VARIETY BANDBOX 2
Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon
Wednesday 10th August 2005
Nigel Ellacott writes:
JAN HUNT presented “Variety Bandbox 2” played to a highly appreciative house at Croydon’s Ashcroft theatre yesterday. I spent a very pleasant day rehearsing then performing with some of the stars of Music Hall and Variety, many of them strongly associated with pantomime of course!
The show was presented and compered by Jan herself - Peter and I have appeared many times in panto with Jan over the years- one of the finest Principal Boys ever to strut the stage, Jan now waves a magic wand as Pantomime fairy each year, and certainly waved a magic wand on today’s proceedings- based on the successes of her recent Variety Bandbox and VE day shows here at Croydon, she assembled a strong bill of variety at its finest-including two veterans of the golden age of variety, JIM CASEY and ELI WOODS. Jim and Eli were joined by Jan’s co-host JOHNNY DENNIS to recreate the original sketch created by Jim’s father, the legendary Jimmy James.
Jim Casey began his career in the 1950’s as a scriptwriter and producer for BBC Radio. He wrote and produced fourteen years of “The Clitheroe Kid” starring Jimmy Clitheroe, and continued in radio, as well as appearing in the Good Old Days, the Royal Command performance in 1982, and recent appearances in “The Last Of The Summer Wine”. The Jimmy James connection continues with Jimmy James’s nephew, Eli Woods.
(L to R) David Conway, Jim Casey, Jan Hunt, Eli Woods and Ian Adams
Eli Woods “Our Eli” was part of James’s touring variety act, and after the death of Jimmy James became as solo act, teaming up occasionally with Roy Castle, and appearing on Roy’s television shows. His film career began with Norman Evans in “Over The Garden Wall” and includes “A Private Function” with Maggie Smith. In Pantomime at the Leeds Grand in 1970 Eli met his wife to be, Pam. It was Michael Parkinson who invited Jim Casey, Eli and Roy Castle to recreate the famous “It’s in the box” sketch- “Are you putting it around that I’m barmy?”
Roy Castle had served a three year apprenticeship with Jimmy James, and the resulting success of the sketch revived saw Jim, Eli and Roy at Drury Lane fir the Royal Command. Today the sketch was revived with Johhny Dennis as “Hutton Conyers”, the man who keeps two man eating lions in a shoebox! AND.. an elephant..
Jim: ” Is it male of female?”
Conyers: No, an elephant.
Jim: I don’t suppose it makes any difference to you whether its male or female.
Eli: It wouldn’t make any difference to anyone but another elephant
Watching this sketch from the wings, I was delighted to see Jan’s son, Damian (twenty-four years old today- Happy Birthday Damian) literally “falling about” with laughter at a sketch that is patently as funny now as it was back in the 1940’s.
Johnny Dennis shared the “chair” of today’s show, as well as taking part in the sketch-as Chairman of the British Music Hall Society his knowledge is encyclopaedic, and, having banged his gavel at Leed’s City Varieties for fifteen years, he’s certainly the best man for the job, having begun his career at the Players Theatre London.
THE CONWAYS- Pauline and David - the“International” Conways- they have played the world with their act, played the first half of the show- a musical speciality act that encompasses all manner of instruments from harmonicas to a musical saw, from classicals to standards. Jan had themed the first part of the show “Rhythm”, and IAN ADAMS had choreographed the four singer/dancers into a superb medley, beginning with the four- ANTHONY WREN, DOMINIC WATSON, TIFFANY TODD and MICHELLE GRANT Playing the drums. A skill taught to them at rehearsals by Bobby Cook, percussionist extraordinaire! Ian and Jan fronted this opening number as well, with “The Rhythm of Life” from “Sweet Charity”. IAN ADAMS is an accomplished Music Hall and pantomime performer. Often partnered with Vivienne McMaster in song and dance, Ian specialises in pantomime dame, and will be appearing this year as Sarah The Cook in the Regent's Park Zoo's premier panto "Dick Whittington"
(R to L) Anthony, Tiffany, Dominic, Michelle
The first half included, in true variety style a speciality act by DELIA DU SOL. You know when a “Spesh” act is very good when the wings begin to fill up with fellow artistes crowding in to watch. I stood beside JOAN REGAN and DON MACLEAN to watch Delia perform her contortion act both on the ground and above the stage, suspended by white silks hanging down from the flies. Delia has performed all over Europe as one of the country’s top contortionist or “Twirlers”- she’s toured with Ken Dodd and Jimmy Cricket, played pantomime and appeared high above the stage in an Opera, and even performed in Gandy’s Circus in Dubai!
Delia du Sol
Just as Delia was suspended twelve feet above the stage, hanging on by one toe, Don Maclean leant over to Joan and whispered “I bet that lot out there are all saying “By ‘Eck, that Joan Regan’s limber for her age!”
DON MACLEAN closed the first half with a rapid quick fire comedy act- one honed to perfection through his years in the Black and White Minstrel show, Summer seasons, Thirty odd pantomimes (many of them as Dame) and, of course “Its Friday, it’s five to five…..” Don starred with Jan Hunt and Peter Glaze in BBC’s “Crackerjack” for all those years! In the second half Don and Jan teamed up once again to present “Mastermind”, with Jan posing the questions and Don in the hot seat. Don’s “Good Morning Sunday” show on BBC Radio 2 has been running since 1990, and he was awarded the MBE in the 2001 New Years Honours list. It was lovely to catch up with Don and his wife Toni again, and sharing a dressing room we were able to catch up on panto gossip, and to hear about Don’s recent play- produced by Ian Sandy- “Play Up Your Own End” at the Birmingham Alexandra theatre, which was a complete sell out. The show also starred Malcolm Stent, who wrote it, Lizzie Wiggins and Birmingham’s own Jasper Carrott.
During the interval I ran into Keith Salberg- Keith was one of my first Entertainment Agents when I began in “The Business”, and, it turns out, was responsible for Don’s early career in variety and Summer season.
The second half- time for me to stop watching the show and get my costume on- I can’t tell you what a delight it is to do a show in flat shoes! My piano spot was following Jan and Don’s “Mastermind”, with the Grand piano moved to centre stage. Ian Adams had staged a routine that would be incorporated into my act, but for the dancers it involved a very quick change! I opened with a Scott Joplin medley of Ragtime tunes, then switched to Paderweski’s Minuet, as you do! The dancers entered in Eighteenth century costumes to dance “the Minuet” then gracefully glided off the stage, belted into the quick change room, and reappeared two minutes later in full ragtime sequin costumes! I played Ragtime numbers like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “The Grizzly Bear” while Ian and Jan fronted the numbers with a cakewalk and two step.
Hopefully I left the Grand in a good enough state for the show’s Musical Director, DON SHEARMAN to continue with the star spot. Don has a long association with the West End and musical shows, as well as the British Music Hall Society. Don is a member of GOWR (The Grand Order Of Water Rats) and is, in fact “Musical Rat” not surprisingly. He was joined by BOBBY COOK and DOUG HENNING on Bass to accompany the wonderful JOAN REGAN to close the show.
JOAN REGAN had a string of hits in the top ten hit parade throughout the 1950’s including “Ricochet”, “Someone else’s roses”, “Happy Anniversary”, “Wait for me Darling” and, of course “May You Always”.
Once again the wings were filling up as people came to watch a singer, discovered by Delfont, star of her own television specials, Her series “Be My Guest” ran for four years, the Royal Command Performances, Sunday Night At The London Palladium” , perform her songs as strong and as lyrical as they were when she first sang them. Joan has played variety theatres and appeared in pantomimes with the likes of Tommy Cooper, Morecambe & Wise and Frankie Vaughan, and today sang her heart out for a highly appreciative audience.
Assisting Jan in putting on this splendid show were RAE & FIONA GEORGE, who designed and created the scenery and props, MADDY ELLISON who assisted Jan throughout, as did Jan’s Son, DAMIAN HUNT, in his own right a very talented actor in both film and television.
Packing up my costumes to leave I mentioned to Jan that the mark of a great show like this is, if I wasn’t already in it, I’d be paying to watch it! Thanks everyone for a splendid day!
This page was last updated 13th August 2005