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

 

Launch Day - Tuesday 11th September 2007

A very sunny day to launch a pantomime! Peter and I arrived at the Wycombe Swan at 11am to be greeted by Paul Elliott, our producer. We’ve never played this theatre before, and got a chance to take a quick look at the stage and the auditorium before heading for the dressing rooms.

It’s a 1,000 seater, with stalls and two circles. When we arrived the theatre was “dark”- meaning it doesn’t have a show in at the moment, so the stage was completely empty, and deceptively big. I’m not sure it’ll look so big once our large “Cinderella” scenery, proscenium and borders are installed, and the large scenic trucks for the kitchen and ballroom are in position in the wings!

The first thing we noticed with a sigh of relief was a flat floor! Hoorah. There is no “rake” here. The stage doesn’t slope, and therefore our feet won’t ache quite so much when we do two shows a day in ridiculously high shoes!

The theatre is about fifteen years old- so very modern in theatre terms, and the dressing rooms large and airy- most of them are up one flight of stairs. Already our eyes are scanning the scene dock area stage left, looking for a potential space to install our quick change room. Hopefully all our costumes will be tucked away on stage, as there’s not enough time in the show to climb up and down those stairs to do the changes!

Delighted to meet up again with Michelle Potter, our lovely “Cinderella”- recently returned from performing in “West Side Story” in Cyprus in a 2,000 seater open air auditorium. Shortly afterwards Brian Conley arrived, and after a very quick “hello” we headed to the dressing rooms to be ready for a twelve o’clock kick off- quite appropriate for “Cinderella” really- in our case noon not mid-night!

Had a chance to say hello to Ian Wilson from Qdos before getting ready, and were very well looked after by the marketing department of The Swan- Fjola Stenning, Tom Schoon and Jamie Sansom.

Outside the theatre awaited Cinderella’s carriage and, of course “my boys”- well two of them- ponies Button and Baby. Button is an old hand at this kind of event, and baby- the smaller of the two, is new to Peter & I. Also outside was a “Blizzard” machine- a snow machine that, it was planned, would give a festive air to this late summer event.

Out we came- Brian in buttons costume, Michelle in her ball gown and Peter & I in something simple we’d just thrown on (and missed). Paul Elliott greeted the ladies and gentlemen of the press, and several firemen (the station is next door) shimmied up a ladder and greeted Brian with shouts of “It’s a puppet”, before carrying on with their drill.

Even a passing policeman was drafted in to appear to book the Crystal Coach for parking on a double yellow line.

The press lined up for shots, and the snow machine showered the roof of the theatre in a thin sprinkling of foam. Not quite the effect we desired! A few minutes later the snow machine was aimed at all of us aboard the coach, and succeeded in showering the ladies and gentlemen of the press in a thick layer of foam! How we laughed as the ponies decided they’d had enough and started to set off with us aboard..Ugly Sisters can be useful at holding a coach in place at times!

Photographs over, we retired to the upper foyer, and  settled down behind a table looking, for all the world like an odd team from University Challenge. Paul Elliott made a speech, and then we all answered questions. During this session it was fascinating to discover that this will be Paul’s 400th or so pantomime as producer! This year Paul Robinson (who directed this panto at Manchester) will be directing and choreographing, and Paul (Elliott) will join us on the second week of rehearsals.

Watch the video of the press conference - Opens in Wycombe Swan Website

After this we split up for individual interviews for radio, television and the press, and  finished the session at around 2.30pm. One of the charming highlights of this press call was the addition of some local primary school children- they had their photos taken with us (and the ponies of course) and asked questions in the press call itself. I hope other theatres take up this idea- after all, they are our audience! We gave them goodie bags when they left which, I have to say the Sisters would have enjoyed. Cinderella Bubbles to blow, an inflatable trumpet (yes- I wondered that, but you can never have too many..) pens with furry characters on top, notebooks, badges- very envious we were!

Said quick goodbyes to Brian, Michelle and Paul, then headed back to London. Time really is going to fly between now and November 25th when we meet up here again for rehearsals. Just enough time to get in a few weeks of our Panto Roadshow in Aberdeen, Hull and Wolverhampton before we begin rehearsals!

More photos from the Press Launch

Opens in Wycombe Swan Website

 

FIRST DAY OF REHEARSALS - 27th November 2007

“Here we are again!”

The veterans and the newcomers of the “Conley Cinderella” met up at the Wycombe Swan to create another season of panto magic! For some of us this is our fifth year (and for others our sixth year) together, and a family reunion took place this morning!

Apologies for the long list of names that follows, but there are many characters to place in the adventure that is to unfold over the next six weeks- some familiar to avid readers of these IBY panto diaries, and some new- and the cast list will grow as we get into technical and dress rehearsals.

Obviously our family is led by the star of our show- the local boy this year (as he lives “just down the road”) Brian Conley, and by our two leaders- Paul Elliott- Producer extraordinaire, and Paul Robinson who will be staging the production in addition to choreographing the pantomime.

We met up in the Swan foyer- amid a scene of “luvvie-dom”, much mwah-ing and such like, under the Big Brother type gaze of the Wycombe “Big Brother” camera! Not only has the Swan got an excellent website- www.wycombeswan.co.uk but it looks as if they’ll be recording snippets of backstage life and perhaps relaying them onto their site, as they did with our press call in the summer here.

MEET AND GREET VIDEO FROM SWAN WEBSITE

Great to meet up with the gang- Dawson Chance (our Baron as ever) without Willy- Willy the Turtle, along with Bruce the Kangaroo are a tad grand, and rarely make an appearance before the technical rehearsal. They like a long lie-in.

Paul, Michelle, Dean and Brian

Met up with Michelle Potter- our very lovely Cinderella, and Jody Crosier-once again giving his “Dandini”, and Peter and I were introduced to our “new” Fairy- Kerry Winter and “new” Prince Charming, Dean Chisnall.

Our DSM (Deputy Stage Manager- the man who makes the magic happen!) is Martin Hinkins. Martin, as regular readers will recall was with Peter & I at the Hippodrome Birmingham last year. He is also the guardian of the “Sweety Table”- resting place (very briefly) of Krispy Kream Donuts, Chockies, and sometimes a home baked Hinkins cake!

Our Company Stage Manager is Bryan Lawrence. Brian and I met up today for the first time in (we reckon) twenty-one years! In the deays when David Ian was appearing as “Rocky” alongside Qdos’s Jonathan Kiley in “The Rocky Horror Show”, and Bryan joined the touring company. Neither of us have changed a bit we decided!

Joining us once more are Rossana Stocchino and Philip Dzwonkiewicz- Rossana is also Paul Robinson’s assistant, and we also have for the first time Lia Given, Lucy Harrison, Sarah Riches and Jack Jefferson with us in this show.

Our two ASM’s- “Assistant Stage Managers” are Richard Hale (recently graduated from Mountview) and Rachel Moule. Richard’s musical interests are reflected in his website www.djhalo.co.uk

Our Musical Director this year is Barry Robinson- Barry’s last voyage into Pantoland was with Bobby Davro in Milton Keynes, around six years ago. To find out a little more his website is www.barryrobinson.net.

Looking after sound for the show this year is Sarah Sendell- Sarah will be attending the “run-throughs” in a few days time to finalise her sound plot for a show that is essentially a large scale musical in terms of sound design.

Wardrobe this year will be in the very capable hands of Jo Lewis (Wardrobe Mistress) and her two assistants Sonia Owen and Rebecca Dorrington.

The staff of the Wycombe Swan were out in full force to meet and greet us, with a very generous supply of Danish pastries and coffee to hand- and we were officially greeted by the Theatre Director, Sam McCaffrey and by her Operations Manager, Rob Allerston, along with Tom Schoon from press and publicity.

Dawson and Peter

Brian replied on behalf of the assembled company, and then we were taken on a tour of both the Swan and the Town Hall which adjoins the theatre, led by Rob Allerston. He told us about the older theatre, now listed, and the council’s decision to retain it and build the new Swan next door- an idea not too dissimilar to the possible plans for a New Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford being muted at this moment in time. The Old and the new next door to each other.

We discovered the “Oak Room” where we’ll be rehearsing- a rather grand wood panelled Masonic style hall. Since we need more space for the ensemble to be choreographed, the rest of us are next door, rehearsing in what I think is a bar. Very apt!

Paul (Robinson) took us through the “blocking” of Act One today, and by the end of the day we had achieved this, and made a start on some of the musical numbers to boot.

In between blocking I got the chance to chat to a few of the others about their year outside of Hardup Hall. Michelle has been busy- working in Larnaca (Cyprus) in an open air production of “West Side Story”, playing Rosalia. The venue seats 3,000! Since then she’s found time to play the role of Laura Denham in a pilot of “Young Doctors” the ITV drama, and make an appearance in “Ballet Shoes” which will be shown on Christmas Day- when Michelle will doubtless be luxuriating in her one day off, and able to watch herself in this ITV Drama on the telly!

Jody and Martin have both been touring extensively in Paul Elliott’s Comedy “There’s No Place Like A Home”, which finished just a week ago at Worthing- I enjoyed a visit to the Palace Westcliff to see the show this summer- great fun it was!

Our Fairy Kerry has only recently left the cast of “The Sound Of Music” at the London Palladium to pick up her wand and appear in this most magical of pantomimes.

Our Prince, Dean has been extremely busy touring in the “Take That” Musical called “Never Forget”. He plays Gary Barlow! The production will restart a brief tour a few weeks after this panto finishes, and then will “come into town” and open at London’s Savoy Theatre on 7th May 2008. More info can be found on www.neverforgetthemusical.com

Peter and I have been touring with our Panto Roadshow- During the summer Peter gave his Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” for the Illyria Theatre Company all over the country, Dawson has been working in Spain- where he lives all year round- and I’ve been writing and costuming a few productions which hopefully will all be on by the time we open this show on December 7th!

Brian is not slacking either at the moment. Having wound down his television appearances ready for Pantomime, he’s also completing some exclusive cabaret bookings before we open. He’s also thrown his comedic weight behind  the radio adverts for this panto. If you take a look on the Swan website you’ll not only see Brian delivering the voice-overs in the studio, but also get a look at Paul (Elliott) performing alongside Brian in the adverts. Take a look- they are great fun!

Tomorrow we continue blocking the show- picking it up at the beginning of Act Two- The Grand Ballroom. The moves are there in the brain somewhere, and hopefully the light will shine brighter when it comes to the ballroom. I had a bit of trouble recalling my moves today- it was a year ago admittedly, but maybe tomorrow all will become a bit clearer!

Wednesday 28th November 2007

Continued to work in the two rooms today, with Rossana taking the dancers in the Oak Room, and Paul completing the blocking of Act Two in the smaller room.

Things did start coming back a bit swifter today- its more a case of  putting yourself “In the frame”- suddenly you can visualise yourself moving on a certain line, and it all falls into place. We hope!

Peter & I have had a chat, and decided that we’re going to swap a couple of costumes around- not something we do very often. Sisters can alternate between very silly and sometimes very glamorous costumes. We have a scene where we can wear a funny costume without it detracting from the plot, and a plot scene where we could wear the more “glamorous” costumes without pulling focus from the action- so, we’ll give it a go on the dress rehearsal! It won’t be clear to us until an audience is in as to whether we’ve achieved the effect we want or not, so it’s a question of educated guesswork at the moment!

We’ve also worked in a few new gags (heaven forbid..NEW gags??) into a scene in Act Two, pending approval by Paul (Elliott) when we do the run-through on Monday next.

In the meantime Bryan (Co Manager) has organised the space where the Quick Change area will be built on Stage Left- I recall Danny La Rue used this area when he did panto here, and remember him saying it was near to the wing but tucked away so you avoided passing scenery! The costumes will arrive on Monday. We may need access to our make-up and a frock on Tuesday for a press call, so hopefully they will be on stage level by then, getting in everyone’s way!

I did a quick radio interview lunchtime on the phone. It was a bit unexpected..walking back from Costa Coffee I got a phone call,

”Hello, we were going to have someone famous do an interview about Panto but they’ve let us down.. could you…?” For a second I glowed..Famous? Moi? Then he spoiled it.. “So we’ve been given your number. Do you do panto? Have you done a few?”..”What was your name again?” Deep sigh and I did the interview..

It turns out that a certain Simon Curtis had also done an interview for this radio station, so we’ll doubtless get a copy to put in the diary section in the future. Had a message from Simon. In it he described his holiday break from Welsh National Opera is the same length as my run in Panto. Actually his break is a week longer! That is amazing!

Today the dynamic duo- Jody and Dean worked out their sword fight for the second day running. Since this is a potentially dangerous bit of stage business they will be rehearsing each and every day from now on until the pantomime ends. Even on the final day of the panto last year Jody and Sean Needham  (Our Prince of five years) were still going through the sword fight prior to going on stage. Sean is currently in the West End in “Buddy” at the Duchess, and keeps in touch with us- he’ll be along to see the show early on in the run  on a day off from his show.

Finished the afternoon setting everyone into the opening number- we all make a brief entrance timed to the music and to the dialogue of our Fairy Kerry. That part was fine. The music helps you focus and we were very smug about being in the right place at the right time after not doing it for a year!

Decided since we’d finished early that I would actually go home (as in real home not digs home!) tonight- it takes about an hour and three quarters , and I’m not called until Tomorrow afternoon. Not dwelling on the issue but the said home got burgled last night, and quite frankly I need to check what’s what and where for peace of mind.. My brother has been heroically dealing with it all, and in a way I’m lucky I was away as my laptop would have been a prime candidate for thieves- and no laptop would mean no IBY Diary. Relieved to find nothing major taken, and nothing that can’t be replaced or repaired. My precious Panto archive was untouched.

Called at 2pm tomorrow. I’ll hopefully arrive from Marylebone Station at around 1.30pm.

Thursday 29th November 2007

We’re all working in the large hall today- the Oak Room. A great rehearsal space but with quirky heating. Arctic or tropical. Nothing in between! The windows are very impressive too- and I quite liked the effect it gives our director Paul Robinson as he sits enthroned with his back to the stained glass- very majesterial with perhaps a hint of  the divine?

I think we were on form, today in general. We spent a lot of time on Act Two Ballroom, as well as Act One opening. The ballroom involves a fair bit of choreography and click tracking, augmented by our MD Barry, and with the addition of the juveniles, its quite a complex scene. The children from the Jackie Palmer School arrived after school, and were “slotted” into their places in both scenes.

Peter and I have made a decision to swap those costumes around, and that involves changing the “play on” as well. For those not up to speed with our terminology, a “play On” is that short snippet of music that proceeds a comic scene, and often gives the audience fair warning that something funny is about to happen. (I do hope so in our case!). This is similar to a “Play Off” where the comic finishes his piece and exits to the sound of “corny Dixie” type music. Historically this is to prevent comics exiting to just the sound of their own feet on a cold Tuesday at the Attercliffe Pavilion!

These “Play ons” and “Play Offs” have their historical origins in Music Hall and variety. Often established comics would use signature play ons that were instantly recognised by the audience from their radio shows, or their “greatest Hits”. An example would be Ken Dodd’s play on- “Happiness”, and “Love Is Like A Violin” (his hit songs) or going back a while Reg Dixon- the comic not the Blackpool organist entered as Dame to his hit song “Confidentially”.. Think Morecambe & Wise “Bring Me Sunshine” and you have the idea!

Well- there you go. Didn’t think you were going to get a history lesson eh? Nor did I!

Did several runs of both ballroom and opening sequences, and ran through a fair bit of the show. Normally you would not expect to be this far advanced, but as so many of us have done this show before, and because we have extremely talented people at the helms- we are ahead of ourselves.

However- we do have two people who have NOT done this show before, and in fact have not done pantomime before- and without making their ears burn or their heads swell, I think we’d all agree that a certain Fairy and a certain Prince are doing an amazing job. Books down. Songs and moves learnt. Confidence and energy to the fore (well- it may be a “front” but it’s a pretty convincing one!) Kerry and Dean are frankly quite amazing!

Tomorrow we have the chance to run through the show a few times, I think I’m doing an interview for a newspaper at some point, and Michelle and Dean will be lighting up the beautiful village of Princes Risborough when they switch on the Christmas lights!

Friday 30th November 2007

Did a full run-through today, from start to finish- including the songs, the dances and the funny bits! I think it all went rather well, and all praise to Dean and Kerry for getting up to full speed in only a few days! Considering we have a week before we actually open, I think a minor celebration is in order!

However- if we’ve just done the end of term show today, we have to repeat it on Monday in front of the Head- our esteemed director and producer Paul Elliott will be here, and we have to repeat our efforts in a full out all pistons firing run through on Monday Morning starting at 10am. No pressure there then!

Jody headed off for an audition- even though you might be occupied in one show, in this business you have to be constantly keeping a weather eye on the next job- and Dean and Michelle had to wait around for the car to collect them and take them to Princes Risborough for the “switching on “ of the Christmas Lights.

As Peter & I headed for the station the heavens began to open. Cinderella & Prince Charming will need large umbrellas tonight I fear. Fingers crossed it clears up in time.

Delighted to see Biggins winning the “Jungle” this evening- couldn’t wish it on a nicer bloke- and even though he’s not giving his Dame this year, I think we’ll see a lot of him in the coming months and in Panto next year! Two Panto Kings of the Jungle to date then- Joe Pasquale and now Christopher Biggins.

Monday 3rd December 2007

I arrived at the rehearsal room early. Not surprising really, as I left at 6.15pm yesterday! I thought I’d head for my Wycombe digs the night before- it would be easier than the morning rush. And faster.. less hassle…You don’t need a crystal ball to see what’s coming next eh? Yes- it took a total of three hours and ten minutes to make the 90 minute journey, and involved me getting on a bus, a tube and a train before using my feet!

Arrived last night very frazzled. I had recently gone to Paris. The journey was almost an hour shorter!

Today we met up to run the show for Paul Elliott, our esteemed producer. Paul directed this show last year in Birmingham, and there’s an excellent interview plus some footage of Paul on the Wycombe Website in their Pantomime Pages.

Had a quick chat with Michelle and Dean. As suspected their “Switching on of the lights” at Princes Risborough was under rainy skies, but by all accounts it was a jolly affair. Apparently they were swept to and from the venue in a very impressive long black car- not so much a Hertz  rental as a hearse rental- and brought some panto magic that lit up the town, and got to meet Santa into the bargain.

Began our run through at 10am. Both teams of “babes” in attendance, one set acting as our audience for the run through. To be truthful, it all seemed to go like clockwork. I know that’s not surprising as many of us have done it before- but when you consider the new members of our company, along with our new (but extremely experienced) Musical director and the Juveniles..I think it went incredibly well. However- like in the “X Factor” we are not the judges. We are the Judged.

Kerry, Michelle, Dean and Jody  /  Brian and Michelle

The Judge in our case is the man who is styled “The King Of Pantomime”. The man who created his own pantomime company and steered it to become the biggest in the uk (which in pantomime terms means..the world!) and the man who has just directed Edinburgh panto (Goldilocks) and after us will direct Birmingham Hippodrome (Aladdin) with Barrowman, Daleks and 3d Genies….

The man from Qdos he say “Yes!”. Paul Elliott was delighted! Apparently our title of “Classiest Panto” is intact, and we are such good boys and girls that we get some time off  from rehearsing to concentrate on getting our costumes, dressing rooms and our acts together. Hoorah!

Our actual call is now Wednesday, however Peter & I have some press calls tomorrow, and this extra time will allow us to organise our costumes and quick change area without having to rush. This is a luxury!

We started by checking that our stuff had been unloaded, and located the boxes and rails. We then transferred the stuff we need in the dressing room upstairs. In fact, virtually nothing of a costumic nature will be in the dressing room. It will all be in the Quick Change Room. The dressing room will be, as it so often is, the place where the tea, mince pies and the odd stick of make-up will be found. Nothing else! More often than not each year our room is actually a “Green Room”.

Actually our plans to create a Wycombe “Green Room” upstairs have been thwarted a bit. We thought we’d located a fridge- essential for the storing of milk and fizzy drinks.. i.e fizzy drinks bearing the name “Lanson” or “Moet”..but sadly the fridge was a deceased fridge. Next our attempts to locate a sofa fell by the wayside.

If I ever become King of Pantoland for a day, my special decree will be for all dressing rooms throughout my kingdom to be furnished with at least one sofa or comfortable chair! We spend over a month in a dressing room, and inhabit that room from 2pm until 10pm six days a week..maybe as King I could persuade the SPOAN (Society for the protection of Actor’s Napping) to raise a lottery to supply said soft furnishings!

No Comment!!

In the interim I’m ringing around local second hand merchants but so far no so fa. (I am sorry, but it IS Panto time)

If you live in Wycombe and you are getting rid of a nice sofa- do let us know!

We went into the outer dock (that’s the bit stage left that leads to the outside world where the ponies will be housed..) to look at the possibility of having the “Quick Change” room built, and had second thoughts. It will be quite parky there (The ponies prefer it to be that way) and perhaps a little whiffy when occupied by ponies (The ponies prefer it that way). There is a small “Quick Change” area near the prompt desk on Stage Left which was purpose built. It’s small- not meant for two Grand Dames and their Imelda Marcos collection of shoes, their twenty four frocks and twenty odd wigs..but perhaps with some re-arranging and economic use of space we might just fit in there. It is, after all, heated and potentially free of Pony Pooh!

Tomorrow we have Three Counties Radio interview at 11am in the dressing room, then at 11.30 I believe we are transforming a Male BBC Television presenter into a Pantomime Dame- just a normal day in pantoland really. Now.. the search continues for the elusive Sofa…

Tuesday 4th December 2007

For a day off it was a long day! Peter and I met up at the Swan at 10.30am. Crossing the stage to get to the dressing rooms the transformation from yesterday was amazing. All the scenery has now been unloaded and the cloths are hung. The trucks (scenery on wheels for the uninitiated!) have been mostly built and were cluttering up the wings.

The Swan is, of course a lot smaller than the Hippodrome in Birmingham, and has less wing space- although it has more wing space than several other theatres I can think of! It looks- by the proliferation of Ballroom chandeliers and ballistrades- like Act Two scenery, most notably the ballroom, will probably live in the outer scene dock until the interval, and then will be brought on to the stage and the staircase constructed each show. My guess is the ponies will be using that outer dock as their second home, and confirms that we stand no chance of using it as a quick change area!

Sarah from Sound!

Thanks to the Herculean efforts of  our assistant stage managers, Rachel & Richard, the cluttered area next to the stage was transformed- they created space, heaved our rails back and forth and created a quick change area we can work with. We share it with Sarah’s sound thingy- a sort of mini tardis of flashing lights that means if you wear a microphone you will be heard- it has our character names on it and winking lights. It has “Spare Mic One” and “Spare Mic 2” flashing away as well, so I think we’re covered! It sits in a corner of  the area and we promise not to use it for resting feather boas on, and will attempt not to pull the plugs out and silence the show!

No sofa.. the sofa saga continues.. but in the magical world of soft furnishings a slightly elderly but serviceable “Parker Knoll” reclining chair has found its way upstairs. We hope the companion Stannah and commode don’t join it! However, it IS a chair-It’s a start!

The first part of the morning was taken up being interviewed for BBC Radio three counties on the subject of Pantomime- and the role of the Dame. Actually it was great fun to do as a lot of research had gone into the topic, which is destined to be part of a series leading up to pantomime. Less of an interview, more of an impassioned chat, I think Peter and I could have talked for Britain, and in fact I think we managed a fair old forty-five minutes before we ran out of time. Very Jolly that was- thank you BBC Three Counties!

Following on, Tom in publicity had also arranged a short piece to camera for the BBC South news report on Friday. I’m not altogether sure whether Wycombe gets BBC South but might get to see it just before our opening night. Although I have a feeling we might be a tad busy at about 6.30pm!

The piece (when edited) will run for less than two and a half minutes, but, in television terms that could easily take an hour or more to shoot. Our mission- should we wish to accept it, which we did- from Tom Shoon was to transform a journalist from the BBC, namely Alastair Fee, into a pantomime Dame. Not Mission Impossible- improbable maybe, but not impossible.

The tricky bit about giving someone else the “Dame Make-over” is that neither Peter or I are actually any good at doing someone else’s make-up! Proper Make Up Artistes are adept at working from behind, and creating a make up on their subject in mirror image. We generally make a mess. No change this time! However, it suddenly occurred to me that this wasn’t “real time”, so we stopped and requested five minutes to do a better job, without having a lens up your nostril and answering questions at one and the same time!

I think Alastair turned out fine- What do you think?

It’s a funny old world isn’t it? One week ago Alastair was standing in front of a BBC camera in Afghanistan. Today he’s in Wycombe being made up as a lady. Still could be worse.. being dressed as a lady in Afghanistan would be challenging I suppose. If you get to see it, Alastair begins the lengthy news item reporting from the desert, and ends it in Wycombe. There you go!

Returned to the “how do you solve a problem like my quick change” after late lunch. This time a bit of jiggling and teasing of rails and tables resulted in a pretty good changing area. It is small, and part of it is in a public thoroughfare- i.e we could get in the way of stampeding babes I suppose..but I think this is a good as it is going to get. Everything is hung up, and the accessories are to hand. The costumes are in the quick change, just next to the door on to the Stage Left Wing,the wigs are in the adjoining corridor next to the lift, and the feathers and finale stuff a bit further around the corner. We can’t put a wig on in the quick change area as the ceilings and the door onto stage isn’t high enough- so we’ll get those handed to us once we get through the door!

Looked at the watch. It was now 7.30pm. Still, two interviews, a quick change sorted out, and a dressing room sorted- having today off from rehearsing has been a boon. We are now ready for tomorrow’s tech/dress rehearsal of Act One at 2pm.

As we left, the activity on stage was continuing, as it will do until about eleven o’clock tonight I GUESS. Paul (Elliott) had returned from his rehearsal for Birmingham Panto in London, and was lighting the show along with our lighting designer David Kidd. Martin and Bryan (Lawrence) were in the auditorium, as they have been for most of the day, and Sarah and her sound team were at the back of the auditorium setting up their state of the art “digital” radio microphones. Barry and his band were at work beneath the stage. In fact as scenery flew in and out the entire technical team were creating a magic world as we stepped out into the wilds of Wycombe.

Wednesday 5th December 2007

Had the luxury of a bit of a lie in this morning- one of the joys of not commuting daily I guess! Dealt with a few phone calls this morning, from Panto folk regarding costumes- It still surprises me that costumes can be left to the very last minute, and there is often a flurry of activity as rehearsals- and even scarier- opening nights approach. Recently the Kenneth More has had a good few enquiries and we’ve tried to help where we can, but now the panto stock is getting very thin! Our costumes are spread  around the country- either full sets or the odd costume from Lincoln to Silvertown, Basildon and Barking, Bournemouth and on the P&O Liners currently cruising the world.

Meanwhile here in Wycombe the Tech/Dress run began at 2.30pm. The idea being to do a full technical with costumes (no make-up) of Act One today and, if time allowed, to run Act One again afterwards.

Paul Elliott’s technical rehearsals are always very prompt. They generally begin bang on time. Today was no exception! The Quick Change area seems to be working out very well indeed. It’s so much warmer than being in the scene dock, and there’s more light to work with. The first dress tech is always a rushed affair, because although we try and list everything that happens for Wardrobe, you need to have the time to go through the costume plot with everyone involved. During this rehearsal Jo, Sonia, Rebecca and Sinead were seeing each costume of ours and each wig for the first time. It’s no good saying “Now in this scene we’ll be wearing the purple wig.. err the other purple wig.. that one with the tall feathers on top..” its easier to point them out and give them names. “In this bit I wear the purple “Molly Sugden”- In this one the “Mommy Dearest”- This here is “Yellow Slapper”…! Put a name to the wig I say- it’s just one of twenty odd wigs on the table!

We did rather well, though I say it myself. The ladies excelled themselves in finding places for “pre sets” (that’s where you set out the costume & wig ready for a quick change in advance) even though we were not entirely sure where the scenery would be put once the set was changed- never having witnessed it yet. As I’ve said before, the “Swan” is not a big theatre backstage, and our Village trucks fill up most of the Stage Right Wing once they have been “struck”- removed from the stage. Good job most of our changes are done Stage Left.

We were doing really well- did the first three costume changes that happen in swift succession in the first scene- The Walk-Across Gold & Bronze outfits, under-dressed with the Silver and Black “opening” outfits , under-dressed with the Psychedelic “retro” mini dresses and matching boots- we must weigh a ton with three costumes on at once- but unfortunately we blew it on the fourth change!

Our fault entirely. Being very smug about the changes one to three, we trotted into the quick change and began slowly putting on the Picnic scene costumes. “Yes, we’ve done this for years..Oh yes, I remember when in….” We heard the queue coming up. Both of us stopped in our tracks. Both jaws dropped. “Oh god” said Peter, “We forgot the Ice-Creams!”

That wasn’t referring to the interval treats. It refers to the FOURTH change, when Peter enters as an Ice-Cream cone, and I enter as a folded deck-chair. We could clearly hear Brian and Dawson getting near to our cue to enter, so we legged it- entering to “Oh I do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” wearing fetching Primark Dressing Gowns and red faces!

Actually no-one seemed to mind. They probably thought the costumes weren’t quite ready yet.. we did the dialogue and sloped off. Very amused to see that in our haste to get onstage, we’d left two pair of Picnic bloomers lying in the middle of the floor of the quick change. It was like a costumic “Marie-Celeste”!.

The tech went swiftly and securely. That’s one of the reasons we tech. To ensure it goes safely. There are lots of effects, pyrotechnics, and electrics to combine with actors, crew and of course the ponies and the juveniles. (not in any particular order that last list I hasten to add!).

This was the first time that Kerry would be flying across the stage on her glittering moon. It was the first time that the children would be dancing in their woodland costumes and masks in a confined space. It was the first time that the two tiny Shetland ponies had experienced the firework effect that ends act one. Everything is rehearsed for safety and security. That’s why a tech rehearsal can be a little slow. It is so we are all safe!

We broke at 5.30pm having almost completed the act, and returned at seven o’clock. We finished the “tech”- Cinderella did indeed set off to the ball, and then we started right from the top, and completed a non stop run of Act One up until 9.30pm when we were finished for the night.

Again, a remarkable achievement- although a few of us have done this particular show many times, certainly the Wycombe crew, and our sound operators, wardrobe and musicians have not- I think Paul was delighted yet again, and very secure in the knowledge that his show is in very safe hands here at the “Swan”.

Tomorrows call- 2.30pm to “Tech/Dress” Act Two from the top of the ballroom.

NEW VIDEOS - MEET AND GREET AND RADIO ADVERTS

Thursday 6th December 2007

Called at 2.30pm today- the plan is to do two full tech/dress runs of act two. Act two itself in “real time” should run about 55 minutes total, so we were optimistic we’d get two runs in and possibly be finished by 9pm.

Something has gone awry with the heating or the ventilation in the theatre today. It was extremely hot backstage and, in fact, in the auditorium. Uncomfortable yes, but unbearable, no! I believe it is getting fixed tomorrow.

The Ballroom set is obviously a little smaller than it was at say Birmingham or Plymouth, and Peter and I have to take care when we descend the staircase- it’s narrower than usual. I wish I was narrower..I have, as most people realise, always been svelte. Not just skinny but basically a stick insect in a frock in panto. Peter has always been the, how can I put this delicately? Peter has always been the more upholstered Sister of the duo. I fear the worst. Peter is a shadow of his former self- healthy eating and working hard all summer- I have very recently given up smoking. Ah… Yes…

After twenty six years of snickering as dressers have almost lost their thumbs attempting to get Peter Robbins squeezed into a ballgown, twenty odd years of remarking whether or not an elastic gusset might be useful…the tide has turned! Yes- I have, in fact, put on weight. About a stone. In a month. I am no longer a size zero.

I no longer fit my ballgown. The shame and ignominy of it- but there is a triangular gap in the back that indicates there is no possible way it will do up. Worse still, I barely fit into my Picnic table. That table is a circular table with a small circular hole cut in the centre. The hole was created a few years ago to fit my hips/waist exactly. That way it would not slip down.

Slip down??  It takes two ladies and an Ugly Sister to try and ram it over my hips from below in a highly undignified manoeuvre. Accompanied by wheezing and squeezing noises and a sudden “pop”, I finally get into it, only to face exactly the same treatment as soon as I exit the hunting scene. Peter says nothing. But I can hear him think…

The first dress tech sped along, and went extremely well. No upsets or traumas. Paul had to reset the position of “the babes” in the ballroom, as, by the time we’d all arrived in the ballroom they were hidden from view by our voluminous costumes. We get a glimpse of Barry (MD) on a monitor which is fixed to the circle. Barry and his musicians are completely hidden away beneath the stage, and cannot see us except via a television monitor. We see Barry on a similar screen. To date we haven’t met the band- or actually ever seen them!

Had our break at 5.30 until 7pm, then did it all over again, and the proof of the pudding- Act Two should run about 55 minutes. We started our run at 7pm and were finished by 8pm. How that eh?

Jo, Rebecca and Sonia / Jody, Nigel and Martin

An early night- retired to the local hostellery for a glass of vimto, joined by Martin, Jody and Jo, Rebecca, Sonia and Sinead. We were joined in turn by Jack- not the dancer, but the pub’s cat. Jack is apparently 18 years old, and has his own cushion. I noticed the pub fridges have “Cat Milk” and “Whiskers”- he seems very well looked after! This is a picture of Jack in Party Mood!

Friday 7th December 2007

OPENING NIGHT

Final and full dress rehearsal at 2.30pm. At this point in time Peter and I are usually organised, but we both came in a bit earlier, just to check on everything. Everything seems rushed in these early stages of the show, and it generally takes a day or so before you find where the gaps are (to return to the dressing room, and to feed the ponies!) in the production.

During the afternoon “dress” we mostly stayed in the Quick Change, and I only went to the dressing room once, during the interval. The second half is very quick for us anyway, with no chance to make it upstairs after the Ballroom entrance.

Either Sinead’s fingers have got stronger, or the fabric has stretched, but I can now announce I can get in to my ballroom dress with no gaps visible. My face goes a bit red, but that’s fine- it suits the character! The table costume is still a struggle.

Dress run went very well indeed. We had notes with Paul (Elliott) in the stalls afterwards, mostly small precision “tidying up” notes, and a few small changes in blocking. During this time Michelle and Dean had a quick press call which made me deeply envious. They got to meet a foyer full of “Hearing” Dogs who assist those people who are profoundly deaf or who have hearing impairment. Michelle took some photos herself, and we got very broody over pics of spaniels, terriers and shaggy dogs!

Between the rehearsal and the first night we had about an hour. Time to grab a sandwich in the dressing room, finish writing a few first night cards, and  then we were off and running.

We went up on time. I think we had about 850-900 in the auditorium, and our Fairy Kerry opened the proceedings on her glittery moon, flying across the stage courtesy of “Foy”. Nice big “Oooh” and “Ahhh!” as she entered, and our pantomime had begun.

It all ran very smoothly. The first show is interesting as it can be the first time you get to gauge the audience- particularly for those new to this particular script. Discovering where the laughs are, and how long the laugh will last- whether the children will shout out or respond in a particular way- while performing your ears are acting like antennae, and your brain is saying “Oh right- that’s a laugh in a different place to usual”, or “I didn’t think they’d boo us there at that particular moment”, and you can file it for future reference. It’s a first night learning experience that no amount of rehearsal can give you. The mystery of the Live audience!

I’d like to say it was a highly charged deeply emotional and nerve wracking First Night kind of thing… That’s how it would be in the movies.. the cast flustered but glowing and applauding each other from the sidelines.. err no. There’s more of an atmosphere of calm and I suppose concentration than anything. Everybody is too busy to be either nervous or flustered. Backstage has moments of calm then moments of flurry as an entire village is removed from the stage, stacked up in the wing and a cloth flies in, before the calm returns.

One of the reasons a First Night goes as well as this one did is due to an efficient Stage Crew. This we fortunately have here at the Swan. The audience only see us lot on the stage. They don’t even get to see the musicians hidden beneath the stage. The musicians don’t even get to see us! Unseen to that audience is the core of the show- a crew of something like fourteen people backstage. They ensure the sets change in the blink of an eye, and that lights hit the correct spot at the right time- cues, effects, smoke and dry ice effects- glowing star cloths and lasers- it takes these fourteen people co-ordinated by Martin our DSM to make the magic actually happen.

Our Crew consists of:

Up in the Flies- Tom Gibberd, Simon Willis and Glen Walters.

In the Follow Spot Booth- top of the theatre: Hazel Paterson and Jamie Townend

On Stage Left: Laura Sprake, Stuart Thorn and Stephen Brook

Stage Right: Yuri Queiroz, Jon Bradley and Jon Corboz

Our LX (Electrical!) Operator is Sebastian Petit and our Stage LX is Kyle Sepede.

The show ran to time  as well, which was very encouraging, and at the curtain call Brian made a speech thanking everyone concerned, and in particular our director and our choreographer- the two Paul’s- Paul Elliott & Paul Robinson.

Quick shower then  round to the Front Of House for a drink and a sausage roll- management staff and all. Lovely to see Ann-Marie Conley and daughters Amy and Lucy again, and Linda Hayden (Mrs Elliott) at the “do” and to have a chat.

A swift half a lemonade in the pub next door, then off to the digs. Well- we’ve opened, and, in the words of  Peter Robbins-“ right, now we’ve just got to do it now!”-very true. From now on we’re twice a day, six days a week until the 6th January. Oh, and we now know where we’ll be next year- sorry. My lips are sealed..I mean we’ve only just opened THIS one!

Saturday 8th December 2007

Our first full day of twice daily- interesting to see how the audiences can differ from show to show- it takes a few shows to get a gauge . It’s also interesting to see the habits that will begin forming backstage- I’ve mentioned this in other diaries over the years- the way you begin to find yourself standing in the same place, at the same time every day, or doing the same thing at exactly the same moment as the run goes on.

Today we discovered we had a little more time than we thought to change into the “Slipper Fitting” costumes- we were so determined to be ready on time yesterday that, in our eagerness we were virtually changing on stage! So near to the edge of the wing we were probably viewed by about 10% of the audience! Today we realise we can change unseen further off stage and not so frantically as yesterday! Everyday new lessons learnt.

Between shows we went on another hunt for the now totally elusive soft furnishing! I thought I’d spotted three chairs in the stage door area that would be potential “sofa” substitutes, but it was a lost mission. Those chairs are not for the moving. As the picture shows our ONE chair (rescued from the town hall dressing room) is very popular, and makes the ideal Cinderella curling-up spot, but sadly all we can offer passing guests is a floor space. The search continues!

We now have access to a microwave, so we are no longer limited to a sandwich between shows- the world of M&S is now open to us- thanks Jody! Much appreciated.

Our Prince & Dandini have the dressing room opposite the Sisters, and we couldn’t help but notice something lurking on their shelf. At first I thought it might be a pet rabbit or fluffy mascot, but discovered the mystery objects are in fact wigs. Period wigs for the wearing of in a ballroom scenario wigs! Fortunately Mr Elliott was not too keen on these postiches, and they won’t be seen on the boys heads. Except for this one exclusive photograph. Yes- one time only this is how Prince Charming and Dandini MIGHT have looked at the Grand Ball! Aren’t they lucky?

Both shows ran very much to time- I think we have approximately One Hour and Ten Minutes first Act, and One Hour Second Act with a Twenty Minute Interval.

Tomorrow, being a Sunday our two shows are slightly earlier. We go up at 1.30pm and 5.30pm tomorrow- so we should be down by 8pm ready for the journey home. I’m guessing everybody will go to their homes tomorrow evening, and return Tuesday lunchtime.

Sunday 9th December 2007

Our two early shows today- at 1.30pm and again at 5.30pm. This still leaves an hour and a half between shows, as we came down at about four o’clock. Mostly people just stay put backstage- we now have a microwave, and a makeshift sofa installed in dressing rooms five & six here, and although we miss the lovely backstage canteen at Birmingham (And Marge’s cooking!) we fend for ourselves here!

The early show was a jolly  audience, a lot jollier than we’d expected, as sometimes a Sunday matinee crowd can be a bit laid-back- I blame it on the Sunday Roast Syndrome. Maybe going up earlier helps?

I went down during the “transformation” scene to check out the ponies- two lovely white Shetlands. I saw their Horse Box arrive from the window of Number Six, and assumed they entered via the outer scene dock, and then the crew would open the big shutters that lead on to the stage. I was mistaken. Because they are SO small, both ponies go into the outer dock, then are led through two ordinary sized doors on to the stage- it necessitates a sharp left turn, but they trotted through without a care in the world. Today’s treat was Polo Mints, as I’ve not organised apple for “the Boys” yet- actually these two are both “The Girls”, and originate, as do all the Qdos Ponies from Mr Luckings stable of Panto Ponies.

I actually had a coach party of my very own in tonight- sixteen panto people from Ilford’s “Jack & The Beanstalk” which begins rehearsing at the Kenneth More Theatre tomorrow. I’ll actually be able to pop in on their rehearsal as I’ll be there on my day off tomorrow! Having written and costumed it, it will be my January treat to see it when we finish here- I’ll not get the opportunity before then.

Peter and I have have discovered “Crocs” I think they’re called- those soft jelly-type shoes that are trendy, but look  a bit like beach shoes? They come in a variety of bright colours. I bought some to wear with my deckchair outfit, with an ulterior motive: I thought if I had a recurrence of back problems from the high block shoes, I could always wear the Crocs with a few outfits as a remedy. Peter has now invested for his Ice-Cream Costume and, since they are the nearest thing to paradise for podiatry, its hell’s own job to get them off us! What bliss- walking around backstage in comfort..This could be the start of something big. Jimmy Choo? Pooh! Give us Crocs!!

Finished at Eight O’clock, then everyone had vanished from the dressing rooms by about ten past- some were already at the railway station by then! A whole day off. See you Tuesday!

Tuesday 11th December 2007

PRESS NIGHT

Quite often the opening night of a Panto, and the Press Night are set apart. Press night is often a few days after we open, just to allow a few days for the show to “run-in” before the reviewers get to see it. Our press night was this evening, after we’ve done six shows to let the dust settle!

The dressing room has now acquired a fridge (Thanks Martin!) which means you can stock up on between shows food, and chill the vimto to the required temperature, and our temporary sofa is serviceable, so we’re fairly settled now.

Jo, Rebecca and Sonia / Jody, Nigel and Martin

Had a brief discussion between shows about superstitions. A lot of people- Peter & I included are a bit superstitious backstage. The old superstitions like whistling backstage, or in a dressing room, for example, or quoting “The Scottish Play” by its full title brings shivers to our skins! A lot of people aren’t bothered- we have, I think, a few superstitions listed on a factsheet in this site if you’d care to take a look?

Between shows we had experienced both whistling and indeed mention of said Scottish play in full. Like ancient mariners peering into the murky waters we was afeared! As it turned out the only bit of bad luck in the Press Show was at the very end, when the tabs (the main curtains) got themselves hooked up on something, and so consequently the curtain didn’t actually come down as we bowed. It did it a second time, and finally unhooked itself so we were able to exit with dignity!

However- we did have something occur in the Matinee that has never happened to us in the past twenty five odd years.

The “serious” scene for the Ugly Sisters is when we bully Cinderella into tearing up her own ball ticket. It is pretty much the crux of the plot- the catalyst for the magic that is about to happen. It is important that she tears up her ticket. In one motion her dreams are shattered.

As I grabbed the gold embossed invitation off Michelle this afternoon, it simply tore in half! We all stopped and stared- she had half and I had half! The plot ditched- the scene useless!! What to do? Options swam through my head. To simply say “There you are!” cackle and sweep off stage with Peter in tow, or to try and salvage a bit of plot? Not much of a scene that tho eh? The Four second Ticket Tearing Scene? Hmm..

Our Crew

We were still, all three staring at the torn ticket. “My dear, you’ve torn your lovely ticket..” I heard myself saying.. “We must get you a new one!”. I look off stage to see scurrying, as a duplicate ticket is found. Off I go, into the wings. The only ticket ready to hand is what the Prince and Dandini use as a sort of “model” ticket. It is much bigger than the tearing ticket, much grander- thicker and almost un-tearable! The edge is decorated with unbreakable gold tinsel even! The rest of the scene involved doing dialogue, being menacing and frantically trying to secretly tear apart the bits of trimming and decoration on this thick wedge of a ticket, so that Michelle could actually tear it on cue!.

Press Night

The Evening show (with the exception of that curtain) went very well indeed, with a very jolly audience. Afterwards we were invited to the foyer bar to celebrate press night- I think the press enjoyed themselves- they certainly enjoyed their buffet. You’ve probably seen those Premier “Red Carpet” , VIP area only events on the television? That was us tonight.. Wycombe’s answer to the Oscars!

 

PONY UPDATE - By Text!

The two ponies are called Rowena and Donna.

 

THE REVIEWS ARE IN!

 

THE STAGE
http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/19181/cinderella

When you’ve got the best there is, how can you do better? That’s a question that the folks at Qdos must ask themselves every year and the answer surely lies with their superbly professional team who have once again made the Wycombe Swan’s panto arguably the best in the region.

Its success is owed in part to the non-headliners in the cast such as Kerry Winter who gives a strong performance as the Fairy, Michelle Potter as a very compelling Cinderella and Dean Chisnall and Jody Crosier as the energetic and youthful Charming and Dandini.

But the show also boasts some of the best leading names in the business. Dawson Chance livens up the role of Baron with his ventriloquist act and the irrepressibly outrageous Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott as the Ugly Sisters continue to impress year after year with their brilliant double act and fantastic costumes.

To complete the recipe for success, the multitalented Brian Conley has the enviable skill of being able to entertain a huge cross section of the audience. As stalwarts of the industry, they have all also mastered the art of corpsing so that every audience feels they are being treated to a unique performance. That, surely, is the real magic of pantomime.

LIMITED EDITION MAGAZINE

http://www.lemagazine.co.uk/display.var.1898928.0.cinderella_rocks_at_the_wycombe_swan.php

Debra Aspinall is wowed by the versatile Brian Conley

I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 12 pantomimes at Wycombe Swan, but this year's production starring Brian Conley is simply the best ever.

I was aware of, but not particularly a big fan of, Brian before the show, but his boundless enthusiasm, perfect comic timing and ability to connect with his audience of all ages blew me away.

Many of the previous pantos here have had big celebrity names, great acting, singing and dancing, humorous dames and wonderful sets. But not all of them could tick all these boxes. Cinderella does just that. It came as no surprise to learn that this production at The Birmingham Hippodrome last year broke all box office records to become the most successful panto ever.

The music is mostly up-tempo rock and roll, there's only a small cast of dancers and actually not too much music interfering with the comedy (so that's a big plus for the kids) and the jokes start right away with Baron Hardup (ventriloquist Dawson Chance and his adorable tortoise puppet Willy - providing huge scope for lots of silly willy jokes) and his two most outrageous step-daughters Trinny and Susannah played by a duo considered one of the best ugly sister combos in the country, Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott. Nigel designs all the incredible costumes worn by the sisters which are something of a show in themselves.

As soon as Brian Conley arrives on stage though, it's clear whose show this is. He sings louder and better than anyone else, gets more laughs than anyone else and within minutes has the audience rooting for his character, Buttons, whose love of the pretty Cinders offers moments of great comedy and pathos.

His real talent is in blasting through the show and making it look like he's actually making it all up as he goes along. The bits when things "go wrong" are hysterical. Brian is a master of ad-lib. His handling of hecklers (usually over-enthusiastic boy scouts) masterful, and his interaction with audience members very funny indeed. He's like a naughty schoolboy making rude noises and very silly jokes, but this is panto, so grown men and women are laughing out loud from start to finish.

The rest of the supporting cast, a lovely Cinders (Michelle Potter), charming prince (Dean Chisnall), cute Dandini (Jody Crosier) and powerful in deed and voice fairy (Kerry Winter), all play their parts beautifully, but are never more than a supporting act for the amazing Mr C.

Or maybe we should call him Mr V, for versatile.

ST ALBANS OBSERVER ARTICLE

http://www.stalbansobserver.co.uk/leisure/pantoguide/pantointerviews/display.var.1889627.0.ugly_sisters_are_having_a_ball.php

Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins are probably closer than many real sisters. The duo have been starring as Cinderella's ugly stepsisters since their first panto together in Ilford in 1981.

Nigel says: "When we did it the first year, we said if the show was good, we would do it again next year, and it seemed to work."

Nigel and Peter were part of this production of Cinderella - starring Brian Conley as Buttons and Michelle Potter as Cinderella, and directed by Paul Elliott - which broke box office records in Birmingham last year, and Peter says: "We are like a family now. Paul is just the king of pantomimes in this country."

The duo have also appeared together on the Disney Channel, Ready Steady Cook, and Mirrorball with Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders and Jane Horrocks. Peter is also an accomplished puppeteer, and has worked on films including Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and Little Shop of Horrors.

But panto is what they are known for, with Nigel and Peter getting in the panto mode when most people have just recovered from the festive season, and are thinking about their summer holidays.

"It all picks up in February or March," Peter says. "Panto is not just for Christmas, it's for life."

And for him and Nigel, that couldn't be more true. They have set up a website - www.its-behind-you.com - dedicated to the art of pantomime.

Nigel also writes pantomimes (he has had 24 produced), and designs all the outlandish costumes worn by himself and Peter during the pantomime's run.

Peter laughs: "Brian (Conley) arrives with three costumes, and we turn up with two trucks."

They also like to spread their enjoyment of pantomime, and tour their Pantomime Roadshow every year, playing to children across the country.

Peter says: "Panto is its own separate art. I worked at a young age with Reg Dixon and Rennie Hulton and learnt so much by watching established greats."

Have Nigel and Peter seen any changes to panto during their long career? "The latest thing is that we can't throw sweets into the crowd, so we don't hit the children," Peter says. "I don't know how many people have been injured since 1900." He adds: "There are also concerns that children might get hyperactive on the sugar in the sweets, but it's a pantomime."

Both men - or women from December - love the atmosphere and tradition of panto, and Nigel says: "It is second nature to us. As soon as the make up goes on, we are in character."

Hearing Dogs Event

Photos supplied by Tom Schoon - Press and Marketing Officer, Wycombe Swan

 

Production Photos

Used with permission of Wycombe Swan - link

Kerry and Brian

Kerry

Nigel

Brian and Michelle

Peter and Nigel

Michelle and Dean

Dawson

Nigel and Jody

Kerry

 

Thursday 13th December 2007

The show is settling down now- nothing of note to report yesterday, and today we did our two shows as usual. The matinee was very full with many school parties in- very rowdy but appreciative they were too- a sea of red and blue school uniforms, and the poor male teacher to be picked on by the “Sisters” naturally. Will Mr Phillips life at school ever be the same one wonders?

It is always a revelation to me that, eight or nine shows in, that change that was so quick a few shows ago, is now quite leisurely! Routine has set in, and there is no longer that slight edge of semi-panic. You know exactly what is happening at each given moment.

 Very irritating, but the Front of House Music, played over the tannoy is now on a loop. It plays the very same track at the very same time every show. Like lift music repeating itself over & over. Doris Day is extolling the virtues of a “White Christmas” as I go downstairs on the Act One “Beginners” call, and Aled Jones is giving his very high pitched rendition of “Walking In The Air” as the Ballroom is ready to commence. (Ed - I must point out that in fact it is not Aled Jones singing Walking in the Air - the actual person singing on the track was Peter Auty, now an international opera singer! Aled was credited for a long time but this has now been rectified! Anyway, useless fact over - back to the diary!) I always put my opening three sets of costumes on to the accompaniment of Cliff Richard singing about Mistletoe and Wine… Aaagh! I’m not a celebrity, get me out of here!

One of the great things about doing a show in different Theatres, is getting to meet your new colleagues, and find out about people.

The things you observe in the wings..a few times I’ve glanced into the Stage Right Wing while I’ve been on stage, and noticed some of the crew doing stretching exercises, and in fact, between shows, a few of them doing near acrobatic activities- a mini human pyramid at one point. Investigation was called for. Where did these remarkable skills come from.? The answer?

MEET YURI!

Yuri Queiroz, one of the technical staff at the Swan is, in fact a second generation technician here. His Dad Carlos was the Technical Manager at this theatre from the time the Swan Opened, and was here for something akin to fourteen years, before he returned to his native Portugal.

The whole family were involved in working at the Swan in fact. At one point about three and a half years ago all four members of the Queiroz family were working here- Carlos and his wife Rosslyn, as well as Yuri and his Brother Sacha. Sacha is now Technical Stage Manager at the Apollo Victoria (working on “Wicked”) while Yuri’s Dad is working as an actor in Theatre, film and a popular “soap” in Portugal.

Yuri’s acrobatic demeanour comes from the fact that he trained for a year in Circus Skills at “Circomedia” in Bristol. Training there covers most of the skills you would need to develop as a Circus performer- acrobatics, trapeze work and Ariel work including Silks, Cordlise (rope-work) and “Spanish Web”- spinning ropes, as well as Fire Manipulation.

Yuri has learnt these skills, and indeed teaches them- hence the odd crew member who can perform acrobatic routines not usually associated with backstage life! In some theatres the most acrobatic skill might be the raising of a glass.. here, a few back flips and the odd scaling of a wall is par for the course!

Yuri worked for a while in America, where he taught the circus skills, in Pennsylvania for five months, and while there managed to feature in a Doc Martin’s advert broadcast throughout the States. Not bad eh? He was telling me that he reckons the most challenging of the circus skills are Cordlise or silk work (you might have seen it on that Television Ident, or at the Millennium Dome as was?).

Yuri recommends a website called www.firedancers.com for anyone interested in such skills: but please dear reader, do NOT try this at home! Yuri trained and has no intention of getting singed!

Friday 14th December 2007

Matinee with many school parties in again. I’m always reminded of that scene in “Gremlins” when they are all sitting in the cinema watching “Snow White”- you know the one? A sea of eager little faces cramming food into their mouths and then spitting most of it out because they’re laughing!

Unfortunately it was me laughing today. Very bad. “Corpsing” as we call it is never a good thing. Corpsing and being unable to say your line is worse. Fortunately Peter was able to say it for me. Silly things set you off really, nothing especially funny.. in this case Dawson’s dressing room key with its enormous wooden “fob” the size of a Grapefruit falling out of his pocket and hitting the deck set me off somewhat. He’d forgotten to put it on the rack by the prompt corner. I think it was the way Willy stared at it first , followed by Dawson that got me going..

We had a minor delay in going up on Act Two, so for once that “lift Music” got out of sync- Thanks Simon for the “Not Aled Jones” information yesterday- I never knew that!!- so I didn’t get Cliff singing as I prepared in the Quick Change Room.

I did a brief BBC Radio chat between shows from the dressing room. I love radio- you don’t have to dress up or anything- I looked pretty scary in a dressing gown, full make-up and a half eaten sandwich in one hand as it was. The subject of this radio piece was “Five things you DIDN’T know about Panto”.

Lots of choices here, but I picked a few favourite topics- Fairies: Always enter from Stage Right- “The Good Side”, followed by Widow Twankey takes her name from a brand of popular Victorian Tea from the Tuon Kay District of China..then I chose Abanazar is the villain’s name in “Aladdin” NOT Jaffar (a pet subject for me: We had the name sorted a good hundred and fifty years before Mr Disney’s cartoon messed about with it!) then chatted about  Pantomime Horses, or the lack of- how most people associate a Two Person horse with Panto.

 In fact, of course, there are virtually NO pantomime horses- I’ve never encountered on in over thirty years- we have Panto Cows, Geese, and Cats- but hardly ever a Horse.. And my final one was the tradition we have whereby the very last words of the pantomime- usually rhyming couplets said before the curtain call, are NEVER spoken until the first night. A superstition nearly every theatre upholds to this day!

So that was followed by eating the remains of the sandwich, and having a snooze on the chair for half an hour. The thrill and excitement of backstage life- such a whirlwind of glamour. Next door our dancers were playing games- board games, and Peter set to repairing a few of our bits that need attention. The long stocking I wear- the one Jody tugs during the slipper fitting- had developed a large hole, and a few odd items needed “stewing and glueing”. I have no idea where the phrase comes from, but I keep remembering the phrase “It will be fine with a bit of steam from Maud’s Kettle”.. I’m pretty certain I was introduced to it by Patrick (Fyffe) Dame Hilda, who was our Fairy Godmother on several occasions. Patrick had a wonderful turn of phrase both off stage and on stage. I do miss his wonderful wit, sitting on our sofa between shows. George (Logan), Dr. Evadne now lives in a very beautiful part of France, and tells me that he very rarely misses “The Business”- I have to say George that the Business really misses Hinge & Bracket, those “Dear Ladies”.

What set me off memory lane? It must be time for Cocoa. “Matron? Is it time yet?”…

Saturday 15th December 2007

Outside it’s turned decidedly chilly, but here in Pantoland its sunny and bright. I nipped out into the outer scene dock for a moment in Act One to feed the ponies, and it is like stepping from the Bahamas into the Arctic! Easy to forget how warm it is on stage with all those lights ablaze.

Between shows Jody’s microwave is very much in demand. First come, first cooked is the motto. It’s a glamorous life backstage between shows- there we all are in our posh togs, sipping champagne and nibbling on a canapé or two.. Peter has an aperitif- actually they’re his own…the glamorous showbiz life-style is here for all to see. Actually it is more like a slumber party in BHS, but it’s nice to dream isn’t it?

I myself settled for Macaroni Cheese, half a baguette and a copy of “Viz” before settling down for a twenty minute doze in the Parker-Knoll recliner, then it was time for Round Two.

The second show was slightly occupied with a quiz. We’ve all been given a list of clues that make up the name of chocolate & confectionary. I think it’s meant to last a few days, but in between entrances the place is humming with whirring brain cells. Apparently the fastest results to date are from the Juveniles room. They only have one left unanswered.. You see? Education..Education… Education!

Poor Dean. Our dashing Prince was a bit dashed in the ballroom scene he was regally announced by Jody: “My Lords Ladies and Gentlemen..His Royal Highness The Prince Charming!” The golden doors opened, and out strode the dashing soon to be West End Star ( The Savoy Theatre- Tickets on sale now at all prices..) and his radio mike failed on him. Bless him. Now in a play, actors are not “Miked” so that is not a problem, but in a musical show like ours where everyone is radio miked, the person sans mike is a very quiet person.

His fellow ‘pro’s did what they always do. “Buddy-Breathing”. You know? Like divers do under the water if  one of them has a failure in their oxygen tank? Your fellow artiste approaches you and you speak discretely into their microphone, wherever it may be secreted- usually you talk to their forehead, or, in the case of an Ugly Sister, into their cleavage!

Dean coasted from Cleavage to forehead gaining a few good natured titters on the way, until he was furnished with his very own hand mike (you only see them these days in a case of emergency in a panto) to complete the dialogue and, of course, his duet with Michelle. The audience actually enjoyed this glimpse into the workings, as it proves this really is a live show! No miming here!

Two more shows tomorrow then a day off- the following week is a heavy one, with the run up towards Christmas itself, and we’ll be packed out, so this day off is very vital for resting and recharging the batteries. I will be taking a break from this diary to do just that, so I’ll catch up with the world of Pantoland on paper again on Tuesday Night.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF........A STAGE DOOR KEEPER

by Bob (Senior Stage Door Keeper) and Vanessa (Stage Door Keeper) Wycombe Swan

It’s 09.30 and our day starts! First it is the unlock of the building (oh all those stairs!) and then deliveries start to arrive. We then have the sales figures to be e-mailed out to companies, then all and sundry arrive for various meetings. 'Have you got a needle and thread?' someone will ask, 'Yes we do!' is the reply. 'Any chance of a sofa in our dressing room?' a member of cast enquires, so out comes the yellow pages but no luck, we did our best! 'Can we have a fridge in our dressing room?', sorry but no! 'But of course you can use ours at stagedoor', 'Great!' comes the reply - hang on where can we put our food as it is now stuffed to capacity with M&S ready meals!? Then comes the first member of staff with love life worries (we should have taken a psychology degree), the phone is ringing constantly but when can I use the loo or grab a bite to eat? When you have a quiet period we are told - that must be a joke! Company mail to be sorted, dressing room keys to be issued, emails to be read and forwarded to the correct department, signing in and out procedure to be explained to the company all this with a cheery smile. The show goes up then the call comes, some child has been sick so a radio call to get it sorted. What do you think about the world food shortage someone will enquire? We really are jack of all trades. At last time to go home oh no I forgot time to do the lock up! (all those damn stairs again!), all windows to be shut, all taps turned off, every door to be checked, all lights turned off . Some nights we get home at 3-4am all night if there is an ice call or an overnight paint call. But do we complain no why? Because we love our job and because we meet such wonderful people in Theatre land!

Tuesday 18th December 2007

Returning after a day off- this is the first of fourteen shows before our next day off, which, not surprisingly will be Christmas day! Time to pace ourselves I think. Its odd to consider we’ve only got two days off in total before we finish- Christmas day and New Year’s day, then suddenly it will be over almost as soon as we’ve begun. Tomorrow (I think) Birmingham Panto opens, so this time last year we’d not even begun!

Sunday’s two shows were fine- packed to the rafters, and the theatre was deserted about ten minutes after the curtain fell at 8pm- everyone racing to get to their homes and sleep in their own beds (except the commuters like Peter who gets that luxury every night, but the added hassle of the travelling).

A lot of school parties in for the 2.30pm matinee, and we had a visitor from Pantoland- Andrew Ryan, who is directing and performing as Dame in “Sleeping Beauty” at Bournemouth Pavilion. Andrew had the day off today, and saw our matinee before heading off to Bournemouth.

Between shows I thought I might just put my feet up for a few minutes, and promptly dropped off for most of the break! I think Peter took a photograph of this “Sleeping Beauty”, it is the sort of thing he might well do, and if so I’ll possibly add it to this diary’s collection, if it’s not too scary!

I think I dropped off because he had brought in a dvd he’s made of our appearance in “Ready Steady Cook” several years ago (renewing our panto association with Fern Britton) . He’s been transferring some Video into DVD format, and it sent me into dreamland! There’s a possibility that he has some footage of our Panto seasons with Dame Hilda, from the New Theatre Cardiff many moons ago- I didn’t realise we had some of this archive. Apparently it is very poor quality but if it is viewable, we’ll be adding this to the media section on IBY. I’m looking forward to seeing this, as I had no idea we had the wonderful Dame Hilda as Fairy Godmother recorded for posterity.

Martin & Bryan have organised Quiz number two tonight- this time its Themed on Television Programmes- trickier than the previous one. When the results were in last week the winners were Ladies & Gentlemen of the Ensemble. At quiet moments during the day cast and crew could be found huddled in corners conferring with team mates. It is a very good idea, as it keeps the brain cells ticking and keeps us sharp for the show as well.

Had a few messages from Panto-land between shows- news from Aberdeen’s “Aladdin”, via a message from our mate Stefan Dennis- he’s giving his Abanazar whilst on a break between his two soaps- “Neighbours” of course in Australia and “River City” filmed in Scorland. Great to hear from our old “Buttons” again! Also got a message from Judy Cornwall- our Fairy Godmother  the first time we were at the Hippodrome in Birmingham, and again in Nottingham- Judy is not doing Panto this year as she’s being a “baddy” in East Enders at the moment, and gets a proper Christmas break!

A very jolly show this evening, and a visit from Qdos Royalty too boot- Michael Harrison and Jonathan Kiley were in tonight- They’ve done the rounds of all the Qdos pantomimes that have opened, and now the only remaining one for them to see is Birmingham Hippodrome. Good to catch up with Panto news with them- I have no idea how many shows they will have seen by the end of January, but I can imagine it will be an impressive number!

Awaiting news on Ilford’s panto- The one “wot I wrote”- tonight is their full dress rehearsal, and I’m hoping to get a report on how it went before they open tomorrow. Best of luck you “Jack and the Beanstalk” lot- I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow!

Wednesday 19th December 2007

One of life’s mysteries is how, despite actually staying here in Wycombe, and getting into the theatre a good half an hour before “The Half”, I am still racing to get my face on when “Beginners” is called! I had to warn Peter when he was returning to the dressing room that we hadn’t been robbed, the carnage was simply me trying to get out of the room and down the stairs to the Quick Change room! What happens during that missing fifty-five minutes? I have NO idea!

Matinee was mostly full of very wee children. The front rows certainly were, and they were quite tiny. I noticed them cowering a bit during the ticket tearing, so I went a little easier on poor Cinders- well, only for a second! They had a look of awe and wonder on their faces in the transformation I noticed as I peered around the cloth.

Between shows quite a crowd of us crammed ourselves into Jody & Dean’s dressing room to watch the Paul O’Grady Show- it was “Cinderella” with quite a stellar cast- Joan Collins, Cilla Black and Jo Brand along with the new King Of The Jungle- the delightful Chris Biggins. A lovely cameo role by Liz Smith as well. A bit scary to see all the avid reading of “Cue Cards”, but worth it to see Cilla appear as Fairy Godmother with a “Lorra Lorra” Charm!

Had a chat with James Horne today on the ‘phone- Jim is appearing as Dame Trott in Weston Super Mare, and opened a few days ago- and got news from Britt (Ekland) who is appearing as Fairy Godmother  at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre, between shows.

We were a celebrity theatre tonight- playing next door (literally next door- we sneaked backstage during a break in our show) was Alvin Stardust. He was doing a Christmas gig at the Swan’s Town Hall Theatre this evening. Dawson and Brian met up with Alvin, but sadly I didn’t co-incide- he was on stage whenever I wasn’t, and I missed out on saying hello to my fellow “Weakest Link” buddy! The last time I saw Alvin he was dressed as Abanazar in the BBC Studios- with Britt as Genie of the Lamp actually!

The evening show went up fifteen minutes late- there had been an accident on the motorway, and subsequently all the roads in and out of Wycombe were blocked. We received a warning that several large parties were stuck in the traffic jams that had built up, and sadly they failed to make it to the show. We actually played to 200 less than were booked this evening. What a shame- to get so near to Wycombe by car and by coaches, and yet not be able to see the panto. The empty rows were a very forlorn sight, but the audience we did have were very jolly, and great fun to play to.

Dean had two of his his mates in this evening- two lads who will be appearing with him in the Savoy Theatre shortly in “Never Forget” the Musical. Dean plays Ash Sherwood in the show, and in to see Dean in his alter ego as Prince Charming tonight were Stephane Anelli (he plays Jose Reize) and Tim Driesen (playing Adrian Banks). They’ve been touring together in the show for a while now, and after a short tour will move into the Savoy in London’s West End following “Fiddler On The Roof”. There’s some great video footage of Dean and the rest of the cast on the website www.neverforgetthemusical.com

We came down about twenty minutes later than usual tonight, so several of the company were legging it up the road to the station- they had eleven minutes to get their train, or wait an hour for the next one! No hanging about after the show for them! Peter, Jack and Bryan could be seen disappearing into the distance, and a few of us retired to the local pub for a glass of cordial and a packet of salt and vinegar.

Tomorrow evening is a company meal after the second show, so that should be a jolly affair.

Thursday 20th December 2007

Heard back from Birmingham Hippodrome that they had a wonderful opening with “Aladdin”- looking forward to seeing it in the New Year. Seems odd that pantomimes are still just opening when we’ve already done twenty-odd shows to date! But again, thirty years ago most pantomimes opened traditionally on Boxing Day and ran through until late February, often into early March, so opening this week would seem odd to them!

As I arrived at the theatre Yuri was on stage practicing some of his circus skills- quite amazing to watch. I was chatting to Jack before the finale scene about his training in acrobatics- if you recall he’d worked as one of the “Acraloons” in pantomime a few years back- they are a troupe of high speed acrobats and tumblers, you often see them as the pirates in “Peter Pan” across the country. Jack still manages to fit in four or five gym sessions a week while he’s doing this show- and he’s commuting! I felt suitably ashamed as I climbed the finale steps and adjusted my feathers.. I got over it though!

Uneventful day here in Pantoland- outside it is very cold, but backstage we’re a small army of people doing the show, sleeping, eating and reading between shows, then doing it all over again.

Had a few of those “Have I just done that” moments in the quick change room- where you rely totally on Sinead and Becky to shoe-horn you into the correct frock. Left to my own devices I’d be staring at the costume trying to work out if I’ve just taken it off or was I about to put it on!

Company meal this evening at a local curry house- it’s the first time we’ve all sat down as a company since we opened. Amazingly, because of the situation where the band are below the stage and dressing rooms are far apart, it was the first time many of us had actually met (or even seen) Steve the drummer!

In Commuter-land a few of our company had to dash to get the 11.05 train back to London, but still managed to get a meal in, and by the stroke of midnight we were on the streets again and heading to our digs.

For today's quiz Simon is going to try and guess who most of these people are - apologies to those who end up as question marks - hopefully Nigel will supply some answers soon!

(from l to r) - Anne-Marie, Brian, and company!   /    Rachel, Jamie (Publicity), Kerry, Michelle, Jody, Dawson, Sonia and Becky

Picture on the left - Jack, Richard, Steve, Barry    /     Picture on the right - Phillip, Tom (Publicity) Jack, Jon (known as Northern)

 

Friday 21st December 2007

My goodness it is cold outside! Thankfully the Swan is very good on the heating front. The dressing rooms are toasty, and backstage is fine too- it’s a shock when I leave the stage and go into the outer scene dock to feed the ponies before the transformation. It is like stepping into a fridge! The ponies of course love it, as I’ve pointed out in previous diaries, they are not fond of being over-heated. We are- we love it!

We’re quite an artistic and literary lot here in Wycombe. I’ve noticed that the crew are always carrying books around with them, and often to be found reading between cues for scene changes. A quick poll revealed their reading matter- a bit like Oprah’s book choice really- here’s a few titles from the crew choice-

“Dissolution” (J.Sansom) – Seb’s choice, then “Halo Contact Harvest” (Joseph Staten) currently being read by Steven (at 6’5” Steven is the tallest person backstage except for Peter when he wears his finale shoes!) then “Magician” by Raymond E. Feist, the choice of Laura, and Wicked”- Kyle’s reading choice and finally Terry Pratchet’s “Making Money”, read by Jon (Northern Jon- there are several Jons you see!).

Upstairs between shows we had what appeared to be “Quiet Time”- the girls had bought themselves sets of felt tip pens and large poster sized colour-in pictures. They settled down on Jody’s floor and set to work creating works of art, ranging from what looked like Barbie’s garden to My Little Pony’s pen..apparently wardrobe are working on a large Spongebob Square Pants.. or it is Square Pants bob’s…Sponge-pants… well, a cartoon to colour in anyway.

Yes- this IS the excitement backstage as we reach the eighth show of the fourteen show week!

I’ve been busy firing off e-mails in between shows to “The Stage”. You may have noticed a two page spread (page 20-21) in this week’s edition? We’ve mentioned it in the Green Room section here at IBY. I did a “make-over” turning Mark Ritchie of “The Stage” into an Ugly Sister as a sort of photo feature for the Festive Stage.

Mark (Bless him) got the facts a bit awry- in the accompanying article he states that Nigel Ellacott runs a panto school for novices at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford..” which was news to me, and certainly news to Ilford! Where DID he get THAT from?? I’ve sent a letter correcting these facts in next week’s stage and took the opportunity to plug IBY at the same time!

A panto school for novices…?  hmmm now there’s a….No, forget it! Writing and designing ‘em takes up enough time during the year! Let alone running this site with Simon- we’re busy enough on that front!

Got to admit a touch of tiredness sets in now- on the halfway mark. I found myself opening my mouth to deliver a line and heard pure rubbish pour out as my tongue and brain failed to communicate! The line (bellowed at Michelle) should have been “We need a maid to prepare our Boudoir”. What came out was (I think) “We are needing a bade to repair our…” I thought I’d got away with it for a second (perhaps they’d think it was a bit of the Bard?) But the audience snickered at my confusion, and Peter informed them I was running my teeth in for the cat. Sigh.. no room for error here then!

Tonight’s house were a very perky lot- possibly one of the best houses we’ve had to date in terms of “being on top of it” all the way. Great fun to play to. I think also that the schools have all now broken up for the Christmas break today, so we should be playing to big family outings in matinees as well as evenings.

Between shows I had a nap, and Peter watched a DVD, and then had a very jolly phone call from our panto mate Ray Meagher. Ray (he’s Alf in “Home & Away” of course) is giving his King Rat in Swansea (my home town and home theatre) in “Dick Whittington” along with fellow Antipodean Anne Charleston and with Hannah Waterman. Great to chat at length with Ray- he played our Dad in “Cinderella”- normally we have fairly short chats due to him being in Sydney, but this time we caught up with lots of news. Glad to hear he’s had a chance to see some of the glorious countryside and the beaches in my native Gower Coast and Mumbles too!

The Quiz continues backstage- but we’re all stumped by one cryptic clue (the answer will be a television programme). Very stumped- Martin has not actually got the answer to this clue- so if anyone has the answer, a quick e-mail to info@its-behind-you.com might solve the riddle. It’s a TV programme and the clue says this-

“Too timid to proceed”.

Hmm…No prizes, sorry, but you might help this panto company out!

Saturday 22nd December 2007

Two packed houses today- sold out completely, and a very lively lot they were. During the show Peter and I in our guises as Trinny & Susannah pick on a member of the audience- a gentleman. This is nearly always random, with the odd exception when someone has a relative in and “Sets them up” so to speak. They are referred to throughout.

Tonight Kerry had her family in to see her soar through the air as our Fairy, and forgot to mention this to us. They were at the front of the stalls and by pure chance we picked on Kerry’s brother, Matt! It’s always good when that happens! She was delighted, and, I’m sure he probably thought he’d been “set-up”- honestly, you weren’t Matt!

It was actually too hot on stage tonight- could be because the damp weather has made it milder? We were all flagging a bit at times. By tonight we were ten shows down this week, with four more to go. Can’t flag until Monday Night!

During the interval, after visiting the ponies with their apples, I took a journey down, down into the depths of the Swan theatre to discover where the band are. I was quite astonished at their pit. It is completely isolated from the stage, and in a smallish room with struts supporting the stage above them, there sit Barry, Steve and Terry- they have monitors to see the show (although you can’t make out faces too clearly) and Barry as MD gives the  visual signals to Steve on percussion for the “effects” you get from a panto drum kit. Swansee whistles, woodblocks, all the comedy bumps and bangs you expect in a panto. It is an amazing credit to the guys deep down in the bowels of the theatre that these “effects” are so accurate. To the second. To the very beat! Our collective panto hats are raised to you three stalwart gentlemen- we salute you!

(from l to r) Steve, Terry and Barry / Barry, Steve and Terry

The shows seemed to go quite fast today, and I think in this very fast paced show the time flies by anyway. In between shows we drew names out of a hat to find out who our “Secret Santa” or “Grab Bag” person is- we have tomorrow or (heaven forbid) Christmas Eve to locate a present for five pounds (that’s the limit) and get it wrapped for a between shows “Grab Bag” on Boxing Day.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been getting good reports on the Panto wot I wrote- “Jack And The Beanstalk” at Ilford, and have had a chat with a few of the cast including Isobel Hurll (she plays the wicked “Belladonna” in it), and have just come across “The Stage” review online for the show- Hoorah! Another success, and the reviewer especially liked my Flower Fairy & Insect costumes: I’m very pleased, they really are very beautiful, and all praise to the makers, “Taurus”, Mari Webb and to Shirley Davis who made the beautiful headdresses for that scene. I’ve not seen them onstage, only in fittings, so looking forward to seeing them for myself when we finish here on January 6th.

Tomorrow our special guest will be Sean Needham. Readers of the diary will recall Sean has played Prince in this show since we began at the Mayflower Southampton, and is currently in “Buddy” at the Duchess Theatre London- I think he’s contracted until June. This means, of course that Both our Princes- Dean and Sean will both be in the West End at the same time in two Musicals- you only get the best in this show, I tell you!

Sunday 23rd December 2007

Shows Eleven and Twelve of the week today. We had a visitation from Qdos’s Jon Conway this evening- that’s the second time, so we’re very honoured! The two shows were packed to the rafters once again, and both houses very receptive.

Outside the streets of High Wycombe are bustling- there’s a dread of visiting M&S today to get food- the thought of the queues is very off putting, so I settled for sandwiches. This is the time of year people fight over the last turkey and the scrabble for the sprouts, so I stayed clear.

Earlier shows today and tomorrow as well, so arrived for the “half” at 12.55pm- already thick fog was settling in around the town, and it was pretty dark for most of the day. Very glad of a cosy heated dressing room today.

One of our follow-spot operators is unwell today so Laura (normally crewing on Stage Left) went up to do the Follow spots, and consequently Jon (Northern Jon) had to put on a red and gold costume and fill in as second pony handler. He and Rachel bring the two ponies on stage in the transformation. There’s a slight problem though in that Jon is not a fan of a Shetland. He’s not shall we say “comfortable” with ponies or horses. While I was giving them their usual pieces of apple in the scene dock he was persuaded to stroke them, but it was a pretty tentative stroke! As it happened Jon rose to the occasion, and bedecked in his finery he led them onstage, Cinderella went to the ball, the snow fell and all ended happily ever after!

I don’t often watch the transformation scene from the wings- I’m usually putting the kettle on at this point, but watching the workings of it today I was in awe of the amazing choreography of everyone involved- both onstage and off. Like a very well oiled machine it was a joy to watch the entire company and crew acting as one to produce this most magical of pantomime scenes.

On stage you have Cinders and the Fairy. Cinders legs it from the stage. In one corner of the wing three wardrobe ladies are doing a lightening fast quick change. Martin is at his desk queuing an army of lights and scenic changes happening as Babes and dancers enter,: The band starts the dance routine. The Ponies are led onto the stage with the coach fully lit- Stage LX are pouring smoke and Dry Ice onto the stage at the same time as the lasers go full pelt from the back wall of the stage. Brian is quick changing on stage right as LX set off pyros- the dancers reveal the now fully changed Cinderella to further pyros and laser effects.. the coach begins to turn, and two vast snow machines up in the flies start to pour snow on the entire company as the tabs fall.

Everyone has a job to do- those jobs are performed to the exact beat of the music- every light, drop of snow, every flick of a moving light and all in perfect harmony. Damn we’re good at what we do!

Radio microphones are a wonderful invention, but they can be a pain in the…well, they can be a nuisance at times. For the Ballroom scene Sinead helps me get into the crinoline, then the ballgown (a bit tight- I must let it out a bit next year!) and then I put on the gloves, the bracelets, the necklace and then Sinead puts my feathers into holders in my shoulder blades before putting the huge blue and gold cape on top. This all takes time. The cape was put on my shoulders as usual just as Jody is singing “Let Me Entertain You”.

Normally I then go into the wing, put my champagne bucket wig on, and struggle to the stairs ready to enter. Ahh.. “Normally”. Not today. All this went out of the window. As the cape went on there was a “ping”, and the mike (clipped to my necklace) flew off its clip, and whisked down my back, and came to rest somewhere between my legs. Remember I’m wearing ALL the above, and Jody is continuing to sing. Now, short of standing on my head and speaking between my legs, there is not going to be any sound coming from me!

Sinead dives beneath my crinoline, retrieves the microphone and cable, undoes the frock at the back, and stuffs the mike up my feathered shoulders- The microphone is hastily clipped on and I grab my wig running, with Sinead still under the dress for the stairs.

I arrived at the top of the ballroom feeling as if I’d been.. well, I think “ravished” is the word, frock wide open at the back and a wobbly wig on my head minus the stocking tops that keep it gripped to my skull. I descended the staircase of the ballroom very, very carefully, and spent the entire scene walking like a crab to ensure the audience didn’t get a glimpse of my exposed rear. How VERY undignified!!

Accidents weren’t just in my department. Brian does an “Elvis” type rendition of “A Little More Conversation” in the show in a flashy jacket, dark shades and has a hand held microphone attached to a mike stand. He does Elvis style business with this mike stand. Tonight the microphone flew off the stand, soared through the air behind him, and began rolling about on the floor. The dancers struggling to avoid treading on it. Brian has no microphone, and for a few seconds no idea where he was in the song before his mike decided to launch itself into orbit! Like the seasoned ‘pro he is, Mr Conley carried on making up the words until he found himself again. Damn those microphones!

Our guest for this evening is Sean Needham. Readers of the IBY diaries of previous years need no introduction. Sean (lucky man) has three whole days off from “Buddy” at the Duchess theatre, and came to see the show he’s been in for five years from out front. Delighted to say he loved it! It was great to see him again, and we were able to go out for a meal after the show and catch up on all the news and gossip. Great to see you Sean- hope Buddy continues its successful run at the Duchess- it should see him through to the Summer.

Well- tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Along with all our mates out there in Pantoland we’ll be doing two shows tomorrow, then between the hours of Eight O’clock tomorrow and Ten O’clock Tomorrow night, all these panto folk will be fleeing their respective theatres, and heading for home on the last trains, coaches and by car to spend Christmas Day with loved ones.

From all of us here at Wycombe to all of you- Have a great couple of shows- a great day off on Tuesday- and we’ll see you all back in Pantoland on Boxing Day for the matinee.

Merry Christmas from Peter, Nigel and Simon!

More Video Footage - Opening Night

 

Wednesday 26th December 2007 - BOXING DAY

Returned from a very short but much needed day off- Christmas Day. The traffic on the M25 going in either direction was incredible- accidents and Boxing Day Sales adding to the torment, but everyone made it here safe and sound.

No need to view the photo attached from behind a sofa- it’s a picture of our Wardrobe Mistress, Jo proudly wearing her Dalek Costume (a present from the ladies in the Wardrobe) in the corridors of the Swan Theatre. Jo is what you might call an avid “Dr.Who” fan, and needed a lot of persuasion to take off her costume when it was time to go home. It even has a button on the neckpiece that, when pressed, lets out a piercing “Exterminate! Exterminate!”. The shocked onlookers here include Jody’s friend Jeff Brady who was visiting the show. This time last year Jeff was visiting his native Australia, and now he’s in Wycombe. Christmas in Sydney on the beach, or in fog bound Wycombe? There’s a difficult choice! Lovely to see you again Jeff!

Christmas Eve seems a long time ago, but both shows went very well, followed by a swift departure. A crowd of us dashed to the station- we got out of the building with the audience- it took Peter and I seven minutes from curtain down to hitting the streets- and got the train in plenty of time.

The Rail Network in the UK is very unfair to Christmas workers as well as travellers. I got onto the very last over ground train at 9.45pm- and there will be no more trains for something like 56 hours from now.I think we are the only country in Europe without any trains running on Boxing Day, despite every high street shop opening its doors and every theatre (including the West End) giving two shows today. There you go.. off on my soap box again, but we’ve not had a decent Christmas Rail service since the 1960’s!

Boxing Day, we were honoured in the matinee by a visit from our esteemed director and producer, Paul Elliott. Paul was in very fine spirits. His production of “Aladdin” at the Hippodrome Birmingham (with John Barrowman, The Grumbleweeds, Don Maclean and the Daleks) has received rave notices, and I’m looking forward to seeing during January. Paul watched the show, gave a few “tightening up” notes, and we were able to have a quick chat over a mince pie during the interval.

Between shows we had our “Grab Bag” or “Secret Santa” session in the auditorium. You know the score- you pick a name out of a bag and buy a secret present for that person- limit a fiver. Great fun, and a jolly way to break up the “between Shows” break today.

For those of you wishing they’d not eaten quite so much during the holidays, our lovely ladies of the ensemble, Lucy, Lia and Sarah  have a few tips. They work out to an exercise DVD between shows in the corridor outside their dressing room. If I attempted even a quarter of their manipulations, I’d end up in casualty in a minute. The excercises are done to music with a salsa beat- I’m sure one number was entitled “Valencia- stick your head between your knees and whistle up your Barcelona”- or at least I think that is the translation from the Spanish.. I’ll have to ask Dawson. He lives in Spain after all!

Please DON’T try the illustrated excercises at home without supervision and a surgical truss..

Both houses were a delight today- Boxing Day Audiences can often be a bit “over stuffed” from Christmas cheer and mince pies- both our shows went down like a storm, with a standing ovation at the end-  we LIKE that!

Friday 28th December 2007

Four shows have slipped past- amazing to think that after today we have only sixteen shows left, and it’s all over! On my National Rail soap box again, I discovered today that Wycombe Station itself is shut next week-end for repairs, so we commuters wishing to return home after the final show are stranded! I’m so pleased the Rail Network company don’t put on pantomimes.. although, come to think of it….

The shows have continued to pack them in- a few niggling colds have broken out here and there among cast and crew, and various remedies applied- they have a saying that “Doctor Stage” will cure anything, meaning once you get out there you manage to push the cold or upset tummy to the background for the duration, but I’m guessing that’s based more on concentration and adrenaline than any hocus pocus.

Michelle has a special remedy for colds, sore and over worked throats- a remedy used extensively in the West End by singers. This remedy is a Chinese Medicine with a very long name that you make a sort of soothing tea from (it contains herbs and honey as well). I’m not recommending it, as I’ve not tried it myself, but it does seem to have a large following among theatre folk- here’s the name: “King To Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa”.

It’s been lovely to see some of the children visiting backstage- those belonging to cast and crew: Sarah (Sound) brought along Holly and Harry, and Anne-Marie brings Lucy and Amy in regularly to see Daddy- panto is, after all, a family affair!

Brian’s daughter Lucy was on stage today dressed in her Fairy costume- she’d been rehearsing her line – when Brian asks “Have we ever met before?” and Lucy replies “No Daddy!” Which gets one of the biggest laughs of the night. Brian’s line to the audience is: “The reason she’s here is that is saves on baby-sitters!”

We were invited to the Oak Room (in our costumes) to meet a few of the children who had attended the matinee- these children were given a special party after the show, and had attended a “signed” performance-the “signer was Jim, and he did an amazing job: as we climbed the stairs Dawson (or was it Willy?) remarked “This is where it all began!”- amazing to think we were all meeting up here and rehearsing in this very room just a few weeks ago!

The event was very lovely, and we met up with some very brave children too- Willy was the hit of the party, and it was great to see Yuri and a couple of guys from the crew there showing some of the children their juggling skills!

Saturday 29th December 2007

Well, the dreaded lurgy seems to have reached Wycombe. I’ve heard from several mates in pantoland that a stomach bug has been circulating, and indeed it reached (or is that “retched”?) us here at the Swan. We had three members of Crew/Stage Management off with this bug. Thankfully everyone else mucked in and job-shared, and we sailed through our two shows with nothing to show from out front.

Met at the Stage Door by Michael Butcher- Michael is a great Panto fan, and travels the length and breadth visiting the shows each season- he supplied us here at IBY with photos of the Panto Exhibition held by the Theatre Royal Plymouth that he had taken (see articles: Pantomimes at Plymouth) and left a very welcomed bottle of bubbly for the cast- Cheers Michael!

Also had a visit from Lee Redwood- Lee has been a keen visitor to this site, and indeed to pantomimes for a good few years now. He saw this show at Southampton, and last year at Birmingham, and arrived this evening from Bournemouth to see it once again. Good to meet up and find out all his panto news as well.

The shows were packed out as usual- Brian’s children Lucy and Amy were in, along with Anne-Marie today, and joined in our “Rocking All Over The World Finale”, and we all sweltered in the tropical heat here at the Swan. The weather has turned much milder now, but the heating system at the Swan doesn’t know this yet. By ‘eck it’s hot and sweaty here in the village of “Rock and Rap” I tell you!

Not as hot, I suspect as Jack and Phillip were this Summer- they were both involved in dancing their way through “Mamma Mia” The Movie, filmed mostly in Greece during the Summer Months. They were in the company of  a few people you might have heard of- Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Julie Walters, along with one of my personal favourites, Tony award winner, Christine Baranski, playing Tanya. The film premiers here in the Summer of 2008, and I’m sure our Jack and Phillip will be treading the red carpet in Leicester Square for the opening. For further info see the website www.mammamiathemovie.co.uk.

Jack has recently been doing some modelling, and has made a few magazine covers- here’s a couple of pics of him out of panto villager costume for once- not difficult to recall he was in the England Squad for Acrobatics, and a former Acromaniac-he keeps up the gym four to five days a week and still does the two shows a day- I climb up the stairs to the dressing room, and Peter does all his own stunts- like tying up his laces- so we’re with him in spirit!

Two shows tomorrow at the earlier times, and then two more on Monday- New Year’s Eve, before the next (and final!) day off!.

Sunday 30th December 2007

Two earlier shows today- 1.30pm and 5.30pm. The dreaded tummy bug is still with us- Rachel our ASM is off with it, and Michelle (our Cinders) is suffering from it very badly- bless her, she very bravely got through the two shows today with the aid of “Dr.Stage”, Immodium and a few changes here and there to help her cope. The audience had no idea that she was suffering, poor soul, or indeed that Kerry (our Fairy) augmented the Circle Of Life number to allow Michelle time to rest her voice for a few minutes each show. The Sisters went easy on Cinderella physically both shows, but still gave her plenty of vocal abuse to compensate- but we didn’t hurl her about as we normally do! Actually, Michelle hurls herself about- that’s the skill involved- one small touch and she flies across the stage as if we’ve shoved her- clever this acting lark, eh?

A week today we’ll be on our final show- I think this time last year we were halfway through, and- between you and me- this time next year we’ll be about half way through- it’ll be a longer run. Still can’t announce where, but as soon as we can, we will of course!

Everyone is planning their journey home tomorrow evening for New Year- There will be a few of us commuters heading off on the 8.30pm train, and to cheer ourselves up, we’re planning a couple of bottles of bubbly and a few nibbles for the journey into London- not quite your average Rail buffet fare- not that the Wycombe train has a buffet anyway, but we should be a jolly panto crowd reaching Marylebone Station about half past nine tomorrow evening!

Hopefully next week should see a couple of additions to this diary- namely a photo journal of a “day in the life of the wardrobe department” and The Juvenile’s perspective on appearing in a Panto. We look forward to adding these as soon as we receive them. That was a gentle hint, by the way!

Hopefully Michelle will be feeling better tomorrow, and Rachel will be back among us- The next entry to this diary will be after New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year to all you panto folk out there, and to all our IBY regulars! See you in 2008!

Monday 31st December 2007 - NEW YEAR'S EVE

Two shows at the early times today, with a half hour call at 12.55pm. Delighted to see Mark Sherwood, production manager for Qdos at the Swan today. Mark oversees all the scenic and technical requirements for the various shows across the UK. The end of this week will be a busy one, as many pantomimes will be finishing (like us) on the Saturday and Sunday, and each one will involve a “get-out” of scenery, props and costumes, which will then be transported to Beverley in Yorkshire, and to Scarborough.

A week or so later more pantomimes will close, and the same thing happens- it is a major undertaking in terms of man power and transportation- Beanstalks vying with Pagoda’s

For room in the scenic stores, large wooden boxes on wheels marked “Cinders” and “Snow White” heading for the costume store in Scarborough- scenery will need to be checked, repaired, or repainted if necessary, and costumes will be sorted into mammoth piles of laundry and dry cleaning that will continue through into February.

Mark worked with Peter & I as a Stage Manager- we toured in a few productions way back,several of them children’s shows, and in other tours including “The Rocky Horror Show” in Europe (I used to pop across to check on the costumes I’d designed) and I toured with Mark in “Billy Liar” in the UK. When he greeted us this afternoon he was the bearer of a surprise gift- our OPENING NIGHT gift in fact!

I know.. ! We hadn’t mentioned it (much!) but not receiving a card from the Qdos offices this year we thought perhaps the postal services had gone a bit astray..but here was a very lavish and much welcomed First Night box from Fortnum & Mason no less (they have such good taste that Qdos lot you know!) that had been inadvertently delivered to another theatre by mistake! Mark rescued it and it arrived at just the right time- ready for  the New Year Celebrations! Thanks all at Qdos HQ!

Celebration today too for Stuart on the crew- it’s his birthday. Born in South Africa I think technically its tomorrow, but anyway he was supplied with a “Birthday Boy” sticker in the wings – we’re not around tomorrow! Jo our wardrobe mistress was sporting a very lovely “Beehive” hairstyle, as created by Sinead- now Jo is not very tall, five foot nothing to be exact, but she gained quite a few inches in height this evening. Sinead’s expertise in wig and hair dressing made her walk tall tonight!

Rachel (bless her) is still not back with us, she’s been very poorly with the stomach bug and, if truth be known, no-one wants to see her back until she’s much better- these things can fly around a company in the over-heated backstage conditions, so better to be safe than sorry! Michelle is much much better, and back to her vibrant self today!

The ponies have a new “second” handler now- it’s Yuri. Colin who looks after “the girls” brings them to the scene dock door during the first half of the show, and they wait patiently in the outer dock, usually with Stuart until I nip down, deliver their apple pieces, then they’re into the wings and off to the ball.

Rosanna almost had a revealing moment in the transformation. It could have been “Pumpkin to Coach, Mice to Ponies and Rosanna to Underwear!” but fortunately her fairy frock which had flown open at the back remained attached long enough for a quick  safety pin in the wings to ensure we kept within the watershed!

I have never forgotten the poor Slave Of The Ring in Aladdin who did a wonderful “Adagio” dance with the Genie, only to slide down his body and hook her bra to his collar-piece. Not realising she stepped forward and did a big “present” to the audience… the whistling and howling of the Scout and Cub troupe in the stalls will remain in my ears forever! She made the fastest exit in theatre history!

As indeed did we! As soon as we’d sung “Auld Lang’s Eyne” in the finale, the wings were deserted as if by magic as everyone dashed for trains and car parks to head off for New Year’s eve at 8pm tonight.

A merry crowd of us took over one small carriage on the Marylebone train (about nine of us in all) and cracked open several bottles of champers and assorted nibbles on the hour long journey to London. Happy New Year!

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Wednesday 2nd January 2008

The final week! This week is going to fly past so quickly-the last week always seems to do that. Before the first show Peter & I were watching a recording of “Cinderella” at Cardiff New Theatre from eighteen years ago. In fact, eighteen years to this very day, as we realised it was recorded the day we returned from the New Year break! There (very fuzzy and not easy to see clearly) was the wonderful Patrick Fyffe, Dame Hilda Bracket of course as Fairy Godmother, singing “The Night Is Young” to Cheryl Taylor as Cinderella. There was  the wonderful warm and lovely Windsor Davies as our Daddy, the Baron, and Dawson and Willy as the Broker’s men, with Peter & I singing “Sisters Are We Two” in the opening spot.

Quite amazing to see- we called Dawson in to watch, and like us, we were immediately transported back to a great show that we did for six weeks at Cardiff before transferring the whole show up to Leeds Grand for a further couple of weeks, lock stock and Baron, so to speak! Hopefully I can get Simon to transfer a few segments onto IBY Media section in the near future- that recording of Patrick as the most magical of Fairy Godmothers is probably all that remains of his contribution to “Cinderella” for all we know.

Two very full houses today. Delighted to have Margaret Brice and her friend Jean Halsey in to see the show today. Margaret has made our costumes since.. well, since our first ever attempt at doing “Sisters”, and continues to do so today- since her retirement from full time making we’ve been deeply honoured that she has agreed to costume us, and we’ll be sitting down with her sometime soon to discuss what we’ll be having for next year when we go to…ah yes! Nearly caught me out that time! To, wherever it is we can’t disclose yet until we’re told we can!

Both shows were jolly- the dry ice machine decided to have a moment of getting a bit over excited in one show, and was put in the long “cross-over” corridor behind the stage- the one used by the ensemble to quick change in, where Jo and Sonia from wardrobe can often be seen- it flooded the long narrow corridor with thick white fog in an instant, and anyone in it at the time looked as if they were swimming, enveloped up to the neck in swirling mist!

Jo and Becky were very delighted today- they had called in to the Birmingham Hippodrome this very morning, accompanied by Martin, and met up with our dear friend and Company Manager Ian Sandy- Jo (The Doctor Who Fan) was extremely pleased to find herself standing beside three actual genuine Daleks! They did not exterminate her thankfully, as we needed her here at Wycombe to run the Wardrobe Ship!

In the evening we had a visit from Terry Powell and Natalie. Terry has an encyclopaedic knowledge of things theatrical, and indeed things pantomime, and it was great to get to chat to him before the show- shame we didn’t have longer. We’ve not seen him since Birmingham last year. Terry is responsible for bringing my script of “Cinderella” to the attention of Natalie, who is currently directing  and rehearsing the panto wot I wrote for the Witney Players in Oxfordshire. They open on the 15th January I believe, Have a great time everyone involved!

It was one set of Juvenile’s last night tonight. The various sets (White, Red and Blue teams) will be sharing the last week. Brian gave them a big mention at the finale, and Bailey got to sing solo “Rocking All Over The World” at one point!

I had a phone call from George Gold today. He of “Gold’s Platinum Ponies”. George supplied E&B and sometimes Qdos with Shetland Ponies- he’s currently got sets of ponies around the country pulling Cinderella’s Coach. George tells me that “Star” the pony- the one pony we have worked with most often- is currentl in Redhill Panto, and will be 31 years old in February! Not bad eh? I know the feeling!

Tomorrow Brian and Anne-Marie are holding an “Open House” after the second show at his home, to celebrate the success of this season- so a lot of the cast and crew will be making their way there. Peter & I are double booked, and will be there in spirit, but I’ll make sure we get a roving reporter and roving photographer to report back for the IBY exclusive “Through The Keyhole!”

Thursday 3rd January 2008

 

We did very well for visitors today. During the matinee we had a visit from Michael Laidler: Michael (see previous diaries) did this very show with us at Southampton, Manchester and Plymouth, and it was great to see him again. He brought along Claire Harvey and Scott Wyer and their friend Pedro to see the show. Scott and Claire I’ve known for a very long time- they’ve both appeared in several Kenneth More Theatre Pantomimes over the past few years.

Michael, Pedro and Scott

Claire had just returned from seeing the Blackpool Grand Pantomime, starring Ruth Madoc and our friend Natalie Cleverley. Nat is playing “Wicked Fairy” in “Sleeping Beauty” there, and was in that video of Cardiff we were watching yesterday, playing Dandini for Paul Elliott’s “E&B” company. She’s also appeared in many Qdos “Peter Pans”.

The excitement must have made Peter swell with pride, as the back of his finale frock burst open this afternoon! The zip completely broke- and he suffered the ignominy of being pinned into it with several industrial safety pins. While Peter was complaining that the zip must have worn away, one of the babe’s chaperones passed by and commented “Too many mince pies eh?”. Oh how I chortled….!

Dean, Ollie and Peter

As soon as our afternoon visitors left, we were joined by tonight’s guests- Oliver Gray and Dean. Oliver has just finished appearing as Ugly Sister at Rickmansworth, just down the road. When not appearing in festive frock, Ollie is the artistic director of his company Illyria- www.illyria.uk.com  which produced plays around the UK each year. In fact, Illyria is largest supplier of theatre to the National Trust, with over 150 venues.

Peter was working for Illyria all throughout the summer, touring as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”.

Both matinee and evening shows went very well- in fact the audience was very perky tonight, and as a consequence we over ran by about eight minutes!

Happy Birthday Martin!

Today is Martin’s birthday! Martin, regulars of the IBY diaries will know, is a dab hand at the birthday cake- this year he’s not found time to create one, so the cake he’s holding in our photo is a “shop bought” one! Happy Birthday Martin!

Peter and I went off to dinner with our guests, and the company headed off for an evening at “Chez Conley”- Brian lives not too far away, and is having an open house this evening!

Tomorrow, apart from the two shows, we have the chance to sit back and be entertained- it is the “Cod” (spoof) Panto , devised and performed by the Stage Crew and all the technical staff- followed by a “bit of a do!”. Busy week this is turning out to be!

Sinead and Becky

 

Friday 4th January 2008

A very busy day here at the Swan! Two packed houses, followed by the crew’s “Cod Panto”, and a “do” afterwards. The day passed very quickly, as you can imagine!

Arrived to hear the news of Brian’s “Open House” do last night- everyone had a great time by the sounds of it, and hopefully ther will be some photographic evidence forwarded by our reporters Jo and Sinead to be added to these pages very soon!

Had some not so good news from Peter Thorne- He was unwell at the pantomime he’s been doing at the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl (He’s Dame there) and was admitted to hospital a few days ago. We wish you all the very best Peter, and here’s to a speedy recovery- you’ll be back on your feet (and in those Dame boots) very soon we know- All the very best to you.

Well, it’s official- we’re record breakers once again. We’ve broken the box office records here at the “Swan” with “Cinderella”- great news to hear in our final few days!

I made a boob during the evening show- well, two in fact. I sailed on singing “Doncha wish your girlfriend was hot like me..” (which obviously solicits the universal reply “NO!”) and just happened to look down. Ah.. guess who had forgotten to put his boobs on. Yes- I had. Knowing I was about to do the Strip Routine any second, this made me laugh to myself. I went flat out in that routine I guess you could say, much to the amusement of the audience, and to Peter!

Jamie

No sooner had we finished our two shows, than we handed over the stage to the Wycombe Crew and Staff- they were preparing to perform their “cod” panto. Peter & I had been booked as make-up artistes to the stars, Jamie & Tom from Marketing & Publicity. They were tonight’s Ugly Sisters. I think we did a pretty good job, and certainly they both looked the part about twenty minutes later! Well Tom and Jamie- I think we now have real competition!

Tom

The Cod Panto was great fun. It’s nice to sit in that auditorium for once, and be entertained with what I have to say was a very different and individual production, running for about thirty minutes. It had it’s err.. eye opening moments to be sure! A large audience, some from as far afield as the Beck Theatre Hayes too- so a pretty good turn out!

The Competition!

Amazingly, Colin our Pony Handler did a double take when he saw Peter & I. I feed the ponies twice a day before the ballroom, and we chat to Colin before that scene, but had never realised- he has never seen us NOT dressed up as the Ugly Sisters, and consequently had NO idea what we looked like in Civilian gear!

Party afterwards at the Liberal Club, next to the Town Hall here, and a chance to mingle and chat before we all go our separate ways this week-end, and before our scenery disappears and David Essex’s “Aspects Of Love” moves in to fill the void we’ll have left. A great night out- thanks guys!

Saturday 5th January 2008

The penultimate day! Two packed houses, and a standing ovation no less at the finale- we’ve been made to feel very welcome in Wycombe!

Today we had a royal visit- Qdos Royalty that is- Nick Thomas accompanied by Phil Dale came along to watch the matinee. Had a chat afterwards, and I think, all in all Nick has now seen eighteen pantomimes, and we’re the last. He jets off somewhere nice and sunny tomorrow.

Talking of “sunny”, Brian (Conley) has just accepted an engagement on board the luxury liner Aurora, and he sets sail on Monday! Not even a day off for him! He’ll be doing two shows on board, and then arrives at Funchal in Madeira on Wednesday (I think) and flies back home! I’m deeply envious, as I rate Funchal as one of my favourite destinations. Brian will get a very brief glimpse as he heads from Port to Airport- but such is the nature of our business!

Dawson (and Willy of course) jet off to sunny Spain on Monday- not for a holiday- no- lucky Mr.Chance lives there!

In between shows Peter and I started to strip the dressing room- it looks pretty bare and clinical now, in readiness for a swift get-out tomorrow evening. We’ve sorted our wicker skips, and tomorrow, between shows we’ll bring boxes and skips down to stage level (fortunately there’s a large lift) and things will be packed away as we go along. The plan (as always) is that we end up with everything packed by the Finale. With luck we’ll see our costumes returned to our store in a week or so, once its been on the round trip to Beverley in Yorkshire and back down to Essex.

Quite a few pantos will finish tomorrow, with a lot more the following week. I’m hoping to get along and see a few before the end of January, and hopefully also see the Brick Lane Music Hall Panto- with Chris Emmett as Dame in February- this Dinner-theatre “adult” panto runs until March I think?

Hmm.. this time next year….we’ll have to have a few strings to our bow..”sure would” be fun to do a few extra weeks at..

Well- tomorrow will be a very busy day, and it will fly past. I’ll be reporting on the last day of the pantomime from home on Monday- but one thing is for sure, we’ll be thanking a lot of people tomorrow evening for looking after us so well in Wycombe, and to a super crew who have welcomed us into the Swan.

The Red Team with Dean and Nigel

supplied by Cheryl Pepper - Bailey's Mum! Thank You!

 

Sunday 6th January 2008

THE FINAL DAY!

It sped through, as we thought- at the beginning of the first show a few of the dressing rooms were already beginning to look a bit bare, as suitcases were packed, cards taken down and the homely touches were removed. The dressing rooms here are very spacious and light, but I have to say a tad “clinical”. The dressing room areas look a little like a hospital, but a few touches can make them seem a bit warmer.

No pranks as such during the show- anything that alters the slickness and speed of our tight show is frowned upon from all quarters, but there were a few very subtle touches that raised a wry smile. The  invitation (which only Michelle & I can read anyway) had Prince Charming inviting us to …well, suffice to say it wasn’t to attend his ball!

Between shows was a  hectic time. Peter and I had secured the services of a lady crew member called Ray to pack for us during the evening show, enabling us to get out quickly, and we had some preparation to do before Ray could start work. We dragged the two large wicker skips and boxes into the lift, and set them up downstairs along with the rails, bags and labels. Peter met Ray and ran her through the “what goes Where” scenario, then a quick sandwich, and it was time to begin the second and final show here at the Swan.

Wardrobe, supervised by Jo were kept extra busy during this show, as were Rachel and Richard on Stage Management. As each prop was finished with, it would vanish into the appropriate box. Costumes like-wise, into the large wooden wardrobes on wheels supplied by Qdos in Scarborough.

Ray did an amazing job packing. There you had two “Sisters” being assisted into costumes by Sinead and Becky, while Ray was packing away wig after wig, and dress after dress each time we sailed on stage. As planned, by the finale the only unpacked things that belonged to us were the ones we were wearing. Everything else was ready to load into the lorry.

The ponies made their last entrance before returning to their homes with Mr Lucking. They got extra apple tonight. Shame I haven’t got a bigger garden- they could spend their holidays with me!

Paul Elliott arrived to wish us all farewell- he’d just flown down from visiting his “Goldilocks” in Edinburgh, and arrived during the second half. Brian achieved a rare thing- he actually got Paul on to the stage during his “thank you” speeches at the end- well done Brian! Mr C thanked the Swan staff and crew for making us feel so welcome here in Wycombe, and the curtain fell on the last night of the panto.

It’s been a short trip this year- but we’ve made friends along the way- a great crew to work with and of course, a wonderful company. I believe this company will be together next year in… oh of course, I can’t say where.. in lieu of Paul visiting the venue next week for what will be an official announcement. Shame I can’t reveal where.. I’m all of a quiver too….

Thanks Wycombe Swan- we’ve got through something like 54 performances- six weeks with four days off, and performed twice daily six and sometimes seven days a week- broken the box office records, and we’re still here! Like Cinderella- we’ve had a ball!

ENCORE MAGAZINE REVIEW

THE WINNING PARTNERSHIP

You note the names of QDOS and PAUL ELLIOTT from the glossy programme and the feeling of anticipation multiplies, for the combination of the two assures you that the next one hundred and fifty minutes will be spent in the true magic of family pantomime, You are not disappointed as the Fairy (KERRY WINTER) opens the show, not stepping from the wings through a magnesium flash, but being gently lowered from above, astride a glittering crescent moon, And so this magical tale begins with the story of Cinderella being told simply and with fairy-tale enchantment safely intact,

 

BRIAN CONLEY heads the cast as Buttons and despite his boisterous personality, he conveys enough pathos and sympathy in the role to captivate even the hardest heart. His comedy sparkles throughout and when things gone wrong - as they did last night when a scene change misfired - Conley is there to laugh his way through the problem. The love of his life ­Cinderella - is played by the demure MICHELLE POTTER, a pretty young lass with a great voice while Prince Charming, the excellent DEAN CHISNALL, sweeps our heroine off her feet with his good looks, acting ability and superb singing voice. His servant Dandini (JODY CROSIER) is not far behind either in good looks or vocal prowess.

 

DAWSON CHANCE is an excellent choice as the bumbling Baron Hardup, sharing the spotlight with his pet tortoise Willie whilst the Ugly Sisters (NIGEL ELLACOTT and PETER ROBBINS) live up to their reputation as being the best dames in the business, with the most magnificent array of outrageous costumes one could possibly imagine,

 

It is, however, the production that takes the plaudits with magnificent costumes, superb sets and the retention of the original story, blessed with supreme magical effects that the children will talk about for months to come.

 

Dir; Paul Elliott MD; Barry Robinson Co-Dir/Chor; Paul Robinson

 

JIM KENNEDY

 

This page was last updated 19th March 2008

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