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SPOTLIGHT ON ANNA KAREN

ANNA KAREN

Anna is a friend and a neighbour. She and her late Husband Terry Duggan were involved in many shows at their local theatre, The Kenneth More in Ilford.  Anna and Terry’s long friendship with Barbara Windsor and her husband Scott was one that spanned many years and many television appearances together.

Anna Karen is known to television viewers as “Olive” from “On The Buses” and as “Aunt Sal”, Sister of Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor, her best mate )  in Eastenders.   Anna has had a long career in Television, Film and Theatre, including appearing in over Twenty-seven Pantomimes across the country. She has toured in stage shows in Canada and Australia, appeared in Summer seasons as well as regularly touring the UK’s theatres.

She has appeared in three of the top rated television series-LWT’s  “On The Buses” , (1969- 1973) “The Rag Trade” (1977-1978)  and BBC’s “Eastenders”, (between 1996 and 2017). She appeared in the films “Carry On Camping” in 1969, “Carry On Loving” in 1970 and in the three feature film versions “On The Buses” (1971), “Mutiny On The Buses” (1972) and “Holiday On The Buses” (1973). Later film appearances included “Beautiful Thing” appearing as neighbour Marlene in 1996.

The character she created – Olive, sister of Stan (Reg Varney) wife of Arthur (Michael Robbins) and daughter of Mum, (Cicely Courtneidge and then Doris Hare) played for 74 episodes and she was taken to the public’s hearts- along with her much quoted catchphrase, “Ohh Arthur!”, so much so that her character Olive moved sit-coms when she joined the cast of “The Rag Trade” for twenty-two episodes.

Anna Karen , with her East End accent was, in fact,  born in Durban, South Africa as Ann McCall. Her Father was Irish, her Mother English. She appeared in productions in South Africa before moving to London aged 17  and enrolling in The London School of Dramatic Art.

To pay for her classes, and her shared flat in Paddington, she worked as a comic’s feed for Dickie Arnold at London’s Panama Theatre Club , in Gt Windmill Street, Soho. Dickie Arnold was later to achieve fame in the TV Series “All Creatures Great & Small”. The Panama was“Non-Stop Revue” from 1.30pm to 10.30pm every day.

 Anna embarked on “ Naughty But Nice” style Variety Shows around the country – in 1960 she toured in “Eve Started It!” with Syd and Max Harrison. By 1962  Anna was in the “The fantabulous show “ (she performed an act with giant ostrich feather fans!) in a West End Mayfair floorshow .

In 1967 she married Terry Duggan a popular comedian and character actor, and over the years they made several appearances together both on television and in Pantomimes and Summer Seasons. They were a perfect double act both on and off the stage and screen.

ANNA KAREN- “ON THE BUSES”

Anna had appeared on BBC Television in 1968-1969 as Maud in  “Wild Wild Women”, a Sit-Com by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney. It starred Barbara Windsor as Millie, alongside Penelope Keith, Pat Coombes, Toni Palmer, Derek Francis amongst others. These writers had created the earlier “Rag Trade” for The BBC.  “Wild Women” was a period version of “Rag Trade” set in an Edwardian Milliners shop. It ran for seven episodes.

On the strength of “Wild Wild Women” Anna was cast as Olive Rudge in Wolfe & Chesney’s new sit com “On The Buses” in 1969. Anna become a part of the family, firstly with veteran actress Cicely Courtneidge as her Mother, Mabel Butler for Series I, then Doris Hare for Series 2-7). Set in Luxton, and on the Number 11 bus,  Olive and husband Arthur (Michael Robbins) lived at home with Mum, Bus Driver Brother Stan Butler (Reg Varney- a veteran of the first “Rag Trade” series in 1961), and the family congregated at the Luxton Bus Company depot where Stan and his mate Jack (Bob Grant) had frequent run-ins with Inspector Blakey (Catchphrase “I ‘Ate You Butler!”) played by Stephen Lewis. Anna’s husband Terry Duggan made appearances on the Television series, and played Nobby in the cinema version.

To play Olive – once described by Anna as “The World’s ugliest woman!) she put on the thick pebble glasses, and a wig which was flat on top as well as copious amounts of padding, and remained in it as a national icon for seven series, three feature films and stage versions. At its height LWT’s  “On The Buses” was watched regularly by 16 Million viewers. (It once reached 21 Million viewers one week).

The jaunty Theme Tune was called “Happy Harry”.

The online fan club has a wealth of information. www.onthebusesfanclub.com

ANNA KAREN- THE PANTOMIMES

From the early 1970’s Anna and often Terry Duggan appeared in Pantomimes across the country. Anna was usually Fairy Olive, or Fairy Godmother, with the occasional appearance as Empress of China, Nurse. She has a fondness for Rhyl in North Wales, and panto bedside the seaside. She appeared in one of her first pantos for Granada Cinemas- the last time that Cinema chain presented live Pantomime, a tradition producer Joe Collins (Father of Joan) had kept up throughout the 50’s and ‘60’s. Here are Anna’s Pantomimes, fitted in between filming, Summer Seasons and tours throughout a long career.

1973-74           Cinderella. East Ham Granada. This was Anna’s Pantomime debut. It was also the pantomime debuts of Tony Blackburn, Anne Aston and David Barry.

              The Cast: Tony Blackburn (Buttons) Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother), Anne Aston (Cinderella) David Barry, with Terri Gardener and Hugh Futcher (The Ugly Sisters), Valentine Dyall (Baron), Kay Barwick (Prince Charming), Diane Marie Lally (Dandini) Directed by Ralph Reader, Presented by Bill Kenwright and pop producer Eddie Tre-Vett.  From 23rd December 1973 to 19th January 1974.

Anna was filming “On the Buses” in her role as Olive, and was booked to play “Fairy Olive” at the Granada. She joined Tony Blackburn, who played Buttons, and Anne Aston, from “The Golden Shot” as Cinderella. Playing the role of Baron Hardup was the veteran actor, famed as “The man in Black”, Valentine Dyall. The Ugly Sisters were played by Terry Gardener and Hugh Futcher.

Anna recalls “we had two weeks rehearsals for the show. I had been booked by Bill Kenwright for the panto at East Ham. It was directed by Ralph Reader….”

Ralph Reader, famous for his “Gang Shows” had previously starred in a Granada pantomime in 1948

Anna’s memories of the East Ham Granada Theatre were that they played to capacity houses..”Business was really great, and I was rebooked the following year,for Streatham, along with Tony Blackburn, Hugh Futcher and Monica Dell. The stage area and dressing rooms were in a terrible state- we ended up cleaning the place before the dress rehearsal.”

Anna remembers the crew at East Ham vividly…”They were all dockers, working shifts, then coming into the Theatre to do the shows. One day they just upped and left. Went on strike, leaving just one called “Boiler”. He stayed, and along with Terry (Terry Duggan, Anna’s husband) they held the show together until we got more crew in the following night..”

Anna also recalls the scenery collapsing on Tony Blackburn..” It fell down, all around him while he was singing..” but being Panto, it was all part of the fun for the packed house. The season ended on the 19th January, 1974, and The last of the Granada Cinema Pantomimes.

 1974-75          Cinderella. Odeon Streatham.), Tony Blackburn (Buttons) Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother) Tessa Wyatt (Cinderella), Joan Savage (Dandini) , Monica Dell (Prince), Horace Mashford (Baron), Donald Hewlett & Michael Knowles (Brokers men) Terry Dennis & Hugh Futcher (The Ugly Sisters). Produced by Bill Kenwright and David Gordon. The Pantomime ran for three hours, and the vast auditorium had no microphones. Anna Karen in the review was described as “blissfully audible”. It ran from December 23rd to January 11th 1975.

1976                February 2nd for two weeks:King’s Theatre, Southsea, and at Boreham Wood in Elstree.

Goldilocks & The Three Bears. Anna Karen , Steve King (Simple Simon),Mike Onions (Dame) Pam & Mel Wingfield (Goldilocks & Prince), Joy Pett, Valerie Pett & Gerry Alexander (The Three Bears), Johnny St.Ledger (Demon) , Cricks Canine Wonders & The Coronet Dancers. Produced by Duggie Chapman.

1976-77           The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe. Weymouth Pavilion.  Anna Karen, Johnny Dallas (as Old Mother Hubbard) Pauline Kaye, Brian Weston,Syd Jackson & Dick Collins and Michael Swann. For Philip Bernard Prods (Aubrey Phillips)

1977-78           The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe. Leamington Spa and short tour.

                        Anna Karen  (Fairy Olive), Aubrey Phillips (Dame), Syd Jackson & Dick Collins (King Cole & Simple Simon), David Rome, Renee Bourne Webb, Trevor Baily, Newton Wills and Debbie Oates. For Philip Bernard Prods (Aubrey Phillips).

1978-79           Jack & The Beanstalk.  Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. Leslie Crowther, Arthur Askey,(Martha Trot) Mark Wynter,(Jack) Jimmy Edwards,(King) Robert Aldous (Fleshcreep), Anna Karen.(Fairy), Margo Harris (Princess)  For Duncan C Weldon, Triumph Theatre Productions. Directed by Roger Redfarn. Designed by Terry Parsons.          This pantomime broke all box office records, and had the largest box office advance in the theatre’s history.

1979-80           Dick Whittington. Princes Hall Aldershot. Anna Karen (Olive, The Cook)) Ken Joy, Terry Duggan, Jenny Kenna, Michael Lomax, Bolly The Clown. Directed by Jill Fletcher. Produced by Lisa Barron for Bunny Barron.

1982-83           Dick Whittington . Nell Gwyn Hereford. Anna Karen (Fairy) Dave Peters, Lex Daye (Dame) Terry Duggan (Alderman) Angela Webb, Janet Edis. Philip Bernard Prods (Aubrey Phillips).

1984-85           Robin Hood.Cardiff New Theatre. Stu Francis,(Will Scarlett),  Ruth Madoc, (Robin Hood) Anna Karen,(Dame Dierdrie)  Kim Braden,(Marion)  Douglas Fielding, (Sheriff) Maurice Thorogood, Douglas Anderson.Gareth Jefferson (Alan A Dale) . Four original songs by Bobby Crush.  For Peter Lea & Clive Hicks Jenkins. Cardiff New Theatre Trust.

1985-86           Jack & The Beanstalk. Orchard Theatre Dartford. Bobby Davro, Anna Karen,(Vegetable Fairy)  Fred Feast, Natalie Forbes, Ronne Coyles (Dame) Caro Gurney, Kenneth Oxtoby, Nigel Miles Thomas, Directed by Duggie Chapman. This was Bobby Davro’s Pantomime debut.

1986-87           Aladdin. Shaw Theatre London. Norman Beaton,(Twankey)  Anna Karen (Empress) Jim Dunk (Abanazar),Richard Rees (Wishee Washee), Debby Bishop (Aladdin) Richard Tate & Bill Thomas (Chinese Policemen), Jo Warne (Genie).Directed by Ben Benison. (Written by Terry Duggan).

1988-1989       Jack & The Beanstalk. De Montford Hall, Leicester. Bernard Bresslaw (Dame Durden),Anna Karen (Witch), Barry Cryer (King),Kenny Cantor (Muddles) Jill Nalder (Jack),Taryn Kaye (Princess),   Pat Roach & Tony Wadsworth (Henchmen), Fyfe Sinclaire (Giant) Andrew Buttery & Brent Haddon (Daisy The Cow).For Kenny Cantor Productions.

Jill Nalder, Welsh actress, singer, and principal Boy in many pantomimes is the inspiration behind the character Jill Baxter in Channel 4’s series “It’s A Sin”.

1989-90           Cinderella. Darlington Civic . Jimmy Cricket (Buttons), Chuckles Brothers, (Brokers Men) Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother) Nikki Ellen,(Cinderella),  Anne Duval,(Prince Charming),  Chris Hayward & Simon Bashford ( Ugly Sisters) Lyn & Mal Malyn (Dandini & Baron). For Nick Thomas.

In 1990 Anna Karen was made Queen Ratling of the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings, the charitable theatrical foundation. Husband Terry Duggan was invested as “Baby Rat” into the Grand Order of Water Rats.

1990-91           Cinderella. Arena St. Albans. Adam Woodyatt (Buttons), Cheryl Baker (Cinderella), Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother), Brian Cant (Baron), Guido Omissi & Russell Labey (The Ugly Sisters), Zoe Nicholas (Prince) and Sophie Hart (Dandini). Sophie carrying on a show business tradition set by her parents Ronnie Corbett & Anne Hart. Produced by Nick Thomas and Jon Conway.

1991-92           Cinderella. Lewisham Theatre. Timmy Mallet (Buttons) Brian Cant (Baron) Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother) David Karl (Dandini),Chris Nichol (Prince), Zoe Nicholas (Cinderella), Guido Omissi & Russell Labey (The Ugly Sisters), Alison Cowen, Denise Rainger, Jane Vatcher, Vanessa Leclrq, Trisha Darnes Penny Farthings, Jim Clubb’s Eskimo Dogs. Directed by Brian Cant. For Nick Thomas & Jon Conway. December 23rd to January 19th 1992.

1993-94           Dick Whittington. Eastbourne Devonshire Park. Kathy Staff,(Alderwoman Fitzwarren), Peter Duncan,(Dick), Anna Karen (Fairy Bow Bells), Graham James (Sarah The Cook), Andy Cunningham (Capt Bodger & Mate Badger),Emma Morgan (Cat), Sophia Winter (Alice), Steven Spiers (King Rat), Mark Channon and Peter Davies. Directed by Peter Duncan. John Leslie replaced Peter Duncan during the run, due to filming commitments.

1992-93           Dick Whittington. Woodville Halls Neil Buchanan, Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother) Michael Knowles(Alderman),, Paul Harris.(Dame), Bev Berridge, Julie Spillers, Sarah Peterson, Carl Trevors, Ian Stanley. Directed by Bev Berridge for John Spillers. December 19th -January 9th 1993.

1996-97           Cinderella. Princes Hall, Aldershot. Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother) Robert Hopkins, Ricky Diamond,(Buttons & Braces), Lesley Young (Cinderella), Liberty Mounten (Prince) Steve Christie (Dandini), Paul Gruner (Baron), Alan Atkins & David Horne (The Ugly Sisters).( In this production the Prince was played by an Elvis Impersonator.)

1997-98           Mother Goose. St. Helen’s Theatre Royal. Anna Karen (Mother Goose), Mathew Roper (Matt Goose), Iain Thompson (Colin), Lorraine Lisbon (Witch), Amelia Jayne Stephens (Jill), Michael Fraser (Mayor), Nicola Gossip, Beth Cowan (Fairy), Priscilla The Goose- Julie Newton Mercer / Laura Brooks. Directed by Gordon Pleasant. MD Peter Faint. For Pantoworld.Ltd. December 13th 1997-January 4th 1998.

1998-99           Cinderella. Pavilion Rhyl. Dominic Wood (Buttons) Robert Fyfe (Baron), Anna Karen (Fairy Godmother), Maureen Nolan (Cinderella), Andrea Poyser (Prince), Tom Bright & John Peate (The Ugly Sisters). For UK Productions.

1999-2000       Dick Whittington. Blackpool Grand . Ben Shepherd, (Idle Jack) Anna Karen (Fairy) Debbie McAndrew(Dick), Michael Knowles (Alderman), Tom Bright (Dame),Beverley Worboys (Alice), John Peate (Captain), Natalie Cole (Cat).Directed by Tom Bright for UK Productions.

2000-2001       Cinderella. Palace Mansfield. Ian Mercer,(Buttons), Anna Karen,(Fairy Godmother) Casey-Lee Jolleys, Sarah Louise Day, Bobbie Kent & Jamie Morris.(The Ugly Sisters). Directed by Julian Woolford. UK Productions. December 11th– January 12th 2001.

2001-02           Dick Whittington. Bournemouth Pavilion    Wayne Sleep (Dame) Sid Owen, Anna Karen (Fairy) Rik Gaynor, Barrie Daniels, Natalie Cole, Harry Dickman,Karen Roberts, Mike Jerome, Directed by Simon Rawlins. Musical Director Roy Hilton.   For UK Productions

2002-03           Dick Whittington. Festival Theatre, Malvern. Paul Bradley, John Forgeham, Anna Karen,(Fairy)  Graham Seed, Trevor Harrison, Colin Roberts, Kate Weston, Rachel Mulcahy, Margaret Strange. Directed by Simon Rawlins. UK Productions.

2005-06           Dick Whittington. Anvil Basingstoke. Barney Harewood, Richard Calkin, Anna Karen,(Fairy) Tania Whatley, Steve Hewlett & Pongo, Stephen David,(Dame)  Barry Daniels, Danielle Murphy. Directed by Jon Emmanuel, Choreography by Tracey Illiffe.          UK Productions.

2006-07           Dick Whittington. Pavilion Rhyl. Anna Karen,(Fairy)  Ken Morley, Rik Gaynor, Iain Rogerson, Tara Bethan, Nick Wilton (Dame), Nigel Harvey, Grace Harrington, Chris Gage. Directed by Rik Gaynor. UK Productions.

2008-09           Cinderella.  Millfield Edmonton.  Anna Karen, (Fairy Godmother), Bridie Rowe, Stewart Charlesworth, Ben Redfern, Paul St.James, Daryl Branch, Andrew Gowland. Marc Day for Millfield Theatre, Directed by Andrew Wright.

ANNA KAREN- EASTENDERS

Anna played the part of Aunt Sal in Eastenders. Sal is the older sister of Peggy Mitchell, and Aunt to the Mitchells Phil and Grant. Her role was announced in February 1996. Anna said at the time “It’s great to be back on the box, and a real treat to be working alongside my old mate” (Barbara Windsor).

Anna made recurring appearances in the BBC Series from 1996-97, again in 2002-2004, and again in 2007-2013. By 2017 Anna had appeared in over 57 episodes- usually causing trouble, comforting Peggy or on one occasion livening things up with her fire-eating act.

Anna really could fire eat! In the Variety shows she and Terry Duggan appeared in she had performed a Fire Eating Act, a Memory Act (genuine- I assisted her with this amazing feat of memorising objects called out by the audience) and Music Hall turns as Florrie Forde, or Nelly Wallace. Her rendition of “Always look under the bed”, and “Why am I always the Bridesmaid” in the persona of Olive always got a great reaction. One of the few times Peter Robbins and I did our “Sisters” in a variety show, Anna was Fairy in our Panto sketch, and Terry did his very clever” Drunk Act.”

Anna continued in Eastenders, and her recurring schedule meant she was available for touring plays and Pantomimes throughout. For Eastenders fans, here’s Anna’s character’s page: https://eastenders.fandom.com/wiki/Sal_Martin

ANNA KAREN ON FILM

Anna Appeared in Carry On Camping with her mate Barbara Windsor in 1969, both of them playing schoolgirls at “Chayste Place”, aged 31 and 32!

This film featured the iconic scene when Barbara’s bra flies off, hitting Kenneth Williams in the face as Matron Hattie Jacques look on-This June (2021) that bikini set from the film was sold at auction for a staggering £9,500 with the proceeds going to the Alheimers Society.

 Anna also made an appearance in “Carry On Loving” (1970) and after the huge success of “On The Buses” made three films “On The Buses” (1971, “Mutiny On The Buses” (1972) and “Holiday On The Buses” (1973), this last film also featured “Steptoe” Wilfrid Bramble and Anna’s friend Kate Williams.

Anna appeared in over a dozen feature films, including playing Marlene in “Beautiful Thing” in 1996.

Film fans can see her listings here:   https://the-ultimate-british-classic-comedy.fandom.com/wiki/Anna_Karen

ANNA KAREN- THEATRE

Anna’s early experiences of theatre began touring in the popular “Naught But Nice” Variety revues that boasted saucy titles. Her first was “Eve Started it!”, and Anna started it in March 1960 at the Liverpool Pavilion!

In 1977 Anna gave an interview to the Daily Mirror talking about her days as a stripper:

It was an honest way to make a living, and I was never ashamed of it. Mind you, it wasn’t full frontal in those days. We had little stars over the important bits”

 In the billing for these shows Anna is described as “Scandinavia’s Gorgeous Nordic Strip Queen!”.

                        I asked Anna in August 2021 how this came about- she replied “My agent suggested it- I was already blonde- she said ‘you get a tenner more if you’re foreign.’ “

Here is a typical touring schedule :

March 1960     Liverpool Pavilion. “Eve Started it” with Vi Tye, Anna Karen, Syd and Max Harrison, Ray Stevens, David Galbraith, Earl & Edgar, Frank & Maisie, Momford’s Puppet Parade, Alicia Dells, Jimmy Kidd & June.

                        Syd & Max Harrison,(Brothers)  were the Fathers of Mike Hope &Albie  Keen, comedians. Hope & Keen presented the finest cod duelling scene in Pantomimes across the country. June Kidd later teamed up with son Paul to appear as Pantomime Cow speciality in pantomimes.

April 1960        Alhambra Bradford. “Parisienne Capers” with Tassie & Diana and Anna Karen.

April 1960        Queens Theatre Blackpool    with Syd and Max Harrison, Anna Karen and The Falcons (Eddie & Eileen)

                        Syd & Max Harrison had previously performed a superb tap dancing act. See “Twinkling Tappers” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmTUyNkI1Gs

April 1960        City Varieties Leeds.  With Alan Wells, Joy Martell and Anna Karen.

May 1960        Royalty Theatre Chester. “Striptease Vanities”, With Harry Bailey, “King Of The Blarney”, Danny Purches, and  Anna Karen, with Barrie’s Dogs, and Buckmaster’s Puppets

In October Anna had finished the tour and was resident in Soho once again, appearing in Rico Dajou’s Mayfair floorshow “Saucy Lovers”- a “Fan Tabulous Show”- mainly due to Anna’s act with giant ostrich feather fans- think “Gypsy Rose Lee”! The floorshow/cabaret was choreographed by Tommy Shaw , who appeared as “Tommy Shaw and his boys”. (Two years later Tommy choreographed the annual BBC Pantomime in 1962.)

Anna appeared with Lucky McKenzie “Saucy but Lovable” Anna Karen, Margherita Lopez, Pauline Hartwell and Anne Bullen.

ANNA KAREN- ON TOUR

Anna was later to tour in plays, comedies and thrillers throughout the length and breadth of the country, with some Summer Seasons in the UK, as well as appearing onstage in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto in the 1980’s. She often toured and appeared with Husband Terry Duggan, and with cast members from “On The Buses”.

The list of plays is a very full one- here are just some of her Theatre appearances over the years, and a few of her co-stars.

1971                Harvey Richmond Theatre, London. Harry Worth, Kathleen Harrison, Tim Barrett, Anna Karen, Rose Hill, Ken Thornett, Janet Mahoney, Anthony Woodruff and Geoffrey Lumsden. For Paul Elliott & Duncan C Weldon, Triumph Productions.

1972                Stop It Nurse  Windmill Great Yarmouth.  Anna Karen with Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis, , Terry Duggan, Ann Emery, Beau Daniels, Dierdre Dee, Shirley Stanwell, Brenda Somers and Peter Vernon. Produced by Bill Roberton.

1973                The Busman’s Holiday . Summer season at Torbay. Anna Karen, Stephen Lewis and Bob Grant.

1974                Who Goes Bare!         Anna Karen, Dave King, Valentine Dyall, Terry Duggan.

                        Touring & Theatre Royal Nottingham.

1974                Not Now Darling        Anna Karen, George Baker, Ian Lavender,Jenny Hanley with  Shaun Curry, Mildred Mayne, Margaret Inglis, Earl Robinson, Penny Barber.         (This tour also played the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Theatre at Stratford Upon Avon)

1974                “Package Honeymoon”  Devonshire Park Eastbourne. Anna Karen and Bob Grant. Written by Bob Grant and produced by Charles Vance. A comedy set in a Spanish Hotel.

1975                “Another Bride” – The Wedding Show         Anna Karen, Terry Duggan, Hugh Futcher, Benny Lee. Tara Hotel London for a season.

1984                Steaming        Anna Karen as Dawn, Eve Bland as Josie, Helen Gill, Claire Kelly and Terry Duggan. National Tour.

1988                Who Goes Bare!         Anna Karen, Linda Lusardi, Trevor Bannister, Melvyn Hayes. Alexandra Birmingham & Tour.

1989                Doctor On The Boil    Anna Karen, Peter Denyer, Gary Hailes, Paul Laidlaw, Anthony Mayne, Caroline Dennis and Amanda Kirby. Theatre Royal Margate.

1989                The Birth Of Merlin    Roy Hudd, Anna Karen, directed by Denise Coffey for Theatr Clwyd, Mold.

1991                Noises Off.      Anna Karen as Dottie Otley, with Roy North, Lynette McMorrow and Frederick Pyne.Grand Theatre Blackpool.

1992                Bazaar & Rummage   Jill Gascoigne, Anna Karen, Sophie Lawrence, Debbie Arnold, Genevieve Walsh, Diane Axford. Directed by Richard Haddon.New Theatre Hull & National Tour.

1992                The Late Edwina Black           Anna Karen, Lorraine Chase, David Banks, Bruce James. Southsea Kings. Alexander Bridge.

1993                Watch It Sailor!          Anna Karen, Hugh Lloyd, Brian Cant, Josephine Tewson, Sally Ann Mathews. Theatre Clwyd, Mold.

1993                When Did You Last See Your Trousers?        Anna Karen, Linda Lusardi, Arthur Bostrom, Hilary Minster, John D Collins. Beck Hayes & Tour.

1994                Sailor Beware!            Anna Karen as Emma Hornett, David Callister, Claire Fisher. Gaiety Theatre, Isle Of Man.

1995                Straight & Narrow     Anna Karen, Damian Williams, Nick Barclay, Nicola Boyce, Deborah Karen, Alan Terry, Patrick Kearns.

1997                The Farnsdale Avenue…..Murder Mystery  Anna Karen, Josie Kidd, Larry Dann, Patricia Samuels. Hornchurch Queen’s Theatre & Tour.

1999                The Unexpected Guest          Anna Karen as Mrs Warwick

1999                Love me Slender        Anna Karen, Lorraine Chase and Bella Emberg.        

2002                Murdered To Death   Anna Karen, Nicholas Smith, Geoffrey Davies, Richard Elis, Shona Lindsay, Sarah Whitlock, Rachel Mulcahy, Andrew Loudon, Mary Duddy. Directed by Julian Woolford.

The Bed before Yesterday.

ANNA KAREN ON TELEVISION

Anna has made numerous appearances on the box over the past years- including of course “On The Buses” and “EastEnders”. Here are some of these programmes starting in 1969.

1969                Wild Wild Women (as                                                            Maud) BBC

1969-73           On The Buses  (Olive                                                              Rudge) LWT

1970                Dixon Of Dock Green

1973                The Affair

1975                Milko   (Bob Grant & Anna                                         Karen)

1976                And Mother Makes Five

                        The Kenneth Williams Show

                         A Place To Hide

                        Rainbow

1977                The Dick Emery Show

1977                The Rag Trade (as Olive)                                                        LWT

1981                Stainless Steel & The Star                                           Spies

1985-86           Troubles And Strife (Rosita                                       Pearman) 12 Episodes,                                                           Central TV.

                        The 1985-86 Central TV’s “Trouble and Strife” saw Anna as the bossy Rosita Pearman in a cast that included Maureen Beattie, Carol Macready, Annette Badland, Liz Gebhardt, Patricia Brake, Diana Weston and Robert Blythe.

1986                Roland Rat The Series (as Maureen McConkey 14 Episodes

1987                The Sooty Show

                       Super Gran

1996                Gayle’s World

1996-2007       EastEnders (as Aunt Sal) Recurring 57 Episodes. BBC.

1998                Goodnight Sweetheart (Mrs Hardcore)

1999                Boyz Unlimited

2002                The Bill

2004                Revolver

                       The Second Quest

2006                Faking It. Channel4.

2014                Doctors

Anna has worked extensively in Role Play for corporate clients, and for the NHS, and through her teaching roles has become invoved in Theatre In Education in and around Essex.She wrote and produced “Barking At War” at the National Trust’s Eastbury Manor House.

The Last/Lost Week-end!

This week-end we did four sell-out amazing shows. All week we’ve played to audiences in the theatre, and live streamed to schools and to homes.

The week-end was a sell out at our limited capacity, but they really made up in enthusiasm and joy in what they lacked in numbers. All the four shows were recorded, and – here’s the clever bit- the “best of Four” will become the perfect Christmas Present for the Pantomime fan! A full presentation of the Panto to watch at home at your choosing! Take a look at the Kenneth More Theatre’s website for information!

SO- That was the GOOD news. Here’s the bad newsWe, along with every theatre in London and the outskirts are closed! A very few will play tomorrow (Tuesday 15th December) and most like us closed our doors on Sunday evening after the second show.

We had an idea this was about to happen, and so plans were put into operation to remove our personal belongings, but leave the show “hanging” or “Mothballed” if you prefer, in the possibility that we might be able to return. This would have only been possible if London Boroughs remained Tier Two. I’m afraid for the safety of all in the run up to Christmas, we are now Tier Three. No Theatres, indoor bowling, Cinemas, and strangely the shops all remain open. We here, thanks to Vision presenting the Panto, and a caring cast & Crew, were a beacon of Social Distancing, mask wearing, abiding by all the rules. I’m not so sure about that in the crowds we see on Television shopping. Still- With that couple of days possibility that this would happen, we gave the last four shows our all, and there will be a recording to purchase to watch at home!

Mother and Son- Nigel & Karl in the Haunted Bedroom.

So, here I present our legacy- some superb photographs courtesy of Melanie Gail photography.

By the end of the last show yesterday (Sunday) the dressing rooms were stripped of their cards and make-up and flowers, the only things remaining were the costumes (incase of a return) and I put everything into the Quick Change Room for storage.

Starting to look empty
Michelle as a VERY Wicked Queen!

Everyone was philosophical. Yes there was sadness, yes there was hope (that we might yet return after Christmas- it still might be possible- everything is here and waiting for us). The thing that ran through my head as Mollie and I were changing into the Finale was- in an hour this building will be empty. In an hour the bustle, the energy the sound of laughter would be gone. Throughout Christmas the sparkly costumes will sit here in empty dressing rooms. A “Ghost Light” will be onstage where tonight we all were, with lights on us and music and microphones.

School Patrol

A theatre is not about dressing rooms, quick change rooms and green rooms. Those are bricks and lino and fitments. Theatre IS the people who inhabit it- the crew who make it happen, the musicians and wardrobe – the cast who create the fun, the drama and the very essence of Pantomime. The Box office, the Publicity, The Management and ushers- THOSE people ARE theatre.

You ARE the Weakest Link! Goodbye!

This brief journey into Pantoland has been so good- I was stuck at home, Isolating and without purpose, then along came this golden opportunity to appear in my neighbourhood Theatre- it has been a very lovely thing to meet up with this gorgeous bunch of talented people for this, my 46th Consecutive Pantomime! Thank You!

Our Pantomime “Snow White” can be enjoyed up to January 10th – our original closing date- by streaming a recording of the show by visiting

Watch this space- and the main page of this site just in case the possibility arises of our return to the Pantomime to resume play. Until then, it’s the Walkdown. The Finale.

Friday’s Two Shows!

Two shows today. Awoke to hear the very sad new that Dame Barbara Windsor had passed. Barbara was a shining star in Pantoland, and I still remember so well her “Aladdin” with Alfred Marx, such a fabulous performance, full of the sizzling energy she always possessed. Barbara and Scott came to see me here at the KMT in 2009 , when I did my first solo Dame- with them was my friend and neighbour Anna Karen (Anna was Olive in “On The Buses” and of course Aunt Sal to Barbara’s Peggy), and she visited everyone backstage and made everyone feel so special- one of her huge talents- everyone loved her.

Today we made sure Barbara was given a “Shout out” and a huge round of applause both shows. The East End will always regard her as their own.

The mystery “dripping” on my Haunted Bed was solved this morning. It had become a bit of a mini torrent, and Ben climbed up to the flat roof of the KMT to discover a small lake, and the odd seagull bobbing about. After wading in and being a hero, the water (and the drip) has now been fixed!

Ben recovered from sorting out the lake!

Both houses were very appreciative, and a joy to work to. It is so good to see people having a break from the bleakness, if only for a few hours. Every show lifts you, and certainly for me, its an opportunity to work with a really fun company and crew, and indeed, a purpose, after such a long time in isolation.

Harry, Sally, Gemma & Karl

Gareth and Sally invited us all to have a socially distanced drink in the theatre bar tonight- swift, as folk have to travel home (I am so lucky being a short walk) but welcomed. Here are a few of the pictures. Tomorrow we have two shows- 1.30pm and 5pm.

And tonight at The London Palladium, The Qdos pantoland opened to a special show for Key Workers and attended by The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and their children!

Thursday 10th Pantoland

Two shows today- Socially distanced audiences loving it. So are we- the fact that we are doing what we do, and getting such a great response – the same energy goes into the show from everybody as it would if it were a thousand seater.

Our talented Musicians- Harry on Keyboards (left) and Dan on Drums (Right)

Shows went really well. This evening I was delighted to spot Claire Harvey in the audience. A veteran of over twelve KMT pantos! Lovely to see her and her party!

I remembered to wear my “Wonder Woman” costume for both shows today! Inbetween shows Karl (Muddles) and I filmed segments to be inserted into the schools screenings, to personalise them. Nelly rejects the man she chose in the audience for the teacher. I had many boyfriends between shows- I lost count after announcing the first ten or so!

A break before the Ballroom.

To my amusement- it is not easy to keep a straight face- every time I climb into my panto bed so far, I get rained on! The drips (or drops) are exactly where the pillow is. I feign sleep while Muddles chats to the audience, trying to keep still (and keep my microphone out of the way) as down it comes! The “Busy Bee” gag may be no more in Pantomime, but the theatre is trying its best!

Michelle in full Wicked Queen rant!

There was some not unexpected, but none the less not cheering news today from the Theatre- it looks very likely that on Wednesday the Government might put areas of East London into lockdown. We await that news, and if so- that would mean the show would close.

There are possibilities – the Theatre always had plans to stream and record if we went into Tier three- so we might continue to live stream from the stage after this announcement- obviously with no “live” audience, and there would be the strong possibility of leaving everything exactly where it is, and returning to finish the run when given the go-ahead. It is all in the air at the moment. The London Borough of Redbridge might be a tier three, or we might remain a tier two. We will know more when they announce.

Such sad news today that Dame Barbara Windsor has passed. Love and thoughts to Scott who has fought alongside Barbara the terrible effects of Alzheimers. It was “Snow White” at The Kenneth More Theatre in 2009 when Barbara and Scott, together with Barbara’s lifetime best mate Anna Karen came to see me launch my solo Dame. What a huge talent in such a tiny bubbly generous lady. The world of Entertainment misses her so much. God Bless you Barbara.

Meanwhile, some jolly pictures from the Pantomime we are currently performing Twice a day with great joy!

Fairytale icons in the dressing room!

popped in for a cuppa

Opening Night!

Wednesday 9th December 2020

Opening Night or “Whoops, I did it again!”

More of that later! We rehearsed this afternoon, out of costume, changing a few things – musically as well as scenes, and I arrived at 1.45pm which is pretty leisurely for the norm. Delighted we are at the stage we are at- and we tightened up a few things, then ran Act Two without costumes.

No pics at the moment- No time to take any, or ask Front Of House for any- The opening night is always the same. A sort of in controlled but slightly scary blur!

I tend to go very quiet and calm before the opening show. This is my 46th Pantomime, but that feeling of – its not nervousness.. it’s.. It is so hard to describe-Apprehension? It never goes away. I get ready early (unusual for me. I thrive on getting ready in a hurry) I am finding quiet places to go through lines in my full costume.. I pace. You meet up with your fellow artistes. They too smile grimly and go into quiet corners to do mantras or lines or just.. stay very very calm!

Our audience tonight- the first of its kind after months and months of lockdown, and empty auditoriums, was immensely rewarding. A year ago the audience I opened to numbered over 1,400. Tonight 140.The Socially Distanced Allowance. The energy from us was the same, and the response of the audience was the same. No difference. Just a little more joy on both sides at actually being in a live show!

Our audience was in part members of the NHS. Foolishly I thought I could sail on and do the “Parties, schools and groups list” and thank them and get away with it. I came perilously close to becoming tearful in asking everyone to applaud them. What an amazing job they do every single day. We, as a company were humbled they came to see us. Truly.

Now, I did say “Ooops I did it again!”. For the second time in my career as a professional Strip Tease Artiste in Haunted Bedrooms I made an error. I texted John Evans in the interval – John was in the Panto I did this “ooops!” before.

A strip involves twelve items of costume which are put on, and then weighing a ton, you waddle onstage and remove them swiftly to music in One minute and fifteen seconds.

Tonight I wore eleven items.

Instead of finally revealing “Wonder Woman” as my final garment before sailing behind my screen, I revealed.. no Wonder woman. Unlike the newly released film, She was not in evidence. She was on a hanger in the Quick change. I was on stage, ripping off top and bloomers to reveal where she should have been.

Ooops. Luckily I had randomly put on a pair of purple hot pants a few scenes earlier for a costume. I was revealed in a flesh coloured bodysuit to all purposes naked except for said pair of shorts and a microphone bag with “NIGEL” written in felt tip on it, and a battery pack hanging behind. I had no idea I was “naked” until after the bedroom scene when I met Molly in the Quick change. I was delighted to show off “Wonder Woman”. I flounced! I posed! I had NO idea why there was a collective gasp. OOOOPS- I did it again!

This show is being streamed…. FORTUNATELY NOT LIVE! – Tomorrow there will be a chance to edit the end of the strip when a sign saying “Censored” will float infront of my apparent nude bits. The live audience seemed not to mind, and the Haunted bedroom went down a storm!

The show went really well, the audience was just- just so pleased to be there, as were we. There is NO substitute for live theatre, but at least if you prefer not to visit a theatre, there are many opportunities to live stream or recorded stream a Panto this season. You might see the censored version of me- but I think not!

I really cannot say how relieved I was it all went so well- a credit to the Director, Owen Smith, to His assistant Jocelyn Prah, to a great cast, crew and management who have battled to get this show up and running against all odds. Thank you “Vision” and Redbridge!

Photos to follow- and the story is only just beginning! Regular backstage blogs until January 10th!

Tech & Dress Monday/Tuesday

Two very full days- hence the delay in blogging. Its been a pretty full couple of days, more or less 10am-10pm as is the usual on Technical rehearsals. I’m so fortunate living a few houses down from the Kenneth More- I can finish at ten and be in my front room by five past!

The Quick Change Room

Monday started in the studio briefly, then moved to The Stage. We’ve had dressing rooms for the past week, which really helps with the Social Distancing. I have a secure Quick change room on the ground floor. The “built in the wings” version is not allowed, as traffic flow of people backstage is paramount. Here at the KMT we have two “False Entrances” in the Brick proscenium. Usually reserved for Fairy to enter (Stage Right of course) and Baddie on Stage Left. This time we make use of them a lot, as it means backstage movement is regulated and you don’t cross anyone so to speak!

The use of the Green Room for say, cooking your food in the microwave is regulated and it is not used for gatherings. I have my beloved “Number Two” dressing room, and it is self contained. Kettles, Cuppa Soups, Duvets and the like. I live in the Quick change room most of the show- certainly during these technicals, and My dressing room in between. Chats take place in the long corridors with everyone keeping to mask wearing. The amount of times I’ve tangled my mask in my radio microphone ear piece! Molly my dresser works from behind, and anything requiring front fastening I do myself. Its a very different set of regs, but you know what? I feel relieved these regs are in place.

Remembering to remove the mask before going on is a challenge!

We did well on Monday, Owen set us teching Act Two first- it has more scene changes and scenes requiring attention, and then we started to tech our way through Act one. We got to my Strip in the Haunted Bedroom by 10pm last night, and started back from there this morning (Tuesday) at 11am.

The Opening Scene

Lighting, sound fx, sound, mirror effects all take time. We did well on these aspects. Today we started with The Strip, and then into The Haunted Bedroom. Carl and I spent time working through “The Mirror Routine”- wigs were problematic- hats sliding off, and hair in the eyes (yes- Soft wigs for this scene! My hard wigs won’t allow different hats to be tried on!). We also have a mobility scooter each in this, and that took a bit of practicing. Its not Formula 1 but it is not easy co-ordinating the scooters!

I use a Mobility Scooter twice in the Panto. It may be their way of telling me something!

The tech went well this morning, through lunch and before we knew it- into A full dress rehearsal tonight at 7pm. The unnerving thing about the Dress run (for me) is not knowing HOW LONG I have to change. In rehearsals I spent a fair bit of time working with Carl, my son Muddles- or staying outside rehearsal until called for my scenes, a new way of rehearsing in these times. So- helped by Molly dressing, we treated EVERY exit as a possible Super fast change, and then I hovered (not hoovered) around until I recognised a bit that meant I was about to enter! These are the things that settle down with the first few shows. By Saturday we’ll doubtless be knitting scarves during what is now a breathless change!

Lovely cloth behind me painted by my friend the late Gerry Binns- The KMT hired it back in tribute to the man who painted so much of the scenery here over the years.

Didn’t really eat today- something seemed to crop up each time- so that will compensate for the tub of “Celebrations” I ate binge watching “The Crown”. All the changes went smoothly. Wigs finally worked (Thank you Jocelyn!) for The Mirror routine, and yes, we have some sound, music and lighting cues to tighten up- but we will get there by tomorrow evening- Opening Night!

Tomorrow the theatre is giving the Opening Night and I believe a second night to the NHS. That makes us all so happy. Can’t say how happy. We record tomorrow’s show and I think it gets edited on Thursday- I’m in for voice overs and personalised inserts in between shows Thursday- no duvet time for me until Saturday- so I’m hitting that Duvet now. As we say in all Pantos Nighty Nighty.. To which you of course reply………………?

Full Run Thru Friday!

Friday December 4th 2020

A final day in the Studio at the Kenneth More Theatre today. It’s a good feeling to be at this stage (or studio!) after only four days- with a full non-stop run through of our newly created, shiny new, Socially distanced Pantomime!

The Auditorium is looking pretty crowded, as is the stage. The two days to follow- Saturday and Sunday will involve our hard working Technical team, rigging, setting up the lights, the scenery, the sound equipment and indeed some of the projection effects, especially The Magic Mirror- voiced by Andrew Ryan- in a home made studio. Andrew like many theatre folk who do work with voice recordings has done what many have done- invested in some decent recording equipment and created a studio out of duvets and sofas, cushions and other noise reducing devices. He’s created a very chilling vocal”Man in the Mirror”

So today we cleaned up some songs, some dance routines in the morning. We made some recordings ourselves, in the Theatre Green Room, and Michelle was filmed for a sequence as Wicked Queen first thing. Costume fittings were carried out, and Jocelyn took Calum, Chris and myself through my Ballroom Comedy number- I’m comedy, the boys are dancing brilliantly! Accompanied by Harry and Dan we got the number up and running in a few goes. I am very proud that this number began life here, in this very studio when Peter & I did it back in 1981 (long before anyone else in this routine was born!) and on, and I revived it for my Dame’s number back here again in 2009. Thank you John Inman & Barry Howard for the inspiration, and to Barrie for Permission to take thir number and rewrite it to fit each venue!

We did a full run through of the entire show with all the music, most of the sound effects and a lot of props to get a timing. We are in a very good place- thanks to Owen leading a team of people who know what to do, and do it so well, AND in masks! I have to admit belting out a number while wearing a face mask is not fun- it kind of sucks in as you breathe and makes it difficult, but that is a VERY small price to pay for the honour of actually being to be IN a show at this time. So grateful.

zooming!

I said as much in a lovely chat with Sarah Ecob at Venue Cymru. This week I would have been in Llandudno rehearsing. Then the world changed. We talked about being IN a show like this one, and how Venue Cymru remains a hospital on stand-by, and the tremendously difficult times a tourist resort like Llanduno has faced this year. At the same time Bobby Crush- Bobby was Dame here last year, was on a train travelling back from Rhyl today! Bobby has been recording his “Ugly Sister” for AB Productions- a Panto that will be online very soon.

The Great British Pantomime Company is now online presenting “Goldilocks” , headed by my mate Marc Seymour as Dame and a cast of my Panto Pals! Good luck to Lee Redwood and his “Made To Measure” Panto which opened today at Weymouth! Rapunzel lets down her hair throughout Christmas live on Stage!

Sally Polden & Tom Blackwell with Stephen Barrow

We had an audience for the run thru! Sally the Theatre Manager and Tom from Front Of House/Box Office joined us in full festive attire, bearing Off-Sales wands and Tiaras, and thankfully laughed at the funny bits! We’ve reached that tricky stage for comics when everyone in the room has heard your routines a dozen times, so a fresh face is ALWAYS welcomed!

Props and essentials!

Our props are working out well, kept in their individual boxes, so you only handle your own prop. In previous years tubs of Celebrations or Heros were to be found in the rehearsal room. These times its Dettol, in all its many forms. We are so fortunate. We are so lucky. We all have mates who can’t be a part of Pantoland this year- so please support them in their live shows, in their recorded & live streamed shows, and keep supporting Pantos wherever and whenever they can be produced!

I’d be telling porkies if I didn’t admit to be being tired when I get home (and I am hugely lucky to live so close). I think the wearing of the masks and the sheer shock of actually DOING something after such a long period of inactivity is doing that- but this is the way to do it at this moment in time. The Palladium get-in is happening right now, the Qdos Pantos are rehearsing next week in those venues that are allowed to be open, and others await maybe February and March pantomimes to herald 2021.

I’m off to watch the final of “I’m A Celebrity” from Glorious North Wales, and maybe witness a few future panto stars in the making! Shane will show them how its done!

Until Monday and our first Technical Rehearsal- Enjoy your week-ends. Do leave a message on the board to let me know that you are reading this! Its nice to know!

First Run Through Day Three!

The KMT Snow White Company, Cast & Musicians, Technicians and Crew!

Called this morning to run through the “Mirror Routine” with Jocelyn, and an hour later Karl and I are getting there- I certainly need to “try harder” at remembering the “new” bits that have been added. Early days!

Everyone is now “Off the book”- which is pretty impressive for Day Three, as was the “Run Through” that we did this afternoon. We were joined in the studio by the technical & stage ladies and gents- with Lauren Skinner our scenic artist- yes, she’s the one with the paint spattered jeans- watching the run through. Lovely to see Lauren- she too goes back to those 2009 days of “Snow White” here, and is making a splendid job of creating some panto magic with the set.

Stephen with Lauren at the run-thru

Joining us today was Chris Musgrave, who will be DSM for the panto run- Stage Manager Chris once joined the “Magic Of Panto” Roadshow one season touring schools in East London, a long while ago-and has been managing the technical side of Theatres ever since.

Chris Musgrave

The run through today was a first time getting to feel how the Pantomime will flow. It helps to know where and when you enter and exit, gives you a feeling for how much time you have between entrances (or to change costume in my case) and indeed if it is too short or too long! in 46 Pantomimes I have NEVER heard a Director say “This Panto is too short. Let’s ADD something!” – so tomorrow we will be looking at losing a Musical Number here, and a bit of Business there to tighten up ready for Tech and Dress Rehearsals.Owen Smith will do some nipping and tucking I’d guess, and get us to a good running time.

The Ballroom starting to take shape.
Calum, Lucy, Rosie and Chris.

We ran the show with most of the songs and all of the choreography, with some props and with our Musicians Harry and Dan accompanying- tomorrow we work on some numbers and Start with Act One in the morning, and Act two in the afternoon.

Wicked Queen Michelle gets tough with Prince Louie – Robert
Owen checking the script
Nigel & Karl

Great news today that the Bristol Qdos Pantomime “Robin Hood” has transferred to The New Victoria Woking from 18th December to the 10th January! The Panto will then move to The Birmingham Alexandra Theatre for The Qdos/Birmingham Hippodrome panto from January 15th-31st January 2021.

Its all mirrors! Day Two.

The Auditorium Kenneth More Theatre

Called a bit later today- midday, and so my two minute walk to work was quiet- I’d missed rush hour on the grass path beside the dual carriageway! Today the main thing for me to rehearse was “The Mirror Routine”- a Panto sketch that dates back to The Marx Brothers, and possible before that in American Vaudeville . This is the one where traditionally Dame and Comic try on hats , both dressed identically, although I can recall my mate Britt Ekland doing it with John Inman- in fact, part of it is on this site in the YouTube section- it was featured in our “Pantoland” documentary.

I’ve done this routine here in 2009, and with John Evans in Venue Cymru, and now its back to the KM Theatre, this time with Karl Greenwood putting on the identical costume, wig and High Heels! It is quite complicated to learn (well, it is for me!) and involves counting in my head, something that dancers regard as second nature. I’m no dancer! Today Owen and Jocelyn took Karl and I through the sequence a good few times. Heavy going in a mask I can tell you! Its a bit longer than I’ve done before, and has mostly new choreography and even has mobility scooters involved! We’ll be rehearsing this whenever we are free, and will run it every day. John, if you are reading this, you’ll remember the “Every day” part!

Niamh & Ben onstage

I popped my head into the auditorium this afternoon. Technical Supervisor Ben Ward, DSM Chris Musgrave, along with Niamh Percy, Stephen Barrow and Michael Casey were hoising large rosy apples up to lighting bars, and rigging ready for our tech rehearsals next week- we’ll be tech dressing the panto from Monday onwards ready for Wednesday opening at 7pm. This panto is a full length show, with an interval- I think there are a lot of Pantomimes that will be doing shorter versions, due to logistics of seating, timings for transport, schools performances and the like. We will be live streaming many performances, and the five cameras are set up, and ready for action.

Stephen Barrows and Chris Musgrave onstage

Tomorrow we will be concentrating on the musical numbers- So far we have blocked and “staggered through” both Acts- I’ve nearly got “off the book”, and will attempt tomorrow to not use the script if possible! we’ll see how that goes! Had a chat with Wicked Queen Malania – aka Michelle Bishop. We chatted about a mutual frirend, Director Carole Todd- Michelle was in the fabulous “Snow White” at The Victoria Palace directed by Carole, and I did many a “Cinderella” for Paul Elliott with Carole at the helm.

Gemma Eves in festive jumper!

Gemma Eves is involved in the Kenneth More Theatre and The Redbridge Drama Centre here in the borough, and is one of a very jolly group of people involved in running the theatre for “Vision”- Sally Polden is Theatre manager with Emily Thorpe in marketing, Chloe Holder and Tom Blackwell Box Office and Front Of House, and George Polden – we will be bubbled backstage- with bubbles in the bubbles- Stage Crew, children & chaperones- they are in a separate part of the building, with their own entrances and exits, and so I’m not sure we’ll be seeing much of Front Of house, or indeed visitors! No visitors allowed backstage in these times!

Liz in a break from rehearsals.

So my call tomorrow- 11am to run through the Mirror Routine- Nurse Nelly and Muddles, and then I think I might be doing my number in the Ballroom. Familiar to some it might just involve a lot of fruit and feathers on my head!

Nighty Nighty all!

Day Two- Socially Distancing

Saves on make up! Nigel & Molly Sheehan

First day at work in a very long time- back in Pantoland! In previous panto first day rehearsals you would congregate, drink coffee, eat pastries, hug and mwah old friends and complete strangers, then start blocking. Its a new era now.

On arriving I had my temperature taken and noted on a clip board, then socially distanced “parish notes” from our Panto director, Owen Smith and from Sally Polden the Theatre Manager- we are told about the safety measure in place for us as a cast, to avoid congregating- The Green Room is no longer a place where actors meet and chill- things of the past.

You have your own chair in rehearsals, props (only handled by yourself) are cleveley found in our individual named boxes, and if any are handed offstage, they are cleaned and replaced. You can rehearse in your mask if you wish, and all blocking follows a “One Way ” system both on stage and backstage. It all feels very well thought through and adheres to the rules.

Owen Smith Director & choreographer, assisted by Joselyn Prah

Owen Smith our director is a long time performer here at the Kenneth More- in fact both Owen and Jocelyn Prah, his assistant were in the 2009 “Snow White” I did here.

We rehearsed in the studio here at the Kenneth More, and when not required the upper foyer, which is spacious, gave us all room to learn lines, work scenes and keep ourselves distanced. I do most of my scenes either solo, or with Karl Greenwood- he plays my son, Muddles. You only have to put actors together for a few minutes, and you discover all the people you know and have worked with. Karl worked in The West End with Niki Evans, my mate from Panto in “Blood Brothers”.

Robert Anthony & Darren Hart

Darren Hart plays the Wicked Queen’s Henchman- I’ve seen Darren in pantos at Hackney Empire and Stratford East, as well as seeing him here last year in “Sleeping Beauty”. Our mutual pals include Susie Mckenna and Peter Straker! Playing The Prince is Robert Anthony, with Snow White played by Elizabeth Bright. Along with Michelle Bishop as Wicked Queen Melania, we will soon find out how many other pals we have in common!

Robert Anthony. Prince Louie

I have three scenes in Act One, so after running through them a couple of times with Karl and Owen, I had plenty of time to meet up with Molly, who will be dressing me during this run. We were able to find time to go through the running order of the costumes (I have eight/nine changes this time around) and had time to sort out the Quick Change room- a small dressing room next to the stage that I will be using. Because of the new safety rules the “Side of the stage”purpose built “Quick Change” is not possible, and more time is allotted to change costume away from the wings. That’ll keep Molly and me on our toes, listening out for the cue!

Meet our Musicians- Harry Polden and Daniel King!

Michelle and Robert rehearse

I found time to sort out the dressing room (my much loved Number Two) upstairs, and thoroughly spray it with dettol to the point of ending up in the corridor to leave the stuff settle! Its now ready- the bulk of the costumes are all set up in the lower floor Quick Change Dressing Room. I have a LOT of space!

Thanks to Technical Manager Ben, and Stephen Barrows the costumes were brought over from the KMT store, and it actually feels like Christmas! It must be the sequins and glitter, but it really was a very productive day- and the arrival of two enormous Christmas trees into the foyer of the theatre re-inforced that Christmas feel!

Tomorrow- Meet the Ensemble- Calum Balmforth, Chris Macormack, Lucy Lewis and Rosie Polden- and the true heart of Snow White- The technical crew!