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Monday 28th November Richmond Green!

Here’s the Get-In as dusk fell over Richmond. Most of the scenery and lights and costumes and props are all safely installed into Richmond Theatre, and the process of “Fit Up” now carries on.

Today we all met in a rehearsal room close to the Theatre. Matt Baker, Phil Walker and myself heading in the complete opposite direction before realising its “Behind You”, and very lovely rehearsal room it was too.

Here I am modelling, assisted by Lucy Conley, my “Nothing like a Dame” T Shirt (Dave Dale I think created this?) with the faces of some of my very dearest friends on it- so many, and some sadly no longer with us. A lovely reminder of those wonderful Dames in Pantoland.

we worked through some of the notes from Regent’s Park this morning- I moved into my hotel lasat night, so it was a short stroll to the rehearsal room for me. We ran the “If I were Not” sequence and the “Hot Stuff” number that involves Bears, beds and porridge!

James, Lucy & Nova – The Bear family!

After lunch it was a full run through, without stopping, joined today by our second speciality act- the amazing Gordon Marquez- juggler superemo. Gordon arrived for the run-through, and after a brief “Hello” from us all, launched into his juggling routine for Betty Barnum’s Circus. Like Phil Hitchcock this spesh act (speciality) is the best in the business, and Barnum’s Circus has another jewel in its glittering crown!

Jack & Tia.

We ran through and its astonishing the slickness we have acheived in such a short period of time. Setting this Circus panto with all its colour and magic into the stunning Victorian theatre, all red plush and gilt- it really is the Greatest Show!

Zoe Morgan

Tomorrow we will rehearse and run through the show in the rehearsal room, before moving into the Theatre itself in the evening for sound checks. Lucy Fowler and and Georgina Illingworth are in the theatre throughout unpacking the wardrobe boxes and putting costumes into dressing rooms. Ollie Durrant our Sound Designer was with us all afternoon, and he will be leading the sound checks tomorrow, before heading up to Darlington for “Peter Pan” with the lovely Biggins!

Emily Shepherd

Tomorrow my call is 1pm to 10pm. Time to stroll around the lovely Riverside path of Richmond I think! What a lovely town this is!

Saturday 26th November Regent’s Park

Here’s The Countess Vinklebottom framed in those glorious Matcham windows at the Richmond Theatre!

Jessica Martin is letting us all know we open on Saturday- in a week’s time!

Today we had our final day in the very lovely rehearsal studios in Regents Park. They are in the Inner Circle, and the sound of ring necked parakeets, the rustle of squirrels looking for their nuts, and the sound of performers running through the show echoed through the Open Air Theatre! We were all, of course indoors in these beautiful rehearsal rooms.

The evening was spent catching up with our mate Sherrie Hewson, here’s Andrew (Ryan) me and Sherrie having a bite to eat and a small sherry, putting the world to rights. Sherrie & I looked a little different last time we were onstage together!

Photo courtesy of Paul Sampson. Adam Baker, Nigel Ellacott & Sherrie Hewson

We started our run through at 9.30am and then after a break Director Matt did working notes, cleaning up moves, going over scenes to hone them. By mid day the truck arrived to take the props and costumes to Richmond, and we carried on with scenes into the afternoon.

I was so busy running around as Betty Barnum, saving my Circus I forgot to take any photos, so hopefully I can take some on Monday in the rehearsal room in Richmond. We are called at various times, using both a rehearsal room and the theatre (for some recordings) as the “get-in” will be taking place. The jewel of Richmond’s crown, the theatre has its dock door in a very narrow street- the dock has been there since 1899, and the large scenic trucks will be filling the street getting Betty’s big top onto the stage. We’ll keep well away from this miracle of unloading and constructing (by a highly skilled stage crew) until we can get in to the theatre proper ourselves on Wednesday to begin the “Tech”.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of Sardine The Cat

I sneaked out of the house today, leaving Sardine the cat in ignorant bliss, I’ll not be back with a pilchard until Christmas. (she’ll be in good hands). It is strange that Richmond theatre is technically twenty miles from where I am in East London, but by road that could take two hours plus each way, and by train about an hour and a half each way. In London so near can be so far!

So I have moved into my digs in Richmond, less than five minutes walk from the Stage Door (no, not a bench on Richmond Green) so that the twice daily shows will be a much more pleasant experience without a long commute. Its all about pacing yourself, and being close to the theatre is part of that- as is my full hour nap between every show, and a bowl of Heinz Tomato soup!

This is our opulent new home for the next five weeks- Mr Matcham’s gorgeous Richmond Theatre on the Green!

Rehearsals tomorrow morning close to the theatre, full company and joined by our speciality act, Gordon Marquez.

Friday 25th November- Run Thru!

Today we rehearsed a few of the ” Set” routines in the morning- involving Matt (Baker), Tamara , Phil and myself, and managed to squeeze in a little choreography with Gerry- All right, to be fair he moved everyone around me and made me look wonderful!) then we gently ran through some Act Two blocking and setting until lunchtime.

Gerry in the Dance Studio

Then after lunch we ran First Act Two, then the entire show! yes, we have a show, and what a show it is too! The stunning work by the ensemble, opening the show, the “Be A Clown” staging- all quite stunning! It really moves so fast too- you find yourself meeting yourself coming on as you exit!

As Director Matt (Slack) said-So much hard work achieved in such a short space of time . We all left ready for tomorrow, when we run the show again, without stopping to get the feel of it!

Andrew Ryan & I are off to meet up with our mate Sherrie (Hewson) for a catch up before we “Drop Off The Planet”, a term we use once Panto begins. We literally live, breathe and vanish into Pantoland, emerging once the run is over!

Day Four in the Goldilocks Cottage

Ze Countess Vinklebottom and Betty!

Day four- Thursday 24th November in the leafy rehearsal rooms- This morning we did some choreography with the hugely proflic choreographer, Gerry Zuccarello- he set us into the Cottage scene with porridge, beds and chairs with consumate ease. Well, his ease, but my brain is not quick on the dancing front! We had fun setting a clever way of introducing the basic fairy tale plot into this show!

Our fabulous ensemble. It is a humble moment when you have the Ensemble enter your rehearsal room (they have been working with Gerry for four days) and they take to the stage- they blew our minds with an amazing opening routine! Stunning choreography executed by hugely talented dancers- no words to say how dedicated they are. A huge level of excitement building in the room as you see the quality of the production. Very humbled!

Nigel & Phil Walker- Betty & Ringo!

The show truly is coming together. We ran through the “If I were Not In The Big Top” routine again this morning, and while the other cast members had wardrobe calls and choreography calls, we continued through into lunchtime with Matt Slack in our large rehearsal room.

J

The afternoon was spent running through Act One- it really was surprisingly swift, and for the first time I can visualise the time I have to do quick changes- some of them are very tight, and I think may have to be done in the wings- it also is the first time you actually see what follows what. I don’t stop at all in Act One- if I’m not onstage I’m changing rapidly in the wing. Well, I said I could do it when I wrote in – even if that was thirty eight years ago!

Tomorrow we recap on some of the routines, then in the afternoon we will go for a run through of Act Two!

My call tomorrow is a leisurely 11am! Incidentally the Stage Online did a very lovely article on me- I think they called me a Leg end, but I might have misread that bit.. Its an interview with The Krankies and Me, and the lovely Richard Gauntlet and my mate Susie McKenna about our lives in Pantomime. To be in that esteemed company is enough to make an old Dame blush!

Day Three in Goldilocks Rehearsals

Meet the Wardrobe Department! Here’s our Head of Wardrobe Lucy Fowler (Left) and second Dep Georgina Illingworth.

They are in the rehearsal room doing fittings with the cast this week, and then on Monday the wardrobe trucks arrive at the Theatre, and will be organised into Dressing Rooms and Quick change areas on stage level. They will be joined by a wardrobe assistant at Richmond Theatre ready for our dress technical rehearsals, and indeed the upkeep of the costumes for the month’s run.

The costumes here are very lavish and spectacular, a lot of plumed headdresses and fabulous Circus Animal costumes as befits Betty’s Greatest Show on Earth- courtesy of Croosroads Pantomimes stock and Teresa Nalton who heads the wardrobe in Scarborough HQ.

My costumes arrive with the truck on Monday, and for the first time I’m wearing a mixture of my own costumes and Crossroads Costumes, but all my own wigs and accessories.

Tamara and Phil Hitchcock rehearse some magic!

Today the park was very soggy, Heavy rain! we rehearsed the rest of the “If I were Not” routine, then moved onto other scenes in Act Two- We have a second speciality act joining us next week- Gordon Marquez, and I rehearsed my Strip routine- no, I didn’t disrobe- and other scenes throughout the day- a lot involving The Countess and The Three Bears- James Patterson, Nova Skipp and Lucy Conley. Did a good few scenes with Phil Walker (Ringo) during the day. He worked a double routine with Matt (Baker) before Matt headed off to do a TV engagement.

We got through all of Act Two blocking by 5.30pm, and tomorrow we’ll be in the hands of Gerry Zuccarello who will place us into the musical numbers as we join up with our Ensemble. I start at 9.30am with “Hot Stuff”, and we’ll run through numbers in the morning and go for our first “Stagger Through” as we call it, in the afternoon.

joined today by the marketing Department of the Richmond Theatre, Looking forward to next week when we start working on the Richmond stage for tech week!

Had a chat with Sherrie Hewson tonight, hoping to meet up this week and catch up- and I’m in touch with the Kenneth More Theatre’s “Aladdin” wot I wrote and costumed- they are on week two of rehearsals in Ilford.

Tomorrow 9.30am call.

Day Two in Goldilocks Cottage

Tuesday 22nd November 2022

Tuesday, and rehearsals in our parkside studios began at 9.30am, Gerry took our Ensemble into the vast second studio for more choreography, and just Matt, Phil and myself rehearsed with Director Matt Slack. we worked on the “Lip Synch” routine for about an hour and a half, then after a tea break were joined by the others to recap on Act One- most of which we blocked yesterday.

Our stage management team are the guardians of the blocking notes, providing props, marking out the stage dimensions, co-ordinating the sound cues and effects that go into every scene, It is quite a skill to multitask- so we’re very lucky to have our select team. Jonny Gosling as CSM (Company Stage Manager) bridges the two areas of Cast and Backstage, with DSM Emma Ryan looking after the script changes in the rehearsal halls,and Zoe Morgan our Technical Assistant Stage Manager. Joseph number one sound -running all our sound cues- especially during Lyp Synch routine, and Emma Ryan keeping a watchful eye on props.

I had a short time with Gerry Choreographer, setting Betty’s first entrance, and he’ll be setting us into the Goldilocks Cottage” routine- we’ve seen pictures of the cottage and it is truly Fairy-tale time. Gorgeous!

So by 5.30 today we had run over Act One again and made a start on the comedy routine for Act Two- “If I were not in ” as we tend to call it. Many props, many co-ordinated movements and much mayhem!

Jessica Martin is a superb Villainess, and wants to ruin my Circus. It has been very difficult to do a scene with her where she brings her impressionist talents to the fore. How can you keep a straight face when you are talking to Hyacinth Bouquet.. or Penelope Keith.. not possible! Hugely enjoyable those moments!

The Countess herself!

Its an amazing hub of talent, watching Matt Baker on a unicycle casually entering and exiting, the joyous performance of three extremely cuddly bears, and one of them- Lucy as Baby Bear tapping away to be the New Star of the Circus- a very good way to spend a day I’d say!

Call tomorrow at 9.30am to return to “If I Were not” then carry on into Act Two.

Betty Barnum’s First Day!

This year’s Dames Diary begins in Richmond on Saturday 19th November 2022. Tamara Morgan (Goldilocks) and I switched on the Richmond lights with The Lady Mayoress of Richmond, and curiously The Grinch! A very lovely day, well looked after by the Richmond Theatre Marketing team in this truly gorgeous town!

Monday 21st November 2022

Here we are in our rehearsal rooms- very beautiful rehearsal rooms in a Park in central London! Above we have Matt Baker (Joey The Clown) with our Musical Director – Pierce Tee, Matt Slack is directing this year’s pantomime, before heading to Birmingham Hippodrome to appear in “Dick Whittinton”

A break in rehearsals with (left To Right) Lucy Conley (Baby Bear), Jessica Martin (Countess Vinklebottom) alonside Tamara Morgan (Goldilocks) and me, Nigel Ellacott (Betty Barnum).

A first day at school experience.. no matter how many pantomimes you’ve done (this is my 48th, or to be accurate my 50th- I did Two pantomimes in a season twice!) it is still that First Day at School feeling. New pencil, script hopefully almost learnt and ready to meet a room full of strangers and strut your stuff! Fortunately I know a few of our cast- Jessica, Matt Slack, Phil Hitchcock, James Patterson and especially two others in our company. Lucy and Tia!

Our talented Ensemble!

When you get to a certain age (I am approaching forty from many direction splus VAT) You find amazing things out. I did panto for so many years with Brian Conley, and the young girl who spent time backstage with us in panto,is now Baby Bear in this Panto! Hello Lucy Conley, and hello to the baby that was in Dressing room seven at Birmingham Hippodrome all those years ago, with her lovely parents Sue & Paul (appearing in Cinderella with Peter Robbins and myself) that baby is now th lovely Tia Gyngell (Third from the left), How fabulous is THAT!

James Patterson and Nova Skipp- Daddy & Mummy Bear

Today we gathered together for the first time at 9.30am and by 5.30pm we’d roughly blocked Act One! Our company manager Jonny Gosling organised the unloading of the truck with rehearsal props and costumes, and we set to work running the scenes. I was almost “Off The Book” on arrival, and hope to be devoid of script by Wednesday latest, It helps to try and get as much learned before rehearsals I find, and then some of the pressure is off once you gain confidence!

Our stage management team keep the script up to date with changes and alterations as rehearsals proceed

Phil Walker our Ringmaster- Ringo! Just as I worked with both Lucy and Tia when they were very young, I worked with Phil’s Dad- the legendary comic Roy Walker in panto in Southampton back in the day! The circle of life is certainly in evidence this season!

Betty backstage on Saturday!

Festive Fun in Richmond, even with The Grinch!

Here’s a list of our cast – Tomorrow we say Hello to Stage Management- without whom the show would certainly NOT go on!

ichmond – Goldilocks and the Three Bears

JOEY THE CLOWN​Matt Baker

COUNTESS VON VINKLEBOTTOM​Jessica Martin

DAME BETTY BARNUM​Nigel Ellacott

RINGO THE RINGMASTER​Phil Walker

GOLDILOCKS​Tamara Morgan

MAMMY BEAR​Nova Skipp

DADDY BEAR​James Paterson

BABY BEAR​Lucy Conley

THE MAGICAL MYSTERIOSO​Phil Hitchcock

ACT AS KNOWN​Gordon Marquez

DANCE CAPTAIN / AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED​Jack Palmer

ENSEMBLE / AND AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED​Tia Gyngell

ENSEMBLE / AND AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED​Reece Kilminster

ENSEMBLE / AND AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED​Pep Ribas

ENSEMBLE / AND AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED​Emily Shepherd

ENSEMBLE / AND AS CAST / UNDERSTUDY AS REQUIRED​Zara Liu

DIRECTOR​Matt Slack

CHOREOGRAPHER​Gerry Zuccarello

The Final Shows: Snow White 2022

a lot of fun!

The Final Day. We Made It!! We actually made it through as a company-That includes our amazing stage crew headed by Alan- made it through the entire run with nobody testing positive, and nobody off! Nearly forty shows here at the New Theatre. Gold stars all round!

Faye and the Royal courtiers
Queen Lucretia- Poppy

We had our Director David Burrows and a Crossroads Pantomimes producer Jake Hind in to see the matinee today- Lovely to have David see how his panto has matured over the past few weeks.

We did a matinee at 1pm. By this time I’d moved my two large cardboard skips on stage to the Quick Change area, and “bagged” the two dress rails, ready for Gail and I to bag up the costumes as we went along on the second show. Wigs in one skip, shoes & accessories in the other.

Empty Rooms…..

Here;s my dressing room by halfway through the second show! I have it down to a fine art now, and everything was packed as we went along, wrapped and bagged, so that by the finale only my finale costume remained to be put in the bag, and the rail zipped up.

Love me or hate me!

Working with Neil has been a joy. Truly. We both looked forward to The Lip Synch scene with Corey, the Bedroom Scene and the “Shirley Shaw” scene with Poppy a lot. I’m a performer used to working alongside another comic- for twenty eight years Peter Robbins and I bounced off each other. Working with a Neil, A John Evans, a Chris Jarvis or an Andy Ford in Pantomime, and the old training comes back instantly!

The New Theatre

The sounds in the corridor I will miss- the Lads and lasses playing games, chatting, having a really good time in each others company- back home it is going to feel very very quiet- especially not really going out and about in London until this virus lessens its grip on all of us. The repartee on stage, in the wings and generally the buzz of live theatre- its kind of what gives us the energy we apply on stage. A truly lovely warm and damned NICE lot of people- who after tonight go on to different jobs, different towns and in Faye’s case- a different country with “Chicago” as from tomorrow!

It has been a huge privilege to work with these lovely people, crew, musicians, wardrobe and our lovely Director and choreographer- David and Jonathan. We were truly blessed.

From all of us in “Snow White”- Farewell!

Here’s to the next time. May there be more Pantomimes and far less Covid by then. Thanks for reading this blog- hope you’ve enjoyed. From all of us- Thank you, and Happy New Year!

New Years Eve Snow White

New Year’s Eve!

Our New Year’s Eve shows today at 1pm and 5pm. This is the end of a twelve show week, and we return after a day off tomorrow to do two last shows on Sunday 2nd January. Both houses were great- we had Rachel Crowfrom marketing in to see us, along with her husband Roger (The Matinee victim of Nurse Nigella) and Yesterday I scanned the audience (Masked of course) and saw a familiar face- I thought I’d check, asked his name and it was Sam Mitchell- he was on the High Wycombe panto a few years back, and lives locally. So Sam became The Dame Victim that show!

Lucretia vamping Prince Harry!

First show was very boisterous and fun, and between shows I prepared the Quick Change area ready for pack as we go on Sunday Evening. The dressing room is all but cleared, and very bare it looks now- the kettle stays for a last internet cuppa and natter with Neil – I will miss our tea break natterings very much!

The Flatlence inducing potion!

The plan after the second show is for a drink in a private area we’ve booked to celebrate a New Year- posh clothes for the first time, and maybe a sequinned face mask or two. The Second show was a very frisky one and again a joy to be onstage with this lovely bunch of people.

Pictures from Jon – I love this one!

Here I am asking the Man of the moment if He Loves me or hates me! Costume was created by the very talented Andrew Ryan a while back.

Mark and his drum kit!

Mark our talented Drummer has worked in York a good few times, and has worked with Paul Laidlaw, a favourite Dame at Stevenage for a good many years. I’ve worked with Paul in shows several times, including “Wind In The Willows” and “Perchance To Dream”.

Faye & Neil in the forest

All the costume bags are ready, and the costumes not used on the voyage are bagged on the rails. The two large skips will move next to the Quick Change on Sunday, one for wigs (I think I have about a dozen) and one for accessories, Shoes and Boots and Dressing room things- furry rug and make up box! Marmite travels in its own wrappings (stuffed with the duvet I sleep on between shows) and the “Strip” Screen of mine will also be put on the truck. It could be a while until they return to me, as Andrew’s costumes will join them at the end of the Brum Run.

Some very lovely Black & White shots from Jon- a beautiful quality to them.

After the show it was time for a bite to eat- my favourite haunt the HOH Department store, and a return to the hotel, a change of clothes and our Drink in our private area – no access to anyone else all areas!

A clever use of handbills to herald in the New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone out there in Pantoland and beyond. We return over the threshold on Sunday 2nd January 2022 for our final two shows, and look forward to seeing our lovely Director David for the matinee!

Thursday 30th December Snow White

A Two show day, and the last of our 7pm shows. For the next few shows we are 1pm and 5pm.

Its warmer! Outside thetemperature is unseasonably warm. So much so I was testing again after the first show, and relieved I was sweating because of the costume changes and not anything else. Today was the start of the end of the run preparations. I sought out my skips and costume bags, re-organised the Quick Change area for the get-out on Sunday. Nearly everything is on stage level, so dressing room wise there’s very little to be packed.

Both houses were great today. Poppy was saying how much the children contribute to the show – shouting out warnings, telling her off in no uncertain terms, and generally interacting from the off.

I think the Magnificent Seven and our Ensemble are planning some panto awards- there’s an air of mystery about the long corridor! There is such a great lively atmosphere in the dressing room corridor, a buzz that is a joy to be a part of. We are lucky .

The next four shows are going to fly past, and then on Sunday evening the stage will start to clear, to de rig and to decamp to Scarborough and to Beverley stores, just up the road.

Two tomorrow with a 1pm show then the New Year’s Eve 5pm show to follow!

Happy New Year!