Category Archives: Nigel Ellacott’s 45 Years of Panto!

NIGEL ELLACOTT’S 45 YEARS OF PANTO!

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This year would be my 46th Year of Pantomimes- Every single year since 1974 up to the most recent Pantomime in 2019.

I’ve listed every Pantomime- and the cast and creatives that made it happen. From Playing Animals in Panto to teaming up with the incredible Peter Robbins- for twenty-eight years-with Both Paul Elliott and then Nick Thomas and Michael Harrison- to playing solo Dame .

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It’s a journey through Pantomimes and some of the amazing people I’ve met on the way. It starts at the beginning, so you can fast forward or pause as you wish!

Growing up in Swansea I was fortunate to spend a lot of time at The Swansea Grand Theatre.My Brother Vivyan was House Manager, and John Chilvers was the Administrator.As a child and as a teenager  I was able to watch many Swansea Grand pantomimes over the years from both auditorium and backstage.

The biggest Pantomime influence on me was Freddie Lees. Freddie often played Dame at “The Grand” and was comedy lead in the weekly Rep seasons at the time, Along with Jean Fergusson, Eleanor Thomas, and Vivienne Moore.

I was also fortunate to belong to” The Swansea Youth Theatre”  – some of the Grand’s Rep actors had started their careers with the SYT, and that was where I appeared in my very first Pantomime at the Llewellyn Hall. John Griffiths was in The Youth Theatre and I did a few Pantos with him.

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When I went to College to study Drama and English at Carmarthen, one of the projects I got involved in was a touring pantomime- “Dick Whittington” where at the age of eighteen I was Sarah The Cook, and I appeared in this with (now Doctor) Chris Abbott as part of the Drama course! The seeds were set.

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I already had my Provisional “Equity” card before I went to college, gained through  parts in television for HTV and BBC Wales, and through variety in clubs. A few months after finishing college in 1974 I auditioned for The Welsh Nation Opera & Drama Company, and got my first tour that led to the first “Panto” style season at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre.- Enjoy!

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PANTO 1974-75

Panto 1974-1975

Touring 1974

Then

Sherman Theatre Cardiff

Jan 2nd-Jan 11th 1975

Welsh National Opera Drama Co

GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT

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Nigel Ellacott, Hilary Gilman, Patrick Salvadori, Richard Morse, Antony McDonald, Mathew Scurfield, Elspeth Walker

Directed by Elspeth Walker, Written by David Snodin. Music by Stephen Oliver. Designed by Iona Macleish.

The Welsh National Opera company created a Drama division, and this show, based on the Knights of The Round Table, was chosen to tour schools and centres, and played the Sherman Theatre straight after Christmas. We toured it for four months prior to the Sherman.

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Nigel as Sir Gawain

I played Sir Gawain, and the play had panto elements- A Villain- The Green Knight, who gets his head chopped off and keeps walking around, , a wicked Witch, a jester, King Arthur, a love interest, and a few woodland animals thrown in. The Music was by Stephen Oliver, a hugely talented composer who went on to write for major Opera Companies and the National Theatre. His 50 Operas, included “Timon Of Athens” and “The Duchess Of Malfi”.

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Beheading The Green Knight- Twice Daily

 

The tour carried on after the Sherman “Panto Style” production, through the spring.

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Panto 1975-1976

Sherman Theatre Cardiff

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MADAM WEN

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Christine Pritchard, John Prior, Shirley King, Sarah Reynolds, Frank Lincoln, Eilian Wyn, Stewart Jones, Robin Griffith, Christopher Davies, Nigel Ellacott.

 Directed by David Lyn, Set Design Ken Leech, Chris Brown. Lighting Howell Watkins, Wardrobe Anne Fowler & Felicity Shepherd, Music by Nick McGeegan & Nigel Ellacott,

This was a swashbuckling Pirate story in Panto style, based on Welsh legend and the novel by W.D. Owen  about Einir Wyn who led a double life as the Lady Pirate Madam Wen (Wen is Welsh for “White”). She led a band of smugglers in North Wales, close to Puffin Island, Anglesey.

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This is how I came to be dressed as a Puffin accompanying myself on my Ukelele- no mean feat in flippers.or wings.. The star of our show was Christine Pritchard, one of Wales’s busiest actresses, with countless appearances in Television soaps and plays and theatre. Christine is my oldest Panto friend- we are still in touch and met up recently forty five years after this show played The Sherman Theatre Cardiff, and toured around Wales!

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Christine Pritchard

The highlights were writing songs for the show, playing Puffins, Pirates and anything else required, and a set that had “periactoids”. I’d never heard of the term- triangular Toblerone shaped pieces of scenery that spun around making three sets.

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A “Periactoid”

We had a locking “Quay” that joined them to make the Docks. Except for the Lyric Theatre Carmarthen when it didn’t lock, and Christine, Christopher and myself started to move unaided towards the audience and our Periactoids went INTO the audience. All part of the atmosphere! I loved the show and the company!

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The Sherman Theatre Cardiff

 

PANTO 1976-77

Panto 1976-1977

Kenneth More Theatre Ilford

December 23rd 1976- January 22nd 1977

MOTHER GOOSE

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Terri Gardener, Michael Heath, Anna Lou & Maria, Jonathan Kiley, Eleanor Thomas, Gareth Armstrong, Robert Quarry, Gilly Daniels, Nigel Ellacott, Ludmila Nova.

 Directed by Vivyan Ellacott, Choreographed by Alma Rippon, and Tracey Hart. Musical Director Ted Heath, Percussion Terry Wyatt. Stage Manager Pat Nelder . (Costumes from Cyril Fletcher & Betty Astell).

Terri Gardener and Barri Chat were drag performers who teamed up as Ugly Sisters in Pantomime. After Barry’s death Terri continued as Dame- he first appeared in the revue “We’re In The Forces” in 1944, and lived locally. He played Mother Goose and his transformation in the pool of beauty was very glamorous!

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Anna Lou and Maria presented a magic act with a finale of coloured doves flying from the back of the auditorium , following the path of the Follow Spot into their outstretched arms!

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Michael Heath went on to play The Phantom of The Opera at Her Majesty’s, as well as other West End musicals- his Brother, Ted was our MD. Eleanor Thomas and Gareth Armstrong I had known since Youth Theatre days, and this was a rare foray into panto- they appeared in rep and in the West End.

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Terri Gardener, Nigel Ellacott, Eleanor Thomas, Jonathan Kiley, Michael Heath

Jonathan Kiley played “Colin”- that’s the traditional name of the Principal Boy in “Mother Goose”. Little did he or I know that forty three years later we would both still be working alongside each other- he is an executive Producer at Qdos Pantomimes, and has produced many of my Pantomime appearances in recent years.

I played Priscilla The Goose and a couple of other characters- I’m a waiter in the picture above and a strolling Minstrel in the one below!

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Nigel & Ukelele in the Village of Much Dawdling

Ludmila Nova played the Fairy. A very tall beautiful artist who had appeared frequently  in “Stars On Sunday” alongside Jess Yates. Ludmilla was a dancer and had been at the Palladium. Our Fairy turned out to be a real life Baroness-The Baroness Ludmila Von Falz-Fein. She was the daughter of The Russian  Baron Eduard Von Falz-fein, living in Liechtenstein, and Virginia (Gallico) Lady in waiting to the Monaco Royal Family. She worked in theatre –and in film with appearances in “The Slipper and The Rose” and “Black Joy” until she retired to marry two years after this Panto in Ilford! A real fairy-tale ending!

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Priscilla, who had seen better days, and Fairy Ludmilla Nova, Once Upon A Time!kmt MGoose group 1976

PANTO 1977-78

Panto 1977-1978

Belgrade Theatre Coventry

December 15th 1977-January 28th 1978

MOTHER GOOSE

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Reg Dixon, Buster Skeggs, Ellis Jones, Carol Cleveland, Nigel Ellacott, Malcolm Reid, Colman O’ Doherty, Judy Riley, Robert Benfield, James Harvey, Pat Garrett, Shirley McGennity, Pauline Osborn, Lindsay Richards, The Belgrade Babes.

 Directed by Ed Thomason, Designed by Terry Parsons, Choreography Pauline Osborn, Musical Director Terry White, Lighting Paul Carter, Senior SM Ian Tunstall, Sound Peter Balint.

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Nigel Ellacott as Priscilla and Reg Dixon as Mother Goose

My agent Keith Salberg told me that I was unlikely to play comic in Panto as I was a bit too young, and comics in commercial pantos were names- but he said if I “Specialised” (I think doing a role not many people wanted to do!) I would always get work. Having played Goose at Ilford the year before- This Panto saw me in the Rolls Royce of Geese- designed by Terry Parsons, and created by master craftsman of puppets- Peter Pullen! He also told me “Rep” pantos paid better- their contracts were for 8 shows, commercial pantos 12- so you got overtime on the extra four shows a week plus- at the Belgrade- “In House” accommodation! Flats for performers within the theatre, highly subsidised! A Golden Egg indeed!

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Carole Cleveland as Fairy, Malcolm Reid as Demon and a brand new Terry Parson set and costumes. The Goose made by the very talented Peter Pullen.

Reg “Confidentally”Dixon was the star- His catchphrase was “I’ve been proper poorly” from his Variety Bandbox years on Radio, and a very big star of Stage- he replaced George Formby at The Palace Theatre London in 1952 in “Zip Goes A Million” and played for 18 months. Star of recordings “Confidentally” – his Theme song is here on YouTube: Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-ve_TgPx58

The pic accompanying the YouTube recording is from this panto. It was his fifth panto in his home town, and at that point his 30th. I was pretty much in awe, but not when he kept forgetting I was INSIDE the Goose, and kept hugging the gooses neck- underneath was me in a crash helmet affair strapped to my head. I had the wings attached to my elbows, the two cords working the eyes infront of my face, a duck call in my mouth, a vast feather and metal body – oh and tap shoes under the webbed feet! No wonder no-one else wanted the job!

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The glamour of Theatre!

 

Ellis Jones was know to TV viewers from “The Squirrels”, and played Hal in “Pardon My Genie” with Roy Barraclough and Hugh Paddick.

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Buster Skeggs as Colin

Buster, Judy and me in the Belgrade Dressing Rooms

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My first experience of a Terry Parsons designed panto- Costumes and scenery drowning in feathers and glitter! Remained friends over the years with Carol Cleveland- Carol was the only female member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and was a stunning Fairy, and Malcolm Reid a Glorious Demon King. I remained in touch with Malcolm until he passed away this December (2019). I’m still in contact with Buster Skeggs. Our “Jill” Principal Girl Pat Garett became Choreographer in films such as “Little Shop Of Horrors”, The Muppet Movies for Henson and at The National Theatre, RSC and over fifty theatre credits.

 

 

 

 

PANTO 1978-79

Panto 1978-1979

Haymarket Theatre Leicester

December 21st 1978

MOTHER GOOSE

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Roy Macready, Stephen Price, Caro Gurney, Eddie Davies, David Oakley, Kalman Glass, Suzanne Kaye, Anita Pashley, Nigel Ellacott, Jean Morton, Russell Henderson, Robert Moore, Pauline Francis

  Directed by Alexander Dore, Music by Jo Stewart, Lyrics by Edna Dore, Choreographer Patrick McIntyre, Musical Director Ian Smith, Designer Terry Parsons, Lighting Chris Ellis, Sound Peter Balint, Company Stage Manager Soozie Copley, DSM Robert Lee-Corby, ASMs Judy Craymer & Dee Jones. The Orchestra: Ian Smith, Steve Sanders, Derek Hill, Andrew Barnwell, Ian Muncie, Dave Whitson.

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Nigel Ellacott & Roy Macready- Priscilla and Mother Goose

This pantomime was the scenery and costumes from the previous year,with a different script and music. Roy Macready (a firm favourite at the Haymarket) played Dame in very traditional “Dan Leno” style. I recall at some point Edna Dore took over directing from her husband. She was later to appear as Mo Butcher (Pat’s Mother) “Eastenders” .

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I became great friends with Suzanne Kaye in that show, and she gave me my “Honey Bear” mascot. Its been on my wall in every pantomime since. Suzanne is possibly my longest Pantomime friend!

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The panto was part of the Haymarket Rep season. The cast were also rehearsing and performing “My Fair Lady” that would play the season at the Haymarket,followed by a tour,  before transferring to The Adelphi in London. It starred Tony Britton and Dame Anna Neagle along with Liz Robertson. It was Choreographed by Gillian Lynn.

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A favourite Green Room moment. The door opened. The Dame looked in. “If anyone finds a gold parker pen with Dame Anna Neagle inscribed on it, it’s mine. “

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A great happy jolly panto, but it was time to hang up my wings, and take my agents advice. Do something no-one wants to do. Time to exchange feathers for fur!

PANTO 1979-80

Panto 1979-1980

Redbridge Theatre Company

Kenneth More Theatre Ilford

December 19th 1979-January 26th 1980

PUSS IN BOOTS

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Freddie Lees, Nigel Ellacott, Rosemary Jenner, Brian Honeyball, James Curran, Robert Quarry, Gilly Daniels, Peter Dayson, Jonathan Caplan, Shealagh Dennis, Stephen Fletcher, Traci, Lyssa & Danni Elster.

 Directed by Vivyan Ellacott, Choreographed by Tracie Hart, Designer Amanda Fiske, Stage Manager Tony Bensusan & Les Groombridge, Costumes by Margaret Brice, Musical Director Laurence Payne, Lighting Stephen Crease.

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Freddie Lees & Nigel Ellacott

The Dame was the superb Freddie Lees. Growing up at The Swansea Grand Freddie was the Panto Dame many times, and guest artist in the rep seasons. This is the man who influenced me more than anything (apart from my Brother) to work in theatre and especially Pantomime. Freddie was all you could want from a Dame, traditional, funny and with perfect timing. I was so lucky to get to work with this amazing man who was also my friend.

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Gilly Daniels and Peter Dayson played Good and bad fairy and witch. I am still in touch with both of them, and Peter  directs and plays Dame in Panto each year. Stephen Fletcher became Stephen Fischer and along with Sally Ann Triplett appeared in West End Musicals and  were our entry in the 1982 Eurovision Contest.

I can remember one terrible Panto Joke that Freddie and I did onstage- He entered “wearing” a horse. What’s that I said “A Paloyorno” said Freddie. “Don’t you mean a Palomino?” Freddie: “Any Palayorno is a Palomino”. Here’s the scene photographed.

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Puss in Boots is a Panto that has now been neglected- the story-line is thin- The tale of A Millers Son who inherits an artful cat- the Cat passes him off as The Marquis Of Carabosse, and between them they defeat an Ogre. The next time the Kenneth More did this Panto Peter Thorne was Dame and David Ian (Now an International Producer) played The Miller’s Son who is traditionally called Colin!

 

Here’s My Brother Vivyan with Freddie and me celebrating the opening night!

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PANTO 1980-81

Panto 1980-1981

City Hall, St.Albans

December 22nd 1980- January 10th 1981

PUSS IN BOOTS

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David Williams, Nigel Ellacott, Hilary O’Neil, Gillian Hayes, Frank Seton, Beryl Vuolo, Michael Gordon, John Griffiths, Annette Farrant.

 Produced by David Capel-Jones, Directed by David Williams, Choreographed by Dallas North, Musical Director Ian Henry, Percussion Colin Badreck. Scenery, Costumes & properties Albermarle Of London. I provided my own “Puss” costumes- the crouching non verbal “Tizer” the cat ones, and the all talking singing Puss In Boots ones. With the magic of Margaret Bryce costuming me, I think Puss was pretty sparkly!

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This pantomime followed the previous “Puss In Boots” at The Kenneth More. Hilary O’Neil played the Marquis, and David Williams was comic. Oddly there was no Pantomime Dame.John Griffiths played a baddie, and I had known him since the days of the Swansea Youth Theatre. I still see John and Hilary to this day! They both pre-date me as an Ugly Sister!

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Hilary O’Neil as Colin, and me as Puss.

Hilary and I can recall the moment when a pyro was set off as the “double” cat was transformed into me as Puss, and the grassy bank we were both on caught fire! A scary moment for us both! I have a memory of Hils stamping on the bits of me that had ignited!

Hilary had a couple of speciality song and dance numbers, and we both fought a lion at one point- when the Ogre transformed.

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The part of King was played by Frank Seton. Frank was part of theatre history. He was the understudy who went on as “Old Mother Riley” when Arthur Lucan died in the wings before his entrance in “Old Mother Riley In Paris” at The Tivoli Theatre Hull in May 1952.  Frank told me of his experiences in rep, as part of the top Shakespearean touring companies, and his times with Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane. A lovely man. He and Beryl Vuolo were a diminutive King & Queen in the panto! It was lovely to costume Frank a year later at Ilford where he played Alderman Fitzwarren.

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I stayed locally and can remember how beautiful St Albans looked at Christmas, all the shops and street decorations. I made some good friends that season.

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My friend Tina Jones sent me this sketch she made of me as Puss.I love this illustration!

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PANTO 1981-82

Panto 1981-1982

Redbridge Theatre Company

Kenneth More Theatre Ilford

December 18th 1981-January 30th 1982

CINDERELLA

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Peter Robbins & Nigel Ellacott, Chris Lloyd , Robert Quarry, John Griffiths, Gareth Snook, , Shealagh Dennis, Michael Gordon, Maggie Carr, Patrick Wood, Aidan James, Nicholas Goldwyn, Traci, Lyssa & Danni Elster.

        Directed by Vivyan Ellacott, Choreographed by Dawn Wenn, Musical Director Laurence Payne, Designed by Amanda Fiske, Costumes by Margaret Brice, Lighting Andy Stone. Stage Manager Doug Wilson.ASM Elaine Kasner. Percussion Dave Hawthorn.                              

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The Ugly Sisters are born!

Peter Robbins and I were effectively “put together” by our mutual agent Barrie Stacey. I was writing “Cinderella” for The Kenneth More, and looking for a “Sister”. Barrie cast us both in a lager commercial which took all day and most of the night- by the end of it we’d more or less sorted out our “Sister” routines! After that meeting we began to work together in tours of children’s plays and by the rehearsals were “as one” on stage!

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Peter brought along some costumes (He’d played “Sister” at Crewe the previous year), and I had some, and we made further costumes. Resident wardrobe Mistress Margaret Brice made some for us- I’m delighted and proud that two of her later costumes for us are now on display at The Victoria & Albert Museum! Margaret created gorgeous costumes for Peter and me for the rest of our “Sisters” careers.

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Margaret Brice made all our costumes as “Sisters” and she made them so robustly and so perfectly that long after she retired her costumes are still worn to this day!

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 Also in the V&A are two Ballroom wigs- made by Kevin Powling & Gerry Westley, then called “Modreno” and later “WigArt”. They had made for “Sisters” John Inman & Barry Howard, and I think at that point Biggins- in those days “Hard” wigs were a rareity- now nearly every Dame wears them!

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It was lovely to be on home ground, working alongside my Brother and enjoying the season. John Griffiths I’d worked with the year before, and a lot of the company I already knew. Peter commuted from South London- little did he know he’d be calling the Kenneth More his second home for the next nearly thirty years!

Half way through we decided to make a go of annual “Sisters”- little knowing it would continue for twenty-eight years! We decided to put money aside each week and use this to make new costumes and wigs for future years, to be “Act as known”- this means we’d provide everything. Thanks to that KMT Debut, we were set to work together in plays, musicals and Pantomimes for nearly thirty years!

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Here’s The Dressing room at The Kenneth More Theatre where Peter and I decided to team up as “The Ugly Sisters”. I took this photograph twenty nine years later, when I was in the same room about to perform my first solo Dame.

 

PANTO 1982-83

Charles Vance Productions

Grand Pavilion Porthcawl

17thDecember 1982 – January 8th 1983

CINDERELLA

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Neil West, Bryn Williams, Jill James, Peter Robbins & Nigel Ellacott, Ria Jones, Mandy Demetriou, Helen Bixley, Oliver Bradshaw, Kathryn Ritchie.Lisa Price, Louise Jones, Tracey Hopkins, Rhianydd Nicholson.

 Produced & Directed by Charles Vance,. CSM Sue Cheriton, MD Jonathan Wakelin, Percussion John Gibbon.Choreography Susan Theodore and Mandy Demetriou.

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This was the second season as “Ugly Sisters” for Peter & me. The Management was Charles Vance, a flamboyant Actor Manager of “The Old School”. The theatre is not large backstage. We asked if there was a quick change area and were presented with a packet of cup hooks!

I recall the show being cancelled a couple of times because of High Tides, and the pony taking Cinders to the Ball being, shall we say.. not well at all. Neil West played Buttons, and was in the BBC Hospital drama “Angels”, and Bryn Williams was our Baron Hardup.

Bryn was a lovely man and a joy to work with. I had done a few Television shows with Bryn who was known for being a part of the “Ryan & Ronnie” series , hugely popular Welsh comedians who had a series on National TV. Bryn appeared with them a lot

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I appeared in a series called “Hawksmoor” with Bryn a few years before on BBC.He had recently appeared in the film of “Under Milk Wood. He also had a great singing voice. Oliver Bradshaw was another lovely actor who played Major Domo, and worked a lot with Charles Vance’s rep companies.

Cinderella was Ria Jones- possibly her first professional role-from Swansea, like me- Ria is now of course a leading lady in The West End, and star of many musicals in the UK and recently in Paris at the Comedy Francais- she took over from Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” at The Coliseum theatre. Her Mum, Avril was at the Box Office at The Swansea Grand during the time my Brother Vivyan was House Manager. Its a great source of joy to have been there at the beginning of Ria’s career and to watch her well deserved rise in our business.An amazing talent!

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Sue Cheriton was Company Stage Manager. We were to meet up again six years later when we played Southampton Mayflower, and Sue was House Manager.

Peter & I received these two notices in the two papers who were in on the same night.

“The hilarious goings on of the Ugly Sisters, their outrageous costumes and expressions brought forth gales of laughter” (Paper one)

 “ A hopeless loss in what were supposed to be the funniest roles in Panto” (Paper Two)

 Can’t win ‘em all!