So, here we are- a matter of a few weeks and rehearsals begin for this, my 47th Pantomime! I thought a few pre-production notes for this Dame’s Diary, if only to prove that a Panto is not just for Christmas, it’s for life!
In fact, this year the Panto has a new life- a new name- we said farewell to Qdos Pantomimes, and Hello to Crossroads Pantomimes. A new office and a new logo, and the shows go on- our Performance Diary is filling up with signed off posters as we speak!
Talking of posters, during the late Summer I went up to Hull to do a photo shoot and press call for this season’s “Snow White”. Here are a few pictures of the day- a day in which Faye, Neil and I planted an apple tree (“Snow white”.. apple.. get it?) in the square opposite the New Theatre.
Video of launch – https://youtu.be/TPL5E-Za6Xc
A great opportunity to meet up with fellow Panto performers before rehearsals. Faye I already know, in fact we spent a very jolly New Year’s Eve together with the Hippodrome Company 2019. Faye is currently appearing as the infamous Roxie Hart in “Chicago”, right up to when rehearsals begin in late November.
Neil I’ve not met before, but of course in this niche world of Beanstalks, Magic Lamps and Crystal slippers, we know of each other. Panto is one very extended family!
The statue of Singer & Panto Star David Whitfield, outside “The New”.
What HAS changed at the theatre is that everything from the ornate proscenium arch back, has been demolished since I was last here! Backstage and indeed onstage at the New by 2014 was pretty much in need of a major refurbishment- and 16 million pounds later, it is spick and span! Gone are the unusual “on stage” flys, where the flymen would operate the fly ropes from stage level. Now the more traditional “Fly Gallery” is installed.
The Dressing rooms are now more spacious,still below stage level, and its pretty daunting to discover a maze of corridors, when my brain is trying to remember the “old” set up! Back in 2014 I was just by the stairs leading up to stage right.
The Front of house extension is impressive. There’s a large foyer and bar, with entrances to the auditorium on the right, lifts, offices and a lot of light and space. Backstage the stalls bar I remember is now a studio. We had a great afternoon doing publicity shots for the show, and getting a grand tour of the building. While I was there I sorted out my accommodation, one hotel for rehearsals in a nearby hall in Hull, and another for the run. The script has had some tweaks, I’ve got my costumes sorted and getting ready to head up to Hull in November, and looking forward to my 47th panto in a row. I was so fortunate last year to do a panto- a week’s rehearsal and ten days playing before the theatres closed, and we went into the lockdown. Mine was three minutes walk away, and in my second home, The Kenneth More Theatre, and again the panto was “Snow White”.
The Panto THIS year at the Kenneth More Theatre is “Cinderella”.Vision RCL is presenting the Pantomime , withGareth Morley, Sally Polden and Gemma Eves producing , Sue Colgrave will be directing, and Owen Smith Choreographing. It’s proving panto isn’t just for Christmas again, as I have been involved with it since the late spring- through lockdown and beyond. I’ve written the panto for VISION RCL ( I think it must be the 30th I’ve written for this theatre,) and costumed it from scratch.For the first time in forty odd years, I started with a clean slate, and no in house stock to supplement as in former Pantos I’ve designed.
The costume process began at a difficult time- all the shops were closed, and fabric shopping in my favourite street, Goldhawk Road was not to be. Thanks to the amazing powers of the Genie- WhatsApp and Facetime, the fabrics were bought from the shop I know and trust, and soon the designs were done, the makers tipped off to clear their cutting tables, and we were off!
During the summer the designs and fabrics have been sent to the skilled makers. The difference for me this year is that the measurements were done via zoom, and sometimes costumes were sent to the performer’s home to try on, also on zoom! From Manchester to Ireland, Wales and Newcastle the fabrics and costmes have criss-crossed the UK. The laundry/wardrobe at the KMT is now beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
As things eased we’ve been able to accommodate fittings, with a safe environment, and Shirley Davis has produced some stunning hats for the show- shoes have arrived daily, and despite hold ups in containers and fuel shortages the costumes and accessories are starting to fill up the once empty rails! Lauren Skinner is in most days creating some stunning scenery, and Ben Ward in charge of stage.
It has been so good during this summer to go into work (that three minute walk is exhausting) and work in the wardrobe where I’ve been most Summers over the past thirty plus years .
I’ve costumed The “Sisters” finally- they have a few headdresses to go, but mainly they are finished. The Ensemble Ballgowns and Finale costumes are underway, Karl Greenwood’s Buttons costumes are with him in Manchester, and Muire McCallion’s Fairy Godmother is a confection of pink and sequin!
Video of KMT Laundry – https://youtu.be/1NpK2z9P3RQ
The costumes are mounting up- we have seven principals, four Ensemble and a juvenile chorus of eight- so I’ve got nearly twenty performers to supply with a number of changes- the finale is gold and red, and the transformation scene has a few tricks up its fairy sleeve! So, for the next month I’ll be learning my lines for Hull, making certain my frocks are in order, and finishing off my work on the Panto at Ilford, before handing over the supervising to Molly Sheehan. After working all Summer on the costumes, I’ll just about get a chance to see the show after Hull’s season ends!