Previous Diaries

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

Wednesday 8th December 2004

As the old Harlequin motto went- 'Here we are again!'

Panto Re-united! (Ed! - Idea for a new website!!)

Once more, unto the rehearsal rooms of West London we all meet up again - third year running the entire company rejoins to take 'Cinderella' to the Theatre Royal in Plymouth. The company met up in the rehearsal canteen, much hugging and 'lovvie-ness' abounding.

The cast, for those who (for shame) have NOT read the previous Southampton and Manchester Diaries are as follows- in no particular order -  Rachel Spry (our Fairy Godmother) Dawson Chance (Baron) Sean Needham (Prince) Jody Crosier (Dandini) Lynsey Britton (Cinders) Brian Conley (Buttons) along with Peter and myself (The Pretty Sisters).

Mark and Rachel - Dawson - Sean and Lynsey

Joining us for another adventure are our regular terpsichoreans - Michael Laidler, Phillip Dawonkewicz, Alice Chilver and Rossana Stocchino, joined by the 'New' boys and girls Edwin Ray, David Austin, Tanya Stricker and Emma Adcock.

Michael and Tanya - Phillip and Linda - Edwin

David - Emma - Alice and Jody!

Our Musical director (as in the past three years ) is Mark Crossland, and the Stage management team  has Linda Derby (a three year-er) joined by Darren McKeown, with our new head girl Susan James (DSM) and our new head boy Anthony Bishop (Co. Manager) and directed  and choreographed by Paul Robinson, again on his third year with the show. Quite a coup to have so many familiar faces once again!

Paul and Susan - Darren

After coffee we got together in the main rehearsal room to see how much we all remembered, and, on the whole, it seemed as if we had finished the Manchester run yesterday. Somehow all the blocking and the lines just appeared, as if by magic. Sometimes there was a bit of head scratching and the odd 'Can anyone remember what I did last year?'- all without need, as both Paul and Susan had every move and gesture firmly plotted in their scripts. Some topical gags were worked in by Brian, and the magic that is pantomime began to take shape by lunchtime.

Brian and Dave Spikey! - Brian and Award!

Brian was delighted to be clutching his very recent award- in fact, he received it last night at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. Brian is the proud recipient of the prestigious Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for 'Best Performance in 2004' for his role in last year's pantomime at the Opera House! It was awarded to him by Dave Spikey (Phoenix Nights) after readers of the Manchester Evening News voted Brian the top award of the evening!

Award Winners!

What is delightful in this extended family that is Pantomime, was the chance to meet up with old chums at the rehearsal rooms. Right next door to us was the Wolverhampton Grand company of 'Cinderella' with our mate Gary Wilmot! Peter and I did two great years in 'Cinderella' with Gary at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and at Woking. Having visited Gary at the Palladium this summer during his long run in 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', it was a nice surprise to run into him again. Like us, he and his company are here until the week-end.. With Gary is Spencer K Gibbons- Spencer was our very first Buttons when Peter and I first joined E&B Productions for Paul Elliott- seems like we're over-run with Buttons today! With Spencer was David Laine the musical director , a dear friend of ours too, as is Stephen Dean who plays Prince Charming in the Wolverhampton season- Stephen's sister Letitia Dean will be rehearsing with Joe (King of The Jungle) Pasquale this coming week for her panto in Birmingham. I just re-read this and realised I'm starting to sound like a cross between 'Hello' Magazine and Hedda Hopper! Forgive me! We also met up with Darrock & Howe the Ugly Sisters at Wolverhampton, and I was delighted to discover that both these gents will be wearing costumes I designed for Qdos last summer. I always knew they had great taste!

Nigel and Gary

The sad news I hear today was that Lizzie Wiggins (The Duchess Of Dudley) won't be able to be in the Wolverhampton run, as she has been in hospital- hopefully she will now be resting at home. We send you our very best wishes, Lizzie- Get well soon.

Darrock & Howes and Peter - Stephen Dean

Thursday 9th December 2004

Another successful day, somewhere in deepest Fulham. We did a full run-through of the show today, not bad for day two really is it? At this stage we are working without the props, through a combination of miming (didn't all that 'Be a Tree' stuff come in useful?) or ingenious improvisation with whatever happens to be handy! It was Lynsey who pointed out the scope of imagination when Dawson has resorted to 'Stand in Willy' (I must hasten to add to the uninitiated that Willy is Dawson's sidekick..a turtle) by using an old yoghurt carton at one point. The magical moment that the crystal slipper is ceremoniously passed around the ballroom from courtier to courtier produced an array of water bottles, someone's discarded trainer, and the odd rolled up newspaper'¦. 

Had a really lovely surprise visit from Kirsty- our Deputy Stage Manager from the previous two productions of this panto. She's currently working on 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' at the Palladium and, bless her, called in to say 'Hello' to us on her free time. That says quite a bit about the strength of 'Family' in the company doesn't it?

Rachel and Kirsty

Met up once again with the 'Cinders' company from Wolverhampton- headed by Gary Wilmot. He and Brian were deep in a 'Chitty' conversation..............more of that later- there may be a scoop coming up!

Called at 10.30am tomorrow- our last day in the rehearsal studios before we all depart for Plymouth on Sunday.

Friday 10th December 2004 

Half day today- very nice too! Did a complete run, and a bit of fine tuning to the 'business' in the rehearsal room, and finished by lunchtime. All around the country at this moment Panto folk are either packing, tech or dress rehearsing, or in some cases already performing.

Peter & I did a slot for Radio4 'You And Yours' during the run-through, pontificating on the history and indeed the future of panto. This edition will also feature an interview with Jonathan Kiley of Qdos Entertainment, so should make for an interesting programme- no air date as yet sorry!

Just as I was talking about the pantomime 'extended family' yesterday- Lo and behold.. walking past our rehearsal studio was Jodie Jackson! Jodie was our lovely Cinderella for several years- at Birmingham and Woking, and just happened to be rehearsing in the same building for a 'gig' tomorrow!. Within minutes Paul Gyngell (Jodie's Prince in those pantomimes) also walked past. Great to see them both, and get a chance to catch up on the past few years!

Jodie and Nigel

Rehearsals ended- we all meet up in Plymouth on Monday for a 10.30am call. Tomorrow will be taken up with packing, and I'm doing Radio 7 at 5pm talking (yes, you guessed) about Pantomime, but on the telephone- Can I waffle and iron at the same time? We'll find out! We left saying our farewells to the Wolverhampton company, and waved Mr Conley off as he climbed into his modest car and swept off for a performance he's giving this evening. All right for some, eh?

Showing Off!

Until Plymouth- Enjoy the weekend!

A note from Simon - with Nigel in Plymouth and me on the end of a very dodgy connection in Spain for a couple of weeks the updates will be a little delayed and, alas, without the pictures which Nigel has been struggling to send through! We will be back in business after Christmas Eve when I return to the UK and the joy of Broadband!!

Monday 13th December, 2004

Travelled down yesterday by train, and arrived early evening. Delighted to discover that the digs are superb, and very near to the theatre. Brian is our neighbour, and most of our company seem to be within a short walk of the Theatre Royal.

Today we were called not to the theatre, but to TR2. As a rule, while the scenery is set up in the theatre, Pantomime casts throughout the country usually spend a few days in a local church hall, or dance studio- over the  years Peter & I have rehearsed in buildings as diverse as Churches, YMCA's and an old cinema. Not here in Plymouth!

The Theatre Royal boasts a stunning new nine million pound complex that rivals anything you would hope to find in any other city. TR2  was built on reclaimed land on the edge of a harbour to house the rehearsal rooms, wardrobe, scenic and props departments, as befits one of the country's leading 'Producing Houses'.

For the uninitiated, a producing house creates it's own products, or builds a show for visiting companies who might 'Launch' their show from the venue. A Receiving house takes in tours. Plymouth has recently presented 'Hamlet' at the Barbican, and created the sets and costumes for the current 'Miss Saigon' tour that began life here in TR2.

It was a great morning exploring the building, looking at the wardrobe department and scenery departments. The 'Cinderella' costumes are currently being refurbished and fitted while we rehearse, while the scenery is undergoing 'Fit up' back at the Theatre Royal.

Brian had travelled down last night in a large white van- not, if you recall the vehicle he left the rehearsal room in! The reason for the change of transport is his vast collection of props- a giant 'Robot' for one, as well as several 'Dangerous Brian' props. Being neighbourly, he gave Peter & I a lift into TR2 this morning- Jack driving, me in the front of the van ('˜cos I've been poorly recently they said.. or is it because I'm the oldest?) and Brian and Peter in the back of the van. Halfway along we ran into Dawson, and he too was dispatched into the back of the reminded me of that old Marie Lloyd song- you know..'My old man said follow the van..?' Especially the verse that goes 'We packed all we could pack in the van..' when we arrived it looked like a Guinness book of records for how many comics you could stuff inside a  vehicle before the seams burst..!

The overwhelming impression amongst us all is that the Theatre here is very friendly- this was reinforced when they announced a 'Meet and Greet' at 1.30pm, and  the staff of the Theatre's marketing, education and production came down to say 'Hello' and introduce themselves over coffee and sandwiches. A really lovely welcoming gesture- Thank you guys!

Finished our run through at 4pm, then set off to the theatre where Peter and I started to sort out the dressing room. Thanks to an amazing wardrobe department all our costumes, which were sent here a month ago were hung and pressed, and ready to go straight into the Quick Change Room on Thursday. For now all we need in the actual dressing room are the costumes we'll be wearing for the press call on Wednesday morning. Had a quick Pizza, met the others in the pub for a swift drink, and our call is tomorrow at 2pm. Tomorrow we'll be rehearsing the juveniles ('The Babes') into the show for the first time. Two sets of Juveniles, so obviously we rehearse everything twice!

Tuesday 14th December, 2004

Back in TR2 this afternoon. Today we rehearse the Juveniles (or 'Juves' or 'Babes' as they are known in panto) into their scenes. The two sets of children were put through their paces, having already learned the routines in advance. This way Paul Robinson was able to fit each set of ten (I think it was ten..they keep moving about!) into the Village opening, the Hunting scene (very PC.. no foxes are chased in our version!) and into the Transformation, ballroom and finale scenes.

We finished at TR2 just after 4pm, and while I set off to explore the Barbican area with Sean and Rachel (a beautiful part of Plymouth full of historic buildings and tea shops) Peter returned to the Main Theatre and went in search of a sewing machine.

You may have noticed from pictures taken recently that Peter has lost a great deal of weight! He's kept up his regime of slimming all throughout the summer, and is now a dedicated slave to exercise. I fear he may soon have to run around under the shower to get wet, but he assures me he's reached his target! As a result of having lost many stone, he now has to take in quite a few costumes, so set to work on the sewing machine this evening to take the waist in on the finale, the ballroom and several other frocks!

Called tomorrow for a sound check at 11am, then we begin the long 'Technical' rehearsal ('The Tech') which will continue until Thursday Evening.

Wednesday 15th December, 2004

Called today at 11am at the Theatre Royal. This is the first day of a two day 'Tech' call, so from now on the hours get longer. We're called until 10pm tonight, and will hopefully have run through the technical for Act one by then.

Tech days can be long and they can be tedious- there is a lot of hanging about while the technical staff fine tune the show. A Tech has nothing to do with performance, it is purely and simply for lighting, sound, scenery and in some cases wardrobe. Scenes will be run and re-run until 'you can't see the join' as Eric & Ernie would say. It is the director's time to rehearse the technical aspects until they are a seamless whole.

Also there are two sets of juveniles to fit into their scenes, so we'll often rehearse a scene twice and then again to get the scene changes right. Peter and I usually take this time as a good day to check everything we wear, and our personal props. I spent a while glueing food onto my 'Picnic Table' costume. Armed with an industrial glue gun I spent a while attaching pies and pastries (not real ones!) onto plates that are , in turn velcroed onto the table I'll be wearing in the woods scene. Peter carried on taking his costumes in to accommodate his 34' waist (instead of his previous 44' waist..) and we both ended up knee deep in red feather at one point sneezing through the process of attaching them to our finale harnesses.

Talking of harnesses.. Here in Plymouth the local council has banned animals on stage (well, the four legged variety anyway) and sadly my mates the ponies will not be with us this year. Readers of previous diaries will know that one of my panto pleasures was feeding 'the boys'.. Still, there we are. However, there have to be horses, and they appear in the semi-human form of Michael (Laidler) and  David Austin at the transformation scene. Michael and Austin appear in gleaming white & gold costumes with large chess-like horse heads atop their own, and with very fine plumage. It looks very striking, and I suppose if I offer them a carrot they'll probably be grateful'¦


Sad news tonight- the 'Panto grapevine', which is faster than any other form of communication (you know the old joke? 'What are the three fastest forms of communication? Tele-phone, Tele-graph, Tell-a-chorus girl''¦) Sad news about Jeanette Krankie- Whilst appearing in panto in Glasgow Jeanette fell almost thirty feet, and is now in hospital with, we believe, a skull fracture and a broken collar bone. Our thoughts are with both Jeanette and Ian , and wishes galore for a very speedy recovery.

We reached our target- the end of act one by 10pm. Called tomorrow at 10am to begin the Tech rehearsal of Act Two.


As pantomime seasons everywhere open their doors, we panto folk would like to send our very best 'Get Well Soon' wishes to our mates out there who, for the moment are unable to be onstage, but who, we're certain will be back in front of the footlights very soon.

Best wishes to JOHN INMAN who has been poorly for the past few weeks and is now on the road to recovery, and due to return to pantoland. Lots of love to LIZZIE WIGGINS (The Duchess Of Dudley) who has been unable to appear in the Wolverhampton Grand panto this season, and our very sincere wishes to JEANETTE KRANKIE after her accident today (Wednesday 15th December).

Jeanette in her persona of Jimmy Krankie suffered a fall during her pantomime- she fell almost thirty feet, and it appears has a fractured skull and a broken collar bone, but miraculously seems to have escaped more serious injury. Best of love to you Jeannette and to Ian as well.

Thursday 16th December, 2004

Final Technical rehearsal today- spent most of it working Act Two- The ballroom scenes, Brian's 'Dangerous Brian' spot, and the slipper fitting scene into finale. Amazing how much room there is backstage- the wings are very spacious, and our Quick Change room is superb. I might move in there full time- it certainly has the best seat in the house, as you can sit and watch the show in comfort!

We 'Teched' our strip routine and sorted out costumes , then continued with a full dress rehearsal in the evening. We ran the dress without stopping which is unusual for a first dress, but that's mainly because we've all done the show before, and because the stage management and crew at the Theatre Royal are so highly efficient- oh, and friendly.. did I mention that? You really feel welcome here.

Sylvia and Sue our wardrobe ladies sorted out all our changes very swiftly, and organised where they would take place. Since we change costume four times in the first scene (rapidly) the first three are done in the wings. In fact, apart from returning to collect shoes or the odd pair of tights Peter and I do all the changes onstage, or in the Quick change room. Keeps you fit I guess!

Had word from the Kenneth More Theatre that the 'Play wot I Wrote' (I've written  and costumed the 'Snow White' there) went extremely well on its opening night, and had a phone call from Keith Simmons in the afternoon. Keith is Tech rehearsing the brand new 'Peter Pan' at the Mayflower in Southampton, and seems to be having great fun there with his mate Geoffrey Hughes aboard the Pirate Ship!

A swift drink after the rehearsal- Peter & returned to the digs after midnight and set about adapting a 'Bald Wig' in the kitchen- I have a small head, so at midnight the Sisters were discovered at work- me on a kitchen stool wearing a plastic bald cap..Peter armed with scissors and glue attacking my head with all the gusto of Norman Bates in 'Psycho'.. at one point I noticed we hadn't drawn the curtains, and was half expecting to hear sirens at any minute..well, it's a living isn't it?

Called 12.00 tomorrow for notes, a full dress run and we open at 7pm.

Friday 17th December 2004

Called at midday for a note session with Paul before the final dress rehearsal. We held this in the Green Room. Plymouth has one of the few true green rooms to be found in the country. At one time most theatres had one- a place where actors could congregate, usually near to the stage entrance, but now they are very few and far between. Peter and I often create a Green Room during panto, as we did last year in Manchester, or in Edinburgh from a vacant dressing room, but it is a great luxury to find one nowadays.

Not altogether certain why 'Green Room' was the original name. Some people subscribe to the 'Village Green' Theory- Actors will often say 'See you on the green' meaning 'See you on stage'- the theory is that the 'Green' room was a tent next to the performance area- often the village green, hence a 'Green Room' was a place actors congregated. A little too convenient an explanation I think?.. Other theories date to the days of melodrama when the stage was covered in a cloth painted green..but nowadays the room is very rarely painted green (due to it being an unlucky colour to many actors) and is generally where you'll find food. And.. where there's food you'll find actors!

Note session was livened up by an appearance by that acrylic superstar 'Rory The Tiger' the guise of Lindy. Rory will make an appearance on stage in the finale each night as this years crop of pantomimes are sponsored by Haven. Rory is the Haven mascot.

Dress rehearsal began at 2.30pm..very smooth it was too, with no stops or hold-ups. During the rehearsal Peter and I did a brief link  for the local BBC, and will do another one tonight live. Finished the dress at 4.50pm and returned to the green room to grab a bite to eat.

Before the opening cards and opening night 'prezzies' delivered- many flights of stairs. We kept passing various members of the cast doing the same. Sean described this as more exhausting than the show. We got ready early to do the live link with Natalie the BBC anchor lady, and went out live at around 6.45pm. She visited the sisters boudoir and then surprised Brian in his dressing room. Backstage we bumped into Anne-Marie, Brian's lovely wife, and Lucy & Amy their daughters- amazing how much they've grown in a year!

Show went up at 7pm..not exactly nervous, but we're all on that wavelength where you now need a live audience, and you  want to know how they will react to the show and the new bits of 'business' that have been created. No two audiences are alike, and no two towns. Plymouth we can safely say is a very warm audience, and, heaven be praised a great panto audience that likes to give rounds! You could sense the buzz backstage as the rounds occurred, and the laughs came thick and fast. We were enjoying the audience enjoying themselves!

Officially tonight was a 'Charity Preview', but call it what you like- a first night is a first night, and we had a ball! Paul our director was delighted, and Brian did a great speech at the curtain call thanking the crew, cast and staff here at the Theatre Royal. Quick drink afterwards, then the Uglies left to soak their feet in a bowl of hot water- the first few days of Dame-dom' is when you feel the effects of the shoes- getting the feet used to the high heels once again. Everyone on a high afterwards as we all know that we're onto a winner once again. Thanks Plymouth!

Saturday 18th December 2004

Opening Night! Even though we did our first show yesterday, today is designated our 'official' opening, and Monday is our 'Press Night'.

A Matinee today at 2.30pm, and an evening performance at 7pm. Both houses packed to the rafters- apparently there are very few seats to be had for the rest of the run, which is always great to hear! Also today was our first day when we had no rehearsal calls. Paul Robinson will be with us until Monday, and we will all be very sorry to see him go. I think he's not looking forward to leaving his 'baby' either, but will be calling back to see us again several times before the season ends.

Today was my blurry day. I can't believe that I did what I did, and it must be what's referred to as 'A Senior Moment' thinking about it..

I have usually spent each season without my glasses onstage, staring at the fuzzy scenery, fuzzy cast and never seeing the audience. This year I decided to get disposable lenses, and through rehearsals they have been a triumph. Yesterday they were a triumph. I could see everything as clear as a bell. Today I had trouble as soon as I put them's lens first, then make-up, finally the big false eyelashes. The matinee opening was blurry.. so by the hunting scene I removed the right lense, replaced it (cursing.. that's 50p!) and still no better.

By the interval I replaced the other.. a little better. Between shows I took '˜em out  & threw them away. (that's £1.50 now.. tch,tch). After tea in the green room I put new ones in. Worse'¦ Decided it must be a faulty batch. No. It was Paul who peering in my eye after I had taken them out told me he could still see a lens.

Yes- for a long while today I did the shows wearing TWO PAIRS of contact lenses at the same time. No wonder I couldn't see a thing!! Oh dear.. not long now until people say loudly 'Does he take sugar Nurse?''¦.

Had a great show despite the double vision, and we all went to the circle bar after the show to meet the Theatre Royal Supporters Club '“ the associates, and then to a first night party hosted by the Management. Delighted to run into Tim Croel who handles the publicity and marketing for Qdos from their Covent Garden offices. Tim was formerly at the Plymouth Theatre Royal and, like myself hails from Swansea originally. Karaoke was in full swing as Peter and  I tottered off (it's the feet you see.. in need of Radox) but we stayed long enough to discover that 'new Boy' Austin (David Austin) has a wonderful voice..we've seen him do backflips and summersaults across the stage, but didn't know about the singing!

Tomorrow is a day off- Bliss. The Plymouth shops don't know we're coming, but they will do!

Monday 20th December 2004

Press day. The streets of  Plymouth are very wide, and make shopping deceptive. It doesn't look crowded until you actually get into the shops and see the queues at the tills! Saw many cast members out and about before the matinee, struggling through the shopping hoards. The Theatre dressing room was a haven of tranquillity after all that!

Two shows, both sold out. The second had the press in to review the show for local and possibly national press. Things have settled into a routine now, as it always does. Out there in the real world there is seldom any order, but backstage at a pantomime all is controlled and reassuringly repetitive. You find yourself in the same place at the same time. We learn when not to stand somewhere because a herd of Forest animals is about to charge past, the boys running like the wind to change from Forest animal to Hunters. Only in Panto eh? I find a place to stand in my picnic table as they thunder past. I think sometimes people think we make up a fair bit of the pantomimes- ad libbing our way through a show- not so, I hasten to say, as every moment of a pantomime, or any large show for that matter is strictly controlled and ruled over by the DSM- in our case Susan. She has literally hundreds of lighting queues, cues for both Pyrotechnics- Flashes and the 'Fireworks' set on the proscenium for the transformation, and dozens of flying cues. All that and two lasers, smoke machines, dry ice machines and, yes - in our version, actually flying cues to fly Rachel as Fairy, and Trap cues to lower Brian at one point, and raise him on another.

Susan at Mission Control!

So, I guess my point is- Pantoland is highly regimented. We have safety first at all times, and very strict disciplines to adhere to every moment we are backstage or onstage. Out there in the shopping world chaos rules. In here Susan and Anthony our Stage and Company managers rule, as do the resident stage manager and crew. We wouldn't have it any other way!

Our visitor today was Nick Thomas, the head of Qdos. He was in this evening to watch the show. The first of many Qdos heads who will be touring the country to view this year's crop of Pantomimes.

Evening Herald Plymouth

Tuesday 21st December 2004

Reviewer: Bill Stone

Cinderella. Theatre Royal Plymouth

Bold and boisterous that's what a panto should be. And this one is certainly that.

If you take a favourite story simply told, and add a cup full of comedy, another of song and dance, spice it up with spectacular costumes and sets, season with audience participation, garnish with stellar performances and sprinkle with panto's special pizzazz, you'll end up with something very like this extravaganza, a treat for the ear and eye, and a serious assault on your funny bone.

Clearly in charge whenever he's onstage, Brian Conley as Buttons delivers a powerhouse performance, immaculately tempering his comedy with touches of pathos, and he's masterly with the children invited on stage.

There's no dame, but a gruesome twosome to hiss and boo in the Ugly Sisters, Britney (Nigel Ellacott) and Whitney (Peter Robbins), flaunting staggeringly inventive outfits, and delivering excruciating jokes with consummate technique.

Adding more comedy is Baron Hardup, played by Dawson Chance, accompanied by his puppet Willy.

Lynsey Britton as Cinderella is the delectable fairytale heroine, beautiful, vulnerable but never downhearted for long, and fully deserving of happiness for ever after with her Prince Charming.

Casting men as the Prince and his courtier Dandini alters the balance of the show, and when they are personable- and fine singers- as Sean Needham and Jody Crosier, they bring a refreshing strength to the characterisation.

Fairy Godmothers are frightfully busy at this time of year of course, but no nonsense Rachel Spry, glittering to her fingertips, finds time to fly in, literally, on wires, to ensure the narrative stays on track.

As usual there is an octet of hard working dancers, and teams of juveniles scoring an especial hit with the audience when they appear as woodland creatures.

I would have welcomed more physical comedy and slapstick, but then, I'm greedy.

So, if you haven't booked seats yet, what are you waiting for? '“ Devon Theatre Revue:

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Reviewer:Laura Joint

Edited highlights:

Cinderella at the Plymouth Theatre Royal cleverly mixes old-time panto with new-fangled technology'¦and with the gags coming thick and fast, it was a real hit with all ages!

Brian Conley as Buttons is great fun and is ably supported by a strong cast.

There are laughs right from the off, with the Fairy Godmother (Rachel Spry, from Totnes) flying across the stage and Buttons falling off the stage!

Slapstick plays a big in this panto, and the comedy seems to appeal to both youngsters and grown ups.

Some of the best lines are delivered by the Ugly Sisters- Britney and Whitney, played by Peter Robbins and Nigel Ellacott- who also get to wear the best costumes.

Its very clever in parts- the scene where Buttons is disguised as a tree is sheer comic genius.

The use of modern technology is also innovative, such as thelaser lights and Buttons being brought in time to the ball by a Robot. (a special mention must be made of the stage sets which are fantastic).

A lovely addition to this panto is the use of puppets'¦the kids love and so did the Mums and Dads. And then there are the 'Oooh' moments- Cinders in her fabulous over-the-top carriage and the ball itself.

Lynsey Britton plays Cinders perfectly. Dawson Chance plays Baron Hardup as a totally ninny, which of course he is.

The Prince (Sean Needham) and his assistant (Jody Crosier) have under-stated roles'¦It's Brian Conley who steals the show. He's very funny, and makes this version of cinders- directed and choreographed by Paul Robinson- more of a comedy show than anything else.

There's the usual interaction with the audience (Oh yes there is) and of course, there is a happy ending. Great stuff!

Wednesday 22nd December 2004

Today the Theatre was sold virtually to one large group- split between the day, with the younger children at the matinee and the older ones in the evening. Older children fall into a strange category as far as Pantomime is concerned- at around the age of 11-12 it is suddenly not 'Cool' to be sitting in a pantomime, when you'd probably rather be at home texting your mates and listening to the latest rapper 'puff diddly shack attack' or who-ever they are.. This lot started off in festive mood- festive as in frosty! There they sat, arms crossed glaring at the stage defying anyone of us to make '˜em laugh, and thus destroy their street cred!

All praise to Brian and our company- we took no prisoners, and within a short time they had completely forgotten not to laugh, and once again fell under the spell that is Panto! Ageless, timeless and text-less.

As Paul Daniels might say - it's Magic!!

Our Panto family is growing as partners, husbands and wives (and children) start to arrive to join us for the festivity (I say Festivity singular as, of course it's just the one day off). Most of us are staying put in Plymouth, with just a couple heading for home after the performance on Christmas Eve, only to return early on Boxing day morning. So far weather forecasts are a bit confused. 'It's going to get colder' they said. 'Might even Snow' they sais. Here in Plymouth it couldn't be milder if it tried- after doing Panto in Aberdeen Peter declares this place to be tropical! Fingers crossed for panto travellers throughout the country..

Prince Charming not only fixes it for Cinders to fit the crystal slipper, he's also a dab hand at fixing a telly. Sean managed to get BBC1 set up on the dressing room television in readiness for my 'Weakest Link' panto special on Friday. That's 5.50pm BBC1 by  the way, miss it at your peril! Whilst flicking through the channels we discovered not only can we watch our own show on a monitor channel- always dangerous! There you are, cup of tea, watching the show. 'Ohh, I'm good in this bit! Oh god, I'm off!' That hasn't happened to us, touch wood, but it has happened to people we know! We discovered we can also spy on the Drum Theatre's production of 'Dracula'! The Drum is a large studio theatre within the Theatre Royal. Peter & I watched fascinated as two men transformed a member of the audience into a bat with the use of Bin liners and a stapler. Great fun it looks!

The power of radio was proved today. Peter & I were on 'You & Yours' on Radio 4. We'd recorded it in the rehearsals if you recall? It was on at lunchtime. During the show a gentleman turned up at the Stage door called Peter. He'd been listening to it in his car, and headed for the theatre- It was a long lost cousin of mine that I haven't seen since I was seven! We managed to trade addresses, and hope it isn't another err well another long time before we meet up again!

Thursday 23rd December 2004

'Come Hell Or High Water!'

The shops are now hideous- queues stretching as far as the eye can see. It looks as if everyone has left it to the last minute. The theatre was a haven of peace and tranquillity. Well.. not quite- during the morning the basement of the theatre started to flood. At first it was thought to be as a result of high tide- the theatre is below sea level, but it was soon diagnosed as 'A blockage'. Oooer!

Dynarod, or their equivalent were summoned and much pumping went on. The Drum Studio's dressing rooms were affected, and their costumes were moved to another level. The Babes were transferred to wardrobe and finally Dynarod's engineers traced the source of the blockage to Prince Charming's dressing room!

No, it was nothing Sean had err appears the main pipes were beneath his room, and with the wave of a magic dynarod, the problem was solved. All's well in Pantoland again, and the Babes can return without needing Wellington boots!

Both shows packed again today, with an exceptionally perky second house- it's amazing that when an audience is very lively and appreciative you feed off that energy. It really does give you an extra 'lift'. Brian was up very early this morning, doing a live link from his dressing room to GMTV (why would anyone be in their dressing room at 6am ? It's panto!)

Willy and Dawson

At the end of the show the company was invited to meet the corporate sponsors for a drink and a buffet (yes, mention food to actors and light the touch paper) and we were all delighted that the theatre had booked a jazz trio for the event- the incredibly talented Maggie Reedau, and her musicians. Maggie sang her repertoire of jazz and blues numbers and we stayed long after we all intended to. It turns out Gary Wilmot who was here in panto last season asked Maggie to go to London and sing for his 50th birthday this Summer, having heard her at the Christmas bash during his panto. What a great voice she has- Thanks Maggie!

Two shows tomorrow, and in between we're gathering backstage to watch the Pantomime 'Weakest Link' with yours truly facing the 'Queen of Mean' Anne Robinson. I still shudder at the memory!

A Very Merry Christmas everyone out there in Panto Land!!

Normal service has now been resumed - Simon is now back in the country and linked up to Broadband!!!

Christmas Eve 2004

No shops for us today. I'm not setting foot out there! Got myself to the theatre early so that I could get made up quietly and leisurely. There are days when I vow I'll do this, and inevitably end up chatting then realising I have ten minutes to get it all on..Peter & I are used to putting it on in about seven minutes- Roadshow training I guess- but it is nice to take your time. This I achieved today!

The two shows were great fun, and boisterous. A great crowd in both houses. Between shows we all gathered around the televisions in the building to watch 'The Weakest Link' Panto special. I had forgotten how scary the whole thing was in retrospect! Seeing Anne Robinson glaring at us all on the small screen brought it all back!

Joe, Peter, Ruth, Lisa, Shane, Queen of Mean, Britt, Nigel, Alvin and Helen

If you tuned in, you'll know by now I made it to the final three, and got voted off by Lucy Benjamin and Joe Pasquale- Lucy went on to win over £16,000 for her 'Rainbow' charity. I got dozens of 'You was robbed!' text messages- they came in thick and fast during the second show! Got an e-mail from our mate Britt (Ekland) who couldn't get a good enough picture to watch in Guildford as the Dressing rooms are a bad reception area. She tells me her little dog 'Tequila' gets his own walk-down in the panto and last night wore his own Santa Hat for his appearance in the show.Bless!

My favourite bit was when I was voted off, and exited scowling doing my comedy trip to camera.. all I could hear around the Theatre Royal was good old panto Boo-ing! King of the Jungle? Hah!!

A swift beverage after the show, then back to the digs to hang up the stocking for Santa- and we Ugly Sisters have very long stockings!!

A VERY Merry Christmas from Its-Behind-You from Peter, Simon and myself!

Christmas Day 2004

Just the one day, but a very relaxing and enjoyable one. It is so mild here that walking along the Hoe and the seafront you could almost believe it was late spring. Peter and I haven't had the opportunity to look around the Hoe and the historic Barbican area properly, and we very very impressed! The sun beating down on us.. could this really be Christmas?

The Hoe before the Snow!!

Yes it could! Thirty minutes later it snowed! A White Christmas indeed! Heard from Ian Sandy our friend the Company Manager at Birmingham Panto. Sorry to hear that Letitia Dean is off for the moment, having suffered a back injury, but will be back onstage any minute. We've had two of our dancers off yesterday-Austin suffered a minor injury and Rossana with an ear infection. They're both fine, but  as dancers they realise that you have to be 100% fit- despite protestations they were told it would be better to stay off until they were both better, and the dance routines were swiftly re-plotted. Both are feeling much better today.

During the evening several of us met up at the 'digs' shared by Michael, Rossana, Phillip Lindy and Darren. As the photograph shows, we had a great time playing silly games..the sort where you end up sellotaping a name to your forehead so only you don't know who it is, and have to guess? Great fun. It just reinforces the theory that in a pantomime company we are all part of a family- away from your friends and family we become one large family unit. Just thought.. Does that make Peter & I the grannies or the grand-dads? Heaven forbid! It was lovely of Michael and his fellow flat mates to invite us all. Thanks guys!

Tomorrow is a 'School' day- Two shows at 1pm and 6pm. Our call is at mid-day.

Boxing Day 2004

Being a Sunday the shows are earlier today- 1pm and 6pm. Boxing day matinee audiences can be difficult- stuffed to the brim with turkey and suffering over indulgence they can be very laid back. Fortunately they are made of hardy stuff here in Plymouth, and the audiences for both houses were very perky and appreciative.

Brian hadn't got the lie-in he would have liked- both daughters Lucy and Amy had woken up in the dim light of very early dawn to discover Santa had been! When you gotta unwrap presents you gotta unwrap presents. Lucy (two and a half) had an extra Xmas treat when she was allowed onstage for the songsheet, and gave her rendition of 'Old Macdonald had a farm' like a trouper. Seems amazing that a year ago Brian was carrying her onstage, now she took centre stage of her own accord!

Rossana is recovering from her ear infection and was back onstage, and Austin returned as well. Must admit I was pretty tired today, despite not having touched a drop yesterday.. This week is all about pacing yourself- twelve shows in between the Christmas Day festivities and the New Year festivities can take it out of you, as will the 126 costume changes between now and New Year! Thank goodness for our wonderful dressers Sylvia and Soozie! Guardians of the Quick-Change room they get us in and out of Ballgowns, Picnic Hampers, intro the strip layers and Finales as well as dashing off to transform Cinderella from rags to riches. This year is Sylvia's Twentieth pantomime, during which time she's dressed Dames such as Les Dawson, Jack Tripp, Jeffrey Holland and Danny La Rue..And Soozie last saw me when I was dressed as a Goose at the Haymarket Theatre Leicester in the 1970's!

The Crew

Michael Laidler told me a fascinating story yesterday, one that I'd like to expand on this website, perhaps in an article. Michael's first pantomime was 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' for Paul Elliott (E&B Productions) as a dancer. His Mother did her first pantomime for Paul Elliott in 1969 in- yes- 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'! A rather unique case of Mother and son appearing in the same pantomime for the same producer, but almost thirty years apart! Hopefully Michael and his Mum can locate some photographs of both these productions, and we can put them on site! I'm still wondering if Michael (Laidler) can trace his family tree back to the King Of Pantomime- the producer Francis Laidler, the man responsible for building the Bradford Alhambra, and the man who created 'The Little Sunbeams' troupes of juveniles. Get searching that tree Michael!

Answers on a postcard to..........

Monday 27th December 2004

Two shows as usual- full to the rafters and both houses very jolly. The sales are on everywhere, and the town centre is heaving. As the old panto gag goes- I went to the shops, they were heaving. I was pushed, I was prodded, I was manhandled.. I can't wait to go back tomorrow! I had planned to get my 'Grab Bag' present, but had second thoughts looking at the crowds and the queues'¦

'Grab Bag' or 'Secret Santa' is a very old Panto tradition- everyone puts their names into a bag and selects a name of someone in the company. The next few days are spent discovering something about this person- to try and find a small gift that is wrapped and is, of course anonymous. Rachel, ever the Fairy Godmother takes on this task each year and has organised an 'in between Show' do on Wednesday. The Green Room (thanks Sadie and Co) is providing some food, and we'll all gather there to unwrap the presents. The usual spend limit being a fiver, so you have to be inventive!

Talking of the company, it's time to introduce the gentlemen of the orchestra- We are very lucky here in Plymouth to have a band consisting of eight- a rare event in this day and age. Lead by Mark Crossland, they consist of 2nd Keyboards-Tor Underseth, Bass Guitar- Mike Thorn, Drums- Alex Smith, Percussion- John Rockcliffe (who we last worked with in this production at Southampton) along with Chris Cole on Trombone, Peter Taylor on Trumpet and Clive Jones (Tenor/Flute).

Spare a thought for those poor musicians who never get to see the show- being under the stage in the 'Pit', the only only one's who get to see what's going on are Mark, Alex and John!

We had news tonight that Paul O'Grady has been taken ill, and was unable to appear in 'Snow White' at the Victoria Palace on Boxing day or again today. He has a chest infection, and is recovering at home. His part has been taken by the comedian and impressionist Fogwell Flax who was in the show appearing as 'Muddles'. Swift recovery Paul, and Best wishes from us all.

Tuesday 28th December 2004

The Theatre Royal opened its doors in 1982- so this is it's 22nd year of operating. Interesting to see how many productions began life here, including 'Jolson' starring Brian Conley in 1996 before its tour and West End opening at the Victoria Palace in London.

Going up the staircases to the Green Room and the dressing rooms there is a gallery of previous productions, including Pantomimes going back to the 1980's- photographs of Danny La Rue (a frequent visitor to this theatre in pantomime) as Mother Goose, and again as Widow Twankey, photographs of Peter Pan and Dick Whittington, previous Cinderella's and  A great one of Barbara Windsor in 'Guys and Dolls'-always something to make you pause on the way up or down stairs.

Noticed that the production due in shortly will be 'High Society'. One of the stars of this musical will be Ria Jones. Ria has starred in many West End Musicals including 'Chess', and if you clicked on the Peter & Nigel section of this site you'd find Ria again at the tender age of fifteen appearing with us in 'Cinderella' at the Grand Pavilion Porthcawl- our second pantomime as Sisters, and her first as Principal Girl. We'll have to make sure we leave her a note when we leave here to say 'Hello'!


(L To R) Cheryl, Nicky, Soozie, Sylvia and Donna

The Wardrobe department here has created many West End and major touring plays and Musicals. As we began rehearsing the Theatre Royal's 'Hamlet' was at the Barbican Theatre in London, and they built the current tour of 'Miss Saigon' that opened here in the Summer months. Our wardrobe team on 'Cinderella' consists of  dedicated ladies who ensure we make all the quick changes in time, and  no sooner have they achieved this  they are transporting costumes from one side of the stage to the other, sorting out 'pre-sets'- that's when costumes are set ready for a Quick Change- generally in the wings, and also looking after the maintenance and laundry during the run. Soozie and Sylvia look after Peter and I, along with Nicky, and with Cheryl and Donna ensuring the show goes smoothly with the very many changes involved. Peter & I have our stage left quick-change room, another room just off stage right, and we also do three changes in the wings. Without these ladies chaos would soon ensue, as we'd never be able to get on stage in time for the many rapid changes required in this fast moving show.

Chris - Carolyn

Another important section of backstage is the Stage Door- This is the 'Control Centre' of the theatre behind the scenes. All incoming calls are received, along with mail, deliveries and security issues. The Stage door keepers act like a sub post office for the mountains of mail and enquiries that come in every day, monitor the to-ing and fro-ing of visitors and employees through the door, and always have the answers to any enquiries- from train times to restaurants!

Wednesday 29th December 2004

A busy day today, all in all- Two shows and the 'Grab-Bag' between. Both houses packed out as you would expect in this, the busiest week for Pantomime.

Is it Grab a Bag or Grab a Granny!!

Spent the morning trying to arrange for the company & the theatre to do collections for the Asian disaster fund. Traditionally we have collections at the end of some shows for charities like the NSPCC or the EABF (The Entertainment Artiste Benevolent Fund) but with the mounting scale of the disaster that has affected Asia and Indonesia this week, it is vital that we, along with other Theatres across Britain try to raise as much money as we can to contribute. Plans are in place to get this sorted out as quickly as possible. I think people would appreciate being asked to contribute after the show. With so many parents in the building it would be a gesture we would all like to be involved in.

No Comment!

Between shows we met up in the 'Olivier Suite' at the theatre (one of their corporate entertaining suites) and held our annual grab-bag. Brian presided as Santa once again, and everyone involved had a bite to eat and unwrapped their 'secret' presents. These generally involve shopping trips to Anne Summers shop, to provide a somewhat err adult selection of 'Joke' presents, as well as the more traditional. Dawson could be found during the interval setting up the contents of his 'grab-Bag'- a magic set. That should keep him occupied and us entertained for a few weeks! Dawson's lovely wife arrived during the second show. We missed her last year, and haven't seen her since Southampton panto. Dawson and Synnove live in Spain, and she had flown over to join him. It was when Peter and I were first in Southampton Panto in 1993 that we worked with Synnove, when she was acting as Wardrobe mistress for the panto season.

Synnove and Dawson

We had our share of visitors today too- had a visit from Ben, one of the dancers from our Aberdeen season, and from our friend Chris Waring and his girlfriend Liz. We worked with Chris in Sheffield panto when he was flyman at the Lyceum Theatre. They watched the evening show from the upper circle. We tried to have a chat in the pub across the road after wards, but it was karaoke night- enough said!

Thursday 30th December 2004

The good news today is that the wheels have been set in motion for the theatre to collect money for the disaster fund. With the news of this catastrophe getting worse every hour, at least we can try and raise as much cash as possible and send it to the charity fund. Qdos sent a message through Anthony our CSM (Company Stage Manager) to let us know that every Qdos pantomime will be joining in- that's over thirty theatres doing a collection after each show.

Brian made the announcement in the finale curtain speech, and out front the Ushers and Usherettes along with front of house staff collected an amazing £1,200 on this matinee alone. I spoke to Andrew Ryan, who is playing Dame at Bournemouth, and they are doing the same- I think by now most Theatres around the UK will have started the collections. People bringing their children to a pantomime can be very generous, and  it is very much appreciated by all of us working in pantomime this season.

We are in the planning stages for a further way to raise some money for the fund- but more about that later, when we've worked out the details.

To Infinity and Beyond!

Brian's little daughter Lucy arrived at the theatre in her 'Buzz Lightyear' costume- looking very serious as she told us all she was off 'To infinity and beyond'. Not bad for two and a half years, eh? It was Anne-Marie, Brian's wife who looked at Lucy with her hood pulled tight and said she looked a lot like 'Dangerous Brian!' in the ballroom scene. Lucy made a short appearance on stage in her costume to the delight of everyone backstage. 'Hello Buzz..Who's your daddy then?' reply 'You are!'..Amy, her sister watched delighted from the prompt corner with her Mum and the rest of us!

Tomorrow we have two shows (New Year's Eve) at 1pm and at 6pm, then we're all meeting up at a restaurant organised by Lynsey to spend New Year together, just as we've all done for the past three years.

TSUNAMI EARTHQUAKE APPEAL SHOWS - A diary of pantomime companies fundraising efforts

Friday 31st December 2004

New Year's Eve. Two shows today at the earlier time of 1pm and 6pm. Both houses very perky and responsive. Very good news about the two collections for the appeal fund yesterday- a total of £2,750 raised in one day! Now we are doing this every day, along with Theatres all over the country we should be able to forward a good amount each week. All of the world people are contributing enormous amounts of money in the hope we can make some difference to help.

Our plans for our other idea for fund raising are going well, and after a meeting between shows, we should be able to announce what form this will take. Watch this space!

Austin, Phillip, Rossana, Edwin and Emma - Anne-Marie and Brian - Digby and Rachel

It's been a long week- twelve shows. Felt pretty tired by the end of the second one, then Peter and I hurried back to our flat to change ready for the night out at the restaurant with the rest of the company. We had an hour to look respectable- I's nowhere near long enough! There was a moment sitting on the bed to put my socks on when I thought 'If I just had ten minutes rest here I could..' but no! Off to the venue we went, and saw the New Year in with our mates for the third year running. Seems incredible that a whole year has passed since we arrived drenched to the skin at the restaurant in Manchester, and here we all were on a wonderfully mild night doing it again.

Darren and Lindy - Sean and Loren

Great to see many people had friends and family down, and partners have travelled down to see the New Year in. We feasted on Tapas, drank vino and had a lovely night. I hope the photographs give some of the flavour of the evening. Many thanks, Lynsey for organising tonight's bash!

Anne-Marie and Philip in the party game that's sweeping the nation - I WANT TO SOUND LIKE THE KING OF THE JUNGLE (Sorry Joe!)

I wonder if we'll be repeating this in another year- I do hope so. It would be amazing if we could all be together again, and already the bets are on for where it might be. We have a pretty shrewd idea, but for now we're keeping mum!

A very Happy, Healthy and successful year to all you out there in Pantoland from all of us here in Plymouth!

FAN MAIL!! Received 2nd January 2005

Dear Cast of 'Cinderella' at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

It has been a real pleasure working along side a great bunch of professionals in this years panto and an extra boost to be the first contracted male chaperone in the Theatre's 22 year existence. Stars come and go at many theatre's and the 8 stars of 'Cinderella' couldn't be nicer. Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins are the ultimate in Ugly Sisters along side a wonderful team of performers, such as Dawson Chance as Baron Hardup (along with Willy, his popular turtle friend) with Sean Needham as Prince Charming, Lynsey Britton as Cinderella and Jody Crossier as Dandini all in fine voice. Star of the show is the popular comedian/actor Brian Conley as Buttons. Brian was Santa for a between shows Santa grab for the stars and backstage crew, which was organised by the brilliant fairy godmother played convincing by Rachel Spry and through her organisation it was discovered by our Company Manager (Antony Bishop) that we went to school together in Torquay over 27 years ago. No show is complete without a great bunch of chorus/dancers and this years team are exceptional. My job along with Margaret and Sherrie has been a real pleasure looking after two teams of Babes, each having their own personalities and qualities. It has been the most enjoyable experience and I look forward to future shows at the Theatre Royal. Special thanks to Sue Berry for giving me the opportunity to work here. On a more sadder note the earthquake disaster has been the most terrible thing to see and the money raised at the theatre has been amazing, I hope people will support the stars and theatre and continue to give generously. Happy New year to everyone.

Best wishes from David J Bailey (Chaperone to the 'Babes')

Monday 3rd January 2005

Two shows yesterday, and the delight of a day and a half off- we have no show until 7pm tomorrow. A chance for everyone to rest up, and recharge their batteries- well, perhaps not the casts of the Bournemouth and Poole pantomimes.

I heard from Andrew Ryan today that the first of their fund raising shows went brilliantly. Both companies have combined to do two 'special' panto style shows for the Tsunami disaster fund. The first was at Bournemouth this morning at 10.30am, and the second will be at Poole this evening after their pantomime has finished. Poole company will in fact be doing four shows today, and bless them for that! These two special shows have the combined talents of The Bournemouth Pavilion, The Poole Pantomime Company at the Lighthouse, and the Panto company from the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

The companies included- From Southampton- Sara Jane Honeywell, Joanna Forest, Karen Atkins, Natasha Jayetileke, Lewis Young, James Hicks and Kerri Llewellyn. With Sarah Preston, Charlotte Rose, Kate Morley, Lynsey Tierney, Luke Henderson, Neil Kelly, Josh Gebhard, Rorlando Theodorou and company manager Mark Simpson.

From The Lighthouse- Brian Cant, Chris Haywood, Darren Bennett, Sam Cummins, Natalie Khosh, Kelly Cambell and Company Manager Steve Jeffries with Wardrobe by Debbie Groves.

From the Pavilion Bournemouth- Chris Jarvis, Chris Ellison, Tom Owen, Jackie Piper, Andrew Ryan, Maria Rice-Mundy, Paul Iveson, Stuart King, Hannah Cooley, Thomas O'Connor, Steven Whitson, Kristiana Groves, Tahrah Jan, Gina Joyce Bernard. Wardrobe by Ellie Tattersall and the orchestra headed by Roy Hilton with Kenny Hollick and Dennis Alan. Special Guest was Sandra Dickinson.

The Bournemouth Pavilion show was a sell-out and at £10 a ticket looks set to have raised a sum in excess of £13,500 in ticket sales, without the 'bucket' collection and the raffle to add to this. The figures raised including the collections could now be heading for the £20,000 mark shortly. An amazing feat. Here's wishing that tonight's show at Poole does capacity business. In addition, along with many theatres across the country they are having collections after every show. As of yesterday  our collections at Plymouth have raised approximately £5,800. This  money will be sent directly to the charities that need it the most in the long struggle ahead for the aid workers.

Our Fund raising plans have yet to be confirmed, but here's a sneak preview! If all goes according to plan we'll be staging a Gala show shortly at the Theatre Royal with  Brian Conley and friends '“ it will have a first half starring Brian introducing selections of songs from our West End artistes, some variety from Dawson and Myself, and a two 'sets' from our dancers, under the musical direction of Mark Crossland. Brian will do the second half of the show which will take place after the second show. Details to be released as soon as we have them. The important thing now is to get a date confirmed, and set the wheels in motion to promote and publicise the event, contact potential sponsors and  ensure we pack them in. Every penny raised will be added to our fund. What is so heart warming is the enthusiasm from everyone at this Theatre. Everyone wants to help- this is what is happening all over the country, and indeed the world at this moment. Watch this space!


I heard from George Gold today. He of 'Gold's Platinum Ponies'. George has been supplying tiny Shetland ponies for Pantomimes, Ballets and Operas for many years from his base in Scotland. Recently his ponies and horses have been supplied to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and to the Royal Opera House for 'La Fille mal Garde'. He tells me that his ponies are not working this year- it seems that there are two problems. This is not a 'Cinderella' year. Many theatres chose 'Cinderella' for the Millennium year, and, with a five or six year cycle, this means they won't be doing 'Cinderella' until next year. The other problem is the increasing number of local councils who now refuse to allow real ponies on stage.

I know too well there are arguments for and against performing animals, and don't want to enter that political arena, but from a personal point of view all the ponies I have worked with over the past twenty-five years have been looked after with the utmost care and love, and if I tell you that 'Star' the pony I have worked with the most is now twenty-six years old, and in 'tip-top' condition, I feel it is a great shame personally that they are not included in many venues today. I miss seeing my 'boys' and I think they must miss their annual excursion just as much. Hope there are many Cinderella's next year for them to strut their stuff!

We have received news that the Bournemouth Total was in fact well over £25,000! Fantastic News.

Tuesday 4th January, 2005

The luxury of one show! A chance to relax before going in for the 'Half' (The half hour call at 6.25pm) and catch up with anything that needed catching up on- sleep..shops..or in  the case of Mark Crossland- writing arrangements for the Charity Gala all day!

Yes- STOP PRESS! We finally have an announcement. The date for our Gala show in aid of the Tsunami Fund will be SUNDAY 16th JANUARY. Delighted that we can finally make our contribution at last. Brian was able to announce it from the stage during our curtain calls, and we'll follow this up with local press and hopefully television to try and sell as many tickets as possible.

The final details will have to be sorted out fairly swiftly- what price to charge, and the exact time of the show for example. Can we get sponsors on board perhaps to provide the bubbly? Sponsors to provide an impressive raffle prize? The show itself has already got underway in terms of rehearsals. Mark met up with Lynsey, Sean, Rachel and Jody today to rehearse for a few hours. They will be providing three 'spots' during the first half, the dancers two spots (one in each half) Dawson and myself one spot each, and Brian will introduce, compere and do the entire second half. A true Variety show in fact, and there are not many of those to be seen in Theatres these days!

Edwin - Emma - Phillip

Just as we were leaving this evening I learned that the audiences (god bless '˜em all) have so  far contributed an astonishing total of £8,500 to date through the collection buckets- far in excess of previous collections, but this is an appeal that everyone knows in their hearts is one of the most catastrophic in history. Everyday I hear of Theatre Companies raising money each day, of 'Special' Charity shows like the one Bournemouth, Poole & Southampton did yesterday, and the Entertainment world using it's access to the media to draw attention to the need for more cash to be raised. Our show will begin shortly after the second show finishes at 8.40pm on the Sunday, and will hopefully pack them in. Fingers Crossed.

I found myself at a loss for words- in fact my lines tonight. A word of advice- NEVER listen to the audience. It does you no good! In our ticket tearing scene- the one where Cinders has to rip up her invitation to the ball.. There I was venting my spleen at the poor girl as I have done oft before.. 'Whitney? Did YOU give Cinderella this invitation?' 'No, Britney, I Didn't!'.. 'Well I didn't give it to her'¦so'¦.'

Just as I'm about to round on her, my talons wagging in her face to say 'Then she must have STOLEN it' I never got the opportunity. Loud and clear came a child's voice from the stalls..

'Buttons gave it to her, you prat!'

Wit forsook me. Apart from the odd splutter nothing that made sense came out of my mouth.. as they say- out of the mouths of Babes and Sucklings..

Review from

Cinderella - Theatre Royal, Plymouth

This production belongs to Brian Conley. His charismatic Buttons is a panto triumph - a consummate performance which never fails to hit the mark. Conley's commanding stage presence gives the impression of effortless control. His easy, street-wise mischievousness capturing the hearts of all age groups in an instant.

Dawson Chance as Baron Hardup delights the children with his tortoise puppet Little Willie. Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins are suitably unpleasant as Ugly Sisters Britney and Whitney while at the same sporting some of the most sumptuously outlandish frocks ever to totter across a stage.

Lynsey Britton is an engaging Cinderella. She has a fine singing voice, as does Fairy Godmother Rachel Spry - which they showcase together in the powerful Circle of Life. Sean Needham as Prince Charming ably supported Jody Crosier as Dandini provides the royal love interest.

Here is a pantomime that respects tradition but tells the tale with a contemporary pazzaz. This production is blessed with liberal helpings of glitz and comedy. This ensures the best of both worlds - a show that is not only visually stunning but one that effervesces with a feel-good factor.

An eight-piece band serve up a solid up-beat sound while the dazzling costumes and lighting are the icing on the cake in this sumptuous production.

Roger Malone

Wednesday 5th January, 2004

Remarkable how time is flying by. Twelfth Night tomorrow, when traditionally all the Christmas paraphernalia comes down and is put away in it's box. I know the feeling! We have two more weeks left after this one, and the pantomime will be packed away, along with 'The Sisters' until next year!

Quite a few pantomimes will be finishing this coming week-end, and some like Stevenage and the Ilford Pantomime will continue into February. I can remember Pantomimes at Swansea (where I grew up) going on until the early part of March- I guess they learned to pace themselves in them olden days!

Jody and the sisters!

Dawson, Peter and I often find ourselves talking about 'the Old Days'- Dawson, like myself has a keen interest in the pantomimes of the past- we were recalling various ventriloquists of the past and their creations the other day- names like Arthur Worsley, Terry Rogers and even 'Coram and his automaton Jerry' '“ admittedly long before our time, circa 1913 in fact. There are very few 'Vent' acts around nowadays- There's Dawson and his Willy of course, and Paul Zerdin currently in pantomime- Keith Harris and Orville, and we heard that Emu is back in pantoland this season at Crewe Theatre. Since the death of Rod Hull, Emu hasn't been featured of late, but Rod's son has recreated the act, and Emu is set to terrorise the world again under the management of Laurie Mansfield.

Puppets have always featured in pantomimes past and present- Larry the Loafer is in our production- Don't worry 'It's a Puppet!' to quote Mr Conley, and many panto's feature U.V (Black Light) puppets today, as they have done in the past. They often have exotic French names these 'U.V.Acts' and one always suspects they began life in Bolton or Bradford- but it adds a touch of 'class', eh? This year my 'Snow White' at the Kenneth More Theatre features UV Puppets (created by Andrew Ryan) that include a pair of singing underpants..You could say they (Y) Front the band really.. the waistband maybe? Sorry.. overdosing on Panto here!

Certainly in our years of Panto, Peter & I have worked with many 'Vent' Acts and Puppet Acts- Ken Wood, Ward Allan and Roger The Dog, Bob Carolgees and 'Spit' the Dog..and with Dawson and Willy many many times. Long may these acts thrive and continue- enjoying a renaissance is Basil Brush at Richmond Panto, and one wishes for the return of Lenny The Lion, Lamb Chop, Nookie Bear and perhaps even Muffin The Mule.. hmm.. perhaps not! In a world of panto Geese, Cows, Cats and the like, there is always going to be room for the experienced puppeteer and his or her creations.

Two shows tomorrow, and sandwiching in some rehearsals for the Gala on the 16th in between shows. I believe we sold over 300 tickets today just on word of mouth. Advertising starts tomorrow!

Thursday 6th January, 2005

Two very perky shows today, with the audience well 'up for it'- and again between shows Mark and his quartet of singers (Rachel, Lynsey, Jodie and Sean) were rehearsing in between shows for the Gala show on the 16th. They've sorted out their pop section, and today were rehearsing their 'Fosse' type selection. I sat in the stalls and marvelled at how singers and musicians meld and blend- quite envious I was of the talents they possess- harmonies picked up immediately and retained, a gorgeous sound coming from the four of them, along with inventive segues from mark- it was very exciting to observe.

Now- The Gala Variety show itself. Brian wants to dedicate the evening to Ross Baker. Ross was a local actor who appeared most recently at the Theatre Royal in 'Fame' and tragically was lost in the disaster in Thailand. Our aim is to make as much money as possible through this concert, and to add it to the £11,000  that the theatre has raised so far in collections to date.

Ross Baker

Up until 6pm this evening, we had sold 700 tickets. Brian has done a few radio broadcasts publicising the show, which resulted in these bookings. He went on television (BBC and ITV) tonight at 6.30pm to do the same, direct from the Theatre. Amazing, but an hour and a half later we have completely sold out! Yes- that's 1,350 seats at £20 each all sold! To say we were at a loss for words backstage would be an understatement!

So- we're looking at a potential £37,000  to be raised by the show and collections to date, plus the further collections up until the 22nd January, and proceeds of a raffle- our target might well hit £50,000 if the audiences are as generous as they have been up to now- the combined efforts of everyone front of house, backstage, of musicians, crew, cast and theatre management will have achieved this through the generosity of the audiences here in Plymouth.

Austin, Anne-Marie and Jack - Brian, Sean, Emma, Alice, Synnove, Tanya & Dawson - Emma, Tanya, Michael & Alice

During the evening we all went to the local 'Pizza Express' to celebrate Jack's Birthday. Jack (Brian's PA) joined us all for a meal, and we had a great evening with the place virtually to ourselves. Only one show tomorrow at 7pm, but I suspect there will be some rehearsals taking place between Mark and his quartet, which brings me back to where this started!

Lynsey, Nigel, Alice, Emma, Tanya - Luca, Rossana, Anthony, Lynsey, Brian

Friday 7th January, 2005

My goodness- Plymouth can be a windy city! Had trouble staying upright as I made my way into the theatre, and I hadn't touched a drop before you ask!

Rehearsals had been underway today- the dancers have choreographed their opening number, which is apparently stunning! Can't wait to see their next rehearsal.

Looking at 'Stage' today it is so heart warming to see the response to the Disaster appeal in the world of Theatre- I noticed Luton panto raised £4,000 for the appeal with an extra show, that Jeremy Beadle is organising a night at the Grosvenor in April to raise money for Sri Lanka, that the Covent Garden street entertainers are donating one day's earnings.. that Both Joe Allen and Orso restaurants are giving the proceeds from every Monday night in January to the fund, and on our front I believe we are nearing the £15,000 in donations from our twice daily audiences who generously dig deep into their pockets after each performance.

I'm getting around to e-mailing and '˜phoning friends around the country to wish them luck with their last nights- Britt (Ekland) will be finishing her run this week-end, as will Andrew (Ryan) at Bournemouth and Ray (Meagher) in Mansfield. Already Christmas trees and cards are gone from the dressing rooms, and soon these magic worlds of palaces and pagodas will be packed away until next season. Everyone is wondering where they might be next year- we hear heavy hints, but it's a bit too early to book the digs quite yet!

I think we might have been asked to extend a week here in Plymouth at one point, could not due to Brian's other commitments in Scotland for a week after we finish here. He does have a very nice job to go to soon- I'm not allowed to say where it is or what the role is, but it might mean he has to spend some time tinkering with a car- Brian Conley a Quick Fit Fitter I hear you say? Hmmm..

Sunday 9th January, 2005

A wet and blustery day, but it didn't make much difference- with a show at 1pm and another at 6pm you don't have time to notice. In between shows sat in on a rehearsal of the Gala. Magnificent sounds from Lynsey, Rachel Jodie and Sean. The dancers have put together an additional routine to accompany one of Lynsey's numbers.- it's going to be a great show! Peter helped me time my piano spot, and I seem to be looking at slightly over ten minutes in total , which seems to be about right.

The Coach & 'Horses' - Edwin and Michael

Meanwhile other rehearsals are taking place- no, not for the Gala, but in the 'Babes' dressing room. They're rehearsing their 'cod' panto, which traditionally takes place on the last week-end between shows. I was asked recently why we call spoof pantomimes 'Cod' pantomimes- and to be truthful I hadn't got a clue. It's a term we use often- a 'Cod' Ballet for example in a panto. I found a man who knew- my brother Vivyan at the Kenneth More Theatre.

He tells me the word 'cod' meaning a spoof came into use in Cheshire around the late Victorian age, and turns up in Scotland at the same time, but called 'Cob'. There is a very early English version of the word 'cod' from which we get the word 'Cod Piece' but err..that really means a load of old.. anyway.. there it a nutshell..

Lynsey after the transformation - Rachel & Friends!

The shows are still packing '˜em in, and the money is still being raised at a healthy rate for the appeal fund each day. Tomorrow we have a glorious day off- no show until Tuesday evening! A crowd of us are going to the Plymouth Sea Life Centre & Aquarium.. back to 'cod' again I suppose.. (sorry.. it IS Panto ) and it'll make a change to be in a crowd staring at something. There are times on stage when you feel a bit like those fish..I know how they feel! On that fishy note I think I'll open a tin of sardines and turn on the telly. Ohh the life of a panto star- it's dead glamorous!

Monday 10th January, 2005

A day off with a difference- no lounging about for us today, but a chance to spend some time in the Barbican area of Plymouth- it's a very attractive part of the City, lots of cobbled streets, alleyways and individual shops and galleries overlooking the harbour. A beautiful day for it too.

Met up with the others and spent a few hours exploring the Plymouth National Marine Aquarium. A group of about a dozen of us wandered around finding Nemo here and there in Europe's deepest tank, and Britain's biggest. The tanks are incredible, giving the feeling that you are among the fish- watching a turtle swim past, shoals of clown fish and the odd shark. (memo- remember to phone the agent..)

Shame Dawson wasn't here today, he'd have enjoyed seeing Willy's relatives leisurely swimming around the enormous tanks! The harbour itself was a great place to be today, with the weather sunny and mild.

Having educated and enthralled ourselves, we set off for the Bowling Alley for a 'Boys Vs Girls' challenge at ten pin bowling- great fun, with Austen getting the highest score first game and Lindy the highest in the second game- overall I think the boys won, but were not helped by having me in their team.. I think I ended up second from last in the final scoring..I blame it on the bowling shoes. I'm no good in flats these days, got so used to the high heels!

Ended the day with us all having a Pizza before we split up- me for my bed, the younger artistes heading for a local dance, where did I put the Cocoa?......

Wednesday 12th January 2005

Douglas with the 'girls'

A Double Dame day! Had a visit after the matinee from Douglas Mounce, fresh from playing Dame at the Plaza theatre in Stockport - Dougie is a very well known personality in this area from his radio broadcasting and Journalism, as well as a long established Dame of the British Empire! We last met him during the Summer, and it was good to touch base again . After the evening show we had a visit from Adam Daye, a Dame who makes an impression- literally, as the star of 'Who Do You Do', fresh from Dick Whittington at the Seacombe Centre in Sutton. He was accompanied by the very popular singer and regular on 'Friday Night is Music Night', Marilyn Hill Smith, who we last met at a more sombre occasion, the memorial service of Patrick Fyffe (Dame Hilda Bracket).

It's funny, but I've been thinking about Patrick a lot whilst in Plymouth- Sylvia on the wardrobe staff here has dressed virtually every Dame you can think of over twenty years, and has a wonderful album of photographs. She's very kindly allowed me to scan them in, and we'll be putting them into the gallery section of IBY shortly. There are many of Patrick when he played Dame here in Jack and the Beanstalk. As a constant reminder there is a mural in Brian's dressing room painted by Rolf Harris (Our Daddy for so many years in Cinderella) who was in 'Jack' showing himself along with Patrick and Carmen Silvera (both sadly no longer with us) and the lovely Bonnie Langford in the title role.

The Mural by Rolf Harris

It seems only a short while ago I met up with Patrick in Liberty's for tea, and we chatted about his first 'Dame'- he'd played Fairy Godmother with us twice, but never attempted Dame. I remember him worrying that wigs like the one's Peter & I wear might be too heavy, and should he drastically alter his make-up..and there he is in all his glory in Sylvia's photo albums. Seeing Marylin tonight brought back memories of his memorial (there's an article about it in the articles section of this site) as she sang one of Patrick's favourite numbers  at George Logan's request.

If you think that is a circular co-incidence- Peter suddenly realised that he had actually met and worked with Adam Daye a while ago- try nearly 35 years ago! They were both mere children at the Butlin's Holiday Camp in Minehead! Peter was in The McDonna rep company and Adam was a Redcoat! This world of Entertainment is amazingly small! (But as Brian said when I mentioned this: 'It might be a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it!)

It was a busy day- Two packed houses, and everyone rehearsing in between shows for the Gala. I was in a rehearsal room with Michael and Rossana (They have very kindly agreed to dance while I play that nice Mr Paderewski's Minuet, whilst the lasers go full belt around the auditorium- anything to distract from the playing (!) Sean, Lynsey, Jodie and Rachel were rehearsing with Mark- I could see the Dancers in full routine onstage, and the strains of a mouth organ coming from Dawson's dressing room.. I'm sure it WAS Dawson.. but could it be Willy? Now THAT is a great speciality act!

To date- i.e Today's Matinee the collections have reached £15,448.00 which is incredible! Such amazing generosity from our wonderful audiences. Thank you all so much from everyone here at the Theatre Royal!

I'm afraid I've had another 'senior Moment' that I have to confess to..Remember the incident of me wearing two sets of contact lenses? Not quite as bad. In all the rush and kerfuffle of rehearsing I was a tad 'behind' getting myself onstage for 'Beginners'..In my haste I strapped my radio microphone on as usual- it goes in a pouch around my waist, and the cable snakes through various bits of me until it reaches a necklace around my neck. Well.. I put the mike pack in its pouch and was chasing my own tail trying to locate the cable, getting more and more frustrated as I failed.. I looked on the dressing room table only to discover the Mike pack & cable sitting there. Errr.. If that's the Mike on the table, what the hell have I put in my pouch? Yes. It was my mobile '˜phone. 

I still shudder at the thought of rushing to the Quick area, putting on three layers of clothing, getting onstage and hearing a phone ringing! Fortunately I swapped them over, and all was well'¦Surely I can't be the only person who has done this? Can I? I've known people try and make calls on their TV remote, so I hope I'm not the first to attempt to greet 1,400 people with a Samsung up my err bustle.

Thursday 13th January 2005

Another busy day- two shows and more rehearsals for the Gala Show. The rehearsals took place in various parts of the stage, the auditorium and the orchestra pit, with me in a rehearsal room next door tinkling the ivories as you do.

At one point the band were rehearsing Mark Crossland's newly penned arrangements for the Chicago, Lloyd Webber and Abba sections in the pit, with the singers in the auditorium and the dancers onstage going through a different routine all at the same time. A moment later Sean is onstage singing 'All I care about is love' surrounded by feather boa clad girls, while three feet in front of him the band played 'Mr Cellophane' all oblivious of each other- quite astonishing to see the total focus going on! Michael and Rossana have put together their dance routine for my Minuet, and Cheryl and the ladies from wardrobe have searched the main wardrobe at TR2 for suitable costumes for the show. All under the watchful eye of Anthony our Company manager, who will be 'calling' the show on Sunday. Seeing all these 'threads' pulled together is a sight to behold. A Grand Piano is being moved into the wings tomorrow, Brian's additional props have arrived from leafy Berkshire, cue sheets and lighting and scenery plots sorted out- all in everyone's lunch breaks and spare time. Everyone pulling together!

We were expecting a visit from Paul Elliott tonight- Paul is the consultant on several of the pantomimes around the country, and has recently finished directing the Edinburgh Panto, and the Joe Pasquale panto in Birmingham. Just on the 'half' I got a call on my mobile- Paul was in the building (a bit like Elvis) but would NOT be calling backstage- He has dreadful '˜flu, and had no intention of spreading it around this company. He watched the show, but retired to his hotel very poorly with '˜flu- having left messages to congratulate the company. Paul - we wish you better soon!

Michael Laidler, after I nagged him, asked his Mum to drop some photos into the post, and they arrived today. You  may wonder what this is about.. well, read on for a fascinating series of co-incidences. Maybe we should ring the Guinness book of records! Here's the story.

Michael's Mum  is Carol Laidler- formerly Carol Penfold. She sent me photographs of her in 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' at the Theatre Royal Norwich in the 1969/1970 season. The producer was'¦.Paul Elliott.

Michael Laidler did his first pantomime for E&B Productions. It was also Goldilocks, and the producer was ..Yes, you guessed.. Paul Elliott! Is there another example of a Mother and a Son doing the same pantomime for the same producer but 29 years apart? Michael's Panto was at the Mayflower, Southampton.

More co-incidences? In Carol's panto in 1969 one of the stars was Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo- a professional wrestler and a huge personality. In Michael's panto there was Frank Bruno- International  Champion Boxer! Carol's programme and poster shows Ronnie Hilton as the star- Peter & I had the great pleasure of working with Ronnie in Hull Panto for Paul Elliott, a dear sweet man, and sadly missed.

Michael tells me that his brother, who works for the Navy is stationed where? Yes- Here in Plymouth. Another set of Laidler Co-incidences! I'll use the photographs Carol sent to pen this Mother & Son 'Goldilocks' connection in our articles section on the site soon- Thanks Carol and Michael for supplying the info!

Tomorrow is officially a day off with no show until 7pm. In fact we're doing a technical rehearsal from 2.30pm onwards in the theatre for the Gala.

Webmaster Update - with some fantastic pictures supplied by Sylvia, IBY present a history of Pantomimes at Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Saturday 15th January 2005

A two show day with some rehearsals for the Gala slotted in between the matinee and the evening. By now the wardrobe department at the theatre has pulled out all the stops, and Cheryl has organised the costumes for the Lloyd Webber, and the Abba sections, the Grand Piano has arrived, and Anthony has meticulously worked out the flying cues and lighting plots for the show.

(L to R) Jens, Dave, Peter, Nigel, Kevin, Mike, Kevin & Michael

Peter and I were delighted to have a visit from some friends who came down from London and Brighton to  see the show- they last saw it at Southampton, and enjoyed it as much this time around. Threw caution to the wind and went out for a meal at Pizza Express afterwards- there's no stopping us socialites these days!

Sunday 16th January 2005


A long but quite incredible day. It started at 11.30am when we arrived at the Theatre, and finished at 2am when we left.

Both houses were 'perky', but the second house at 6pm were extremely appreciative. A standing ovation no less- Bless them! There was a flurry of activity between shows as the final touches were put to the Gala. Radio mikes were sorted, as well as stand and hand held mikes arranged. The Singers had a run-through with Mark and the band, and Brian had worked out his 'links' between each act. With only 40 minutes between the last show ending and the Gala starting everything had to be set up quickly, and the crew rallied to ensure all was ready as the Panto audience left, jostling with the Gala audience arriving. How incredible to think that this building has played host to about 4,200 people today!


This is the provisional 'Running Order' for the show with approximate timings- we all guessed that the timings might be a bit on the optimistic side, but had not taken into account the incredible response from the audience- more of that later!

It's amazing what you can pick up in Plymouth on a Sunday night!!


Overture- Mark Crossland & the orchestra: (1 Minute)

Ensemble- Rossana, Michael, Alice, Katy, Austen, Phillip, Tanya & Edwin: (2 minutes)

Brian Opening spot & Intro: (5 mins)

'Chicago'- Sean, Rachel, Lynsey & Jody: (6 Mins)

Brian & Intro: (5 Mins)

Nigel (Piano Act): (10 mins)

Brian & Intro: (5 Mins)

'Lloyd Webber' medley. Singers joined by Austin & & Ensemble: (6Mins)

Brian Intro: (2 Mins)

Dawson (Speciality Act) (12 Mins)

Brian & Intro: (5 Mins)

'Abba' Medley: Singers & Ensemble: (10 Mins)


Interval:25 mins



Rachel (Flying) introduces Brian: (1 Minute)

Brian Conley & His Band: (1 Hour 15 mins)

Finale: The Company:  (3 Mins)

The activity hotted up during that brief 40 minutes before the Gala. As soon as Peter & I had taken off our panto finale costumes in a flurry of feather, Sylvia and Soozie were clearing the decks preparing the Quick Change room for the dancers, with Cheryl laying out the costumes for their incredibly quick changes between each spot. The Ensemble would be Villagers, then wearing their own clothes for their opening spot, into 'Chicago' gear- black mostly with mesh and fishnet (Don't see THAT in panto often!) then Michael & Rosanna into their period costumes for my 'Paderewski Minuet' section, and into their Lloyd Webber costumes before finishing in '˜70's gear for the Abba tribute. Not bad eh? Ohh.. and then they have to dance and sing as well!

Peter and Synnove - Who could resist!!??

Synnove and Peter were the first out into the Front of House, along with Chris from Stage Door they were the front line troops, meeting, greeting and basically mugging the audience as they arrived to put money into their buckets. They would repeat this in the interval and believe me, they took no prisoners!

I had a quick shower before the show and then discovered I had no make-up. I mean  'gentleman's make up', possibly because during the panto (to quote Little Britain)    'I'm a lady and I do Ladies Things!' I had to borrow some from Jody and the rest from Brian!

Brian's band had arrived to set up for his act- he's doing the entire second half, and were onstage having a sound check, the crew were setting up the stage, from dressing rooms you could hear alternatively warming up warblings and the occasional cry of 'Oh God!'..some of us paced, some of us checked our props- I checked the Grand Piano- I always have this ridiculous feeling that I'll get on stage and find the lid is locked! Then the overture began, and there was no turning back. This company does not suffer from 'first Night Nerves' when we do the panto each year- Tonight you could feel the energy and excitement crackling throughout the building.

From the very start the audience reaction was- difficult to find the words- truly astounding. Any hopes of our original timings going to plan were abandoned, as they applauded long and loud between numbers, during numbers and after numbers! What a response!

The Ensemble opening number was received with huge cheers, followed by Brian's entrance through the auditorium. He'd warned the potential ticket buyers that this was not a show for the kids, and they lapped up every bit of Conley sauciness and fun. The Singers opened next with a selection from 'Chicago'- 'All that Jazz' fronted by Lynsey and the ensemble, a raunchy routine to back her fabulous voice, 'Mr Cellophane' sung by Jody, with an incredibly long high note sustained that almost stopped the show, followed by Rachel's fabulous version of 'When You're Good To Momma' and Sean, joined by four very beautiful ladies wearing what appeared to be their underwear and a feather boa in 'All I care About is Love'.

After an intro from Brian, I was next up- 'The magical fingers of Nigel Ellacott' to me that! I opened with some Scott Joplin, and was literally godsmacked with the response from this vast audience. Quite amazing! This was followed by Paderewski's Minuet, complete with dry ice and the beautiful dancing of Rossana and Michael- Rossana in a fabulous claret coloured gown smothered with jet, holding a pleated train. Wish I could have just watched it, but then they'd have looked silly dancing in silence! Ended with a sing-a-long and a flashy fast piece- and can't describe what 1,400 people sound like singing 'You made me love you'..unforgettable. The experience made me very nostalgic for those days long gone when you could do a variety act in a big theatre- years ago I did this act in the huge Butlins theatres that seated around 3,000 people, doing twice nightly variety- now the only place you get to see a spectacular variety show is on a large cruise liner, or on special charity events like tonight.

The next section was the Andrew Lloyd Webber selection- a medley from 'Evita', 'Phantom' and 'Superstar'.. this time our four soloists were joined by David Austin, who had his solo singing debut tonight- we'd first noticed his strong powerful voice in an impromptu karaoke session, and there he was, outstanding giving his first solos infront of one and a half thousand people. I'll let you into a secret- he loved every minute. I think it'll take quite a while before he ever forgets tonight!

My act was followed by Dawson- he revived an act we last witnessed in Southampton. It is quite unique, and had the packed house in stitches for the whole twelve minutes- I won't go into too much detail, as I'd hate to give away the act, but let's just say it was everything you'd hope for in variety, and he had them in the palm of his hands! He's recently had this act televised for a variety cable channel, so you might just get to see it for yourselves in the near future, or, should you be in Spain on holiday Dawson Chance  (a long time resident) might well be your star turn cabaret for the night!

The first half ended with a tribute to Abba- Rachel as Frida, Lynsey as Agnetha, and Sean and Jody as Bjorn and Benny.. looking very fetching in their wigs, flares  and satin lycra! Sean brought along his own electric guitar (he fronts his own band when he's not appearing in Panto or musicals) and the singers, along with the ensemble had the audience on their feet throughout the set. 'Thank you for the Music' was never so apt- thank you for the wonderful orchestrations Mark Crossland!

The second half belonged to Brian- 'that modest, unassuming, multi-talented Babe Magnet'. Brian, accompanied by his own band held the audience for the next hour and a half. He sang, he danced, he fired off a machine gun volley of gags, he revealed the inner workings of 'Larry The Loafer' and at one point he even did fire eating! Yes, the man is a superstar, and what an experience to watch someone at the top of their profession working an audience to the fullest extent. The time flew by, and by the time we went on for the finale the entire house was on its feet, and the magic hour of  12.40 had arrived!

What made this night so special, apart from the enormous amount of money raised (at least £30,000 on tonight alone) was the dedication to Ross Baker. Ross tragically died in the Tsunami, and in his memory the theatre played some of his songs at the beginning of the show, during the interval, and at the end. His family were here tonight, and joined us afterwards for a reception hosted by the theatre. Their presence made the whole evening doubly important. These very brave people were able to experience some of the joy that Ross had brought to his audiences throughout his career, and to witness the generosity of the public. By the time we leave Plymouth we will hopefully raise over £54,000 for the fund. Ross's family are hoping to set up a scholarship trust in his name to the Royal College of Music. We wish them all the very best in this endeavour.

Some very happy but tired artistes, orchestra, crew and theatre staff left the Theatre Royal sometime after 2am. To everyone who contributed to tonight, thank you all SO much!


Dear Cast at the Gala Evening,

Had to send a few lines about the fantastic night we had at Plymouth last night!

If only you could have been in the audience with us listening to the comments (from people who'd apparently seen the original shows), without exception they thought the quality and delivery far superior to the originals!

Personally, we thought the dancers looked as though the theatre could barely hold them, the singing really was First Class, Dawson's ventriloquist act a scream and the piano was a virtuoso performance (taking both ends of the spectrum from classical to sing-along was inspired!).

Brian was hilarious, so near the knuckle without being smutty, a brilliant combination of slapstick and stand-up! Can't think why we don't see more of him on the TV, but he really had the audience in the palm of his hand and his act would have been worth the price alone!

A privilege to be there, well worth far more than the £20 per ticket AND travelling down from Bristol - we were humming and doing punch lines from the show all the way home - not much use in the morning I have to say, can't imagine how you lot felt!!!

Please pass on our heartfelt thanks to the cast and the staff - if only there were MORE variety shows like this around the theatres - they should all feel very proud of their achievement.

Oh, and we loved the Panto on New Years Eve too!

Grateful thanks,

Gary and Amanda

Tuesday 18th January 2005

Well, we've all had a day off to recover from our three show marathon! Yesterday we gathered at Chez Sisters flat to view a video Brian had made of the Gala, and enjoyed watching it from out front. It was a great night, with some food and wine and we all enjoyed what all artistes love doing- yes, watching ourselves!

Watching us, watching us!!

On the fundraising front, we await the figures to be confirmed, but it looks as if we took £26,000 in ticket sales for the Gala (without the booking fees that will be donated from the ticket agencies, and the built in profit from Bar and refreshment sales that are being donated) plus £1,200.00 in donations into the buckets during the show. If I reveal that Peter and Synnove, aided by Chris (Stage Door) collected £650 single-handedly of that, you can see how hard they, and everyone else Front Of House worked that night. Hoorah! And Well Done!

The time is flying by now, and most thoughts have turned to Saturday night- the packing both at our digs and at the Theatre, the journeys back home '“ some of us return to the unknown in terms of jobs '“ that's the nature of the game, and others know where and when they'll be working  next. Brian will be heading for a 'gig' in Glasgow, before he takes up his West End position in ..err.. that show we can't mention until it has its press launch.. one that we hope goes with a Bang. Rachel is off to begin a lengthy contract in 'Mamma Mia' in the West End, and Lynsey to start work on her lengthy tour of 'Guys and Dolls

Panto wise, we know where we'll be going next year- but we also know that due to those long term commitments, we will be without the amazing talents of Rachel and Lynsey- our family will be incomplete if indeed we all end up doing year Four of this amazing 'Cinderella', and they will be missed enormously. Can't reveal where we will be next year because, like Brian's next show, we will have to wait until there is an official announcement. Those with a compass should set their sights North'¦.

We were all very touched (ooer, Missus) today to receive a letter  each from Paul Elliott- If you remember, Paul was very ill with '˜Flu when he came to see the show recently, and was forced to head for his bed.. He sent us all a letter of praise and good wishes which was very deeply appreciated by everyone here. Good to hear he's now recovered  and is well again.

Already Peter and I have begun going through our many skips, we actually did a bit of a throw-out of stuff from one of them.. it was like Archaeology.. why did we still have these old tights with no toes? Where did this one sleeve come from? Do I really intend to wear these bobbly old gloves again? With a firm 'no' they went into the bin. We've worked out the Last show strategy of packing as we go, and with a little help we'll end up in just our finales by the songsheet with everything else packed away hopefully.

The social events for this, the last week are our 'last Nite' party (to be held on Thursday) and, of course, the 'Babes' party and I imagine their 'cod' panto between shows on Saturday.

Thursday 20th January 2005

Well.. The past few days have flown by- always happens as the panto draws to a close. We've had very exciting news- the cheque for the money raised for the Tsunami fund, including the Gala Show and the daily collections looks like exceeding £51.000 !! There are no words to describe the generosity of our audiences, the hard work by the Front of house staff, and everyone at the theatre who has contributed time, effort and money to achieve this.

Thank You!!

Over the past couple of days we've received many e-mails and letters praising the Gala Show, which have been very gratefully received. Thanks to all who've sent them, and for your good wishes.

Andrew, Synnove, Dawson and Peter - Mark and his respectful (!) band!

I think we're all pretty tired, but you wouldn't know it once the curtain rises- there are some people suffering from heavy colds- Sean for one, and you'd never know it. 'Dr. Theatre' is a wonderful thing! There are times when I'm on my ninth or tenth change and the vision of curling up on a sofa unfurls in front of me, but then we're off and running ! The signs of packing are evident around the building- everyone's thoughts are turning to Saturday Night. We've worked out our strategy  for packing as we go, aided by Andrew Ryan, who, hot foot from his panto in Bournemouth  will be helping us in this gargantuan task- in fact, he'll be doing nearly all of it, as we have no time between entrances to do a lot. By the end of Saturday's last show we hope to have just the Finale costumes left to pack. The scenery and stage electrics, sound and equipment (including the lasers) will carry on throughout the night, being loaded ready for their journey to Scarborough and the Qdos stores.

Our Generous Host and his good lady (Brian and Anne-Marie to their friends!)

Tonight was our 'Last Night Party' held in the pub opposite the stage door. Booze generously supplied  by Brian, and it was a great night, complete with Karaoke. Had a chance to chat to people during the evening over drinks and a buffet. I discovered that John, our percussionist (he was with us at Southampton as well) has been working in two very different spheres. When he's not with us in Pantoland he can be found at The Royal Opera House in the orchestra (over eighty musicians) playing for the Bryn Tyrfel in Wagner's Das Rheingold... you must admit that is a very different evening for him! This will be his twentieth pantomime over the years. Edwin is off to Barcelona as soon as the panto ends to work throughout February, Rachel to rehearsals for 'Mamma Mia', and Brian has two days rest before jetting off to Scotland. I myself will be having a few evenings curled up on the sofa before taking a look at the 'Panto Wot I Wrote' at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford- it runs until February 5th. Looking forward to seeing a show I wrote in August, and costumes from July to October for the first time!

Jack and Anthony - The Laidler Brothers - Luca and Rossana

Susan, Martin and Richard - Jody, Alice, Tanya, Emma and Sean - Alice, Luca and Rossana

Soozie, Peter, Sylvia, Nigel and Friends (!!) - Phillip and Michael - Lynsey and Rachel

Lynsey checking Sean's words, overseen by Clever Trevor!!

Our webmaster, Simon and his family will be making a whistle stop visit to the Plymouth Pantomime on Saturday- we look forward to seeing them all between shows, before we have to dash off to the Babes Cod Panto, and Simon & Co head back to Cardiff. Looking forward to Simon's critique of the show again this year! (Ed - Are you sure!!!!)

Friday 21st January 2005

Two shows- the second one was a novelty! We were standing at the side of the stage at 'beginners'- 6.55pm when it was announced there was a hold up- due to an accident on the main road entering Plymouth, two coaches were held up- that's about 120 people, all sitting in the front rows! By 7.15pm there was still no sign of them, so it was Brian to the rescue!

Brian changed out of his 'Buttons'  costume and into his suit, and went out and entertained the audience for quarter of an hour until the missing patrons arrived and were seated! So, as a consequence we went up half an hour late, but the audience had a special bonus!

Between shows we had a special photo call- everyone at the Theatre Royal was asked to gather on the stage after the matinee audience had left for a photograph of all of us with an oversized cheque (for an oversized amount!) for the Tsunami fund. The cheque was for the £51,000 that has been raised to date! This will in fact increase hopefully to about £52,000 or more by the time we finish tomorrow evening! Hoorah for all of us!

So- having  had this photocall, which took half an hour, and having had a meal in the Green Room, I settled down to have a half hour nap before the second show. Got myself sorted.. furry dressing gown, pillows.. peace and quiet.. absolute peace and.. 'This is your half Hour Call Ladies and Gentlemen of the Cinderella Company'. Ohh well, no rest for the wicked.. so it was time to touch up the make-up and set off for Pantoland again!

Saturday 22nd January 2005 - a note from the webmaster

Having just returned from Plymouth I thought I would write a prelude to Nigel's last diary entry which will be on its way soon. As I drove down from Cardiff today it struck me that I saw the beginning of this show - no, not the beginning of the run in Plymouth, but it's creation in Southampton two years ago. I have sat at my computer, wherever I happen to be, and followed this show by Nigel's entries for three seasons of this production of Cinderella and I now don't have to reference anything when labelling up photos for names - I feel like I know everyone because, more or less, the same team is still performing this show now as in Southampton, a rare treat and certainly the 'family' atmosphere that Nigel talks about in his diary entries is obvious from the moment you see the company on stage. The show is slicker, but then it was very new last time I saw it, but there is no sign of a drop in pace.

Firstly what makes this pantomime stand out is the quality of singing and dancing - having been to Birmingham to see Jack and the Beanstalk last week, I can only say that the people who sat round me last week and said that it was the best pantomime they've seen haven't seen this production in Plymouth. Obviously Brian Conley is the star (sorry Nigel and Peter!) but his rapport with the audience is fantastic - kids and adults alike were entertained, my wife needed to re-apply her mascara in the car because she'd cried with laughter so much this afternoon. Rachel, Lynsey, Jody and Sean all shine in their musical numbers - great voices and a real pleasure to listen to, even if the younger members of the audience decided these songs were a time to check out the latest flavour of sweet in the bag! Hearing live singing voices (unlike some of the performers in Birmingham last week - naming no names) is always preferable to pre-recorded in my book, but then I'm a singer as well in my other life. Dawson and his 'Little Willy' keep the kids entertained and the adults appreciated the innuendo. Nigel and Peter are the best in the business at what they do (and I'm biased, but it's true) and their many costume changes astound the audience and I noticed a number of new and refurbished outfits. Back to Brian - what can I say, this man can do everything! His next show - and we still can't say which one - awaits and I'm contemplating a family trip up the M4 to wherever it is he's going!!!! The ensemble and babes are last but not least - fantastic work and a great backdrop to the principal players. The Band under Mark Crossland should also get a mention - fantastic! Nice to see an 8 piece band, something the Birmingham Pantomime could have done with last week. I did promise I wouldn't bash the Brum pantomime too much but once you've seen the best, the rest just don't come up to scratch! Before I have to reach for a thesaurus to find more words for fantastic, I'll stop this gushing!

In my 'review' two years ago I mentioned the songsheet - the kids up on stage with Brian. There was a little girl of three today who was the 'chosen one' - her name was Jade and she charmed everyone with her rendition of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', cool as a cucumber with a microphone and a packed house! At 3!!!!!!! Brian comment was the same now as two years ago - she will remember that moment for the rest of her life and that is the magic of pantomime. How true. Long Live Pantomime and see you next time - set your compasses north to follow the sisters on another adventure into pantoland! I'll be there too - have laptop will travel, and also update the diary and pictures!!! Simon.

Saturday 22nd January 2005

Seems an age ago that I began this diary in the rehearsal room at Fulham, and here we are- the last day at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth- yet it's only been a matter of six or seven weeks. We've played to capacity business here, and to a very gratifying response- we've all been treated royally by everyone here at this lovely friendly theatre, and have been looked after in the most professional way possible- this theatre is truly a gem among theatres, and deserves it's reputation as the finest producing house in the country. That professionalism has been evident throughout, from Marketing, Management, catering, front of house, stage door and from the resident stage management and crew, and the superb wardrobe departments. A huge 'Thank You' from all of us, the 'Cinderella Company of 2004/05'!

During this journey we've met some new friends- Edwin, Emma, Tanya and Austin as well as Anthony and Susan, and the company has made many new friends among the wardrobe and crew here. I would like to thank Soozie, Sylvia, Cheryl and Donna for all their amazing and professional work as a wardrobe team, along with Nicky they have made our job of changing costume and looking after the costumes so much easier-and they are delightful people to be around as well! Peter and I change costumes about 140 times a week each, and to be assisted by such lovely people has made the season effortless for us- Thanks ladies!

Delighted to have a visit from Simon (our amazingly swift webmaster- even while in Spain he was uploading this diary on a daily basis!) his wife Linda and family- it was great to see them at the Matinee- a great shame it was such a short visit, but they had a long trip back to Wales following their visit to the panto.

So- a time for packing up- during the second show Andrew and our lovely ladies packed away the sisters costumes- from mini dresses to large ballgowns. Skips, rails and hampers were filled with sequins and feathers so that we achieved our goal of being in our finale costumes at the end of the second show with everything else packed away. Thanks a million Andrew!

Doubtless we'll all hear soon as to our whereabouts next season, but as well as meeting new friends it'll be time to say farewell (for a while) to some members of our 'family'- Rachel and Lynsey won't be joining us next year- they'll both be busy with their own shows- I somehow think, come November that their thoughts will be with us though.. I know how much both these immensely talented ladies will miss doing Panto- it is addictive, as Peter & I well know! Well girls- come November we'll all be thinking about you too- we shall miss you greatly.

The matinee was fun, and the audience were very perky. Had a surprise appearance from Luca, which was great fun, and a great time at the 'Babes' party in between, leaving just a few minutes before the 'Half Hour' was called. After the show we had an impromptu meal at Pizza Express with Brian, Anne-Marie, Jack, Andrew and a few of the gang- a lovely way to end an evening, as the song goes!

The second show flew by- it always does. The Babes always cry at the end, and the props always vanish as soon as they've been used- packed away in their huge boxes- that's panto for you- ethereal, magical.. it appears in a theatre almost overnight, and vanishes just as quickly- but my goodness it leaves some  lasting memories- on audiences, in the hearts of children and on all of us panto folk- this family of Brian and Anne Marie, Dawson & Synnove, Lynsey, Rachel, Sean, Jodie and Peter & Myself  join with Anthony, Susan, Lindy, Darren and our fabulous ensemble- Rossana (and Luca!) Emma, Alice, Tanya, Michael, Phillip, Edwin and Austin have had a fabulous season here in Plymouth. It's been great guys- here's to the next time!

The END.....until the next time!

This page was last updated 23rd January 2005

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