Orchard Theatre, Dartford - 2010/11


PRESS LAUNCH! Wednesday 15th September, Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Well, before you can say 'I'll go to the foot of our Beanstalk', its Panto time again! Not quite, but it is the Pantomime Launch of 'Jack And The Beanstalk' for this Dartford Dame.

Bobby Davro and Churchil - 'Oh Yes!' - Photos by Photodiva

It was a day of 'Firsts' today. Having met up with Bobby Davro over the years, both backstage and in rehearsal rooms, it is the first time we will have worked together! It is the first time I have played Dame Trot in 'Jack' and the very first time I have played someone's 'Mother'- in fact I'm the Mother of two- Bobby- 'Silly Billy' and my strapping son Jack, played by Wayne Perrey. I guess it had to come, but these boys grew up so quickly I hardly remember them!

Nigel and Wayne Perrey. Photos by Photodiva

It was a hugely well organised day- thanks to the Orchard's Marketing team Suzannah Miller and Richard Loftus. The dressing rooms were organised, there was even a separate one for each of us to do interviews in, and even car spaces were allocated- combine that was a warm welcome and a cuppa from Stage Door, and we have the makings of a great Panto Season here in Kent!

Nick Thomas, the head of Qdos was there to introduce Bobby, Wayne and myself, and to introduce the Theatre's team who will be running the show from December 4th until January 9th. Another First for me this time will be working with Jon Conway as producer. In the twenty eight odd years I've worked for the company it will be another first!

Had a very quick look at the stage when I arrived. It had been decorated with a backcloth, a large inflatable beanstalk, a Giant's throne and what appeared to be a running buffet! In fact the food and wine flowed throughout the press call. Sadly a Dame in gloves and frock can't partake, but the thought was there! Yes, the old 'No eating and No Drinking' in costume is always paramount in theatre!

I did bump into an old friend 'Oh Yes!'- Churchill The Dog. What a Pro. Always the first to arrive, always in full make-up and with his collar gleaming. We had a brief chat about his recent career path- he's been appearing at every Haven Holiday Camp in the UK, as well as twenty odd pantomimes. And does he flag? 'Ohh No!'. Such a chatterbox our Churchill, I believe he's already started learning his script for our panto, and its still September.

I have a theory about Press Calls, and once again I was proved right. As Dame you arrive early, then get into full make-up and costume before anyone else has arrived. Once in the full Monty, I popped out of my room to introduce myself to Wayne who had just arrived. Having said 'Hello' to him, his wife Anna Woodside (She'll be playing 'Jill' in this panto ) and their extremely cute baby daughter Eva.  As usual by the end of the Press Call Wayne left while I was peeling off the costume and make-up, and consequently he has no idea what I look like!

Wayne has appeared with the beautiful Shilpa Shetty in her theatre debut 'Miss Bollywood' so he was no stranger to Dame Trot's allure and glamour! This is a return visit to the Orchard for him, as he played Prince last year in 'Cinderella' here alongside Lesley Joseph and my mates Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins as The 'Sisters'. Like me, Wayne lives quite near, so having his other half with him this year  it will make it a real family affair.

 Bobby  arrived a tad late, having taken a wrong turn approaching Dartford, and once in costume we all set off for the stage. Nick (Thomas) made a speech, Bobby made a speech, (some of it printable!) and we all posed for the cameras. Churchill muscled his way in, as is his won't, and we were joined by Giant Blunderbore for a while. Wayne had to pretend to climb the beanstalk, and I had to smile and look.. err lovely while those papa..paperatz..pepperami'err the photographers snapped away.

Suzannah and Richard kept things flowing- we all went off to do interviews. Not sure about the others, I know I did the Dartford Times, The Kent Mesenger and a couple of other papers, and I think Churchill did an exclusive for 'Pets Weekly' and the Barking Gazette.

We finished about two o'clock, and the hospitality of the Orchard continued unabated- I popped around front of house to take a look and was very kindly given a cuppa before heading off for the retail therapy and Jewel in Kent's crown that is Bluewater- Cathedral of shops just a few minutes away!

In the words of 'Annie'' 'I think I'm going to like it here!'

A Message From Pantoland's Dame Trot! From The Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Hello Everybody,


Yes, it's Panto time!  As my old mate Churchie would say 'Oh Yes It Is!'


Dame Tilly Trot here, just to say a big hello from the magical world of Pantoland at The Orchard this season.  I've just returned from our press launch - dead posh it was, an endless round of vimto, cress sandwiches and the constant attention of the pepperoni flashing their cameras. Of course when you've two strapping sons like mine you take it all in your stride - now my eldest that's Silly Billy, but you might know him better as Bobby Davro - he'll be leading the fun and laughter here at the panto from December 4th right up to the 9th of January 2011- that's a lot of laughter you know.


Bobby has been described as a comedy leg end, and anyone who saw him Dancing on Ice will agree there - what a talented boy he is- one minute he's Vinnie Monks in Eastenders, the next he's tearing the audiences up around the country in stage shows - no wonder I can never get him to milk Daisy our Cow.


Talking of Daisy, she and I went out to Crush on a hen night with the chickens last week, oh we had a lovely time- you'll get a chance to see her dance in the pantomime- she's very Moo-sical'


Talking of song and dance I do pride myself that us Trot's are a musical family- even the sewing machine's a Singer.. get it? Singer? Ohh, please yourselves. The Musical talents of my second son Jack will be brought to the fore - returning by popular demand (well, his Auntie wrote in - she lives at number 30). We've got that lovely boy Wayne Perry - he fluttered a few heartstrings last season playing Prince in Cinderella.


Our Wayne you'll have seen as DC Parvez Lateef in that detective show I can never pronounce - Dealz' Dalez'. Hang on, I'm running these teeth in for the dog... I'll try again- Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as Holby City and Doctors. I always hoped one of my boys would be a doctor - save me a fortune! I was at the surgery last week - I said to the doctor 'I keep seeing spinning flies'' He said' That'll be a bug going round'.


You have to laugh don't you - well I hope so - I think its what we all need when those nights get shorter, and the Beanstalk gets bigger! Talking of big, we have a huge Giant rampaging about the village - The Biggest in Kent I was told - I blame it on those genetically modified beans myself'


Anyway I can't stop, I have many frocks to sort out - every bead sewn by hand - not mine admittedly - I've got staff for that! Billy and Jack are handy with a sequin' and Churchill The Dog likes to give a helping paw - 'Ohhh Yes''


 I think I've got over fourteen frocks to show off each show, so they'd better get a move on - I also have this moment when I remove a few dozen garments in the space of sixty seconds, but that's enough about my private life ' Anyway, I'm off shopping in the Priory Shopping Centre, it was a nightmare yesterday - I was pushed, I was shoved, I was prodded' I can't wait to go back!


So, if you're thinking of having a fabulous time and planning a visit to this Giant of a pantomime, just prise that cash out of your purse, and head for the Ticket Office. They tell me tickets start at '18.50 and they do concessions on certain days. I mean' '18.50 for a fantastic show like this - that won't keep Churchill in Boneos I tell you -


Anyway must fly, Hope to see you in the Panto,

Love Dame Trot (aka Nigel Ellacott. No Fixed Abode)

Part Three - October 2010

Not all to do with the forthcoming Dartford Panto, but the long hours have now become regular events as Panto is well to the fore at Chez Kenneth More Theatre.

As I type there are three Lady Gaga's and Two Susan Boyles on the table ' not something you see everyday! These two ladies will be making appearances in panto this year, and at the moment my cutting table has been purloined for this very purpose.

'If only they knew what goes into it..' is a cry you'll hear from many an overheated sewing machine and workroom at this time of the year- and I hope these annual diaries give a small insight into that panto process.

The first part of this month has been taken up with writing the script for the Ilford 'Sleeping Beauty', and at the same time contributing material for the Dartford 'Jack and The Beanstalk'. I was also adapting a panto script for another production whilst supervising the hire of costumes for 'Aladdin' when I got a bit confused.

On the first read through of my 'Sleeping Beauty' I realised (much to everyone's mirth) that my comic started the show as Silly Billy and halfway through changed to Muddles. In my defence it's been so busy I'm surprised he wasn't Washee Washee by the songsheet!

I think the read-through went well. Rather than just hand the script in, I prefer to get a group of people together and 'perform' it in a read through. That way you can get a better feel of the script. You instantly know where you've over written, and gags that seemed hilarious at ten past midnight on a Thursday now face the light of day! It makes for a good trial run, and the script gets taken home, edited and then sent off to be printed and delivered.

This week I've done 98 costume fittings. That's a set of children (Twelve in total) who have six changes each, two of my gents Ensemble- Nathan Daniel and John Burlington- they have nine changes each and eight for the King (Edward Thorpe). That's a lot of changes, but 'Sleeping Beauty' does cover a hundred years!

A historic Dartford Dame moment this week- I had my first fitting 'the first in my time with Qdos! I know that sounds incredible, but it is true. Ever since Peter and I began playing 'Sister' for E&B and later Qdos we always provided our own costumes, wigs, shoes- the whole ensemble. I've always designed what we wore as Sister, and last year and this year as Dame. This time around though a brand new beautiful Finale is being made for 'Jack' at Dartford, and I've had the great joy of having John Brooking (Designing this set) arrive at the KMT and fit me for a very beautiful bustled creation in pinks, blues and gold.

I bumped into John when we were both buying fabric this June in Birmingham, and didn't know at that time that he would be sorting out the finale, and I'm delighted! My first fitting of a costume I haven't designed or had made. I feel very spoiled! John supplied the KMT Giant a few years back, and is a specialist not only in costume, scenery and props, but in creating those fabulous larger than life creations you might have encountered at Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.

All the Ilford designs have now come home to roost- there were about 48 costumes made new, and with a couple of exceptions- costumes added later- they have all reached the costume store here. Left to fit are the Ladies Ensemble (Tami Stone and Jocelyn Prah) and Christopher Marlowe, who plays Nurse Nelly here this season.

I'm in the theatre most days now in the wardrobe finishing off my lengthy 'To Be Done' list. Ideally I'd like everything completed, finished and wrapped in plastic bags by the first week of November. We're on to Wolverhampton with the Pantomime Roadshow then, and before you know it rehearsals will have started for Dartford on the 22nd of the month.

Trying to think of a typical day..I spent yesterday in Camden Market frequenting Goth shops. Decided my Ghoul/demons should have the look of Johnny Depp in 'Alice' married to 'Eclipse', and went in search of Goth jackets and shirts to buy rather than make.

After a few hours of jaw dropping prices, I spent today over in my store finding two jackets I'd over looked (we do have about 4,000 items over there to be fair!) and decided to customise them.

Two dyeing sessions later the jackets were suitably Goth-ed, and then I decided to  paint stencil skulls onto them. This time of year is perfect for searching out Ghostly items of course, and, as a huge fan of the Pound Shop I set off to buy a Halloween rubber doormat which just happened to be the perfect skull stencil for the costumes, and two white skulls on fabric to stitch to the back of the jackets. Total cost Three Pounds. I just wish the rest of the costumes were along these lines, but the computer says No!

So today I've spray stencilled and dyed, ordered a gaga wig on the internet, organised some fittings for next week, found ragged clothing for the opening of Act Two- it does get more glamorous, honestly, sorted out purchasing ballet tights and footwear and had a fitting for my Dartford Lady Gaga. I won't be copying her raw meat costume idea.. I think over a five and a half week run things could get a bit whiffy don't you?

Tomorrow I'm having a day off and visiting a Panto pal, Ray Meagher ' going to see him in 'Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert' at the Palace Theatre- it'll be good to get away from gentlemen dressed as ladies and feathers and' Oh.. it ACTUALLY will be a bus man's holiday!!

To be continued!


Bromley Times

Part Four - October 2010 - Priscilla 26th October

A fantastic evening at the Palace Theatre in London's West End to celebrate our panto mate Ray Meagher's media night at 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'.

Ray has forsaken both Summer Bay and Pantoland this year to appear as Bob the mechanic in this fabulous musical for the next six months. It's not Ray's first trip on the road to Alice Springs aboard Priscilla, as he played this role a few years ago in his hometown of Sydney.

It was a great night and delighted to be a guest at the Media Night- as well as my first time (and definitely not my last!) seeing this show. Andrew Ryan and I met up with our beautiful pantomime mate Britt Ekland before hand and trod the red carpet past some incredible performers. Dealing with costumes on a day to day basis I'm not usually knocked out by frocks- my critical faculties swamp that- but in this case I'll make an exception! What incredible designs, originality, humour and execution- and my word, don't they wear them well?

Ray gets to wear a fetching blue cotton boiler suit, but gets his moment in the finale when he appears as a Kangaroo! In between the stage is alight with a living pageant of fantastic frocks.

Britt, Andrew and I were joined by Bobby Davro, we've all worked with Ray in pantomimes-and I got a chance to talk 'Dartford Shop' with Bobby during the interval. We had hoped to be joined tonight by panto veteran Victor Spinetti- another mate of Ray, but he's a little under the weather at the moment, but well on the mend.

Britt will be starring as Fairy at The King's Theatre Southsea this season in 'Jack And The Beanstalk', and hopefully we'll see her and her co-star pet Tequila (a feisty Chiah..chiwawahh.. little dog) during our Dartford Run.

Ran into Chris Pizzey and his wife Sadie in the interval- Chris will be appearing in Gravesend this season, and is returning to his Basil Brush TV roots in a stage show beforehand.

We had a fabulous evening- it was great to see Ray in the show and to cheer him on afterwards in the reception- I'm hoping to get to see this show again as soon as the panto season ends, and normality returns!

For now its all speeding up. My Ilford Panto 'to be done' list is shrinking, a bulk of costumes are now bagged & tagged, so I won't see them again until I watch the 'Sleeping Beauty' at the KM Theatre in mid January- and its time to dust off the Roadshow script ready for Wolverhampton with Andrew Ryan and Nathan Daniel- we go week after next, and for the next few days I'm alternating sorting out my Dartford order of costumes, and finishing off the Ilford ones. Four people left to fit. Hoorah!

There are a few press and publicity things to be done for the Dartford Panto over the next few weeks- I think our posters must be up on trains or tubes- I got a text from Michael Conway (My Prince from last year, currently in Jersey Boys) telling me he was staring at my face on his journey home. Spooky!

Part Five - November 2010 - Interview with Matthew Jenkin


News Shopper

Monday 22nd November 2010

Monday was the beginning of term in Pantoland- once again it's 'First day at school' at a venue somewhere in West London. In fact, the last time I stepped over the threshold of this rehearsal hall it was to rehearse 'Cinderella' at the Theatre Royal Nottingham in 2008. Seems like a lifetime ago in one way, and a few weeks in another.

Upstairs rehearsing in a room is Martin Hinkins. Martin is Stage Managing 'Aladdin' for Qdos, and indeed it was Martin who stage managed that very 'Cinderella' at Nottingham, when Peter and I played 'Sister'. It is as if Martin has never left the building! More of 'Aladdin' later!

So, the First day- that 'Big Brother' feeling you get when you walk into a room and hardly know the folk you will be travelling through Pantoland with- and in a few brief weeks will become 'Family'. First familiar face was Sarah Ford- Regulars to the Dame Diaries will recognise Sarah from last year's 'Snow White'. Sarah hoisted me into frock after frock in the freezing dock last season, and I'm delighted she's with me again. This time we have fourteen frocks a show, so she'll have her work cut out. Sarah will be locked away in a nearby hall for the next week assisting Wardrobe Mistress Adelle Mitchinson.

The venue isn't glamorous, but it is like a branch of 'The Ivy' at rehearsal times. Pulling up at the kerb was a stately limo containing Anita Dobson- she's rehearsing her Richmond Pantomime with Tim Vine on the top floor- there was Gray O'Brien and Stephen Mulhern in the cafe- they're in Nottingham, and as I climbed the stairs I bumped straight into Harry Potter himself- Daniel Radcliffe rehearsing a project in one of the studios here!

Back to our rehearsal room- by the time I arrived most of the company were there, and we were introduced to our director Alan Cohen, and then to each other before starting the task in hand. From the previous entries in this diary you'll have seen that Silly Billy is played by Bobby Davro, Wayne Perrey is my other son 'Jack' . What you might not know is that Anna Woodside- in real life Wayne's wife ' is no longer playing Jill. That's the quirky thing about this business- Anna has been released to appear at the London Palladium for a lengthy run in 'Wizard Of Oz', and although it would have been so great to work with her, we've now been joined by Katie Osbourne who takes over the role with just a few days notice!

Jay Worthy- no stranger to followers of pantoland will be playing the baddie- Fleshcreep- as he did last year at The Bradford Alhambra, with Jan Eric Brenner bringing his circus and acrobatic skills to the role of Mr.Fipps. Our version of 'Jack' has a circus element, and joining Jan Eric is TJ Roberts who will also play the Giant. The Fairy in this panto is Lisa Kent- no relation to the panto director of the same name- with our stage management team comprising of Tom Aspen as Company Stage Manager, Nick Truman as our DSM (Deputy Stage Manager) and our ASM's Gillian Marchbank and TJ Roberts.

Assisting Alan as Choreographer and Assistant Director we have Sarah St.George and our Ensemble- Four ladies and Two Gents are Kelly Titheridge, Kate-Emma Portlock, Natasha Thompson-Wilde, Lyndsey Fourfar along with Kev Reddington and John Ward-Wilkinson.

I know- that is an overwhelming number of names to process, and its only day one!

Upstairs in Old Peking rehearsing is Andrew Ryan, returning once again to Nottingham as Widow Twankey, and an old pal Paul Gabriel who plays the Chief Of Police. At the moment our tea breaks rarely clash, which is a good thing with all the news and gossip that needs to be caught up with from the Three Pantomimes!

Today (Monday) was spent working through the script with Director Alan and Co writer Bobby, ensuring that we are all working from the same script. This is a work in progress, with a chance to adapt as we go along- so the script is not as yet 'set in stone' so to speak.

Worked on the script for the rest of the day while Sarah St.George took the dancers into a larger room to begin setting the routines, and Sarah Ford and Adelle Mitchinson retired to the Church Hall down the road to open the large wardrobe boxes that had just been delivered.

They will be working alongside Lesley Brown and Beryl from Theatre Royal Nottingham as they organise the 'Aladdin' fittings. The cast then get breaks to stroll down the road- a brisk fifteen minutes- to have their costume fittings. Normally I'm not involved in this, but I believe I might be called Wednesday for a final fitting for my first Qdos Frock- a beautiful John Brooking Finale- I had a first fitting for this about a month or so ago.

We finished at 5.30, and headed for the tube clutching scripts and learning lines on the journey home. Has to be done before settling down to watch our mate Britt in the Jungle, and heasr her opinions on 'Doctor' Gillian's latest  feinting fits (Oh! Did I mean to spell it that way?) on 'Im a Celebrity- Get me Out Of Here! At this time of writing Nigel (Havers) has crossed the bridge, left the jungle and will soon be heading for the Hippodrome and Joan Collins in Panto!

Tuesday 23rd November 2010

Greatest Show On Earth!

An early start this morning- excused rehearsals but no time for slacking. I got up in the dark- not something I planned when I first went into theatre- what happened to lying in bed till the show?- and was dressing as a lady by 9.15am at the theatre in Dartford!

Fortunately- as we discovered at the Press Launch- Dartford Orchard is the most hospitable and generous theatre to play panto in- upon arrival the decks were laid with croissant, pain au chocolate, orange juice and steaming mugs of coffee.How civilised is THAT? Marketing were on hand sorting everything out- and We got a lift to Bluewater from Theatre Director Andrew Hill.

Bluewater- that temple of shopping in Kent has opened 'Winter Wonderland', and as we approached the venue the size and scale of it was quite something. It has an ice rink, a Bavarian Christmas Village, a full sized fun fair, Santa's Grotto and a fantastic circus. Our destination was the big top- when they said 'Big Top' I thought they were being personal- to meet and greet the Circus Stars and launch their show and our panto.

Bobby, Wayne, Katie and Churchill The Dog joined me there for what turned out to be a really great morning. At one point Bobby was strapped into a steel wheel and rolled around the circus ring while acrobats from Budapest hurtled across the place. The press were out in force and we got a chance to meet up with the performers who will be giving three shows a day in their circus tent, followed by workshops for families afterwards! Great fun. I'll definitely be going back on a day off- but I won't be wearing a frock that day. Promise!

Once again the Orchard Triumphed, and when we returned there were sandwiches- I'll stop with the food before I become Enid Blyton and we all have lashings of lemonade- Many thanks to Andrew, Suzanne and Richard at the theatre for a lovely morning.

Hurtled back to the rehearsal rooms the other side of London, and the afternoon was spent with everyone splitting up to work musical numbers, have fittings, learn lines and block scenes. I finished the day working through the Ghost Gag with Alan, Bobby and Jan Eric before setting off for the tube once again.

Tomorrow more blocking and more fittings I believe.

'Winter Wonderland' at Bluewater Kent

Jack & The Beanstalk come to the Circus!

November 23rd  2010

Bobby Davro, Nigel Ellacott, Wayne Perrey and Katie Osbourne visit the Bluewater Shopping Centre's 'Winter Wonderland', and join in with the Circus.

Facebook- Orchard Dartford:  link for further pictures:

Wednesday 24th November 2010

A full day working through the script with Alan blocking the scenes and Sarah St.George setting the dancers into each routine- I peeked through the door of their rehearsal hall and saw some extremely fast and energetic dancing going on- so exhausting to watch I was forced to go for a cup of tea and a sit down in the cafe!

The cafe continues to be like the canteen of 'Im a celebrity' where Coronation Street baddies share a cuppa with Queen Vic Landladies- no, not Barbara- Anita! Britain's Got Talent host meets Dancing On Ice stars in our wee bistro during breaks. Bob Aldous and Fenton Grey passing through to their 'Sleeping Beauty' rehearsals and every so often a large box arrives at the main door which is unwrapped to reveal a fantastic prop, a giant lamp or a set of Fairy Costumes.

Fittings are taking place in various halls. I managed to get a peek at some of Richmond's costumes as they arrived- it really is a panto factory here for the next month. The final pantomime to open will be, I imagine The Birmingham Hippodrome's 'Dick Whittington'. Nigel (Havers) has already left the jungle, so no worries there, and there won't be a Dame in the country who doesn't adopt a Gillian McKeith-ism or two as the weeks progress. Me? Of course I have. No, I'm not saying what it is- find your own!

Getting very cold now, with forecasts of snow. Hopefully we'll be out of central London when it does fall, as a few flakes and the tubes stop.

More blocking in the afternoon, and a chance to run through set gags like the Ghost Gag a few times before finishing for the day.

Thursday 25th November 2010

This place has so many memories. Each room in this vast rehearsal space has seen me in it at some time in the past. Found myself thinking about those many 'Cinderellas' upstairs, or in the hall behind us (Where Richmond Panto is at the moment). I find myself dwelling on the funny bits, and the way Peter and I would try and be extra good in rehearsal so we could go and explore the market up the road and be back in time for the Boudoir scene!

Today a lot more sorting out. Stage Management is augmented by the dexterous skills of Wes- Wesley McCann who is 'Sound Number 2'- Sound number One controls the dozen or more radio microphones apparently. Wes has an apple mac (oh. Do I get a free one for saying apple mac? Oh..worth a try) containing every sound effect known to man. He has the effects and tracks of this entire show at his fingertips and, I have to say is astonishingly fast at finding each one. He has the power to create thunder, burps, springs, boings and whistles as well as the music tracks for the many numbers in the show.

I don't dance and barely sing, and fortunately Sarah Choreographer & Assistant Director has kept me out of harm's way in most numbers, but Bobby and I were placed centre stage in 'Consider Yourself'. My movement will be restricted by the mini skirt, beehive wig and six inch platform boots I'm wearing at the time, but enough about my rehearsal clothing..

The highlight of today was watching the Circus number performed by Wayne- 'Let Me Entertain You'- The Robbie Williams version as aversed to the one from 'Gypsy'. This number involves amazing acrobatics, juggling, unicycling, hand balancing, ribbon twirling, stilt walking- the entire company doing all of the above in about three minutes flat. It is Amazing!! Wayne tried his hand at Stilt Walking- he'll be too busy singing the number to wear stilts-

Me? ah, well I thought about a high wire act, but it can ruin a gusset, so I've settled for showcasing a particular historic costume.

I purchased one of Dan- Danny La Rue's costumes back in the spring in the auction. This is a beautiful Terry Parsons creation, constructed at Plymouth for Danny's 'Mother Goose'- an Edwardian Bustled dress smothered in Zwarovski crystals with a trick to it. I'll be doing this visual trick in the number and hope I do Dan justice- this frock deserves to be on stage, not locked away in a museum- it needs to be seen in action. This is as good a place as any!

The tubes played up today, and we're having the coldest evening in November for seventeen years. I bought a furry hat on the way home and kept tittering about one of Danny's risque gags which had the tag line- 'Wear The Fox Hat'. It made me laugh on the tube- and yes, Peter used to do the same gag frequently, but NEVER on stage!

Now the costumes have been fitted , the props packed ready to go to Dartford. My dress rail, two skips and three boxes will be collected on Monday- tomorrow we do a slow run in the rehearsal hall, and then all meet again on Monday at Dartford. As I left the hall Daisy The Cow was covered in bubble wrap ready for her journey.

Saturday 27th November 2010

A 'Run Through' day- the rehearsal where you try to put the show together in sequence for the first time. Up until now the show can often be rehearsed 'out of sync'  in the same way as you might do a film- the choreographer might take you away to do an Act One number, while in the other room the director can be doing an Act Two scene. Today we started at 10.30 and worked our way through with Alan stopping to alter, or tidy up bits of the scenes. All these scenes now involve the ensemble, and we are in the larger hall.

Joined today on a flying visit by Hilary O'Neil. Hilary starts her rehearsals for Northampton on Monday. Got a couple of minutes to chat to her in our canteen between scenes. She too is in 'Jack & The Beanstalk' with Ray Quinn. She showed me designs for her fabulous costume as Fairy- can't wait to get some pictures to add to the IBY gallery.

Also in our 'Star Spotting'  today I noticed West End legend Diane Langton in the canteen, meeting up her pal Anita Dobson. We're very 'Show Bizzy' here today!

Rehearsed until four o'clock. The costumes and most of the rehearsal props have gone, and my costumes will be collected Monday afternoon for the short trip down the road to Dartford. We all meet up in a rehearsal room at Dartford on Monday at 10am.

Watched 'I'm a celebrity' when I got in- Britt is still having a great time in the jungle- got to keep voting for her!

Sunday 28th November 2010

A surreal morning.

Now under the circumstances, a lie in and a leisurely breakfast is called for- this is of course the last Sunday lie-in until January 10th next year. I did lie in, but something  strange was occuring in my house.

In my house was a pantomime dame in full regalia. Outside my house was a pantomime dame in civvies with his robust film crew. The pantomime dame was leaving my front door and climbing into a car and driving around the roundabout in front of my house.

This is the part where I wake up, but I was awake! We'd arranged for Ilford's Nurse Nelly, Christopher Marlowe to be filmed driving around by Marc Seymour (Pantomime Dame and part of the 'Shoot You' film crew) for the Kenneth More Panto this year.

Marc shot my filmed opening last year, when Dame Dolly went Shopping. Nurse Nelly is arriving at the theatre in her car, but gets lost and ends up on a roller coaster! Simples!

Marc, along with John Crabtree and Paul Ellison are spending the greatest part of today filming Chris in various locations, assisted by Owen Smith, and they started early to avoid the crowds. Poor Chris left my house for the theatre at eight o'clock to return in full make-up and costume at 9 o'clock. I emerged bleary eyed and blinking at ten o'clock to witness a Dame in a car with a crew on my forecourt. A normal day in Pantoland, eh?

Chris starts rehearsals for Ilford a week Monday, by which time we will have opened in Dartford. That means I can call in on their first day of rehearsals and watch a bit of the 'Panto wot I wrote' this season.

At least I don't have to do any packing this time- I'll be commuting with Sarah Ford each day. The forecast doesn't look to good for the next fortnight however- fingers crossed that panto folk going to work or to rehearsals don't have a hard time as the weather gets worse.

Monday 29th November 2010

Today we're rehearsing in Dartford, but not at the theatre. We're in a hall about ten minutes away, which is bright and jolly and luxurious ' warm too, very important for dancers and doddery Dames!

I wasn't called until after lunch, so having arrived with Sarah (Ford) I set about unpacking the skips,  and boxes  until my dressing room was overflowing. This is the time I despair- I'm not a clutter person, and I'm not happy until everything is in its right place. Thankfully the theatre has provided a fantastic area for quick change- right next to the Stage Right prosc, it houses some sound and lighting equipment, but the guys on crew very kindly moved stuff, created a space and even carpeted it- Thanks guys, that was deeply appreciated! There's room for Sarah, myself and a rail of costumes plus the usual table of wigs- regular readers of the Dame Diaries will know the set-up- Act one wigs on top of the table and Act Two go underneath!

We ran the show in the rehearsal room from 2pm through until 5pm, then I went back to the theatre to sort out more costumes- leaving the rail until I get the all clear to move in to the Quick Change tomorrow. Outside it has got incredibly cold and tonight on the news they issued a severe weather warning for London. Here we go...

Tuesday 30th November 2010

Well, I woke up to snow falling over Essex, and the intrepid due of Ellacott and Ford set off in Sarah's car to cross the Dartford bridge. All was fine until we began the bridge approach. Suddenly we were not in Kansas anymore. Total 'white-out' on the Q.E II Bridge- couldn't see the Thames, or even the bridge. When we left the bridge it became obvious that Kent had had really heavy snow from yesterday evening, and this was now ice. We crawled and slid into Dartford town- a twenty minute journey taking an hour and a half.

Everyone was affected. Several of the cast never made it in, and half of the children. I wasn't called early but I had an interview to do on the phone for 'Ken On Sunday', so I did this on the mobile as we crawled into the town. The morning was spent sorting my costumes- 14 changes- into the Quick Change Area, and sorting out the accessories- all the bits that take time and you need to have sorted before a dress rehearsal.- gloves, jewellery, and the like.

Took me a while to slide to the rehearsal room. I took a short cut through the shopping mall. Everywhere I looked the shops and units were closed, or closing. What do THEY know that we don't? I found out later!

Rehearsed numbers only with Sarah (Choreographer) in the hall, and then headed back to the Orchard Theatre for a sound check. That's when you put your allotted radio microphone on and the sound engineer tests to see if you bellow too much, or whisper too much, or if your teeth whistle. What, I think its more technical than that, but you get the idea? Then I had to 'sing' my number- 'Copacabana' with a Dartford twist, and then we were released for the night.

The nightmare journey began again. It took Sarah almost an hour to do the ten minute journey up hill to the Dartford Bridge. Heavy snow, cars skidding everywhere. When we finally reached the Dartford Tunnel (that's Bridge going South, Tunnel going North) the sight to behold was incredible. The bridge was closed. It was invisible in the blizzard. The tailback of cars and lorries must have spanned twenty miles- but... going north- our roads were clear. Free of snow. Back to Kansas Toto!

Reached home an hour and a half after we left- not bad for a 22minute journey eh?

Tomorrow is an early call and an all day technical rehearsal of Act One. I'm seriously considering staying overnight, if there's any room to be had. Setting off extra early tomorrow for a ten o'clock start on stage.

Wednesday 1st December 2010

Two days of dreadful snow! North Kent- including Dartford hit by heavy snowfalls and then overnight ice. Trains cancelled- hardly any running from central London, and roads completely blocked or impassable- yet the show must go on!

Sarah and I set off on Wednesday morning from a mildly snowy Essex- The previous night the snow had started falling on Dartford- we left early. The usual journey time of thirty minutes turned into over three hours!

The M25 became blocked. Lorries abandoned by the roadsides, and a 'White-out' blizzard as we sat on the Dartford Bridge for over an hour. The tech was due to start at 9.30am. We limped in through the snow at 11am. Some of the dancers had just arrived on the one train that made it to Dartford, and Graham McLuskey  our Lighting designer made it in at about the same time- his convenient hotel was ten minutes away but the Essex side of our blizzard bridge.

Wet, dishevelled and straight into the start of the Technical run. What fun! The shops in Dartford started closing by lunchtime as the snow fell, and Waitrose pulled its shutters down at 4pm. The mall was deserted. The Theatre came up trumps. More than trumps- since this terrible weather on Thursday and Friday, Andrew Hill and his team have shown us the huge kindness of providing us with meals- in the theatre foyer- free and gratis and with amazing generosity. Without that we would not have coped- everything shut and snow deep around the theatre. For the past two days an amazing array of food has been provided for cast and crew- culminating with today (Friday's) delight- tables laid out with prawn cocktail starters, main meals of gnocci, mushrooms and chicken with trays of roast potatoes- hot soup- even sweeties!

This is generosity and kindness above and beyond the call of duty from the theatre staff. Thank you SO much guys!!

We tech rehearsed in costume from 11am to 10pm, with breaks of course, and got to the end of Act one virtually by the time we finished tonight. With the snow continuing and reports of travel chaos, a lot of us decided to stay over and head for the Holiday Inn at the Dartford Bridge. Like waifs and strays in the cold cold snow we trudged into the hotel and had a very jolly evening of take-away and the odd glass of wine before turning in. From the hotel window you could see the bridge had closed to traffic. We would never have got home.

Thursday 2nd December 2010

Reached the theatre by 9.30am this morning- snow has turned to ice on the roads and still falling. Finished off the beanstalk scene. Dame Trott had her 'Thrill Ride'- I got to stay in the cottage truck while it was revolved. The cottage spins around, giant leaves cascade down, and a beanstalk shoots up. From inside my spinning house it was all pretty exciting!

Had to alter a few bits today to accommodate the inflation of the beanstalk- so my strip has moved from the beginning of the scene to the middle, thus gaining a few precious minutes in beanstalk growing time- the beans might be magic, but like everything, the beanstalk has been hit by inflation!

My favourite bit at the moment is being trapped in a cooking pot with Katie, awaiting the Giant's approach. I love a good prop and this one is great fun- as is the proceeding scene involving kicking huge (I mean HUGE) snowballs into the audience. Not actual snowballs but- how magic is this- it will snow in the auditorium!

A week ago this might have been an even greater novelty, but at this moment they may feel they've seen quite enough of the whitestuff. Poor John (Dancer) saw enough last night- his train broke down, the lighting and heating ceased to work, and he got to bed at 4am after leaving Dartford at 10pm. We simply cannot afford not to fight our way in to work, otherwise there would be no show on Saturday.

Thanks to the Orchard's amazing staff we've all been fed and watered, and the thaw has to set in soon. I heard from my pal Chris Hayward that Newcastle's 'Robin Hood' opened very successfully- its a fantastic show- but they've suffered appalling weather, and nearly 800 people failed to make it to the Theatre Royal on opening. Hopefully they'll all get to see the show on different dates throughout the run.

For now our children haven't been to the theatre- the snow has prevented them from being at rehearsal. They'll hopefully join us tomorrow- we'll finish the tech of Act Two in the morning, work in the children with Sarah Choreographer, and Bobby and Jay will run their 'Slosh' scene a good few times. There are so many elements to make this a spectacular panto- Circus scenes, a surfeit of Lady Gagas, Beanstalks, Giants, Jousting Horses and Giant Snowballs... We need to take our time getting it right. We do a full dress run tomorrow evening at 7pm.

Just read an article in this week's 'Stage' by Philip Meeks describing me as 'The Queen Mother Of Pantomime Dames!' Oh dear- am I really THAT old?! Thanks Philip- I take that as a huge compliment- hope your first Dame is a huge success!

Friday 3rd December 2010 - Dress Rehearsal

Traffic and weather conditions seemed better today, but then you discover people ten minutes from the theatre can't get out of their driveways. Kent has had it bad. We were lucky and sailed in at a normal time, without any hold-ups. Same getting home last night.

I had an hour or so to explore Dartford. A few more shops have opened now, and thanks to Wayne (He was here last year, so is chief scout now) I managed to find a few more hidden shops- The wonder of Wilco's and the pleasure of Primark!

Started the tech at 11.30 in costume carrying on from where we left off last night. We ran the chopping down of the beanstalk with two sets of the children, taking care to ensure no one is standing underneath the inflatable when it err.. deflates.

We ran the finale as well, and spent a good few hours placing the two sets of children into all the scenes. Normally you'd expect teams to be called 'The Blue Team' or 'The Red Team'. Here, in honour of the subject they are 'Jumping Jacks' and 'Bouncing Beans'!

Had a break between the afternoon rehearsal and the actual dress rehearsal. Even though there are only the ten 'other' group of Juvenile 'out front', it strangely feels like the real deal. We are to attempt to run the show without stopping. I know I'll be doing it full out front tonight, as if it was a full house- that's the years of Paul Elliott training- Paul expects full performance in every single rehearsal. Can't change that technique now. Too late! All or nothing now! Alan told us that this first dress run would start at seven )'clock and be finished by half past nine. He was absolutely spot on!

Threw my make up on (my fault for gossiping and discussing welshcakes with Wes -A fellow Welshman) and Wayne, and got into my opening costumes. I'm underdressed for the first two entrances. Sarah had organised the Quick Change as she likes it, and we set off on that slightly nerve-wracking but exciting journey that is the 'Dress'. Technically all's well- the highly experienced crew here handle panto as slickly as you'd expect from a weekly touring house, and Wes and Julian on sound were amazing. So 'spot on' it gives you huge confidence.

Alan has seamed together all the elements that make this a very different 'Jack'. I watched the slosh briefly- I was emerging from another change, and marvelled at the expertise of Jan Eric. He is a 'Slosh' expert, and my goodness it shows. Bobby was drenched, drowned and literally bathed in slosh- it is a joy to watch. Memories of watching Charlie Cairoli came to mind. Worth the price of admission alone!

The new costumes are very glittery, and the finale is a riot of sequins and colour. I'm having minor problems with my finale headdress, but we'll get that sorted. It is what a dress run is for when all's said and done. Finally got to bounce the huge 'snow balls' into the auditorium while snow falls from about seven 'Blizzard' machines in the theatre. That is a bit scary- they are huge and can whack you with some force. I may wimp out and hide behind the Giant (played by TJ) as one in the face could wipe off my make-up. I love Jay's finale costume the most I think- its beautiful in shades of deep purple and black- a Goth dream I'd say. Wayne has a lovely costume too if I had to pick one out- its so good to see a spanking brand new finale set- great kid's costumes too.

I can't comment on the show as I spent every moment changing in the Quick Change room when I wasn't on stage. Fourteen changes, and fast changes doesn't leave time for much else. I think Lady Gaga will be a triumph, and  I love doing the Selling The Cow scene with Wayne, Bobby and John and Kev as Daisy. A chance for a bit of acting even- whatever next!

My highlight was the beanstalk growing scene. I have to admit I was crying with laughter inside Dame Trot's cottage as the curtain fell on act one.

The end of the strip went a bit awry- I legged it offstage Left in a hurry, convinced I was going to be hit by a cloth in the dark, and turned the corner to discover a network of rubber tendrils all over the stage floor and a huge beanstalk already there. I ran into the cottage to leg it up the stairs and say my lines through an upper window,

Ah- would it were THAT simple. Firstly- I'd hidden my mop cap from the audiences sight earlier. Secondly the cottage is now spun around, so front is back if you get me. I'd foolishly left the bag of beans on the chair where I'd hidden the mop cap.

I run in. Grab the cap, knock over the beans. I'm scrabbling in the dark in a nightie that does up the back like a hospital robe trying to salvage the beans. Wayne is inside the cottage saying 'No time for that! You've got to get upstairs!' He flies out the door to see the beanstalk yelling 'Mum! Mum! Come see!'

Mother has abandoned her beans, run up the internal staircase (hidden from view). Dame Trot runs up her own nightie. The nightie stays on the stairs. I'm now basically nude except for a wonder woman costume, clutching a mop cap. A low beam sends my wig flying. I cram the mop cap on, ram my head through the 'Window' to see the beanstalk. At that point a dozen beans fall out of my hat!

I then realise I have to pull my head back and lie flat on the floor in case the audience in the circle see me crouching. The curtain falls and lights come on. There's me on the floor, a flat open nightie on the stairs, a wig down below, and everywhere you look crushed large haricot beans..I laughed my eyeliner off!

Act Two flew by even faster- Ghosties and Ghoulies, Thriller- Lady Gagas, Jousting Nights, Cooking Pots and fights- Bobby Davro dressed as a Kangaroo-chaos turned into something rather special by Mr Cohen, Sarah St George and Graham McCluskey along with Sean Cornell- with a little help from us on stage and a huge amount of help from Nick, Gillian and the Orchard's amazing crew. Fingers crossed for us tomorrow. By 2.30pm a new panto will be born.

Good luck to Nottingham too- they open at exactly the same moment- Andrew Ryan's Twankey and My Trot take to the stage at the same time. Watch this space!

Saturday 4th December 2010 - Opening Night!

Opening afternoon actually, as our first show was a matinee at 2.30pm. Spent a few hours in the morning having notes with Director Alan, based on yesterday's run, and making a few minor cuts. There was a fair amount of bustling about backstage, as in the norm until about half an hour before 'The Half' hour call. Suddenly it all became very quiet backstage. Everyone in dressing rooms, doors closed- we mostly keep them open here to be sociable (and closed when having a nap!). It was the hush before the storm by 1.30pm.

Suddenly we're up and running. A bit of pacing in the wing, not a lot of chit-chat- I got myself into position inside my cottage for the first appearance, and the curtain was up. The next two and a half hours were a blur. I seemed to be constantly either running, changing or running. I think a few cries of 'They're trying to kill me!' might have escaped my lips from time to time. However, there were laughs, there was applause- we got rounds.. a show has been born ladies & gentlemen. I'm sure we'll all appreciate it a little better in the next one, when it becomes a little calmer.

I would go into the Quick Change room, look at the costumes laid out by Sarah  and that told me what was next. My brain hasn't worked that out yet without prompting. The dash into the cottage that caused all the mayhem yesterday was hugely calmer, and no beans, wigs or costumes went flying in the process. I heard the words 'Climb the beanstake' come out of my mouth at one point- must be a cross between a stalk and a steak- but the rest of the words seemed to be in the right order! This was a learning show. We all learned where the laughs are best placed, which gags don't get big laughs, and what we need to point more to get even bigger laughs.

In to see this show was John Conway, our Qdos Producer (he's also looking after Bradford and Wycombe) and a complete surprise, my brother, Vivyan! He'd kept that a secret when I left the house this morning. His rehearsals for 'Sleeping Beauty' start on Monday at Ilford.

Between show delighted also to get a visit from Jack Watters, newly arrived from New York- We had a chat backstage before the second show- Jack is involved in a panto project scheduled for next year- a 'Cinderella' ' taking Pantoland across the pond hopefully- it was lovely to see him again!

The second show was a lot calmer from our point of view. The frantic changes were less frenetic, and there was a chance to do a little honing and refining. Props mislaid in the first show were easier to find in the second show when the brain had time to work out what was next. All credit to the Dartford audiences- we were full both shows, and when you think roads were impassable only a couple of days ago, that is a huge achievement. Once again the theatre under the guidance of Andy Hill came up trumps with a catering coup de gras- a reception in the foyer after the show for cast, crew and some of the local dignitaries. After two slightly scary shows we showed those dignitaries what total 'pro's' we were and demolished tray after tray of sarnies, sausage rolls and them wrinkly things on sticks- no, not pensioners.. mini kebabs!

We've done it! Hoorah for all of us, and Hoorah to the backstage crew who have worked incredibly hard to make pantoland where a few days ago there was just a big old empty stage!

Sunday 5th December 2010

Two shows today- 1pm and again at 5pm which means we'll get to finish early for the first time in a while. Might even get to stay up until eleven and watch television if I'm good! To date it has been get home and get into bed almost immediately.

Still a bit icy but the roads are clear. The audiences haven't been affected as we had another two packed houses today. I was in Early with Sarah, and surprisingly a lot of the company were early too- I think transport on a Sunday in London keeps you on your toes- it can be essential works on the railway lines or a lot of people heading for Bluewater for shopping, and a quiet Sunday journey can become a nightmare.

Definitely relaxing into the shows now- in as much as the 'what's happening next ?' thoughts are starting to diminish. The show has so many different elements in it- so much happening off-stage and on stage during the two and a half hours. While Sarah and I are changing fourteen times, mostly in the Quick Change area, there are untold scenarios being played out  that we don't ever see- or catch a glimpse of between running for the stage!

For example: There are huge bowls of coloured whippy foamy slosh being prepared (To Jan Eric's secret recipe) which are prepared before the routine and carried carefully to their position. As soon as the 'Slosh' routine is over the enormous 'Slosh Cloth' floor cover is carefully rolled so that the messy gunge doesn't leak out and stored for emptying later. The clothes now completely gunged are put straight into a washing machine to prevent the colour from staining, and Bobby and Jan Eric go straight into a shower before hastily getting back into their costumes and returning to the stage. That is just one five minute section of the show broken down into its components!

That's just one of the dozens of scenes being played out backstage- I'll try and highlight a few as this Diary goes on. There are other visiting shows booked in on Monday Evenings here at the orchard, so the backstage area has to be cleared by the end of the 5pm show, and in some cases dressing rooms cleared for that purpose. We've covered the costumes in the Quick Change with the big blue travelling bag, and covered over the wigs, and by curtain down a 'mini get-out' has happened.

I'm calling in to say 'Hello' to the Ilford Panto cast tomorrow morning. They, like many others start their rehearsals tomorrow, and open around the 18th of December. Up in Birmingham the Hippodrome rehearsals begin, with Nigel Havers fresh from the Jungle and Joan Collins arriving to start 'Dick Whittington'. Brian Conley's 'Cinderella' company move into the New Theatre in Cardiff tomorrow, having followed us into the rehearsal rooms last week, and Nottingham opened the same day as us with their 'Aladdin'. All over the country panto has cranked up into first gear, and the season is well underway!

Monday 6th December 2010

Although a day off, managed to call in at the Kenneth More Theatre for the first half an hour of the 'Sleeping Beauty' rehearsals which began today. Lots of old mates to speak to, and then just as my brother Vivyan started the blocking of Act One Scene One I left thinking 'There you are- another pantomime has just been born!'

Tuesday 7th December 2010

Here in Dartford it is the beginning of a two show week- and every matinee will be sold out to schools. Watching the 'Slosh' today with Jan Eric and Bobby I was reminded of 'Crackerjack!'- the spirit of Peter Glaze and Leslie Crowther kept very much alive. (Older readers can translate for the younger- replace 'Crackerjack' with 'Tiswas' maybe?). The school parties love the Slosh, The Ghost Gag, the visuals and, of course the schoolboy humour!

I actually had a nap between shows. I didn't intend to, but the furry throw on my dressing room couch was too much to resist. It made me snooze. Had a visit from the Equity Recruitment Officer between shows. Had a shock when I realised my membership number relates to when I first joined back in 1971 ' before that it was what we called 'Provisional' membership- I think you had to provide proof of 36weeks of employment before you were granted full membership. Eeeh, we had it tough back then..

Thinking about those 'moments' backstage that the audience never see- like the 'Slosh' clean-up, the wings look like a zoo at times. There's John and Kev clambering in to 'Daisy' the cow (John has virtually no vision inside the 'skin'- except a tiny crack of light in the cow's mouth, and he navigates by the sound of our voices!) I think someone forgot to make the gauze peep hole you normally get in the Cow's neck. Funny, but I suppose the term 'Skin' has all but died out. All animal acts used to be referred to as 'Skin Artistes'- Geese, Cats, Cows and the like. Agents would ask 'Have you ever done any Skin work'? Folk would think you mean commercials for make-up nowadays.

Apart from Daisy, Bobby and Jay have 'Duelling Donkeys'- those panto horses with the rider's false legs attached- at least I HOPE they are false badly stuffed legs! They lie in the backstage corridor until its time for them to be set up in the two wings. Add a very large Giant to the proceedings, and we are awash with 'Skins' here backstage.

It's a funny world panto. Bobby's room is next door and I can hear drifts of conversation coming through the walls. Jan Eric has just described a friend of his who is a human cannonball, with, curiously his own cannon- and his own net! Bobby is discussing Baddies in Panto, and 'Dancing On Ice', and Two of the ensemble have walked past discussing sandwiches all in the space of one minute. Me, I'm quite seriously sitting here typing in full make up, glasses perched on my nose looking for all the world like George Logan (again, older readers translate the 'Hinge & Bracket' allusion!) while awaiting the evening show!

Tonight is 'Press Night'- this is when the local press (being in London that means quite a large area) come along and review the show. We'll be sure to put up the links to these reviews as soon as they are published. Unless they are not good reviews, in which case you'll never see them- heh!

Press night meant another round of sandwiches and lashing and lashings of rose wine from Andrew and his staff- after the show. This could turn into a very welcomed habit! Thanks again guys, and to Suzanne and Richard for sorting out all the press and the important publicity events. I believe we might have the 'Telly' in on Thursday to do a feature- every little 'elps as they say!

REVIEW - News Shopper

A first glimpse of Lady GaGa!!


Thursday 9th December 2010

'This Morning ' really was This Morning. Jason Gardener, style guru to ITV's morning show arrived with his producer and film crew to record a piece about the pantomime and costumes in particular. No stranger to Theatre, Jason had a long run in the hit musical 'Cats' in the West End and is also better known as  one of the 'Dancing On Ice' judges- that lot that booted Bobby off the show claiming he couldn't skate!

I was called at 11.30am, so it was a quick turn around last night- home, bed and back here while the sparrows were still coughing. Bobby was interviewed in his dressing room, then I was filmed putting on some make-up before chatting to Jason about costumes, the role of Dame Trot and all things pantomime. We ended up in the Quick Change room looking at some of the costumes before they watched (and filmed a bit) of the show from out front.

At the moment the plan is that this will form part of a 'This Morning' special to be shown on Sunday 19th December, but check first before setting your sky pluses and whatknots!

Meet Bustle Boy!

Now I mentioned earlier that I had a very special and historic costume in this panto- one of  the legendary Danny La Rue's costumes in fact. This beautiful Edwardian costume was created at Plymouth about twenty three years ago for Dan, and was rarely if ever used afterwards due to the size of the bustle! The bustle, you see is a miniature truck on wheels that looks attached to the dress but in fact is a separate piece with a life of its own. I think when Danny had it made in 'Mother Goose' it housed a juvenile, but with 'Elf and Safety and what have you we needed a stronger pair of err.. feet. Or shoulders..

These come in the shape of Martin Hutchinson, who can normally be found on Stage Left Stage Crew. Martin was clever enough to suss out how to make this piece of stage craft work properly, squeeze himself into my, err.. bustle, and when required propel himself across the stage to rapturous applause! He is henceforth known as 'Bustle Boy' or possibly Darcy. Yes.. Darcy. Come on ballet fans, work it out for yourselves! Thanks Martin, the Circus Scene would not be the same without you!

Two shows packed out today, and again it was all schools parties in the matinee, and mixed crowd in the evening. Reviews to follow!


Friday 10th December 2010

Finally the snow is clearing here- the car park is still icy but you can see a thaw setting in. Two shows today (Friday), the matinee to school parties and the evening to a more mixed crowd.

We're definitely starting to settle into a routine now, with 12 shows under our collective belts. I'm also losing weight! Due to the running around, the twenty-eight costume changes a day and the forgetting to eat- maybe a sandwich around 6pm, I've dropped about five or six pounds and over an inch on the waistline. Enough to merit having my waistbands tightened by Sarah- That's cheaper than Weightwatchers, eh? Just run around the stage like a headless chicken, hurl giant plastic inflatable barrage balloons at the audience, drag Martin along in a bustle and strip off eight layers in 1minute four seconds twice a day- magic!

Talking of Bustles- It stuck! As we sailed across the stage the cord I use to release the bustle snagged. It wouldn't budge. Instead of stopping halfway and the bustle going off stage right on its own (well, under Martin power), we had no option but to cross the entire stage and exit stage left.

Now on paper that sounds a bit precious. A tad 'Luvvie'! Poor Nigel, having to cross the whole length of the big nasty stage. Tch Tch...Well, here's a breakdown of the choreography (courtesy of Sarah St. George) of the 3 minute scene...

The scene begins with Wayne appearing as Ring Master in a circus. He sings the Robbie William's 'Let Me Entertain You' number. When this starts I'm still in the Quick change room hastily changing into Danny's beautiful gold frock, underskirts, wig, necklace, gloves, bracelets and wig. (if you are going to do it, do it right!). For a thirty-forty second appearance.

By the time I get to the wing the song has been going about a minute. Eight children are dressed as clowns, and the ensemble are dressed in similar costumes. Jan Eric and TJ are performing juggling routines, the children twirl rinbbons, Wayne sings.

Martin is already IN the bustle, I attach the ties- now Velcro ribbon but when it stuck it was dressing gown cord. We shuffle forward as the stage fills with tumbling, cartwheeling chorus and children running backwards and forwards. Jan Eric performs hoop tricks with Lisa (Fairy) and Katie (Jill)- Katie has changed into a very flashy black sequinned tail suit & fishnets for this. Then Nartin & I enter going across stage on cue from Stage Right to centre. He then is released and turns exiting Stage Right. I wave Bye Bye to my backside.

Not when it jammed! I tugged.. Waynes eyes widened- he kept singing.. We can't reverse- the only way is forward into oncoming traffic! As we totter across the stage like frightened bunnies in the headlamps I've already seen TJ on a unicycle, and Jan Eric on a tiny clown bicycle , followed by a stilt walking Kate Emma and as we cross the stage slowly TJ does a hand balancing trick that no one watches, as they are too busy watching the very slow gold lady with the big bum avoid collision and get into the stage left wing. Thank goodness for choreography though! At least we all know who and what to avoid!

Its an amazing routine. All that I've described, and more happens in just three minutes. The length of one song. Pretty spectacular huh? All praise these very talented people who use all their various skills to create the scene.

A glorious 'Carry On' moment on stage today when I had to disguise my laughter (or corpsing as we call it) by vanishing inside my cooking pot. Fortunately I had no lines at that point and my mascara was running with tears of mirth. Jay as villainous Fleshcreep announces 'Dinner is served' ' by banging a gong. We are in a cooking pot. He majestically strode to the wing, the gong appears -he strikes it, and the knob on the end of the striker fell off. It was like a Carry On Moment that should remain in the panto every show.I treasure those moments- and giggled about it for a long time afterwards. Katie, my fellow pot mate was much more professional than me I have to say- well, she was able to disguise it better!

Saturday 11th December 2010

Shoppers are out in force today- the twin delights of Lakeside and Bluewater making traffic across the bridge pretty heavy. I got to the theatre early with Sarah, and pottered about until the 2.30pm show. Alas poor Bobby Davro. He has been struck by a lurgie- bordering on losing his voice. He sounded very croaky and rough in the matinee, and slightly better by the evening, when his voice had had time to warm up, but bless him, its not easy when you do impressions, singing impressions and, of course, have to give a high energy performance.

Actors have various remedies and 'cure-alls' in their dressing rooms in case of such emergencies. The ones to avoid I think (as does Wayne) are the ones that fool the vocal chords into thinking they are all right, so when you do belt out a number or a routine you can damage the voice without feeling the damage. Some lozenges do that- they numb the throat. Old fashioned methods actors use generally include vinegar in some shape or form. And lemons. Honey of course- so some hebal shops near theatres often stock an old remedy called 'Honeygar' (a ready made dilution of honey and cider vinegar) mixed with warm water. Chemists sometime have a very old concoction called 'Sandersons Specific' (I'm sure I have not spelled that properly) which can work wonders. Of course rest is the only answer really, but not on 12 shows a week.

Understudies suddenly get a bit nervous when things like this happen! They start to seriously look at the script they toyed with earlier! Bobby is a pro, and he'll rally after a good nights sleep and after a day off on Monday.

Both shows full, and went well. In for the matinee was Nathan Daniel from the Ilford Panto (Both last year and this year, and from My recent Roadshows) and Tim. They called in after the show, and we had a chat before the second show. Nathan is now into Tech and Dress rehearsals all of next week for the 'Sleeping Beauty' at the KM Theatre.

Actually went out to the pub at long last- two nights running. There IS life in Dartford outside of the canvas village we inhabit all day!

Two early shows tomorrow (Sunday) then a whole glorious day off!

Sunday 12th December 2010

Two early shows today. Bobby's voice not worse but not better today, but he's gamely giving it his usual 100% and, to be truthful you'd not know any different except for the husky voice. Pretty certain a whole day of rest tomorrow will work miracles. That and the iodine based medicine he's taking to take the swelling down in the throat.

Both shows fine- got to say I was feeling in need of a day off by halfway through the second show today- even managed a quick nap between shows. Quite sad really when I think back to those youthful days of doing twelve shows and then heading off to a party or something similar. Now I actually take a flask of tea into the Quick change room so that I can enjoy the few minutes off before we chop down the beanstalk, sipping tea and wearing my comfy frock- a tube dress and pink crocs! What else do you wear if you're in a cooking pot then kicking huge inflatable balls into the auditorium? My usual heels would puncture them in a trice!

Meet The Crew!

Here at the Orchard we have a hard working and, may I say extremely jolly bunch of people who make the show work. About a dozen of them, in fact. The Stage crew, LX and Follow Spot operators, along with Flymen and in house LX get the show up and running twelve times a week. Martin we've already met- AKA 'Bustle Boy', and both sides of the stage are manned by crew who make cottages appear, beanstalks grow (and fall!) and as oceans of low rise smoke gush across the stage make giant portcullis's rise and fall and gobos rotate at the twinkling of an eye! Time to meet them:

Stage Right we have Dave Barker and Charlotte Jobson, and on Stage Left Martin Hutchinson and David Horton.

Stage LX (All the electrical things like flashes, the smoke machines/glaciators and the like)  handled by Jay Gregory, with In House LX in the hands of Will West and Kevin Bullard.

Way up in the flies we have David Hughes and Colin Rayment with our two follow spots operated by Helen Godfrey and James Hughson.

Thanks everyone- you literally brighten our working lives and give the panto the magic that the audiences love- try doing it on a bare unlit stage and see how far you get!

Day off Tomorrow. Hoorah for us!

Spotted in a local Dartford Pub Wall!

Tuesday 14th December 2010

Refreshed after a day off- packed houses, the afternoons almost completely sold to large school parties, and the evenings a mixed family crowd. The crowd were very perky in the evening show and it rattled along at a great pace.

We've settled into routine now, with everyone finding themselves in the same place at the same time during the show- a comforting state. No longer reliant on a script or the need to watch from the wings you can now line up like planes waiting to land at Heathrow and glide onto the stage dead on cue!

We had a 'clean-up' call today for 'Consider Yourself', the musical number that ends the first scene. These calls happened every now and then, and was taken by Natasha to make sure we aren't crowding each other in the number and spread out on the stage a little more. Actors are a friendly lot, they are apt to crowd together centre stage unless told otherwise!

Bobby is still looking after his voice and resting between shows, and it is getting there bit by bit. There's the odd cold and sniffle going about and the threat of Snow again, but we plough on. I spoke to Brian Godfrey today- he's just opened in Cardiff with 'Cinderella' and all's well there, and back at Ilford the 'panto wot I wrote' is about to start technical rehearsals ready for Thursday's opening night.

A change of crew on follow spots tonight- James (Hughsdon) has been poorly, so until he's better we've been joined by Matt Simmonds. Matt will be 'spotting' every show for a while.

Wednesday 15th December 2010

More school parties, very excited and loving the giant snowball fight in the auditorium. I noticed our Fairy Lisa kicks a mean snowball when she needs to!

In between shows we had a visit from our sponsors Churchill- they have their Headquarters, or Churchill's main kennels at Bromley in Kent. Did they enjoy the show? 'Oh Yes!'

Talking of visitors I was delighted to see Lee Redwood last week, he came to see the show on a rare day off from playing Dame at Wonderland Adventures in Bournemouth. He's devised, directed and written the show that plays to the visitors a few times a day. Great to catch up with his news. Also lovely to see my friends  Jason Belne and Robert Deans who saw the show last evening. Also good to see people during the run and catch up with life outside the Village of Much Dawdling or wherever we are this year!

Two trips tonight- Wayne tripped on the magic cabinet, and Bobby on the Village Cloth while assisting Daisy on stage. That means, in superstition terms, that they are coming back to this venue. Bobby did Panto here 25 years ago. Wayne was here last year- so they'll be making another visit in the future!

Thursday 16th December 2010

Fears of snow today, and indeed there have been a few flakes, so fingers crossed. I've heard from Theatres in places that cancelled shows- one of them cancelled fifteen shows in total due to roads being impassable, and schools shut. We certainly don't want that again. The theatres in Edinburgh and Glasgow have coped amazingly, with shows continuing through the worst of it.

A moment of observation today- one of those strange thoughts you have whilst performing. There we were on stage, five Lady Gagas and myself in the white short bob wig and glasses, and in the front row were five elderly ladies with.. yes, short white bob hair and glasses. It was like a Gaga look-alike convention!

In between shows there were understudy rehearsals- these will continue a couple of times a week. Tomorrow Bobby, Wayne and Katie are off to make an appearance at Darent Valley Hospital. I believe some of the Gravesend Panto cast will be there as well, so it'll be a good chance for some inter show chat maybe!

Tonight is the opening night of the Ilford 'Sleeping Beauty' panto- on tenterhooks to get the news of the panto wot I wrote, and it was all good news. Apparently it went surely and swiftly with all the projections and transformations in place- a lot of hard work has gone into this panto, so I'm delighted its been a happy birth at the Kenneth More. Lots of time to see that one as it goes on until January 22nd. One to add to the visiting list!

I spoke to Amy at ITV today and she has confirmed that the 'This Morning' programme that includes Jason Gardener's visit to our panto at Dartford will definitely be going out on Sunday Morning (19th December). I think it begins at 10.30am but best to check. I bet we'll be getting ready in our dressing rooms here when they show our bit- we go up at 1pm on Sundays.

A quick trip to the pub after the show and then straight home- it is very cold and although it is apparently going to be snow free here (alas not Scotland or the Midlands) (Or Cardiff - Ed) I'm really not so sure about that. Hope to goodness all that nonsense is over and done with now!

Friday 17th December 2010 - Guest Contributor - Wayne Perrey

Visit to Darent Valley Hospital

Today has proved a very humbling and honoured day, firstly because Nigel has allowed me to add a 'day in my life of panto' on to his Dartford Diary, and secondly because my day started at the local childrens hospital. Bobby, Katie and myself were asked to go to the local children's hospital to give out locally donated Christmas presents to sick children. Also giving out gifts were some of the cast from Gravesend panto Cinderella, Christopher Pizzey, Chelsie Padley and Tom Hudson - what a lovely bunch and like us they loved spreading festive cheer.

Doing the job we do, I sometimes forget how blessed we are, especially with panto and the power of laughter it really does go a long way. We had such fun! Bobby really managed to bring a smile to not only the children but the childrens parents who are sometimes forgotten at times like these.

Being a dad of a two year old myself, I really felt for this little boy and his parents who had spent the last 6 weeks in hospital with him recovering from pneumonia, he was such a character and loved the monster truck we gave him.

Back at the theatre and getting ready for the first show, looking out the window and what do we see? A snow blizzard - here we go again! I might end up sharing a twin hotel room with Bobby again if we get snowed in like last time (God help me! he he he).

First show over and the highlight was when a random inflatable snow ball hit Nigels wig and in his words 'knocked it off like a coconut on a shy' - thankfully I didn't have the next lines to deliver as I was laughing that much nothing would have come out!

Second show done and looking out the window the snow seems to have eased off which is great for two reasons, the first being that I don't have to listen to Bobbys jokes, stories and snoring at the hotel, (he he he) and I get to go home and see my family and give my little girl, who is well and healthy, a big kiss.

Friday 17th December 2010 - Guest Contributor - AJ

Famous People I've Had in my Stage Door

Do you want to know a secret? Things aren't quite what they seem behind the scenes in Pantoland here at The Orchard Theatre. So what do you want to know? How many sugars Bobby Davro has in his tea? Just how long does it take Nigel Ellacott to get into costume? What's Wayne Perrey's favourite colour, even?

I'm afraid I can't divulge such diverse secrets, after all I'm not 'Wikileaks', but I can fill you all in on what exactly a 'Stage Door Administrator' does round here!

Well, first and foremost we're the friendly, welcoming face backstage for cast, crew and various members of the public and businesses. We're responsible for the security of the back stage area and for opening up and locking up the building, and making sure cast and crew are fed and watered if they so desire.

Obviously we get to meet our fair share of famous faces, and I'm glad to report they are on the whole lovely and a pleasure to work with ' it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling to be working with a genuinely pleasant and friendly cast and crew, and we've luckily had our fair share of them recently, none more so than Bobby, Nigel, Wayne and the gang!

Now it's not all star-spotting back here either. On top making sure back stage is safe and nice we do many other day-to-day duties such as taking deliveries for the Kitchen, Sweet Shop, Coffee Shop and marketing material such as flyers, posters and banners which let the public know what's coming up at the theatre.

We also have many admin duties for the theatre's main office and marketing, anything from marketing campaigns to accounts ' the varied nature of the role makes it more interesting and keeps us from getting bored and just sitting around waiting for the next show to arrive!

Personally, I'm also the Theatre representative for Qdos Theatre's chosen charity; Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, for whom we're raising money to help them build new operating theatres and buy essential new equipment. During Panto I'm organising the post-show collections, but once Panto is over I'll be arranging various other exciting fund raising events at the theatre so watch out!

Friday 17th December 2010

Because of the dreadful weather today and a scary journey through the mini blizzard and stalled traffic, treated myself to the local hotel, and, thanks to Martin,(Bustle Boy!) got driven to the door- how very kind! A chance to chill, relax and not worry about commuting for a night, and a proper lie in!

Crew wise we've now been joined by Dave Kerry who is in the flies with David (Hughes) while Colin recovers from his flu. Dave Barker stood in this afternoon up there, so it looks as if it is essential that your first name is Dave to have this position of flyman!

Thanks to Wayne for his blog about yesterday, and that hospital visit- I noticed my mate Chris Pizzey in the photos- hope he's literally having a ball in 'Cinderella'. Thanks also to AJ on stage door for his blog, and to Nic Greatrex for his photos taken backstage that we've included here.

Had one of those days today- as Wayne said I had my wig knocked off by a giant snowball- I legged it to the wings to a howl of laughter from the audience- followed by Wayne helpless with laughter as he exited! I then got another smack on the shoulder and just caught my wig in time during second show, so from now on Mrs Trot is keeping very much in the background in this scene. Lisa Wayne and Katie are much better at kicking anyway!

Second show today I was in mid strip, heading for the wing when I spotted Gillian's face. Gillian (ASM) helps me by taking a layer of the strip and hanging on to my washing line which is wrapped around me. Her face indicated what I couldn't see.. the line was tangled. When this happens generally the show is over for me. One pull in the wrong direction and I end up stuck in the washing line and the other eight layers never get seen.

Gillian- you are amazing! She was totally unflappable. In seconds she was undoing the knot (out of sight from the audience- I'm on the edge of the wing) like a bush tucker trial! No flap. No panic. She undid the knot and I sailed onto the rest of the strip rapidly, making up for the lost ten seconds that it took. That is why Gillian is such a superb Assistant Stage Manager- she is totally calm whatever comes her way!

Saturday 18th December 2010

What a nightmare day!  I looked out of the hotel window this morning- clear skies, and me just ten minutes away. Half an hour later total blizzard, and no sign of the Dartford Bridge- we were in trouble. My cab took an hour for the ten minute journey- legend has it that a lady gave birth on a bus in the gridlock that ensued- but I spent part of that hour looking at a white-out!

Arriving at the theatre not surprisingly we discovered many of the cast were not there, and most of the Front Of House Staff. Stranded in the ever thickening snow. By two o'clock we didn't have Bobby, Wayne, John (Dancer) and no children at all. Front of house and crew were arriving in dribs and drabs. Hardly a sign of an audience either- Not a good sign!

Tom, company manager called us into the auditorium where, in the next fifteen minutes we divided the show up into non Bobby sections- believing that Mr.Davro would make it through the gridlock of traffic and slewed lorries on the M25, we worked out a scheme that involved Jan Erik as my Third Son. Jan Erik would do most of Bobby's (AKA Billy Trot's) business in Act One in the hope that he would arrive by the second part of the show. We also hoped and prayed that by the time we went up on Act One I had at least One son (Wayne) with me- Wayne was stranded in a car with John (dancer) just on the outskirts of gridlocked Dartford.

The children never made it- well, one did, to be fair, but they come from outside Dartford, and there was no way in to the town at this point!

So, after a hurried rehearsal during which Jan Erik proved his mettle by knowing all of Bobby's lines, and T.J due to be playing Jan's part of Circus Owner Mr. Phipps, we headed for the wings. By now Kev (dancer) is in Wayne's costume, Jan and T.J are in Billy and Mr.Phipps's respectively, and therefore at 3.10 (40 minutes late) I'm standing in the wings with no sons to speak of, no cow (well.. not at THIS moment in time) and Bustle Boy Martin to be the Giant- and we're awaiting the overture!

It is astonishing how quickly theatre folk adapt- we had three people taking on roles other than their own, a new Giant operator and new cow operators standing by: The cast were keyed in to dropping a few lines here, adding a routine there- at one point Jan Erik was learning 'Bob The Builder' listening to it on iTunes as a potential songsheet (we needed five minutes for the costume change!). Wayne and John flew in through the door and rushed to their dressing rooms- I now had one son!

Like a very well timed stage entrance the stage door flew open and enter Bobby Davro! Five minutes later (3.15pm) everything in pantoland was restored to its original form. The curtain rose and about two hundred wet and cold people were entertained- they were the true heroes- the ones who struggled through the blizzard determined to see a pantomime!

The evening show was fine- this time about 400 people struggled in to see the show and we went up on time. About seven of us here at the theatre decided not to risk the journey, and we're booked into the hotel for the night- the shows are early, and I think we've had enough wear and tear on our nerves for one day!

Sunday 19th December 2010

Snow falling as we arrived from the hotel to the theatre, but fortunately it stopped after an hour and the cast and audiences were all able to get in. Heard from Ian Sandy in the Birmingham Hippodrome that they are having dreadful weather there, but (fingers firmly crossed) have not cancelled a show to date. The show is going extremely well he tells me, and their press night (a pretty glitzy affair with Joan Collins, Nigel Havers and Julian Clary  on the bill) is scheduled for Tuesday I believe.

Wayne has leased his dressing room out to the 'between shows Jig Saw Club' by all accounts. He's got a bumper box of assorted jigsaws and a lot of people willing to take them on. It reminded me of the tradition in Nottingham Theatre Royal where we'd do jigsaws in the backstage corridor, then get them framed, signed, and auctioned off for charity eventually.

Spoke to Martin Hinkins in Nottingham, and they are all having a great time- so all's well in Pantoland at the moment. The Ilford 'Sleeping Beauty' has opened and is running very smoothly- I hope to call in and say 'hello' to some of my mates there tomorrow on my day off. I won't watch the show tomorrow- I'm saving that treat for when we finish our run here and I can start to tour the pantomimes- Ilford, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and Birmingham are on that list! Sad not to see Hackney Empire's 'Jack & The Beanstalk' this year. I spoke briefly to Suzie McKenna who writes and directs it, and it is going very well. Unfortunately they close same day as we do. Suzie rang to say she'd turned her TV on to find us all featured on 'This Morning' this morning at , I think, around mid-day. We missed it, and my Sky Plus failed me, (pilot error!), so hopefully I'll see a dvd of the interview another time.

As we said 'Bye Bye' and 'Have A Good Day Off' after the second show it was Gillian who remarked the next time we do this it'll be 'Merry Christmas!'- that will be the next day off after two shows on Christmas Eve!

Wednesday 22nd December 2010

Yesterday saw the start of a thaw, which is encouraging- and it was the shortest day in the calendar. Both shows went well, but it looks as if the round of cold and 'flu has found a new victim. Fairy Lisa was croaking her way through both shows and a decision was made that on the following day- today, we would have her understudy on as Fairy- Kate-Emma Portlock.

Company  were called to run through her bits and her songs at midday. This also involves resetting the dance routines as we'll be one less there. This gives Kate Emma a chance to brush up on the lines that she's learnt already, and to check the blocking before going on at 2.30pm.

News reaches us during the morning that Birmingham has suffered a similar fate- this time the star 'baddie', Queen Rat, in the guise of Joan Collins, who is suffering with the 'flu, but hopefully will be able to stride the stage tomorrow after a good rest and medication. Joan's role was covered by a talented actor called Wayne Fitzsimmons who we hear gave a 'superb' performance as Queen Rat- apart from being dance captain Wayne also covers Nigel Havers as King Rat- so he's now well acquainted with Rodent Royalty!- Quite a Dynasty!

Back to Dartford- After a brief rehearsal and with no apparent nerves (although I think that was a very good bit of acting!) Kate Emma went on as Fairy, and was superb! Well done Kate- her only slip in the whole proceedings was to say that Jack was going to climb the beanstalk to fight the Dragon! ' Bless- not much difference!

Talking of Dragons, err Giants- ours had a bad day. First of all his portcullis got jammed, so every time he tried to enter the gate stayed firmly shut. He finally made it through the gate in time to exit, booming he was tired of waiting for his dinner, to which Jay as Fleshcreep uttered- 'Well, you've only just got here!' Next of his problems was his mighty club which he wielded to fight Jack. It flew out of his hand and landed somewhere near the front speakers!

This morning was a bit of a rush- media sweetie! I had an interview over the 'phone with the 'Mail On Sunday' about the history of Panto- plus a bit of a plug for Dartford's obviously! This will be in the paper on Boxing Day. As soon as I put the phone down I tuned in (can you still use that term?) to Radio Nottingham where, for an hour Andrew Ryan (Nottingham Theatre Royal's Widow Twankey) and John Elkington (The Nottingham Playhouse's Mother Goose) were interviewed live for just under an hour. Tales of life backstage, costume and wardrobe malfunctions and even projectile vomiting ' from a child brought up on stage for a songsheet!) were discussed! A great morning before I set off for the Theatre.

Listen Again to BBC Radio Nottingham - available until Wednesday 29th Dec 12 noon

Andrew and John appear about 2 hours into broadcast

Celebrated Sarah's birthday today between shows, in the glamour that is the theatre's laundry- and notice that it is Stage Door Nic's birthday tomorrow! Second show Kate Emma went from strength to strength, and all's well in pantoland. Lisa and Joan we wish you well, and see you back on the boards very soon.

Friday 24th December 2010

Two shows on Thursday flew past- these are the last 2.30pm and 7pm shows for a while, we go onto 1pm and 5pm now, and as a result I can be home curled up on the sofa by 8.15pm ideally!

Spoke to a few folk out there in Pantoland yesterday- heard great reports on the Bristol Hippodrome pantomime from Barbara Windsor- it looks as if the audiences there have, along with most of the country braved the snow, and come out to enjoy themselves - Merry Christmas Scott & Barbara in Bristol, and to Britt in Southsea. Britt's having a magical time as Fairy in the Portsmouth Panto, appearing with Tequila her canine companion. Their show has been hit with the usual rounds of colds and flu, but is going from strength to strength. Brian Godfrey reports great business at the Cardiff New, and Ilford's panto is packing 'em in.


Joan Collins has returned to the Hippodrome in Birmingham- not fully recovered, but she's soldiering on- these legendary ladies are made of stern stuff!


Here at the Dartford Orchard we're into Christmas Eve now- just attended the Juvenile's party in their dressing room on the first floor. Actually its party number one as both teams will be having a 'Do'- the second one will be on the 27th. Lots of festive goodies at this one, held between shows- thanks kids and chaperones!

The audiences are very perky now, and obviously into the Christmas spirit already. All over the country panto performers are getting their bags near the dressing room doors ready for a quick get-away. A lot of theatres do early shows on Christmas Eve- spare a thought for those cars criss crossing on the roads tonight- a lot of them will be carrying villains and Dames, Princes and Wicked Queens on their journey to celebrate their one day off. Then- Boxing Day Morning- or in some cases Christmas Night- their journeys will begin all over again.

Spare a thought too for the London based panto performers- a tube strike on Boxing Day. Bad enough there are not any overground trains on Boxing Day anyway, without adding to the grief of actors struggling to get to Wimbledon, Richmond, Lewisham, Rickmansworth,
Ilford and all stations in London.

When the curtain falls on pantomimes around the country tonight there will be a swift exodus. Minutes after the glittering Finales and the Songsheets have finished the theatres will be deserted. Not for long though- we'll see you all again Boxing Day Matinee!

From all of us at Dartford 'Jack' and from Simon and myself- Nadolig Llawen! (That's your actual Welsh! - Ed) Have a VERY Happy Christmas and safe journeys home!

Boxing Day 2010

After the joys of Christmas Day off, its back to work in Pantoland. Tradition has it that this is THE panto day. The Audience at their most eager, the excitement sizzling in the auditorium. Don't believe a word of it! As a rule the Boxing Day audience is pretty laid back, slightly worse for wear, and often somewhat comatose! We were lucky- the matinee (1pm) audience were a frisky lot, and the Evening (5pm) more along the lines of the 'Laid back'. A bit of the 'I'm going to sit back and you can entertain me' thinking which, of course isn't panto. As Peter Robbins was fond of saying 'The panto audience is an additional member of the cast'- He was right of course, it is very much an interactive experience. We coped!

Now- those not fully aquainted with life backstage may learn something here. Boxing Day. Witty urbane thespians swanning around backstage in furs and designer smoking jackets partaking of a Fortnum Hamper between entrances. I think the pictures tell the full story!

Yes, our very own Soup Kitchen in a backstage corridor. But do you know what? We're the privileged ones. Normally it is a case of bring your own turkey sandwich. The shops are shut, the town is deserted, and in between you fend for yourself. Here at the Orchard Theatre once again the management (Thank you Andy!) have extended their generosity and supplied piping hot soup and sandwiches, and delivered it backstage.

Our Soup Kitchen co-incided with 'Secret Santa', where members of cast and crew and theatre staff give each other anonymous presents ' recipients names picked out of a hat a week before. Great fun as you can see!

Hardly time to add a bit more lip gloss and it was time for the second show. Delighted to have Owen Smith and Yamit to see the show. Owen is looking after the Kenneth More Panto wardrobe for me this year, and I'm very grateful for that. Looking forward to seeing 'Sleeping Beauty' very shortly.

So- as beginners was called backstage the corridor became the playground for the 'Boys Toys' newly unwrapped from Secret Santa, and the dressing rooms adorned with newly acquired books, posters, wooly hats, booze and most wittily a 'Daisy The Cow' posing pouch. Yes, it does 'Moo!' into the bargain. I wonder if that will make further backstage appearances during the run?

The run is getting shorter. Only two Sundays left after today- so any mates out there take note- especially those in the business- its going to be sold out soon and then we'll be gone on January 9th. Get those seats sorted now!

Second show flew past- very cold backstage-maybe the heating was off yesterday- I resorted to a blanket in the wings, and a lot of fleecy dressing gowns made appearances during the show. Wayne has a bit of a poorly throat, but you would have no idea. Lisa (Kent) Fairy has rejoined us and is back to full strength. She has been able to recover fully and was firing on all cylinders once again!

Same time shows tomorrow- 1pm and 5pm. It's very nice to get home and not jump straight into bed for a change!

Monday 27th December 2010

Two shows at the earlier times today, and the first one running smoothly and without incident until the interval.

Kelly our dancer fell backstage and appeared to have injured her elbow in the fall. Tom Company Manager dropped her off at the casualty department, and the next we saw of her was her pale face in the auditorium during the second show after we'd gone up! That is a trouper- in pain, arm in a sling but out there supporting us! It looks like she has some pretty nasty bruising but (hopefully) no fracture. Certainly she won't be on for a couple of days until it gets better- might be longer, but time will tell. Imagine the pain trying to change costume as well as dancing- not good. We're all thinking of you Kelly- get better soon!

The audiences today were a lot perkier than yesterday evening, and we had two good ones. Lots of visitors backstage I noticed, and that is one of the joys of being close to London, you do get to see more mates than you do when you are far away from home! I think Jay is clocking up the most visitors- his fan base is obviously huge. Bobby is running a close second in the visitor stakes!

Between shows was quiet- most of us had a bite to eat in our dressing rooms and either had a quick doze or got involved in watching 'The Incredibles' on television. Fatal to watch Telly between shows. You never get to see it all the way through!

Time is fleeting. I look on the diary and see that Britt's Panto is ending this week- the 3rd I believe, and that down the road the Woodville Hall's panto is closing end of this week. I think the Deco Pantomime finishes on the 1st January- We're over halfway through here, but
it feels as if we've only just begun!

Tuesday 28th December 2010

Packed houses again and early shows. No Kelly today as she is recovering at home, and hopefully she'll find the bruising will go down with a bit of rest. Natasha called the dancers for a rehearsal to re-block the routines, and to make certain everyone knows to fill in the
odd gap!

Up in Nottingham Theatre Royal they are rehearsing in 'H' from Steps. He'll be stepping in at certain shows to play Aladdin while Stephen Mulhern has prior filming dates for 'Britains Got Talent'. I'll be able to see Two Aladdins when I go up to see the show on their last
week- maybe even two for the price of one if I'm lucky!

More news from Pantoland- this dreadful 'Flu bug which is starting to affect the country has struck in a good few pantomimes. Joan Collins has been ordered to bed for a few days by the doctors, and won't be appearing at the Birmingham Hippodrome . I believe Paul O
Grady has been unwell in Southampton 'Aladdin' as well, and John Barrowman's 'Aladdin' in Glasgow was affected by the great Thaw- burst water mains meant the huge seater venue was unable to supply water for toilets, catering or dressing rooms, so the show was
cancelled until they sort it out- which hopefully will be quick! I've heard of a few actors struck down with the bug that have not set foot on stage in a week- so it is definitely a time for all the understudies around the country to get those lines learnt, hopefully they'll not be
called up- but you just never know!

We have one day of 2.30pm and 7pm on Thursday, then continue our early shows at 1pm and 5pm until Monday 3rd January- that'll be into our last week. It is flying by- so fast!

Thursday 30th December 2010

After the early show routine a bit of a shock to do a 2.30pm and 7pm. Looking out of the window it was dark by the interval of the first show. At least its not snowing anymore. In fact it is quite balmy backstage, and no need for blankets when standing around waiting for a cue!

Had a visit from Alan our director and Sarah our choreographer this evening, and they saw a very jolly show with the audience definitely game for a laugh. Alan is returning in a day or two, and will be bringing our mate Hilary O'Neil on her day off from Northampton Panto 'Aladdin'.

Kelly has returned to the Ensemble- what a trouper! She has a support bandage on her elbow, and obviously has to be ultra careful in routines not to knock her arm, but she's in most numbers and makes all her changes despite.

I had a moment of confusion today when I got my furds wuddled.. I stared into the big blue eyes of Daisy The Cow and told her that we had to buy her to sell the Giant or words to that effect. The cow quietly giggled from both ends I have to add!

The audience is extremely close here at the Orchard- the front row is literally at your feet. Being so near you can see every reaction. I have to say to all producers, never write off the Ghost Gag as obsolete. Every time we do this old old routine you can see the effect on the little ones. They stand, they scream, they point and they have arguments with us over our total inability to see the 'Ghost' behind us. They are totally absorbed and completely involved. Seeing them react from a few feet away, I can assure anyone that this piece of theatre still works as well as it ever did. In an era of Wii and PSP's it is refreshing to know that an actor in a sheet going 'Woooo' and some silly people who can't see it for looking are still delivering the goods in pantoland!

Bobby has a busy day ahead of him tomorrow. He's off to a hotel in central London tonight after our show comes down at 9.30pm to get up before the crack of dawn and appear on ITV's'Daybreak' morning television. He's decked out in a glitzy sparkly jacket as guest
quiz master for the show. We wish him well and set our Sky Plusses, 'cos none of us will be awake at that time of the morning! Or you can watch it online here!

From Simon and myself and all at Dartford 'Jack' - Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! (That's more of your actual Welsh! - Ed) Happy New Year One and All!

Friday 31st December 2010

An early morning for Bobby- He was at the studios after getting up at 6am, and was still working at 7.30pm. Whoever penned 'Hi Diddly-Dee, an actor's life for me' didn't have that in mind!

We had our 1am and our 5pm shows with a short break in between- barely enough time to cram in the second set of Juveniles parties in. They had prepared a home grown version of our show to perform, but only had time for half of it before 'The Half' was called- we'll get Act Two in a few days time I believe!

Helen our Follow Spot operator has been taken poorly- she's got very bad sinusitis, and is being covered by Matt for the next few days while she recovers. Wish you better Helen.

The shows went very well. I generally find it difficult to 'Corpse' on stage- to laugh out loud that is, but today was an exception. Unfortunately it was in my only 'Sad' bit. Fortunately I covered it up by turning it into a muffled sob as I exited.

I have to say a very poignant and touching farewell to Daisy The Cow. I start to exit, she follows me. I turn and tell her how much I'll miss her. She  has huge blue eyes and big long lashes which she flutters appealingly. I well up. Daisy Flutters. The audience goes 'Ahh...'

Her eyeball stuck. The mechanism jammed and one eye resolutely remained open, glaring at me while the other appeared to wink. The offending eye then shut closed and I could hear the frantic tugging of strings within. Nothing. Just as I told her I would miss her there was an almighty jerk, and the eye popped open with a clunk.

I'm afraid it was too much. I faced upstage and  howled with laughter which (though I say it myself) I artfully turned into an anguished sob. (Anguished sob number 3 in the actor's guide book) and fled the stage clutching myself! Afterwards I recalled Freddie Lees, doyen of Pantomime Dames, and a wealth of pantomime treasured anecdotes- I recalled Freddie telling me how years ago he played Dame Trott with a cow that had a huge argument with itself during the milking scene- totally ignoring the Dame, the audience and the laws of nature!

Apparently this same cow used to refuse to enter if its Play-On music wasn't correctly played or at the right tempo!

We ended the evening with a version of Auld Lang Syne- scary as we'd not rehearsed it, or the linking arms bit- never easy in a costume and fortunately we didn't attempt the bit where you try and join up with the audience and end up nearly falling into the front row when it speeds up! We wished Happy New Year to the audience, to each other and left the theatre rapidly for the joys of parties or a quiet evening in front of the Television. This was the last show of 2010, and the last entry for the year. See you tomorrow in 2011!

Saturday 1st January 2011

Fortunately the matinee intended for 1pm was cancelled a week or so ago. Its not fun to perform to an audience feeling a tad rough around the edges. I'm certain the cast would be as bright as buttons- professionals you see- but there was no test. There is only ONE show today, our first and only one show day in the run here at Dartford.

It seemed strange not getting to the theatre until it was dark, but also rather luxurious. 'Like PROPER theatre' you could be heard to mutter! Lovely too to have lots of mates in to see the show- a lot of them have the day off or, some have finished their runs. Delighted to see Ugly Sister duo Oliver Gray and Dean Horner visiting. They finished at Broxbourne last night, appearing as Sisters in  'Cinderella' starring Gillian Taylforth  as Fairy Godmother. Ollie and Dean were also great mates of Peter Robbins, and Oliver's touring company 'Illyria' was the highlight of Peter's year- he loved appearing as Sherlock Holmes or Lady Bracknell for Ollie in the open air theatres in National Trust Properties and at the Edinburgh Festival.

We had a lot of catching up to do before and after the show. Lovely to see you both Guys! Visiting tonight with Alan Cohen and his son, Billy was Hilary O'Neil on a rare night off from her panto at Northampton at the Royal and Derngate Theatre. Not enough time to catch up on all the news, but hear that their show is going superbly, and she's having a great time playing Organic Fairy in 'Jack & The Beanstalk'- a busmans holiday tonight for Hils! Its hard to believe I first did panto with Hilary in 1979 I think it was- we were both babies of course- well Hils was anyway!

A few pantomimes will be finishing tonight, and a few more tomorrow. The Anvil in Basingstoke has a strange ending. They played New Years eve, had today off and return to perform one show tomorrow (Sunday) then finish. It must be odd having a day off then come back to do one show and pack up!

Early finish, feeling extremely rested after one performance. A rare treat!

Sunday 2nd January 2011

Two early shows- Dartford looked deserted. Like a ghost town this morning when Sarah and I arrived- fortunately there was life in the auditorium, and we had two packed houses of very jolly people.

In for the first show was our mate Ray Meagher- better known as Alf from 'Home & Away' and at this moment as one of the stars of 'Priscilla, Queen of The Desert' at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. I think I did Panto with Ray back in 2001, and it is delightful to have him in this country for longer than six weeks at the moment. He's here until Mid March, so lots of time to catch up! Ray has worked with Bobby in panto, and it was great to have tea and cakes backstage after the matinee and have a good chat. The time flew, and before you know it it was time for the second show and Ray headed for the station. Pantoland misses him this year, but I'm pretty certain we'll see him back as a villainous King Rat next year- he does a mean self written (well, with a little help from some of the 'Home & Away' lads as well) 'Rat Rap'- his speciality!

We also had a visit from Theatre Manager and producer Peter Sandeman and his wife this evening. Peter looks after the historic 'City Varieties' Theatre in Leeds which is currently undergoing its major restoration, and will hopefully be fully open and presenting Panto next year in this amazing venue. I used to play the City Varieties with John Farrow's company and for Charles Haley productions- Peter and I appeared there in 'Wind In The Willows', 'Christmas Carol', 'Alice In Wonderland' and in 'Pinocchio' there over the years- a tiny stage but a truly amazing Music Hall, made famous by the BBC's longest running show 'The Good Old Days'.

Peter took over from my Brother Vivyan as Assistant Manager at the Swansea Grand Theatre about 38 Years ago- and I worked with him at Cardiff New Theatre after that, and again at the City Varieties- and I must say he's looking good on all that hard work!

A couple of mishaps tonight of a costumic kind. The first involving my strip routine. Both Sarah and I were hurrying to put the strip on today and probably having a swift gossip. Between us we managed to forget something. One layer of the strip! I was in mid striptease, removing top and bottom of a polka dot blouse and bloomers when I felt a sudden draught where there shouldn't be! No, not THAT bad- we'd missed a layer of clothing. I was suddenly stripped to Wonder Woman with eight bars spare , so I did a lot of presenting and smiling work before diving behind the screen to emerge in my Nightie on cue!

Daisy however suffered a curious wardrobe malfunction- one that left onlookers creased up with laughter despite the precarious nature of the mis-hap! John and Kev's Cow Trousers (Complete with Hooves) were laid out as usual for their quick change into Daisy. Both boys strip down, as you do in the wing to clamber into the trousers and then get Daisy lowered on top of them. Not John. To Kev and Martin's amazement the trousers hooked themselves onto the scenic cloth as it flew out, and vanished thirty or forty feet up into the flies! We have Back End Daisy all ready to go, and semi naked Front End staring up into space. One second they were there, the next they were in orbit!

Luckily Dave up in the flies managed to find a pole and hooked them off the bar up in the grid, then swing them over the stage and drop them into the wings in time for poor Daisy to make her slightly breathless entrance!

Had a strange message from 'Beyond' while I was putting my make-up on. I'd been talking to Jay about Hinge & Bracket- the wonderful Patrick Fyffe as Dame Hilda and George Logan as Dr. Evadne. Happy memories of several pantomimes with the late Patrick, and happy memories of doing  Music Hall shows with George. This prompted me to play some of their tracks on my iPod taken from Live concerts they made - one I've never played before. Patrick had just sung and was into a gag he used to do about getting a piggy back to his digs on the shoulders of the good Doctor Evadne (You had to be there to appreciate their incredible humour!) when Dame Hilda related that they were surprised by the Landlady of their digs- Mrs Ellacott! I nearly fell off my seat! The eyeliner went half way up the wall. I ran the track back and played it again- It was definitely my name! Dame Hilda had popped my name into a routine, the way we all do when a mate is in- for instance I referenced 'Priscilla' today in the matinee for Ray, and mentioned 'City Varieties' this evening.

I wasn't at that concert, but it looks like Patrick used my name in that gag anyway! He used to climb up to our top floor dressing room at Southampton all those years ago and call out 'Are you taking Tea Mrs Ellacott?'. I guess the name just stuck! How I miss that amazing and truly wicked sense of humour and that huge talent. Its so good to know that George is running his Hotel in the most beautiful part of rural France and truly loving every moment of it. He's found his Nirvana.

Two tomorrow and a Posh Frocks dinner, courtesy of Mr Davro after the show tomorrow night. Who says we don't see life in Dartford, eh?

Natalie Cleverley and daughter Lori

Monday 3rd January 2011

Two shows today, at the earlier times with our final day off tomorrow. After that we have the last ten shows of this pantomime. The week will fly past, it always does, with friends and family coming to see us all before the panto finally closes on Sunday 9th.

Both shows were full and went well- a jolly crowd. We're ready for our day off, a chance to rest the voices, for some a chance to try and shake a cold, and for me the delights of not shaving and not putting my contact lenses in for a day!

We had a visitation from Michael Harrison and Jonathan Kiley from Qdos today- They are part way through an epic journey around the UK (Including Belfast and Glasgow and Edinburgh) to see the 22 productions that they are presenting this year. That's a lot of Churchill The Dog kennels in theatres around the country- Oh yes!

Michael saw our show and then headed off to see Northampton straight afterwards- an average day in a producer's life- seeing two pantomimes in two towns in a day. It was great to see them both and catch up with things before the show- way too many things to ask about the pantos on behalf of IBY in such a short space of time, but it most certainly looks as if business is up and panto in general survived the onslaughts of terrible snow, dreadful driving conditions and the onset of the 'Flu virus'.

After the second show cast and crew were invited by Bobby to join him for a meal at a local Italian restaurant. It was our very first company get-together outside the Orchard. With the terrible weather we've suffered and the two shows every day there really hasn't been the chance when a lot of people (myself included) have been commuting.

We had a really lovely evening, and it was extremely kind and generous of Bobby to throw this dinner party for all of us- and thanks too to Billy- he works with Bobby and organises his shows (and has done for a great many years) for organising this evening so superbly. We arrived just after eight o'clock and left around eleven thirty. Posh frocks, lovely food and great company. Again, thank you so much Mr.Davro!

Wednesday 5th January 2011

This afternoon was our first thin house- not bad when you consider how many shows we've done. The reason is because today the schools went back. The stalls were bereft of children- so much so that I asked the kids to raise their hands so I could count them- about fifteen in total downstairs! However- thin the house might have been, but (and I'm not alone in saying this) it was one of the nicest jolliest audiences we've had ! The wonderful rows of old girls whooping and cheering, joining in the Ghost Gag and singing the songsheet- the pensioners out to have a wonderful afternoon- they made it for us too! We all had fun, and everyone backstage was remarking on how lovely they were to play too. It reminded me of those lovely matinees at Bournemouth Pavilion- a sea of silver hair and glasses- and the biggest laughs of the week on a pensioner matinee!

Evening show was much fuller- actually not that many children, and a good number of thirty- something's in attendance. Good house again tonight. I'm glad because Andrew Ryan was in to see the show (which he loved) on his day off from appearing as Widow Twankey in The Theatre Royal Nottingham's 'Aladdin'. I'll be seeing that show next week as I've mentioned.

Seeing Nottingham on Friday of this week will be Panto Dame Nick Wilton and his good lady wife and Panto Fairy Lynette McMorrough. Nic and Lynette came to see our show this afternoon, as Nick's panto at Basingstoke finished on Monday. Lovely to have a chat afterwards- Lynette has just finished filming a pilot comedy-thriller with James Cordon (co-creator of Gavin & Stacey) broadcast dates to be announced!

Forgot my camera- so apologies to Andrew, Lynette and Nick for the lack of a photo on this diary today!

Actually started to move some of my spare costumes and accessories out of the dressing room today- and the Christmas Tree comes down tomorrow (Twelfth Night and all that) so the end is definitely nigh- but we still have eight shows left!

Thursday 6th January 2011

Well, the 'End Is Nigh' as they say- already thoughts are on the 'Get-Out' on Sunday. Bit by bit dressing rooms are being cleared here and there- I was surprised at the 'Emergency Spares' I had in my room- clothes, wellies, socks, toothbrush- in case of more snow! Hopefully that is all done and dusted now. The Christmas tree has been packed away, and by Sunday only the 'Good Luck' cards will remain as everything gets packed. If all goes to form all my costumes and wigs will be packed and ready for collection by 7.45pm!

Delighted to see IBY regular contributor Daniel Dawson in this evening. Daniel is on his Fifteenth panto of the season. I think he might well make twenty-two by the end. He's promised to send me a blog on those he's seen- look forward to reading that! Pleased you enjoyed us this evening, Bristol this afternoon and Southend tomorrow matinee! What an epic pantomime journey eh?

Its been great to come out of the stage door of a snowy evening and discover more IBY regulars- Michael Butcher for instance, who is always there, seeing pantomimes across the length and breadth of the country- it is very heartening to see this devotion to my favourite art form- as it is to see the audiences fighting their way through the snow to come and support us all in pantoland.

The afternoon house was thin - just a handful of children and a lot of pre school at that- we tend to be a little gentler in those matinees- I'm well aware of how big and scary I can be, let alone Jay as Evil Fleshcreep to the under five's! They love the Slosh act though, and the snowballs – even if they are actually too tiny to hurl them back at us on stage!

vening show very perky and a pleasure to play to. Escaped to the pub with some cast & some crew afterwards and suddenly realised the mid night hour was upon us. These 7pm shows are a shock to the system now, I tell you!

Friday 7th January 2011

Again not that many for the matinee- in fact a sea of reception class kiddies all wearing yellow reflective jackets. It looked like they were on board the Titanic waiting for the lifeboats! Behind them were a large group of Infant school children and a smattering of grown-ups. Not the best house for comedy, but they loved Slosh, Snowballs, Daisy The Cow, The Giant (scary) and rather oddly Lady Gaga!

The dressing room looks a bit bare now, but it still has the kettle and cakes, so I'm never short of visitors in the interval. Peter would be proud. He ran a very fine Interval Café did Peter Robbins.

Peter's friends (and naturally mine) Alistair and Miriam called in this evening. They live pretty close to the theatre, but Alistair (Chisholm) has been away working on a Christmas play based on The Snow Queen, and has just finished his run. Ali was one of our Panto Roadshow regulars recently, and frequently works alongside partner Miriam for Illyria, touring during each Summer to The Stately Homes and The Edinburgh Festival in August.

The Evening show was very robust, with an audience very much in the mood for a good time. They got it. Almost fifteen Minutes more than usual too! Very jolly they were and the time zipped past. Time is speeding past in general now, with a mere four shows left after this one.

Said our goodbyes to some of the theatre staff who leave for the week-end. When they return on Monday we will have vanished, leaving not a trace behind! Strange that, isn't it?

Andy Hill threw our last part in the bar after the show, completing a round of amazing hospitality from the Orchard Theatre. I am truly in awe of Andy's skills at running this HQ Theatre- everything is tuned to perfection. From the minute we arrived for our first Press Call, when we experienced the friendliness of the Stage Door Keepers and the Meet and Greet from Marketing- right through to the very great kindnesses shown to us all when we were snowbound- getting fed and watered royally, being greeted with such warmth- it all stems from the top Andy, and you have assembled a truly magnificent Front Of House team, Backstage Team and management team. It has been a huge pleasure to have played your warm and friendly theatre.

Lovely party, and a nice end to a rather good day here in pantoland. I'm not called with Sarah until 12.30pm tomorrow for our 2.30pm show, so I even get the luxury of a lie in! More guests tomorrow, so more additions to the diary before we finish on Sunday Evening.

Saturday 8th January 2011

Two packed out shows with not a ticket to spare. Luckily our visitors today had booked well in advance. In between shows was a flurry of visitors- and a delight to see Simon Curtis and Chloe Caplin joined by Nigel Catmur and family- Angie and two sons Max and Sam. The two boys came backstage with very wide eyes. When asked 'Who did you like best' I expected the answer 'Daisy The Cow' but I was informed 'You!'. Clever boys or well rehearsed boys! Their Daddy Nigel has lit many a pantomime as well as major events for the BBC and indeed 'Thriller' in The West End and Worldwide.

Simon Curtis of course needs no introduction as the other half of www.its-behind-you.com and the very clever half! He's already back with Welsh National Opera rehearsing and planning a wedding with Chloe in July of this year- a major theatrical event in the making!

Simon and Chloe met up with Nigel and family and then with Susie McKenna and Sharon D Clarke who were visiting. Mates of Both Wayne and myself Susie of course writes and directs the Hackney Empire Pantomime- starring Clive Rowe as Dame, and Sharon of course is that amazing performer from countless West End Musicals including 'We Will Rock You' at the Dominion. Sharon is soon to be appearing in 'Ghost - The Musical' in Manchester before it transfers into the West End.

Susie and I go way back to the late 'Eighties, early Nighties in 'Cinderella' for E&B Productions, with Susie as the elegant Dandini, thigh slapping and belting out number after number in our pantomimes together. It was so lovely to see everyone between shows- so much so that suddenly it was 'The Half' again, and as the audience arrived and took their seats Wayne and I crammed half a chicken sandwich and a chocolate éclair down our throats, and I made it into my cottage for 'Beginners' with seconds to spare!

It was lovely to take Sam and Max backstage and see their faces as they encountered the Giant, and saw Dame Trott's Cottage with its stairs and little bedroom at the top- we met Daisy briefly (lying on her back having a rest actually- udders akimbo) and saw the costumes and wigs. What joy to see their faces! Magic!

Susie informed me that Doyen of Dames (I have to call Freddie Lees that, since it is true in my case) Freddie has pointed her in the direction of this Diary. She didn't know we were blogging before the term was invented! Glad to know you've joined the regulars Susie!

Thanks again to Theatre Manager Andy Hill and his staff for last night's great Soiree in the foyer- and it was lovely to meet Rodney Howard and catch up on Panto news and talk Dame topics and swap contacts for costume and props during the evening. A very jolly chat!

Both shows were great fun and very swift. We are all so aware that tomorrow will be a big blur of packing and before you know it, we'll be gone. A Pantomime is born, it runs it's course then it vanishes as if it had never existed- except of course it does- in the memories of those wot did it and them wot watched it!

This evening Bobby's special invited guest was a true legend. Eddie Kidd, the poster boy of the  late70's still as good looking today as he was back then- the dare-devil of the motorcycle stunt circuit and film circuit. He is a legend and it was an honour to see him and his family backstage after the show.

A swift drink in the pub with some of the girls & guys on crew then back home for a swift turn-around. Taking in a bag tomorrow to bring home the dressing room contents that won't be going in the big Qdos lorry, driven by Simon as usual, which reaches me on Monday afternoon. By Monday evening the frocks will be back in the store awaiting dry cleaning, and the following day I'll be in Nottingham for the Panto that evening!

Last day tomorrow! It is also the end of pantomimes in Aberdeen, Glasgow – The Barrowman Panto and The King's Panto- High Wycombe, Weston, Coventry, Stoke, Hull, Southend, Swindon, Northampton, Derby, Leeds and Barbara's 'Dick Whittington' in Bristol among others. Have a fab last night everyone!

Sunday 9th January 2011

The final day in a journey through pantoland. Standing in my cottage dressed in a yellow beehive wig and a psychedelic 60's swing coat waiting for the lights to come up, I was struck by the journey itself. The first day of rehearsals. The learning the lines and the routines. The run through in the Rehearsal Studios followed by the Technical rehearsals at Dartford.

The Snow! Being stuck on the Dartford bridge for hours. Bobby trapped on the motorway trying to find routes to the theatre through snowbound streets..overnighting at the hotel and looking at a frozen and blocked M25 from the window!

The amazing hospitality that Andrew Hill and his staff have shown to us- feeding us when we couldn't get to the shops, and on public holidays- catering our opening night, press calls and final show parties- the huge friendly welcome from Stage Door and the truly supportive and lovely backstage crew who have been our travelling companions on the journey.

In short- we're here. The final two shows. The first one was a good jolly mixed crowd, and although we had packing up in mind, it was not at the forefront. The second show was a lovely audience, and as the show sped by the dressing rooms became barren- cards and decorations gone, costumes vanishing into the travelling wardrobe boxes and the corridors filling up with skips, boxes and objects swathed in bubblewrap!

Thankfully Dave Barker had arranged for Frances to come in and help me pack- Sarah was dashing here, there and everywhere dressing me for the Fourteen changes we always do, and also collecting costumes from the rest of the building along with Adele. Frances took everything from me as I took it off and packed it away in skips and boxes. My costumes, skips and boxes will make the short trip to Southend tonight, collect some things from Peter Pan and then without stopping at Neverland will drop them off at Ilford in the morning. I'll be there to receive them at the KM Theatre store bright and early.

Visitors today included Sean Needham and Corina Lirola. Sean as readers of IBY's Diaries will know was Prince Charming with Peter and myself in many 'Cinderellas' and has recently been on tour with Buddy and in The West End with The Buddy Holly Story, followed by 'Wicked' at the Apollo Victoria and now over a year in 'Mamma Mia' . Corina is about to open in 'Grease' in The West End. It was lovely to see them both and catch up.

During the between shows rush it was a pleasure to see Lee Redwood again briefly- Lee has finished playing Dame, and is on his marathon Panto visits. In the past month or so he's been to Bournemouth, Southampton (several times on both Lily shows and not Lily shows!) To Woking, Basingstoke, Cardiff and twice to us here at Dartford, Poole and Nottingham in the offing. Not bad eh? I'm exhausted just writing them down!

I think a blog from both Lee and Dan Dawson called for guys? Pantomimes Wot I Have Seen!

Very briefly saw Martin Ramsdin backstage, in to see the show. Wish there had been more time for a chat. Hardly got a minute in the packing flurry before show number two. Martin has returned from his 'Cinderella' with partner David Robbins at Llandudno. It was David of course who fractured his arm here last year in an unfortunate accident but missed only one performance- By 'eck that lad is made of stern stuff!

Lovely too to see my friends Alan, his Mum and Jenny in to see the show. They very kindly gave me a lift home. Sarah was going to be several hours after me on the panto get-out, so I was very grateful to leave swiftly. Everyone vanishes within fifteen minutes after the panto ends- that happens everywhere. I'm not sure why- maybe people don't like extended 'Goodbyes'- I don't think any panto ever has a 'Last Night' party on the actual Last Night- folk are too busy packing up, moving out and the crew are involved in a 'get-out' that can take them into the early hours in some cases.

SO- a short while after the curtain came down here at the Orchard Theatre the dressing rooms were dark. This big extended family said its goodbyes, swapped mobiles, promised to poke on facebook and vanished into the dark Dartford night!

It has been a journey that was engineered by producer Jon Conway, driven by Alan Cohen Sarah St. George, Graham McClusky and Bobby Davro and one that left us all with a huge regard for the Orchard Theatre and its staff and crew. Thanks Qdos for putting us all together on the same train! Giants were slain, Cows were returned safely and Beans Means Dreams!

The pantoland express has left for this season. Here's to the next!

Production Photos

we are very grateful to Richard Loftus from The Orchard for supplying these photos

This page was last updated 15th January 2011

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