation at the end. Paul invited everyone to the circle bar for a drink, and he left for rehearsals tomorrow with John Barrowman in very fine form. Paul now concentrates on Birmingham Hippodrome- his third directing stint since the middle of November. Remarkable, isn’t it? Would that I had that energy and knowledge for his absolute passion- Pantomime. Thank you Paul from all of us, for creating what I think will be another record breaker here at Nottingham!

Saturday 6th December 2008

Two shows today, 2.30pm and 7.15pm.We have be be careful here in Nottingham to keep an eye on the show times- they change daily! The evenings are nearly always 7.15pm,but the matinee times can be at 2pm, or 2.30pm or, more often than not 1.30pm. Sundays are 2pm and 5.30pm, so I will always be looking at my handbill the night before. I don’t want to be sitting in the bath and suddenly getting a phone call from Maddy the company manager!

Matinee went very well, and with each passing show we can fine tune to the audience. No audience is ever the same, but you can perceive the ratio of children to adult by responses, and slightly adjust to it.

Between show hardly anyone ventured outside. The shops were horrific this morning, even to hardened shoppers like the Sisters! In Woolworth’s I thought the entire shop was standing still. No one was moving in any of the aisles, and that is when I realised the entire store was a queue- I fled for the sanctity of the theatre!

In between shows delighted to meet up again with Dawn Offilier. Dawn and her sister Michelle were dressing us on our last visit here with “Cinderella”. She works in a different area of the theatre now, but it was lovely to catch up with her again.

The evening show is sort of our official opening. It is press night, and the Theatre Royal has a civic “do” after the show, so we’d all brought our posh togs along. The evening show was crackling, and with a few exceptions was a jolly affair. The exceptions being hecklers. Adult hecklers. Of course Pantomime is reliant on action and reaction, and the audience’s responses are what keeps live theatre live, but some bloke in row G shouting out “It’s A Puppet” at Brian every couple of minutes, regardless of plot or song can be a bit wearing. Likewise the Sisters expect reaction- a good “Boo” is worth a round of applause in the villains catalogue, but adults yelling “you are ugly” constantly through the magical moments can be irritating. It was more a case of spirits rather than high spirits I suspect!

The do was lavish. Of course, it is only in Nottingham that us panto performers get to meet a real life panto villain- yes, the actual Sheriff of Nottingham! He was accompanied by the Mayor & Mayoress, and didn’t seem very scary up close. There were speeches, and a free bar- and a creaking table of food- a bit different from a tray of peanuts and eight scotch eggs provided by a theatre who shall remain nameless…!

It was a good night to finally get to chat to some of the company that you’ve not had the chance too before. Being so busy in rehearsal and rushing about in the theatre getting ready for the show to open there isn’t time to have a proper chat. This was our first bonding session as a company. I’m sure it won’t be the last!

Tomorrow’s shows are 2pm and 5.30pm then a day off!

Pantomime horses banned because of health and safety

It is probably not the kind of entrance the Fairy Godmother had in mind when she agreed to weave her magic on behalf of Cinderella.

 

By Chris Hastings  - Nottingham Telegraph
 

Pantomime horses are a much-loved staple of the genre.

 

But the star of a new production of the classic fairytale has been denied her horse-drawn carriage because council officials say the use of Shetland ponies breaches rules on health and safety and animal welfare.

 

The stars of a new production of Cinderella which opened at the Nottingham Theatre Royal on Friday night had hoped to be joined on stage by their regular team of ponies.

 

But officials in Nottingham have banned the use of live animals in premises they control and so Cinderella's coach had to be brought on stage by two male members of the cast wearing horses' heads.

 

Nick Thomas, the chairman of Qdos, Europe's largest pantomime producer, which runs the show, said: "The theatre is run by Nottingham City Council and they don't like live animals in the theatre. We have ponies all over the place in other parts of the country. I personally don't like to see Cinderella without ponies but it is just something we have to deal with."

 

Ian Lucken, who runs Lucken's ponies, one of the country's largest providers of ponies for pantomimes, said other councils had also adopted the same procedures.

 

The ban on animals does not extend to every venue in Nottingham. Ponies were on stage at the city's Playhouse Theatre when it staged Cinderella in 2006.

 

Councillor David Trimble who holds the portfolio for leisure and culture at Nottingham City Council said the ban on live animals performing in council-run premises, like the city's Theatre Royal, was a long standing one.

 

He said he was happy to grant exemptions from the ban if it could be proven that animals were being looked after but he said no exemption had been asked for on this occasion.

 

The ban on live animals is just the latest blow for pantomime companies battling against a tidal wave of political correctness and bureaucracy which they say is threatening the traditional British pantomime.

 

Other performers have revealed that some councils have banned the use of magnesium flashes which normally accompany the appearance of the fairy grandmother, and the use of water on stage.

 

Mindful of breaching health and safety rules some companies have started to throw marsh mellows rather than sweets into the audience.

 

Transformation Set

Sunday 7th December 2008

Two Earlier shows today, which means a few of us will be heading for the train which leaves Nottingham around 9pm for London, and a day off!

Something occurred today that neither Peter nor I can recall happening before in all these years. The crux of the “Ticket Tearing Scene” is that WE make Cinders tear up her ticket. There is only one ticket, therefore she can’t go to the ball. Scene, exit cackling, put kettle on. So it has always been..until this afternoon..

I snatched the ticket off Michelle as usual, and to our horror, she had half in her hand and I had half! In half a second we had just done the entire scene! What more was there to add. Ticket torn, end of story!

I stared at it, Michelle stared at it, Peter stared at us and the audience began to cotton on that this wasn’t quite what we’d rehearsed. It seemed an eternity, but was probably a few seconds, but the scene flashed through my mind. What can’t we do now, which bit can’t we use? Can we salvage any of the dialogue? Is Brian listening in his dressing room, and will he make it on stage in time since we’ve just cut out a huge chunk? All this in as few seconds!

In fact we made her tear it again, just to be certain, Brian appeared (a tad surprised) in the wing, and we sailed off not cackling at our usual volume…well, there has to be a first time for everything I suppose!

Today was Denise, our Fairy’s birthday! Its always nice to have your birthday during a show I think, even if you can’t celebrate properly- but we all got together backstage afterwards, and surprised the lovely birthday girl with a cake, some bubbly and a box of chocs, organised by Maddy. It is quite surprising to see how many of us there are we we’re not spread out on stage!

Happy Birthday Denise!

Got the train back to London straight after the show- our next call is Tuesday at 12.55pm.

Monday 8th December 2008

A busman’s holiday! I went to see Wimbledon’s “Cinderella” in the evening! Andrew Ryan is appearing there, alongside Graham Hoadley as The Ugly Sisters- Lavinia and Lucinda, and the cast has Joanna Page as Cinders, Gareth Gates as Prince, Ron Lucas, the ventriloquist with “Scorch” the Dragon as Buttons, Alistair McGowan as Baron, Louise Dearman as Fairy Godmother and James Thornton as Dandini. In real life James is married to Joanna.

Had a great night- I haven’t been backstage at the New Wimbledon Theatre since we were there with Britt Ekland and Bradley Walsh about ten years ago. That reminds me- Britt opens as Fairy Godmother at London’s Shaw Theatre on Tuesday- Good Luck Britt! Thinking about you!

It is always good to see a different production of Cinderella-and it still is one of the most magical of pantomimes. Like Peter & me, Andrew and Graham had very many costume changes and some very funny frocks paraded past me during the evening. While there I ran into Lee Redmond. Lee has just put his own panto on at the Pier Theatre in Bournemouth, a venture that was a success, and I think will be repeated next year with luck. Great to see him again.

Couldn’t get backstage to see Andrew and Graham- I could not get to the stage door due to the hundreds of folk waiting for Gareth to appear. An amazing sight! Wee met up in the pub across the road in the end! A great night out- thanks everyone!

Tuesday 9th December 2008

A busy day! So I’ll keep this entry brief, as I’m dropping off over the keyboard! Got the 10am train from St. Pancras, arrived in Nottingham at 11.30am, and got to the theatre in plenty of time. Did a matinee- packed to the rafters with school parties mainly, then straight afterwards did a short film sequence for Central ITV.A jolly fun piece on stage with the coach, our pony boys (Sergio and Aaron), Brian, Denise and the presenter from Central.

Delighted to see Nick Thomas. Nick as you know is the head of Qdos, and popped in for the matinee. I think he watched it from one of the boxes actually, as all the seats were sold. He seemed to be delighted, and remarked how fresh it all seemed.

Beryl, Hannah and Lesley

We’ve also had some very nice reviews in the paper and in online reviews, so that is very cheering. Brian came in brandishing the current copy of “Woman’s Weekly”- not his usual reading matter I thought, but there you go- as it has an article on Brian, and some pics of the Ugly Sisters. Fame at last!

I’m sure there was more to the day, but for now I’m hitting the duvet. Tomorrow we get into the dressing room at 11am to do a piece to camera for the BBC. We’re doing a make-over, transforming their presenter into an Ugly Sister. All in a morning’s work!

Wednesday 10th December 2008

A long day- it began at 11am with the BBC arriving at the theatre. Peter and I had been asked to give Simon the television presenter a “Dame Make-Over”. Now although we are pretty adept at throwing make-up on our own faces (generally it takes seven minutes) we are both not very skilled in putting it on someone else. Its not easy, and people who face-paint for a living have my full admiration!

Simon arrived with camera man and sound man, and we managed to get him in make-up in about twenty minutes, whilst he interviewed us, and then frocked and be-wigged him in the quick change room while he did his piece to camera. The results we never saw, as we were getting ready for the evening show, but it went out on the BBC news this evening.

Sisters New Frocks!

We left Simon (in full dame mode) to interview Brian, while we dashed off at mid-day to grab a bite to eat, then got back just as Michelle returned from her make-over by The House Of Fraser, and very lovely she looked too. They did her make-up and provided several outfits for a photo shoot both in store and back here at the Theatre Royal.

Michelle after House of Fraser!

We then got into make-up and costume hastily around 12.30pm, and did a few interviews with Simon for the BBC News, and then were steered by Lucy from Publicity to do some photos for the newspaper, followed by an interview.

“Can we interview you at leisure in your dressing room now” the reporter suggested. Forget the leisure. It was now 1,20pm and the show goes up at 1.30pm! We did a very swift interview!

After all that the two shows seemed like a holiday! Good houses, and good responses as usual. In between shows (nearly two and a half hours break) the company went over the road for a Chinese Buffet, which made a really nice change for us. It means taking it all off and starting again, but it was good to get out and about, and to get together as a company.

A whole lovely day off tomorrow, spent in Nottingham. Hoping to see “Aladdin” at the Playhouse if there are any tickets. After that we have twelve shows on the trot!

Something to scare the audience!

Friday 12th December 2008

A great day off yesterday, and a chance to go and see “Aladdin” at the Playhouse Theatre. Had a wonderful time, and it was so good to see the Grand Dame of the Playhouse, Kenneth Alan Taylor as Widow Twankey once again. I’ve been lucky to see Ken play Dame on several occasions, and for Peter this was a first- he took the audience (who worship him!) on a wonderful comic journey, and is still the master of the swift retort on stage!

The Playhouse panto is a huge tradition here in Nottingham, and a very Kenneth-Alan-tailored one, to suit the venue and the audience. I was especially delighted that the plot was carefully woven, and finally I had an explanation for why it can ONLY be Aladdin who can enter the cave. Why not any other lad? This plot explains Aladdin’s Father discovered the cave of jewels, but it closed before he could return, and that the spell says only his son may re-enter the cave. Hoorah for a good plot line!

It was lovely to meet up with Ken afterwards, and catch up on a few year’s worth of news. Hoping he’ll be able to visit us at the Royal once their run has settled in, along with a very talented company- and isn’t it great that Nottingham can support not one but two superb pantos, both of a different style, and both doing wonderful business in these difficult times?

Two shows for us today- Matinee was mostly school parties- we played safe this afternoon and picked on one of their teachers as “our man”- you can’t fail! The evening packed with a slightly older audience who had a great time. In between I stayed in, and Peter went out. I intended to do a bit of work on the website, and catch up on writing cards. In fact I had a sandwich, rested my eyes as I lay on Danny’s Chaise, and woke up an hour and a half later! Bless!

Delighted to see Brian’s family this evening- Anne-Marie, Lucy and Amy, and very delighted to see Maisie. Maisie is the family pet- a beautiful Tibetan Terrier with a liking for a mince pie, and, in fact, a slurp of tea! During the transformation Maisie & I explored the upper dressing rooms and said hello to everyone we passed. I kept Maisie on her lead just incase she decided to go find Daddy!

Maisie

Denise hosted tonight’s champagne party in her dressing room- that girl has style! It was good to have a glass of bubbly and chat after the show- the streets outside are a bit err.. lively for going to the pub on week-ends!

Had a chat with Michael Harrison in the break on the phone. He was just arriving at Llandudno on the train when we finished the conversation. He’s been on a marathon panto tour of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Darlington, Newcastle, Plymouth, err.. can’t remember where else, and hopes to visit us in a few weeks time. All this and directing the Plymouth and Newcastle pantos as well!

Behind the scenes at the panto

Friday, December 12, 2008, 11:30

 

Theatre Royal pantomime Cinderella is up and running and earning Brian Conley and fellow cast members rave reviews. EG's SIMON WILSON went behind the scenes...

 

AS he lets rip an almighty bottom burp he turns to me, out of sight of the audience and winks. Brian Conley is clearly enjoying himself.

 

I'm in the wings, watching my first panto here in 35 years. There are signed pictures of Leslie Crowther, John Inman and Mike & Bernie Winters somewhere in the attic but I've no recollection of which pantos they were in. Whatever they were, I reckon they weren't as ferociously paced and near the knuckle as Cinderella.

Click here!

 

And I don't just mean the synthesised flatulence. There's a lot of adult humour going on. On stage Conley is hidden inside a tree spying on Cinderella. She's being wooed by a hopeful chap in tights with a basket of fruit. Every time Conley let's rip, the audience are in uproar.

 

You enjoying it? I ask as he exits from the scene. "There are lots of really little kids out there," he says by way of an answer. He means they're not getting the adult-only gags. Of which there are plenty. They go down better at evening performances when there are more grown-ups in. Today it's nippers and they're a noisy bunch. When the five-minute call to performers alerting them to the impending curtain riser is piped through backstage, there's quite a din coming from the auditorium. "In the evenings it's about bringing it out of them. In the matinees it's about keeping control of them," says Conley.

 

"Yesterday was classic at the matinee," says Michelle Potter who plays Cinderella. "The reactions were in completely different places to what we're used to in the evening. They were screaming 'it's behind you' at points when we don't expect it. And we had to ignore them, which was awful."

 

We're in Conley's dressing room before the show, which isn't particularly lavish. He has photos of his wife, two children and dog, there's an Elvis mug – a gift from The Ugly Sisters ("the Uglies" as he calls them) – and three bottles of water. His sofa is covered in samples of artwork for The Music Man, a musical he'll be taking to West End in April. There's certainly no champagne. "I don't drink any more," he says. "I packed that in about five years ago. The show used to get in the way of my socialising. And that's one of the best things I've ever done."

 

His biggest backstage demand these days is Halls cough sweets. "I have one under my tongue all the first half. All the time when I'm singing and talking, there's one under my tongue." It's a trick he picked up from Cliff Richard to keep his throat fresh. "I remember when I was in Chitty (Chitty Bang Bang, the West End musical) and one day I accidentally spat it out and I hit the actress right in the eye." Sensitive to the risks of getting ill, he also has an army of vitamins, . "I wash my hands as soon as we finish and disinfect the mike because if you get a bad flu there's no understudy. You still have to do it." Has he ever had to cancel a show in the past because of illness? "No, touch wood," he says, grabbing the dressing table.

 

A 30-minute warning call goes out for the 1.30pm matinee. Conley has been in the theatre for half an hour. He has no morning routine apart from sleeping as late as he can to make sure he's full of energy for the two (sometimes three) shows each day. "We have a huge energy. You'll notice that when you see the show. And it's not just the performers – there's a whole show going on behind the scenes. But it's a well-oiled machine and very relaxed. You'll notice that." I do. There's a lot of laughter in the wings. And very little silence. "We're like a little family," says Conley. For two months they are work colleagues and friends. Cinderella opened last Friday and since then they've been across to the Stage Door pub, and had an Italian and Chinese meal together. Conley says: "My wife and the kids come up at the weekends and my daughters are part of the show when they come up. They love being on stage." He has a six-year-old and an 11-year-old.

 

It's not his first panto in Nottingham. That was 25 years ago in Dick Whittington with Little & Large and Bernie Clifton. "I love it here," he says. "The backstage has quite a modern feel about it but on stage it's that beautiful, historic theatre that's got the little ashtrays, the Royal Box and all that." And it probably won't be his last visit. Apart from West End musicals, he'll always say yes to a panto role. Because of the freedom it brings. "You never know what they're going to shout out. "At the end we get four kids up and I talk to them... you never know what they're going to say or do. But that keeps it fresh."  No one performance is the same. He'll add in new gags from current affairs: Selina Scott, Gordon Ramsay, I'm A Celebrity... "As long as it's not too deep we can get away with it."

 

It's the his third panto with Potter, a stunning blonde who has made appearances on Doctors, Footballers' Wives and Wire In The Blood. "I'm used to Brian," she laughs. "I cut bits and don't tell her," he chips in as he applies more make-up. "Yes, he did that yesterday. And he changes the dance routine to do what he wants and I have to follow him." So there's room for playing tricks? "Oh yeah. It's panto," she laughs. "The sisters kick me sometimes when they're not supposed to."

 

I find them ten minutes before curtain up in an area behind the stage cordoned off for wardrobe. Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins have been doing this for 28 years. We head to their dressing room for final preparations, passing dancers in dressing gowns limbering up. Sets from later scenes stand idle: pink steps, Cinderella's carriage, a giant ham, a pumpkin and... a rather sinister looking human leg. In the dressing room I assure them that it'll be a quick one as time is short. "Oh, I say," says Robbins, always in character.

 

The pair have their own website dedicated to panto – www.its-behind-you.com – on which they'll be doing a daily diary about Cinderella. "So you can read all about the backstage goings on." I raise an eyebrow. "Panto land is a happy land," continues Robbins. "It's a happy land," confirms Ellacott. "So no gossip whatsoever."

 

Ellacott's first introduction to panto was backstage. "My brother ran a theatre so I'd watch them rehearsing. "The dame was always an elderly gentleman with big false teeth, bald usually, wearing a cap and they used to have a carrier bag that clanked." Robbins, the larger of the two when in costume (he's Susannah to Ellacott's Trinny), adds: "And my mum used to take me in the pram to see Nigel doing pantomime." They're off...  "No, no, no, surely she took you to the old Hippodrome before it got bombed..."

 

I leave them to their bickering and head to my position in the wings to watch the performance. And while the gags about snogging, blindfolds, Senior Willie and the Notts County bra go above the heads of the noisy tots in the audience I find myself chuckling away. Mike & Bernie Winters were never this much fun.

 

Nottingham Evening Post Review: Monday 8th December 2008

 

THE best laugh I've had in ages and the best panto we've seen in years… those were just two of the verdicts from the more-than-satisfied punters lucky enough to be in the Theatre Royal on Saturday night.

 

Putting up an argument against such high praise would simply be futile as this is a staggeringly brilliant production.

 

The hilarious Brian Conley leads an excellent cast who are going to create a multitude of happy memories for theatre-goers this Christmas.

 

Conley was inspired in his role as Cinderella's best friend Buttons, mixing song, stand-up and improvisation in a heady cocktail of comedy.

 

The gags started flowing immediately, with an anti-Mansfield joke within minutes and a meeting with the exquisitely over-the-top Ugly Sisters Trinny and Susannah (Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott).

Audience member George, in the second row, was lucky enough to be declared Susannah's boyfriend and he was one of a number of customers to be the butt of various jokes.

 

But the best moments undoubtedly belonged to Conley; a hilarious sequence when he is hidden in a tree spying on Cinderella (Michelle Potter) and Prince Charming (Dean Chisnall) bringing the house down.

 

Tears of laughter flowed all night with Conley at the centre of most of the side-splitting moments… watch out for his reaction to Cinderella turning down his affectionate overtures.

 

It was hard to tell when the script stopped and the ad-libbing began so two of the highlights may or may not have been deliberate… Conley 'accidentally' removing a fox's tail and Dandini (Eaton James) pulling an unsuspecting Susannah off her chair were both unscripted brilliance, surely?

 

The cast were deservedly given a standing ovation and you'll be hard-pushed to find a better night out anywhere in Notts this Christmas.

 

A big well done to all involved.

 

PAUL HINDLE

 

Link to audio: Brian Conley & Cast

 

Cinderella

Published Tuesday 9 December 2008 at 17:30 by Pat Ashworth

 

This is a real extravaganza, gorgeously set and costumed and with a sugar confection of a transformation scene. Denise Pitter’s groovy Fairy sets the tone, perched aloft on a crescent moon to give an almost Puck-like commentary on events.

 

Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott as the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Nottingham

 

The story isn’t what matters here. Michelle Potter’s fun-loving Cinderella was never in any real hardship and though the Prince and Dandini play it as straight as they’re able to, this is Buttons’ show. It’s hard for the cast to keep a straight face around the mock-aggressive Brian Conley, who takes over whatever scene he’s in.

 

The Prince gets his hair ruffled, combed and sprayed by Conley’s disembodied hand as he’s wooing Cinderella. Spurned by her himself, he goes into an exaggerated mime of a thousand deaths, including disembowelling. He frequently falls into the pit. The audience are still in a state of collapse as he launches into a love song. “Shut it!” he bellows. “I’ve won awards for this!” And he goes on to prove he really can sing.

 

Couple all this with two of the best and most ridiculously clad Dames in the business, Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott, and it’s an evening of absolute mayhem.

Friday 12th December 2008

Halfway through the week by the second show! Had a chance to chat to Ian Sandy, company Manager at the Hippodrome Birmingham today. Ian was telling me what a great show “Robin Hood” is going to be at the Hippo- and it occurred to me that John Barrowman is selling panto tickets at Birmingham and, apparently at Cardiff-for NEXT year! Credit Crunch doesn’t seem to be hurting the panto bookings so far- perhaps a bit of jollity in all this gloom, and a happy ending means a lot these days? I do hope so.

All over the country our panto mates are opening, or have just opened their seasons- Britt at the Shaw, Lesley at Plymouth, Jeff Holland and his lady wife Judy Buxton are about to open in Newark, Andrew Ryan has already opened in Wimbledon, as has Jeff Longmore in Swindon and Damian Williams, Lynette McMorrough, Nick Wilton, and the panto wot I wrote at Ilford this year opens on Wednesday!

I’ve made pretty certain that everything was ready for “Aladdin” at Ilford’s Kenneth More Theatre before I left to do the Panto Roadshow this year. Nearly all the costumes were labelled, wrapped in plastic, and hung in the store with all their accessories, but there’s always the odd thing that might slip by.

The company at leisure......half a shandy and straight to bed!

This afternoon there I am, dressed as a “Laydee” with my reading glasses perched just out of eyelash reach, texting Christopher Marlowe (Ilford’s Widow Twankey) to ask him if the striped mop cap for his yellow pigtail wig had arrived yet from the maker. Funny old world, isn’t it? This evening I got a report on the first technical rehearsal from Isobel Hurll, the Empress of China, who tells me that “The Mighty Kong”, a truly magnificent beast, worked by Nathan Vaughn Harris on stilts, is a triumph! I first saw “Kong” at Hackney Empire, and begged Susie McKenna to hire it to the Kenneth More. I’m so pleased she did!

Both our shows went very well indeed. Nice to find that Brian’s family are still with us, and from a purely selfish point of view I get more time to feed Maisie the Dog more biscuits. Well- not having the usual six Shetlands to feed here I can’t be blamed for having withdrawal! I miss those Shetlands!

Some sad news to end with tonight- I heard on Saturday from Lynette (who was in Crossroads as Glenda) that dear Kathy Staff had passed away. It was on the news today. Kathy of course had appeared in Crossroads Motel for many years with Lynette, as Doris Luke, and then went on to further fame as Nora Batty, in “Last Of The Summer Wine”.

Kathy did two or possibly three pantomimes with Peter and I- Bournemouth I recall especially. Kathy was a deeply religious lady, and when the very first Sunday performances were introduced into pantomime, she was exempted- she travelled each and every Saturday night to Chester to attend Church there. Indeed her daughter was ordained there. So- we had Queen Nora the First from Tuesday to Saturday, and then, on a Sunday Betty Benfield (Our Fairy Godmother) would take on the role in addition to her own, and the sight of Betty running like the clappers exiting as Fairy and entering as Queen was a sight to behold!

Queen Nora

Kathy was a truly lovely lady, and I would run into her at Pantomimes from time to time, and, fortunately the most recent time I met up with her was at Lynette and Nick’s wedding.

She will be very sorely missed- a rare breed of comic actors who became so popular that her character’s name became a by-word for wrinkly tights! Bless you Kathy.

Monday 15th December 2008

Two shows beginning with a packed to the rafters schools matinee. The gags may sometimes fall flat with an all schools house, but they certainly make up for it in the Ticket Tearing scene-they boo for Britain!

In between shows Peter and I had an interview with a reporter, Jennifer Scott and a photographer in the dressing room. We held forth until she slightly glazed over, and then we got out of costume and make up. Brian meanwhile was having his photo taken on stage with “Billy Blood Drop” I think his name was- a costumed character a bit like a scarlet Mr. Blobby, to raise awareness for blood donors. Billy passed by our dressing room and gave the surprised look you get when you are in full Sister gear, oblivious to the fact that he was, in fact, a seven foot drop of blood.

A bit like the Stage Door last week, when members of our company would bump into the St. Petersburg Ballet, playing the Royal Centre next door- everyone in costume and make up- Ballet versus Panto. At one point Peter, dressed in gingham bodice and bloomers found himself next to the principal dancer of the ballet- with an overcoat over his Prince outfit. Peter didn’t catch his name (no English you see) but I think it was Igor Oojanickyergoolyoff or something similar.

Both our shows were fine- and after the second one a group of us retired to a bar for a drink. I got reports on the phone about the first dress rehearsal of Ilford’s “Aladdin” while I was there- all the costumes made it on to the stage, and all the quick changes happened, so that is a good omen! My brother Vivyan tells me that the finale is a bit too lavish, and with their wide Chinese shoulders it wasn’t easy getting them all on at the same time. Apparently it really does fill the stage. Good to hear!

Tuesday 16th December 2008

Started the day at 11.30 with a radio interview for BBC Drivetime. A great idea for a programme- Alan the presenter has interviewed Malandra Burroughs in Mansfield between shows backstage, and Jeffrey Holland and Judy Buxton backstage preparing in Newark, Kenneth Alan Taylor getting ready at Nottingham Playhouse, and now us here at the theatre Royal. It all gets edited together and I thought he said it went out on Christmas Eve, but I might have got that wrong? We took Alan on a tour of dressing room and Quick Change area, and bumped into international superstar and Babe Magnet, Brian Conley en route!

School parties filled the auditorium during the matinee, hardly any adults in at all in fact. Shame really, as the adults would have enjoyed the “faux pas” in act two-The bit where Cinderella gets locked away by her cruel step-sisters!

I tell the poor unsuspecting girl that there are some lovely dresses hidden behind “a secret panel behind the wall”- the same panel we discovered in the tech rehearsal. Unfortunately, having described it, I couldn’t make it budge. Not an inch! Since the next line is “step inside dearie..” it would be useful if it did open, but no. I clawed at it, then thought I had the wrong bit and tugged (causing the entire wall to sway like something out of “Prisoner Cell Block H”- then my Sister tried to open it- and then we discovered someone had forgotten to undo the bolt! It suddenly flew open, and we shoved Cinderella inside!

Dean and Eaton

With a house of adults we would have brought the house down. With a house full of children, there was polite silence while we scrabbled with the scenery!

Silence would have been nice for parts of the evening show though. We noticed from the off that we had an extremely excited and extremely loud child of about four near the front. Every time Brian or the Sisters were on he yelled continuously. Non stop. At full volume. For two acts! He even managed the difficult trick of waiting until the punch line of each gag before yelling, thus rendering the gag inaudible. Suffer little children we mused backstage. Try less e numbers we thought. The show was being filmed for the Qdos archive tonight, but due to the constant piercing interruption, Maddy our company Manager is arranging for it to be done again tomorrow. That would be a dvd from hell!

Tomorrow is Dan our ASM’s birthday! A celebration is in order after the second show. A few people will be heading for home for the last day off before Christmas, and already Nottingham is entering nightly party mode! After a very long day, Peter and I crawled our way back to the flat and settled for a round of toast!

Other panto news- the panto wot I wrote has had a preview, and all went well, and opens tomorrow evening- Enjoy everyone- have a great show! Meanwhile at Wimbledon Theatre producer Kevin Wood stepped in at the last minute (second even) when Ron Lucas was told by his doctor he could not appear- poor Ron has had a throat infection which needs a few days rest- and mastery of the voice of course, as Dawson and Ron Lucas know only too well, is a ventriloquist’s chief asset. Apart from great pals like Willy and Scorch of course!

Wednesday 17th December 2008

Woken in the middle of the night by fire alarm bells going off all over the place! A small, but actual fire had broken out somewhere in the complex of flats, swiftly dealt with by the Fire Service thank goodness. Consequently not very much sleep, and I utilised the comfy sofa in the dressing room and slept for a couple of hours between shows.

Art imitates life eh? A Fire Engine arrived to escort Brian and Michelle to a local hospital between shows for a panto visit to the patients. I don’t know if they let Brian work the siren or not, but somehow I’m sure he did!

Brian and Michelle hitching a lift!

Matinee was possibly the last one to be totally full of school parties, as the schools are due to break up. From now on it will be family audiences matinees and evenings.

Had a chat with Ray Meagher this morning. Ray is giving his wicked Abanazar in Basingstoke this year. I expected to catch him before a matinee, but at 11.15am he’d already locked Aladdin in the cave and was enjoying a cuppa! He was on the last of the morning shows, put on to accommodate school groups. Ray’s a veteran of British panto, and leaves “Summer Bay” and his persona as “Alf” to do panto each year, which he loves. He was a great Baron with us when Stu Francis was Buttons a few years back, and makes a super villain!

Thankfully the evening show was very zippy and a great audience. When on show twelve of the week you are grateful for that extra boost- you can be in mid sentence when suddenly one word refuses to form properly- that’s the tiredness setting in. A good audience helps keep the adrenaline up!

Dan's 25th Birthday Party

After the second show we went across the road to the pub’s “secret” room (our very own bar!) to celebrate Dan’s 25th birthday. Funny to think we were working for Paul Elliott in “Cinderella” the year Dan was born. Actually not funny, but quite sobering!! Another gin and tonic needed I think! Had a great evening, and I left on the stroke of midnight. Tomorrow I plan to be a couch pumpkin!

Who let these two in?- photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Friday 19th December 2008

“Breaking Up Friday” apparently- the day when schools and many offices shut down until after Christmas. Also the day we’ve been advised it would not be the best day to wander the town, or attempt to get into any of the pubs. Certainly leaving the theatre there were many sights to behold, and that was at a mere 10pm!

Both shows were packed. The matinee was a mix of school parties and pensioners- bless the groups of pensioners- they catch the jokes that fly over the kid’s heads and laugh heartily throughout. The first show was uneventful. With the long three hour break in between a few of us arranged to meet up at the fry-up café (or caff to be truthful) which is now established as our favourite watering hole. So good in fact, that we’ve had to beg the owner for less food, not more. Oliver Twist would be mortified! Last visit we could barely move after the gargantuan plates of double egg, ham, chips and peas, or Sausage chips and gravy (a cinders/charming favourite). Michelle, Brian, Dean, Peter and I had a “Famous Five” style meal, washed down with lashings of vimto and a few mugs of tea! Hoorah. All we needed was Timmy the Dog and we’d have been in heaven.

The evening show.. hmm.. dunno what I’d done to upset the gods of comedy tonight, but there was a bit of retribution going on in my corner. It all went wrong at the beginning, when I tipped the container of make-up water into my slippers, and had to try and dry them out with a hair dryer- couldn’t wear them or I’d get purple tights..and then the garrotting began.

Second costume change I wear a huge wired collar. Hannah had just finished plumping it up, and we called “Cinderella”, and enter seconds after that. I suddenly found my neck was attached to the collar, and I couldn’t move my head. The clasp of the choker (literally a choker!) I wear had attached to the collar. I tugged, I pulled, and finally I ripped it free just as I entered.

Maddy

Ice cream and Deckchair changes went fine, but when we exit from the woods, the garrotting Fairy attacked again. The Stage Left wing here is narrow. I exit wearing a fully laid table, with Peter stacked up behind me wearing a giant hamper.With the big panto prosceniums in place I actually can’t exit. What I do is to go so far off stage and wait- wedged like a cork in a bottle while Hanna releases the strap on the table, I wiggle out of it, and step over it. Hannah quickly turns the table sideways and everyone can now get off!

Not tonight. My microphone pack worn around the waist slid below the table. The table would not drop to the floor. Hannah tugged. Hannah pulled- to no avail. Behind me actors are stacked up, and the Prince is in mid scene on stage.

When the table did start to drop the microphone cable, running from the pack to my choker, pulled my head back- I now look like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”- and strangled me. I ripped the choker off, the kettle fell off, the table crashed to the floor, and it was then, as the elastic snapped and my gingham knickers descended to my ankles, I realised that the occupants of the Stage Right Box, the Prince and the crew found this a most amusing scene.

Where is ones dignity at times like this? All those years of studying the great masters- Brecht, Ibsen, Ray Cooney.. to end up like this?? I waddled my way to the quick change room cursing the makers of elastic.

No, the gods had not finished with me yet. The Boudoir. A harmless strip. One we have performed hundreds.. thousands of times. We divest ourselves of clothing to amuse the thronging crowds. What harm could there be in that? The “stripper” music began, we turned, we flung our outer garments open, and I was attacked by a boa.

Not a snake-type Boa, no..a gold metallic fabric boa with gold metallic sequins decorating it. Peter flung his robe open, the boa lashed out and smacked me in the face. It removed one eye-lash, which descended fuhrer like to my nose, and knocked my contact lens askew. I am in pain,I have one seeing eye and I have to take my clothes off and spin like a dervish across the stage. Whilst smiling.I tell you- pantoland? It’s a jungle out there. Boas can bite.

Prince Charming in the guise of Dean escorted Michelle, Peter and I back through the streets of Nottingham- safety in numbers tonight. Extraordinary sights to behold. I didn’t know they made striped hot pants in that size.. and don’t those girls even FEEL the cold?? Extraordinary!

Eaton and Ensemble - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Putting a Brave Face On It - Cinderella's Ugly Sisters

Nottingham Evening News

Published Friday 19th December 2008

 

Cinderella relies on magic to get her top-notch frocks – but how do her sisters manage? JENNIFER SCOTT spent some time with Cinders' Ugly Sisters to find out...

 

WHEN you've learned make-up tips from Rula Lenska, you're bound to veer on the glam side of life. And, sure enough, when I enter the dressing room of Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins – known to panto crowds at Nottingham's Theatre Royal as Cinderella's Ugly Sisters – I can feel my corneas under siege from the dazzling array of frou-frou.

 

There they both recline, in head-to-toe sequins and sky-high Marge Simpson wigs on Danny La Rue's chaise longue. Frankly, you can see why poor old Cinders spends half the show in rags and has to resort to magic to get a decent frock. This lot must have blown Baron Hardup's annual income and then some.

Click here!

 

Nigel rises majestically to price up his current scarlet ensemble. "This is a bought dress. It would have been about £300." "Not the sort of thing you can find in John Lewis, then?" I ask. "No." I'm told, pointedly. "The coat was made for me – you'd get the fur for £140, the beaded trim for £100 and it would cost around £300 to make. "The shoes would cost £50, the wig £350 and the tights and the body suit £70. The cheapest things are me boobs!"

 

Nigel and Peter are what's called "actors known" – that is, they come as an ugly sister double act, complete with all wigs, costumes and accessories which belong to them. It's expensive work. They design their clothes themselves and work closely with fabric shops and costume designers to produce the desired effect.

 

Often, disconcertingly, it's the cheapest garb that raises the biggest laughs. "We came on as two Christmas trees that lit up in one finale," says Nigel. "We had motorcycle batteries strapped to us to power the lights. We got stuck in a lift on the fourth floor because we were wearing these enormous Christmas tree wigs. We stepped out in front of the audience and – not a sound! The outfits went straight in the bin."

 

Throughout the rest of the year, Nigel designs, scripts and costumes pantos while Peter takes on other acting jobs – recently he was Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh, something I find almost impossible to imagine right now.

But, come Christmas, they're rarely out of character.

 

When a handsome blond chappie enters the room, I'm expecting two outsized female feet to be proffered in his direction. Instead, all Charming says is that he and Cinders are off for chips and want to know if they'd like any.

They're both keen. "When you're in a panto," says Peter, "You need that sort of food. Heinz spaghetti hoops – the kind of things nanny would make you." Besides, it's probably best not to let them out on their own, anyway.

During one expedition to the chippie, supposedly in his "civvies", Peter noticed something sparkly in the reflective surface and realised he was still wearing his Ugly Sister choker.

 

When they started out, 28 years ago, there were plenty of "actors known" on the road. Now they believe they're Britain's oldest surviving Ugly Sisters for hire. "Next year, we'll need a Stannah Stair Lift to get down the stairs," jokes Peter, although they're both a mere 55.

 

Back then, the decision to focus on the "sisters" role made sound business sense. "We can't sing, we can't dance, we're not TV names and the acting's a bit suspect," says Nigel. "The thinking was – 'How do we get a panto every year?'" Nowadays, the cost of the commitment to being "actors known" scares off most other aspirants. "We've got truckloads of stuff," admits Nigel. "We tend to recycle our old things, though. Or we give it to deserving dames." "We call them Sue Ryder Dames," chips in Peter.

 

One of their first pantos was with Rula Lenska who advised them to be more minimalist with their stage make-up. I pause for a quick glance at their faces, dreading to think what it was like before.

 

This is their sixth panto with Brian Conley and they've made themselves at home, pilfering the chaise lounge made famous by Danny La Rue (in his days as the Theatre Royal's Wicked Baroness) for their own dressing room.

As I rise to leave, a bit knocked out by the surreality of backstage life, I discover it sometimes strikes them like that, too. "We're not in a panto, really," says Peter. "In fact, we're in a home, off our trolley. But they tell us it's a panto. They like to humour us."

 

Nigel and Peter star in the Theatre Royal's Cinderella .

 

The Entrance of the Coach - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Saturday 20th December 2008

It must be getting milder outside, because backstage and onstage it is sweltering. By the second show we’re all feeling as if we’ve stepped into a sauna! The streets are packed by day with shoppers, and by night with clubbers, and the auditorium has been packed to the rafters both shows.

Michelle a tad under the weather today, but you’d have no idea, except for the odd explosive sneeze in the wings- and Dancer Jess is better than she was yesterday when she was shivering and shaking poor soul. A few of our crew have developed colds, but touch wood all will be fine here.

Brian’s family are here today, so Amy and Lucy joined Daddy in the finale, and Maisy the dog is getting spoiled rotten by the company! Brian’s wife Anne-Marie has taken some excellent photos backstage, which we hope to feature here exclusively on the Nottingham Diary.

Received festive greetings this week from Jody and Sean- Messers Crosier and Needham are not in pantoland this season- Jody is doing two shows a day at the Alex Birmingham on the year long tour of “High School Musical”, and Sean is still with “Buddy” in The West End.

Dean escorted Michelle, Peter and I through the rowdy streets once again. The clubbers were queuing up to get into the clubs as we headed back to our various digs- Michelle to her mug of lemsip, Dean to his sports channel and Peter and I to cheese on toast and Frankie Howard’s film of “Up Pompeii”- followed by “Holiday on The Buses” if I can keep awake! Bliss!

The Entrance of the Coach - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Sunday 21st December 2008

Still mild, so consequently we’re all cooking backstage! Eaton has joined Michelle and Lesley in the slightly poorly stakes, and hopefully will find respite in lemsip. It’s pretty good for colds I suppose, getting hot one minute and cold the next, all of us working closely together each and every day.

Nothing of great excitement to add to today’s shows- they were packed as usual. Brian’s “Pit Lift” isn’t working today, and I expect someone will be taking a look at it to try and fix it. A “Pit Lift” is a trap that isn’t actually on the stage- very few theatres have them anymore, and health and safety rules generally mean the remaining ones are not in use. A Pit Lift is brought in to the theatre and installed over part of the orchestra pit- Brian can appear and slowly disappear on this contraption as “Dangerous Buttons”. For now he has to exit like other mortals until they get it up and running again!

I was watching the kitchen being set up today. I watched it from both sides of the stage and marvel at how sets can be like giant jig saw puzzles, each piece slotting seamlessly into place until a three dimensional scene is created- in seconds! The kitchen itself comprises of three trucks- the first on is the central hearth with a fireplace. As the crew glide it into place stage electrics have the cable ready to make the fire glow. At the same moment the stage left truck is brought on (each truck has two men guiding it into place) and placed on its mark. This one has a staircase with solid iron railings and banister. Cleverly here the actually mark is highlighted by one of the flymen, high above pointing a torch at the mark so Kenny, or Adam can see where to park it. Meanwhile the Stage Right truck is brought on. This has a sink (I think it is a sink?) and a giant pumpkin on top of it.

Once all three trucks are in place the backcloth is dropped in, and Dan and Kerry bring on the chair, the hand props and kitchen table as Michelle enters to pre set herself on the floor to be discovered scrubbing the floor. As the scene opens in darkness a portal is flown in to complete the story book appearance. All this happens in no more than a minute, perhaps a minute and a half. Silently, seamlessly, and one of the great things about a theatre like this, it happens so slickly!

Delighted to bump into Daniel, a pantomime connoisseur at the stage door- a regular reader of this diary and IBY, he tells me he will have seen about a dozen pantomimes this season, including Bradford, Birmingham, Wimbledon, Bromley- great to meet you again Daniel, and glad that IBY is helpful in finding out who is where in pantoland each year!

The Turkish Night - Part One

We finished the second show at 8pm, and then set off for a company meal at a local restaurant- a Turkish one. We had a very delightful meal in an upstairs room, and I think there were about thirty of us in total. A welcome break in a long week of shows, digs and shows. An unexpected treat in the form of a belly dancer who entertained us with her many variations of terpsichory. She was wearing what most Dames would call a “religious” dress- “Lo and Behold!” and as she gyrated I kept thinking about how long it must have taken to sew all those beads on..poor soul! A great night out, and thanks to Maddie for organising it all.

The Turkish Night - Part Two

Up earlier tomorrow. Peter and I are being picked up to go to the BBC to do a live show called “Loose Ladies” on the radio. Loose  Ladies- what has that to do with the Sisters I wondered? We shall doubtless find out!

Monday 22nd December 2008

Peter and I began the morning being whisked off to the BBC  with Lucy from the publicity department to do an interview- quite a lengthy one- on the radio. The studio was actually decked out with mince pies, sherry and chocolate biscuits, but fear of spluttering or being caught on air with a mouth full of pie kept us abstaining! A fun interview, and we had a jolly time.

Still mild, so we’re still being poached backstage! Michelle not a well bunny at all today, bless her. If anything a bit worse. “Doctor Stage” can work miracles, but it was felt that the “big” sing- the duet in the ballroom might prove detrimental to her voice, so Dean has gallantly offered to sing it solo.

Luckily Dean has an amazing tenor voice, and having sung Michelle’s part of his (now) solo in the afternoon, he decided to take the brave step of “taking it up the octave”. What a glorious sound it was! Any higher and he may get asked to re-record “Walking In The Air” for Christmas!

Michelle was a brave soul and you’d not have noticed she was unwell, but Eaton didn’t fare quite so well- his voice was very- broken, I suppose the word is- in the matinee, but amazingly although he sounded full of cold in his dialogue, when it came to his “big” sing- “Let Me Entertain You”, he kind of by-passed the cold, and it sounded great. Singers have mysterious methods I think to help them get through a cold!

Brian and I were discussing the ways to cope with the rigours of twice-daily. He makes certain that he gets about ten hours of sleep a night, and doesn’t nap between shows. I get about eight hours and crash out between shows. I have always been capable of going straight off to sleep between shows with no problem. Even the clanging of the bells on the  trams that stop right outside the dressing room window don’t disturb me!

Had a very quick chat with Dawson’s lovely wife Synove on the phone between shows. I popped in to his room with a programme to sign and he was speaking to her in far off Norway, where it is a lot colder than it is here I imagine. Lovely to hear her voice again.

Michelle had an “exorcist” moment between shows when she discovered something starting to seep down her walls. It turned out to be a faulty shower in Eaton’s room which flooded his dressing room floor and then began to drip through into Michelle’s underneath. The mopping that ensued was more suited to “Dick Whittington” Act Two than Cinderella! Someone is going to fix the problem tomorrow.

Both shows were very perky, with a standing ovation at the end of the second show. Bless ‘em all! My answer phone talked to the answer phone of  Natalie Cleverly in Mansfield Panto. Nat was our Dandinin for several years, and is currently scaring children in “Sleeping Beauty” as the wicked fairy up the road. Our phones agreed to meeting up here after Christmas for a Baddies Night Out on the town!

Denise hosted her after show soiree in her dressing room, which was delightful- the bubbly flowing, and then Peter and I headed home via the local chippie for a sumptuous banquet of something in breadcrumbs with chips..not entirely certain what it was, but it was welcomed.

Denise

Oh. I would like to declare a Dame gag officially dead. Feel free to dispute this, and by all means try it in your matinee out there in pantoland and see how you fare. I often do a different “dress/bra” gag on my exit from the woods. Today I did an old but much loved favourite. It was received by the audience with not just utter silence, but with the sort of silence I imagine one experiences in deep space, where no-one can hear you scream.

The Ex bra gag is The “Stone Age Bra”

Sister 1: “Tonight I shall wear my Stone Age Bra”

Sister 2: “Your Stone Age Bra?”

Sister 1: “Yes. The Over Shoulder Boulder Holder.”

Farewell dear friend. You did Norman Evans good service, You got belly laughs for Reg Dixon, you raised a titter for Les Dawson, and now I put you to rest in Nottingham, to join “My Boyfriend was a Fan Dancer. His Name Was Dan. I had to dump him. I said “Fan Dan Go”.

The Sultans of Sound - Ollie and Lewis

Tuesday 23rd December 2008

An eventful day! My optimism over the cold and ‘flu appearance proved futile. During the first show it became obvious that Eaton would not be appearing this evening. During the matinee what little voice he had left began to fade, and Maddy made a decision before the interval that Aaron, Dandini cover would sing “Let Me Entertain You” in the ballroom scene in Act Two, and by the end of the show it was announced that Aaron would be playing the role this evening.

This process starts a chain of events- like knocking one domino over, the others fall into place! Firstly Aaron becoming Dandini involves wardrobe- a set of costumes have to be found, and Eaton and Aaron are not the same height or build. Next the cast who are involved in scenes with Dandini need to rehearse with him in between shows. Sound- Lewis and Ollie have to mike him up and check sound levels, and a run through with John for the song.

This is where the company manager and DSM, Martin come to the fore. They make the decisions, and organise the creation of a new Dandini in the space of half an hour. Meanwhile the domino effect means that Hayley, as Dance Captain has to reset the dances to accommodate the missing Aaron, who now has sound, wardrobe, fellow actors and a musical director to cope with, as well as checking his lines with the script. All this in the space of an hour and a half!

Eaton sat looking mournful during the rehearsal of scenes, but bless him, with no voice left due to the effects of his extremely heavy cold, there is little he can do now except rest, and recover to return on Boxing Day.

At the same time Peter and I had a press call with two of the Nottingham Panthers. Apparently Ice Hockey is a very popular sport, and the Nottingham Panthers are heroes here. We had the press and the BBC cameras rolling when The Good, the Bad and The Ugly got together. The two lads were Canadian ice hockey players, who had never set foot on a stage. They were amazed at how hot is was. Not surprising if they spend all their time on ice.

The BBC camera crew zoomed in on our meeting, and the reporter asked Peter the first question on camera. “So, what do you know about Ice Hockey?” There was a silence from both of us- then a longer silence, and eventually Peter burbled something about icing a cake I think.. The reporter turned to the Hockey Player- “And what do you know about pantomime?”, and received another round of silence from a bemused Canadian who had just recently completed carnage on the .. err is it a field or a pitch..or what? Neither of us had a clue.

We settled for doing what the press camera man requested- this involved putting each other in mock armlocks, and the Sisters holding banners that said “Goal!”- it was a very surreal half an hour, and I think both Canadian Hockey Players and Pantomime Dames will be keeping to their own worlds! We did “break The Ice” a little explaining to the players how, ten years ago when we were here, International Ice Skater Daniel Whiston skated on this very stage as Dandini- recreating the role Robin Cousins had played in our show. Daniel had terrible trouble remaining upright, as the raked stage meant he would spin, then spin further towards the orchestra pit, and skating on a slope was not a good idea!

The evening show had a huge buzz. Aaron was excellent, and huge congratulations to him for stepping in and not just covering the role, but playing it to the full! Dan (more Domino effect) became a horse and a courtier during the show, and Dawson stepped in and did the “Dangerous Buttons” routine with finesse with just one brief rehearsal with Brian.

Kerry and Dan - When You Wish Upon a Star!

The company pulled together, and the show was bright and jolly! We gathered in our dressing room after with a few bottles of bubbly to toast Aaron, Dan and Dawson. Tomorrow just the one show- yes, it is Christmas Eve!

I shall hold back on the diary until Boxing Day, as everything will be a bit of a rush tomorrow- everyone setting off to enjoy our precious one day off, so on behalf of Simon, Peter and myself- Have a VERY Merry Christmas!! To those of you in Pantoland enjoy the day off, and to everyone else, have a great holiday!

Friday 26th December 2008

Boxing Day- also our Secret Santa Day backstage. We had a great Christmas Eve set of shows with Aaron appearing as Dandini once again, and both houses full. Everyone dashed off straight afterwards to begin their brief Christmas festivities- travelling to Leeds, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, Coventry- but not to London.

Those living or visiting “Darn Sarff” didn’t venture this year (as last year) until the Rail Services get it into their skulls that we NEED transportation on Boxing Day- not just us panto people who need to travel on the 26th, but also the masses who take to their cars to visit sporting events, shopping centres and relatives. Funny to think the trams run here in Nottingham today, but there is no overground in London. I’ll drop this subject for now, but it seems to me that if we’re all working Boxing Day, and footballers are footballing, and sales people are selling, a national rail network shouldn’t be an impossibility?

Maddy’s concern on a Boxing Day would be the safe retu8rn of her flock, and indeed everyone was here way early. Dean arrived at 11am to be certain of not being late, and Brian was driven up here last night from Berkshire by Jack at 3am to be certain of being on time.

Today’s news was that Eaton is still without voice, and unable to play the role today, so Aaron will be on as Dandini for both shows.

Aaron as Dandini

In between shows we had our “Secret Santa” in the green room of the theatre, the glamorous collection of artistes with half a face on, in dressing gowns having fun unwrapping their mysterious gifts from mysterious donors- and then we were on “The Half”, and time to put the rest of the faces on.

Traditionally the Boxing Day matinee audience are often dull, full of Christmas spirit, overfed and, in the words of Catherine Tate-“Not Bovvered”, but today was an exception. A very perky and lively audience for both houses, and a good start to a week of twelve shows!

We had a brief soiree with a bit of bubbly after the show, this time in the corridor outside the dressing room, as the last time it looked as if we we attempting a world record. “How many Panto People can you cram in one small dressing room and still breathe!” Much more space in the corridor!

Corridor Soiree

Back to celebrate the last few hours of boxing day with the festive cocoa and a hobnob! Tomorrow we have panto royalty visiting- Paul Elliott our producer & Director, and Michael Harrison the head of the Qdos Panto World. We’d better practice our curtseys!

Saturday 27th December 2008

Today Eaton returned- nearly over his bad throat, and was back in the role of Dandini. When the voice goes I guess resting it is the only cure, and apart from the odd subtle fit of coughing he was firing on all cylinders!

Brian’s family are up with us today- Anne-Marie, Lucy, Amy and Maisy the dog, complete with a very comfortable looking dog bed that she got for Christmas- I might be borrowing that between shows for a nap!I might bribe Maisy with her daily Mince Pie. Lucy told me how they had left out mince pies for Santa on Christmas Eve at Chez Conley, and in the morning she knew Santa had been by the trail of mince pies and the odd scattered foil container on the carpet..the pastry eaten but the mince left..hmm

Maisy on her Christmas present.

Royalty arrived at the theatre today- The King of Comedy himself, Ken Dodd!  Ken is doing a sell out show at the adjoining Concert Hall tonight (it seats 2,300 I think) and arrived to get himself sorted before his 7.30pm show. He chatted to Brian, Michelle, Dean and Peter at Stage Door, while Doddy’s assistant heaved truckloads of props into the building.

“Are they ALL yours?” enquired Peter to Doddy. “Never seen ‘em in my life” said Ken, adding with a sniff “A good comic doesn’t need props!”

He finished his act last night in Liverpool at 1.30am apparently! Tonight his Diddy Men were stuck on the motorway en route, so Ken might be forced to add more material if they don’t turn up!!

More Panto Royalty arrived in the form of Paul Elliott and Michael Harrison, fresh from the matinee at Stoke On Trent. Delightful to see them both, and they seemed delighted with the show when they came backstage to congratulate everyone. It was a jolly show tonight, and as I was popping to the stage door you could hear “Happiness, Happiness, The Greatest Gift That I Possess” belting out from the Concert Hall- Doddy was in full swing.

When we went out for a meal with Paul and Michael afterwards I noticed a crowd outside the building getting some fresh air. It was 10.15pm and The Ken Dodd Show had reached the interval!

Denise, Brian and Michelle over the rainbow! - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Sunday 28th December 2008

Early shows today- 2pm and 5.30pm, and confusingly it feels as if we have the day off tomorrow, which of course we don’t. We have to wait until Wednesday, and we get New Year’s Day off.

Today was the viewing and pre judging of the Best Decorated Dressing Room competition. I believe it is a close call between dressing room 13 and the Babes Dressing Room.  I took a look at number 13 expecting the odd paper chain and battery operated disco ball, and instead I entered Wonderland!

Ladies and Gentlemen - Dressing Room 13

The occupants being Martin, Kerry and Dan from the world of Stage Management combined with Ollie and Lewis, the Sultans of Sound have produced a room that is a cross between Santas Grotto, Blackpool Illuminations and an upmarket window display in Harrods! The room is dominated by a silhouette cut out (illuminated) of the Nottingham skyline, including the Theatre Royal, with Santa flying above- it actually looks like the Peter Pan illustration from the book. The ceiling is festooned with blue lights, and three sides of this vast room are decorated with Teddy Bears- the Teddy Bears that go to children in the songsheet each night. That’s why Martin has a hundred teddies if you were curious.

It is an amazing room,and a great deal of design, skill and application has been applied to create the ambiance. I’ve yet to see the Babes Room, but this one certainly takes some beating!

Between shows delighted to have visitors- Lee Redwood and his girlfriend, fresh from seeing pantomimes all over the place- including Bournemouth, Poole, Woking, Wimbledon (where I bumped into him) and many others. Lee has seen this particular panto a good few times over the past few years, and it was great to see them both. Also had a visit from Brian Herring. Brian has written and produced a good few pantomimes, and currently is taking a look at some of Ian Liston’s pantos around the UK. Brian worked on the film of “Little Shop Of Horrors” with Peter, and has worked extensively for the Henson organisation- he’s on first name terms with Miss Piggy, so you know his credentials! It was great to catch up on panto with Brian and his friend Charley. Charley was Maddy’s DSM in panto last year at Northampton for Qdos, so lots of panto talk!

The Sisters Walkdown - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

I had one of those battery failure moments this evening- you know, when the lights are on but no-one is in? On our second meeting with Cinders I’m supposed to say to Michelle,“Are you trying to cause trouble?” As she approached me I thought “Nope. No idea”. Suddenly the words began to form in my head. ”Are you trying to………Do Something??” I blurted out. Oh well, near enough I thought. Puzzled looks from everyone, including the band, and then we carried on. Six years on, and now those words fail me?

Had a message from a mate in Peterborough tonight telling me that Ray Quinn is no longer in the panto there. The news was sketchy, so I’m imagining he must be unwell- I think he’s been running now for two out of five weeks. (Ed - Ray Quinn has left the pantomime to continue his training for the ITV show 'Dancing on Ice' ) I know Peterborough has an astonishing THREE pantomimes this year, so panto fans have lots of choice there this season.

Monday 29th December 2008

Christmas Day seems an eternity away now! We’re all oblivious to what day of the week it is even, and just knuckling down to the two-a-day schedule, vaguely aware that there’s a day off soon that just happens to be New Year’s Day!

Audiences remain extremely perky, and that helps tremendously. Even something as trivial as trying out a new gag in a show gives you a bit of a lift- we tried it in the scene with Eaton and believed it would work, and indeed it got a round of applause, so that was cheering!

I’ve re-established an old Theatre Royal custom outside the dressing room. I’d actually forgotten that ten or eleven years ago when we were here there was always a jigsaw puzzle here for people to do in their odd free moments. I only remembered when Lesley in wardrobe reminded me, after I’d gone out and bought ten of ‘em. The first few were too easy- I put out the pieces and within a scene or two Kenny on the crew and Jack had completed them, so I’ve put out the hard ones now! It all helps break the routine a little bit.

Brian broke his routine last night by making an appearance next door in the Concert Hall (after our shows had finished) to sing a number with “The Rat Pack” on their stage! A true “surprise Guest” for the audience, as it had only been thought of a few hours before!

Brian's Do! No twiglets!

Brian and Anne-Marie hosted tonight’s backstage soiree- trying to outdo Denise & The Sisters he supplied twiglets, which surprisingly is one of the few things Maisy the Dog won’t eat! I’ve decided Maisy is my surrogate pony on this show. Those of you familiar with these panto diary will recall I used to feed “my boys” each show, and really miss the livestock. Peter is no compensation I feel.. so having a furry canine backstage has brightened my week!

Nothing remarkable to mention today- Brian featured in a great “Mail On Sunday” pic of pantomime stars, alongside Claire Sweeney, Cilla Black, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Osmond and all- it is a great picture. They all look as if they are in the same room, but in fact each photo has been cleverly photo shopped to appear that way. Brian posed for his picture in the concert hall here last week.

Photo from The Mail on Sunday - 28th December 2008

The fate of “the Best Dressed Dressing Room” has still to be announced, and tomorrow we have another two shows as usual in this twelve show week.

SECRETS OF AN UGLY SISTER

Nigel and Peter interviewed for BBC East Midlands Today

Opens in the BBC Website

 

The Ensemble Walkdown - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Tuesday 30th December 2008

Two shows, busy as ever, and it has got very cold outside-quite chilly inside as well. The much awaited results of the “Best Dressed Dressing Room” were announced, and by a small margin Room 13 won. Some well deserverd smug faces backstage today!

Shows pretty much running like clockwork. I had a hitch descending the ballroom stairs- what we call a “Sean” moment, in honour of Past Prince Sean Needham who got his cloak caught in the finale and was held captive by the scenery! My cloak must have slid between two pieces of staircase scenery, and I was unable to move. Balancing a champagne bucket on my head I couldn’t look down either, so I thought I might spend the entire scene like Kermit’s nephew “halfway down the stairs”. Lucky for me Tony managed to release the fabric, or I’d still be there!

Not sure what everyone has planned for New Year-for us, like most folk in pantoland, it is one day off. Peter and I are staying here, and I think a few others are, so we’ll spend it at Martin’s place, and when the others go a clubbing, we’ll be heading back to the digs. The day off is much welcomed after twelve shows.

Denise and her furry friends! - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

A group of us put on our posh togs and headed out for the bright lights of the Casino tonight. That’s more like the showbiz life you want to read about huh? Like a scene out of “Casino Royale”- the tuxedos, the jewels..the Cinderella company engaging in witty banter with ex royals and heads of state.

We were lured there by the attraction of the four course meal for a fiver actually! The glamour part of it was slightly diminished by the dress code regulations. “No track suit bottoms can be worn”. Anything else apparently, but no jogging bottoms! No Brook Shields or James Bond in evidence- more Brook Bond actually..

We had a fun night- the cheapest meal in town turned out to be great, and a few folk actually came away with more money than they went in with- no names, but I’d watch Cinders and Prince Charming at the roulette wheel for lessons in the future!

Two tomorrow, so its Happy New Year to all out there in pantoland and beyond!        

NIGEL, PETER AND SIMON WISH ALL OUR READERS A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR

You Shall Go To The Ball!

Michelle Potter - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Wednesday 31st December 2008

NEW YEARS EVE

Back to back shows today, with just under half an hour before “the half” of the second show. It is freezing out there too, but two full houses braved the cold.

In our ticket tearing scene there are sometimes moments when there is total silence, and just one child’s voice rings out loud and clear telling off the Sisters. We had one such child today, incensed at our treatment of Cinders she yelled out solo “You are VERY naughty!” and brought the house down. Bless her!

The Jigsaw puzzles in the corridor have proved very successful- so far four completed- one very complex, mostly done by Kenny on crew, with Brian stepping in at the end to place the final two pieces on the board. He fooled no-one!

The Village of Rock and Roll (Brian, Michelle and Ensemble) - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

MEET THE CREW

The audience sees the group of performers on the stage- I think we number 26 including the juveniles, but the real magic is going on silently (usually!) and in the dark, or at least hidden from view- the Theatre Royal has a crew of fourteen who keep the show moving by changing the scenes, flying the cloths and lighting us up!

Heading the crew is Mac, the Resident Stage Manager, and on O.P (Opposite Prompt Side) are Kenny, Jay and Steve, with their counterparts on Prompt Side, Ryan, Paul and Smithy.

The Stage Electrics are in the hands of Mike and Bob- that can involve anything from plugging up Cinderella’s Kitchen fire, or filling the stage with smoke, or “Low Rise” mist and fog, then way up on the Fly Floor you’ll discover Shaquille and John flying the scenery, but not flying Denise on her moon- Dan and Kerry do that from floor level.

Finally brightening our lives with their spotlights are Matt and Amy on follow-spot, and Austen operating the board.

So, add Lesley’s wardrobe staff to the number of crew, plus Lewis and Ollie on sound, and Maddy. Martin, Kerry and Dan, plus the juveniles onstage chaperones, add the cast, and you have about 47 people in total! That’s before you add Stage Door, marketing, publicity, box office, management who might all be in the building at the same time!

New Year was a jolly affair spent at Martin’s house with tons of home cooked food and lashings of err… well, not exactly Lemonade! Thanks for looking after us all Martin!

Duelling Dean and Eaton - photo by Anne-Marie Conley

Friday 2nd January 2009

The shoppers are starting to thin out, and you get the feeling that Nottingham is beginning to return to normal now- I imagine the Easter eggs are about to hit the shelves any minute, and the children go back to school next week.

Here at the Theatre Royal it is business as usual. Both shows busy and at the normal times of 2.30pm and 7.15pm. This will change next week when we’ll have the odd schools matinee. Both shows perky and I think uneventful, give or take the odd glitch- a juvenile went sprawling in the woods scene, and Brian, having ascertained she was fine got a bit of comic business out of it, and similarly when Michelle accidentally plunged her heel into my foot (when Peter flings her backwards in one of our bullying moments) we got some comic business out of that- the Sister’s Revenge, so to speak!

A few pantomimes finish tomorrow- amazing the time has gone so quickly. Britt will be finishing at the Shaw Theatre, Bobby Crush at Peterborough, and our mate Natalie Cleverley will finish at Mansfield on Sunday. I think Ray Meagher finishes this week-end at Basingstoke as well, so I must ring him before he departs for Oz and “Summer Bay”.

We have twenty four shows left in total, and would you believe it, I’m running out of make-up! I’ll have to invest in a whole new pancake base from Fox’s when I go to London on our day off. The cost of make-up is now astronomical- a short visit to Charles Fox for a few essential items can set you back forty quid now!

Since the cast don’t get to meet up daily before the show, you often meet for the first time on stage. Much of today was spent catching up on the news of everyone’s New Year Parties or journeys in brief moments before making an entrance, or during the interval. I think all of us lot had a jolly time.

Tomorrow, another jolly event- it is Martin’s birthday! We’ll be celebrating after the show in legendary dressing room 13. I wonder if there will be jelly and ice-cream?

Our Babes!

Saturday 3rd January 2009

Two shows as usual. Lesley and her wardrobe ladies were busy today photographing all the costumes for the Qdos archive. The costumes arrived here in vast wardrobe boxes on wheels which are currently stored next to fabled dressing room thirteen. I’m not sure why Qdos want the photographs, as we’ve had them photographed many times before, but in this case there is a different finale, and the babes costumes are new to us, with their distinctly Scottish theme!

I think it is fair to say that this production may be archived now as it is likely that this particular Cinderella may not been seen in this very same format next year- yes, it could well be that after six years (out of seven) the show as we know it may be in for a change.

Too early to say exactly what the changes may be, but I think pretty soon we’ll get confirmation of changing times in the village of rock and rap! As soon as its confirmed we’ll be making an announcement, but don’t expect it’ll be for a month or two yet! How exciting!

Meanwhile, back in the village everything continues as normal. No particular incidents of note, with the exception of Martin’s birthday!

We all celebrated Martin’s birthday and the winning dressing room in number 13 below the stage, and discovered it is the best dressing room for a soiree, as it is definitely the biggest! The bubbly was a flowing, and the catering was par excellence!

Tomorrow we’re all thinking about journeys home- a good few of us will be getting the train back to London (and then beyond) for the first “proper” time off- all of Monday, and no matinee on Tuesday! Peter and I have already packed a suitcase each, leaving what we estimate to be a fortnight’s worth of clothing back at the digs.

Happy Birthday Martin!

Tuesday 6th January 2009

There were a few of us on the train from St. Pancras to Nottingham, having enjoyed our first “long” break of a day and a half- glorious it was too! Andrew Ryan was on the train coming up to see our “Cinderella” as was our Michelle who had been to see his “Cinderella” at Wimbledon last night- her friend Louise Dearman is the Fairy in that show, along with Joanna Page, Ron Lucas Alistair McGowan and Gareth Gates of course.

Sunday’s shows went well. A jolly audience who, I suspect thought they ought to have a very good time as everyone goes back to work on the following day. We’ve been back at work since Boxing Day I hasten to point out! A crowd of us had got the tram, then the train back to London on Sunday, arriving at 11.30pm- and amazed at how cold it is now!

Nothing eventful in Pantoland today- Tuesday. Maddy organised a curry night just up the road which was very well attended after our ONE show. One show is a luxury for which we’re all very grateful. We get the pleasure of one show again on Friday!

All the Christmas cards and trees and decoration are cleared from a lot of dressing rooms now- it’s supposed to be unlucky to have them up after January 6th, and thesps are fairly superstitious as a rule!

Two shows tomorrow and Thursday- looking forward to a visit from our friend Jack Watters on Thursday- Jack has recently been to see Wimbledon pantomime, and as an expert on all things Frank Matcham (the theatre architect) I’m hoping he can tell us what restorations Matcham carried out here at the beautiful theatre Royal in the Victorian era. I could ask Peter as I believe he was around at the time, but that might be unwise!

Wednesday 7th January 2009

A wonderful house comprising mainly of senior citizens this afternoon. Bless them all- one of the most responsive audiences we’ve had, nigh on eight hundred of ‘em all out to thoroughly enjoy themselves, and a delight to play to! It made the matinee fun, and it sped past.

Our treat today was the lure of the fry-up in the local caff, as we have over three hours between shows, so Peter and I can make the effort to take all the make-up off, and join a gang of us for the double egg, ham and chips celebration. Lovely to see Jo, our wardrobe mistress from last year’s “Cinderella” visiting. She watched the matinee before heading off. She’s currently enjoying a season at the Lyceum in Edinburgh.

In between stuffing chips down my throat I attempted to come to grips with my new phone. In true Widow Twankey style I washed the old one. I not only washed it, but then tumble dried it for forty minutes whilst ringing it and puzzling why it went on to answer-phone. I can confirm that comfort added to your wash makes no difference to the internal workings of your phone. However the sim card survived the process, so I still have all my numbers intact!

Talking of mini disasters..The Duel between Prince and manservant Dandini went a bit askew this evening!

This scene is all about the duel- the dialogue is interlaced with the cut and thrust and parry of their duel, during which they discuss exchanging roles. Most of their dialogue is about fencing as well- fine, that is until the Prince’s sword falls to pieces- five pieces- in his hand!

Eaton and Dean enter fencing, and during the carefully choreographed dialogue they both have their swords pushed against each other as Eaton falls back. They never got that far. Dean’s sword disintegrated leaving them both totally gobsmacked, and the audience falling about with laughter! Dean said afterwards that all he could think about was the dialogue yet to be spoken- every bit of it to do with sword fighting. “I know! I’ll become fencing champion- that way I’ll get to meet lots of girls”- that got a huge laugh when delivered whilst disposing of the five pieces of the sword into the wings!

As they stared at each other the witty ad libs remained a distant mirage, as they both tried to work out a way of ignoring the fencing motif and keep some dialogue. The best Dean could come up with in blind panic was “Just give us a minute!” as the audience howled.

The thing both Eaton and Dean were aware of was the “Bullet”- the End of the scene. It hinges on Eaton’s challenge- “I bet if you did that trick with your sword in front of an audience, you’d get a huge round of applause”. Tricky when your sword is now scrap metal.. in a flash of inspiration Dean grabbed Eaton’s sword, did his party piece with it, and they both exited very swiftly to a well earned round of applause! They were still shuddering about it as they headed for the dressing room.

As the passed prompt corner they passed Dan who, with a wry smile said “Nobody noticed!” and continued on his way! Ahh- THIS is the magic of LIVE theatre!

Thursday 8th January 2009

Two shows- 1.30pm and 7.15pm, and surprisingly packed out again- the matinee mostly school parties, and the evenings mostly adults. Celebrated yet another birthday today- Resident Stage Manager Mac,who has spent most of his adult birthdays in pantoland!

Delighted to have our visitor Jack Watters in for the matinee, and went out for a bite to eat between shows. We spent a while looking at the auditorium, and pondering where the stage door used to be in this theatre- we believe it was on the opposite side to where it is now, close to the Matcham designed Empire Theatre next door, now sadly not with us. Matcham was responsible for the refurbishment here, Jack tells us, but the building (correct me if I’m wrong?) was designed by the architect Phipps?

Jack Watters and Peter

Second show we had a visit from Nick Thomas. Nick, of course, is the head of Qdos, and each year visits each and every pantomime they produce, as well as several others in the time allowed. We met up across the road for a drink afterwards with Maddie, Kerry and Lewis, and travelled back down memory lane with Nick. He has now built up a vast collection of theatre memorabilia in his base at Scarborough, and has recently been lucky enough to have Nick Potter to catalogue and archive the collection, some of which is displayed in a pub-restaurant Nick owns in the town. There’s a “Palladium” themed room, a “Bob Monkhouse” themed room (Bob was a mate of Nick’s ) and a “Paul Elliott” collection of handbills, flers and posters from Paul’s first panto production at Hull onwards.

An ex puppeteer, Nick has collected a great number of puppets that he has to find room to display at his home- Pelham puppets especially, and some rarer ones from television- now those are what I call “Boy’s Toys”! Let’s hear it for Captain Scarlett!

No matinee tomorrow, just an evening show. Hoorah for us!

Jigsaw still going strong!

Friday 9th January 2009

What luxury- the day off! No show until the evening- so forgive the brief diary entry! I spent a while wandering around Nottingham Castle, but no sign of Robin Hood to be found. I guess you need to go to the Hippodrome Birmingham if you need to find Robin and his Merry Men, in the guise of John Barrowman and Don Maclean!

Tonight’s house was very lively, and fairly vocal. I was halfway through a gag with Peter in the Woods Scene when one old girl called out “Nice legs!” and made me laugh a lot. We’re supposed to be the funny ones!

Two friends in this evening, Tony and Steve. Tony was Technical Manager at the Kenneth More Theatre for several years, and now runs a large costume hire business, and Steve is on the last leg of a very lengthy touring pantomime- a total of twenty weeks I believe? That calls for stamina! We also bumped into Michael Butcher at the stage door- Michael is a regular here at IBY, and , I think has seen about fifteen pantomimes to date. Great to see him. Oh- thanks for the bubbly Michael!

I think the rail companies must have read my rant on the lack of trains in this diary. I booked tickets to return to London this week-end and the same train at the same time as last week has gone up by 40%. As Kenny Williams would have said, “It’s a disgrace!”

Saturday 10th January 2009

Absolutely packed today, with two cracking houses- a lot of adults in the evening show too, and a joy to play to. It’s a busy social whirl today too, as we had the Babes party between shows, and tonight it was Maddy’s turn to host a soiree in the jig-saw corridor!

A glorious moment this evening during Brian’s songsheet. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings” as the saying goes. Up on stage he was left with the last child, five year old Alisha. As usual Buttons goes through the contents of the goodie bag with the child, and this includes a signed photograph of himself in civvies.

The child looked at the photo. “Is that you?” she enquires. Brian confirms it is.

“Is that you when you were working?”

The house erupted, as we all did backstage!

Talking of babes- Greer who looks after the two sets- the blue and the red teams organised a lovely tea party in the green room between shows. Very refined it was- lovely tea pots, scones and jam, cakes and custard creams- a truly delightful spread! We all had our photos taken with the babes, and all remarked what an amazing superbly professional set of juves they have been throughout, and really nice polite kids too.

The Babes Party

In between shows we met up again with Dawn Offilier, who was our lovely dresser the last time we were here in panto, along with her sister Michelle, and her two children Daisy and Luke. They’d all been in to see the matinee, and met up with Daddy, Michael who also works backstage here at the Theatre. Great to see them again.

It really is time to look towards the end of this season- this is the penultimate Saturday- only one more before the end of the season. Already with each week-end we all take more of our stuff back home, and Peter and I have hardly anything left in the flat. It was never well stocked food wise- the odd tin of spaghetti hoops and some slightly suspect sliced bread, but now we’re reduced to a tub of flora and some marmalade. Since we eat out all the time it’ll probably stay like that all next week!

Two shows tomorrow, and then the day and a half off. When I return from London on Tuesday there will only be six performing days left, and ten shows in total left. The time has flown. Funny but it didn’t go as fast in High Wycombe last year..and that was a shorter run too.

Maddy's Soiree - The Band

Sunday 11th January 2009

A week today we’ll be knee deep in packing cases and skips, and all will be over. For now however, it’s business as usual and the two shows, almost back to back are still pulling the crowds in. We’re packed again, both shows, which is delightful!

Brian, Peter and I were standing in the wings at the opening discussing what a great run this has been- and how fast the time has gone. The theatre, the company, the crew, the spacious dressing rooms and the town itself have all contributed to a great season, and, tired as we all are, we’ll be sad to see it come to an end.

If you stepped into our backstage dressing room corridor you’d have no idea you were in a theatre. Peeking through the glass panels of the big heavy swing doors from the stage you would swear you were entering “Sunnyvale Rest Home”!

People go up and down the corridor generally wearing dressing gowns for a start. There you will spy Kenny and Steve from crew, or Mac intently putting piece after piece into the TWO jig saws that we have running at the moment on twin trestle tables! Yes- all we need is Matron to appear with the cocoa and the scene would be perfect. One side of the door you have extremely bright lights, colourful clothes and children masquerading as animals- all perfectly normal, and on the other side of the door it’s a tranquil scene of care in the community!

Out there in the world of moving trees and flying Fairies however, all does not run smoothly for me. I had one of those terrible moments you can get once in a blue moon when you THINK your fellow actor has delivered the line you reply to, when, in fact..he hasn’t said it yet.

Deep shame. Deep embarrassment! I can see the report card. “Nigel MUST try harder to pay attention in class”. There we were in the woods, a  perfectly normal day in pantoland. Peter dressed as a hamper, Me as a table with a  fox on my head, you know the kind of thing. Dean and Eaton in tight trousers and eyeliner are discussing holding a ball with Dawson.

The scene should go-

Eaton:  “ at the ball!”

Us:       “A ball!”

Dean:   “Ball? What Ball?”     (it is the first the Prince has heard of it you see..)

Me:      (approaching with menace) “Who rattled your cage, Mush?”

Audience: Laugh.   (ok not a HUGE laugh, but a laugh)

Sadly I cut Dean off in his Princely prime. Eaton said “At the ball” I thought Dean had done his bit and bore down on him with “Who rattled your cage mush”. Dean stared at me. “I haven’t said it yet!” he cries. Audience laughs (a BIG laugh) and Peter says “Hang on, we’ll do it again”, which we did, properly, and the audience applauded!

Deep shame. Good laugh though!

Another good laugh came from the audience during the ticket tearing scene. In the moment of silence when Cinders is being threatened one lone tiny voice loudly cried out “You nasty old bag!”. I believe it was aimed at Peter, but he thinks it could be the contrary!

At the end of the second show everyone vanished backstage very quickly. To cars, to trams and to digs. Peter and Denise headed for the motorway, Dean, John (Ranger) and I headed for the last train out of Nottingham. No show until Tuesday evening.

Tuesday 13th January 2009

One show this evening, with a refreshed cast and crew having enjoyed a day and a half off. Mostly adults in the audience tonight, not surprising really, now the schools have all gone back.

The show seemed to go very quickly, and this week will be the same. Before you know it, it will be packing boxes and suitcases in the corridors. The norm is to pack as you go- so Dan and Kerry will be busy on the last night with packing props away, and Lesley and her wardrobe team will have the massive job of loading up the big wardrobe boxes on wheels ready to load into the truck. We’ll be doing the same- Lesley is finding an extra pair of hands for Peter and myself, so that as we finish with a costume or wig, it can be packed. Hopefully come eight o’clock the quick change area will be empty, and we should (in theory) be in just the sequins we stand up in!

In to see the show tonight was Kevin Wood- had a very brief chat on the way out of the theatre en route to the Casino. (that sound much more glamorous than it actually is- the Circus Casino here looks like an airport lounge, and the three course meal for a fiver was sadly not available tonight!). Kevin heads First Family, and presents pantomimes around the country. Like every panto producer he will be doing the rounds of his shows and will see as many of the other shows before they finish at the end of this week or next.

Not many pantomimes will be running into February this year again. I think perhaps those days are over- pantomimes start much earlier now- some open by the end of November, like the Nottingham Playhouse. When I was growing up around the Swansea Grand Theatre the panto would always open on Boxing Day, as did nearly every other panto, and would run into early March! The comic stood no chance in the songsheet asking a child what it had for Christmas on March 4th!

Dean, Denise, John, Michelle, Lewis, Maddy, Kerry and myself had a bite to eat then headed for the Casino. I don’t think any of us became instant millionaires, and I think perhaps we lost a few quid all in all. I know I was down seven pounds fifty by the end of the night. I wonder if they’ll call the Broker’s men in?

Two tomorrow. 1.30pm and 7.15pm.

Wednesday 14th January 2009

Two shows- many senior citizens in for the matinee, and a very jolly crowd they were- a sea of glass and gaviscon. You can tell the age of the audience when you pick your man out and his name is Arthur. Brian’s lady for the day was Ruby I think!

Denise suffered a bit of a moment this afternoon. One of those moments when you think “That sounds like the bit where I..Oh god!” Luckily she made it from dressing room to wings at the speed of light, and all was well in Fairyland! It happens to us all!

Delighted to see Graham Smith between shows. Graham was instrumental in setting up the sponsorship with Cadbury that Qdos (or AMG as it might have been then) enjoyed a while back. That was before Cadbury got heavily into Corrie, and our pantos were awash with flakes, chocolate buttons and cream eggs! Peter and I began our Panto Roadshows as a result of this partnership, and toured schools with what was then the “Cadbury Roadshow”, which evolved into the format that we tour today.

Graham has strong links with a local organisation, The Long Eaton Young Performers who are staging their own version of “Cinderella”arranged by Leon Wade  at the Devonshire Studios in Long Eaton Nottinghamshire at the end of this month- Have a ball Guys!

We’d all gathered at the caff between shows, and despite my vow to eat lightly between shows the lure of the double egg, ham, chips, peas and two slices overcame me. If Prince Charming can cope with Sausage, gravy and chips, why should the sisters suffer? It was Lesley who suffered. Could she do up the strap on my table costume tonight? Could she ‘eck as like! Kenny on crew to the rescue, and with a lot of undignified kerfuffle, I eventually waddled into the woods.

The corridor is busy. Currently we have three jigsaws in progress, and time is running out! Adam and Steve are on one table, Martin and Mac finishing another, and Bob and I beginning a third!

No Soirees tonight-we have our leaving do tomorrow evening, and so just a few of us had a swift drink across the road. Bumped into Stacey Haynes who I haven’t seen for a good many years, when we were both involved in a production of “The Rocky Horror Show” in Bournemouth for David Ian and Paul Nicholas. Seems forever ago now! Stacey is here with “Flashdance” at the Royal Centre as part of its National tour.

Tomorrow we get a  visit from Paul Elliott- he’ll be here to join us for our farewell party after the show. Where has the time gone?

Thursday 15th January 2009

A busy day today- two shows, visitors and our “going away” party at the end of it! Amazing to see the auditorium is busy still, and a lot of school parties crammed in for the matinee.

My turn for a near miss this afternoon- I have an off-stage line of dialogue to deliver (whilst dressed as a table) before we enter into the woods. I was busy arranging my cups, saucers and strawberry tarts when I heard Peter deliver both lines of dialogue a few feet away from me- both my line and his- in two different voices- that’s resourceful! My mike was obviously turned on as well –(thanks to Ollie front of house) and all you heard from me was “Ooooh!!” as I legged it to the woods in time!

Brian had a young child up on stage in the songsheet who thought the best part of the show was “The Princess”. Princess? Yes, she liked Snow White the best. Ahh..that’s where we’ve been going wrong!

Our visitors this afternoon were (and I’m sure they won’t be offended by the term) “Old Pro’s”- Jennifer Haley, Rikki Smith and Bryan Bargh. Peter and I toured for Jennifer’s and her late husband Phillip Charles’s theatre company, “Charles Haley Productions” in the ‘eighties. In fact we came to this very theatre and did sell-out business with “The Wind In The Willows” back then!

Jenny, Rikki and Bryan were in to see the show, and we met up in the stalls bar beforehand. Instantly they were reminding each other of their early panto experiences- all three had appeared in “Humpty Dumpty” at the (then) Birmingham Theatre- now “The Hippodrome” with Ken Dodd, Iris Sadler, Ken Roberts and Norman Robbins in 1965. That was Jennifer’s debut into panto, to be followed a year later by playing fairy at Swansea Grand, which I saw!

They recalled that the pantomime ran until Easter then, and the scenery had come from the Harry Secombe production at the London Palladium a few years previously. Costumes by “Bobby”- St. John Roper, and they could even sing the opening numbers from the Nursery Rhyme scene from forty four years ago! It was great to see them all, and it was a very welcomed break between shows!

Paul Elliott, our esteemed producer and director was in for the second show. He’s gone along to the Playhouse to see their “Aladdin” matinee this afternoon. A great house, with a perky cast and audience, and then we had about half an hour to prepare for our “do”, held in a nightclub in the lace market area of the town.

Had a great last night party- I know it is not actually the last night, but with no matinee tomorrow, and all the rushing and packing that ensues on the real last night, it makes sense to have it now!

During the party we had our “Awards” ceremony- among the winners of various categories were Denise, Sergio, Jess, Michelle, John, Dan, the dancers and Paul Elliott (Campest performance in a pantomime- it would take far too long to explain!). The prizes were Teddy Bears appropriately costumed by Lesley and her ladies, and organised extremely well, as you would expect, by Maddie and Martin. I’m sure it all went on until quite late- Michelle, Peter and I were on our way home by about 1.30am, the lure of the duvet irresistible after a full day like today!

Saturday 17th January 2009

A FAIRY TALE KIND OF DAY!

Well, the day started off in an ordinary two shows today mood- this afternoon we had a “described” performance (I think its called. Or was that “prescribed”?) where the words come up on giant screens each side of the auditorium, in the circle boxes in fact. At the back of the circle sits a lady typing furiously- she adds the bits that are not in the script. Her fingers must have been flying over the keyboard when we come on, as we basically chat to the audience and they chat back! We went up a tad late for the matinee because of these new additions to the show. Definitely not as much fun as having Brenda and Angela signing, and joining in the fun though!

We all decided that we just HAD to make one last trip to the caff- “Holles”, up the road for a final fry up. The ladies of wardrobe had arranged themselves with crackers at one long table, and the rest of us-John, Michelle, Martin, Maddie, Lewis, Peter and myself at another, with Brian, Anne-Marie, Lucy and Amy (no Maisy!) at a third table. The delights of Stuart’s cooking never fail, and after finishing off with the home made apple pie and custard, we waddled back for the evening show.

The Fairy Tale bit? Hold your fire- I’m getting to it!

Evening show was very jolly. The audience were well up for it. Our visitors tonight were Peter Cutchie and his good lady wife- Peter runs the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, and I think he said this was his eighth pantomime so far, with more yet to come!

I spent most of my time between entrances playing tuggy with Maisy, and taking her on a walk of inspection. Her favourite dressing room visit was Dean’s- He and Eaton are hosting tonight’s spectacular Cheese & Wine Soiree. To a Tibetan Terrier a dressing room full of cheese was extremely exciting. It was for me too, I have to admit!

The Fairy Tale Ending? There we all are, on stage for the Grand Finale. Brian does his usual speech, thanks the group of babes who are finishing tonight, thanks the band and then introduces Eaton to the audience. He tells them that Eaton is our newest member of the “family”, as is Denise. He asks Denise how she has enjoyed the run, and at that moment a gentleman walks on to the stage, all wired up for sound, and introduces himself as Denise’s boyfriend Crage! Can you see where this scenario is heading?

Crage tells the audience he has a question to ask the Fairy, and he needs the audience’s help. He has a trial run. They must reply “Say Yes Fairy” to the questions. First one: “Would you like an orange Fairy?”. Audience shouts “Say Yes, Fairy!”. Second question “Would you like an apple Fairy?”, Audience yells “Say Yes Fairy”. Third question- “Will you marry me?”

The audience yelled “Say Yes Fairy” and the Fairy? She said “Yes!”. Denise has agreed to become Mrs. Crage Campbell!

Many a blurry eye up there on stage, I can tell you! How romantic is that?

It turns out this elaborate secret has been safely held by only a handful of people since Monday. Crage, on deciding this was how he would like to propose spoke to Maddie on Monday. Next to be let in on the secret was Brian, Ollie and Lewis (they had to mike up Crage secretly in the scene dock during the songsheet (using Dawson’s microphone. Dawson willingly handed it over and asked no questions!) and John Ranger was in on the secret.

In our small world a secret is a very difficult thing to keep, but it was kept brilliantly. No-one, including Denise had a clue about what was being planned so meticulously!

Here’s a bit of magic to add to this tale, from the memories of the Ugly Sisters. This is the second time Peter and I have witnessed a proposal on stage. The first time was in Newcastle Theatre Royal when Jill Halfpenny was proposed to by her (now) husband Craig (same name huh? For both the gentleman and the theatre?)) wearing a certain gold bodice and skirt after the finale. I  rather think that Denise is in that very same costume (if not entirely, definitely the bodice) and that makes it one very lucky dress!

So Eaton and Dean’s soiree turned out to be an engagement party as well! The room was packed, and it has to be said a very splendid soiree it was- the table groaning under the weight of many cheeses, buscuits, fruit and sweeties, and a table top full of wine. Thank you Prince and Dandini for a really great end to a quite amazing day in pantoland!

The final two shows tomorrow. It will fly past, and then suddenly we’ll be gone! Goodbye “Cinderella” and hello “Boeing Boeing” – that company moves into the theatre on Monday.

Sunday 18th January 2009

The Final Day!

Well, here I am, back at the digs- the end of the panto run. We’ve had two shows and, as predicted, the day sped through so fast- at one point I was trying to eat a sandwich on the quarter hour call, and wondering if I had time to finish it!

The first show didn’t involve any packing, so that was a blessing- the chance to just do the show and enjoy it. Maddy called the entire company on stage just before the audience are let in to the auditorium, and gave a very nice speech to us all, thanking all the various departments and the theatre for making this such a lovely season here at Nottingham.

During the matinee we had visitors in to see the show- Kenneth Alan Taylor and some of the cast of his Playhouse Theatre’s “Aladdin”. Great to see Ken again- a superb dame that we had the chance to see in action earlier in this run. We met up in the dressing room between shows with Ken, (Widow Twankey), John Elkington (Abanazar), Phillip Herbert (The Genie) Anthony Hoggard (Emperor) and Rebecca Little (Widow Wang & The Slave of The Ring) and her husband, and had a great mutual admiration society going on! It is Ken’s twenty-Fifth Playhouse panto, and I believe when the panto ends next Saturday, it will be farewell to Ken’s Dame- He’ll still write and produce them, but I believe we might have seen the last of his Twankey! I hope not!

Also had a brief visit from panto sister Marc Two who was in to see the show. He recently finished a run of Cinderella at the Civic Aylesbury with the truly wonderful Bernie Clifton- one of the great masters of Panto.

Literally gulped a sandwich down, as we only had half an hour between, and then met up with Lesley’s husband Nigel who has very kindly offered to do our packing this evening. Having Nigel pack as we go means that by the end of the show we’re all done, and our three rails, two huge wicker skips and assorted objects can be loaded straight on to the scenic lorry.

It’s hard to describe how swift a panto get-out can be to the uninitiated. The audience are watching a high energy show from out front- they should be backstage! Scenery vanishes into vast scene docks. Props disappear from props tables the second they have been used. Costumes are whisked off your backs and returned to the big touring wardrobe boxes from whence they came- by the end of the show you would be looking at a very different backstage area to the one you began the show with! Lesley and her superb wardrobe department were everywhere, scooping, collecting and collating on three floors of the theatre.

I managed a quick visit to Maisy The Dog during the show- for some odd reason she is heavier to lift up than she was at the beginning of the run. Must be putting on muscle I reckon…ahem…can’t be the mince pies…

The audience gave us a very heartfelt standing ovation at the end of the night. Brian did his speeches, thanking all the people who have made this show the success it has been, and revealing that it has taken more money than previous pantomimes- just over the million mark I believe!

We have enjoyed the hospitality of a big and beautifully run professional theatre here in Nottingham- the infrastructure was all here when we arrived, and throughout the staff have worked ceaselessly to make the show the big success it has been- box office, management, publicity, stage crew, lighting, sound, wardrobe and musicians have just augmented what the cast have been doing- hopefully putting one hundred percent into each show to do Mr Elliott proud!

This will very likely be the end of a particular “family” era for some us us too- Peter and I have done six of these shows with Brian and Dawson since we started out way back at the Mayflower Southampton- we’ve enjoyed several years working with Michelle, with Sean Needham, Jody Crosier, and lately with Dean and Eaton, with Shobna, Kerry, Rachel and now Denise- it has been a wonderful  journey- and I’m pretty certain our paths may well meet again very soon in Pantoland!

Thank you SO much Nottingham- we’re tired, nay exhausted, but you have made us feel so very welcome here for our stay. As Cinderella’s coach is wheeled off into the dark streets tonight we can all truly say- “We’ve had a ball!”

This page was last updated 19th January 2009

Free JavaScripts provided by The JavaScript Source