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Here We Are Again!

August 25, 2014

DickWhitLondonHippo

“Here We Are Again!”

Those words were always uttered in Harlequinades and pantomimes throughout the country, and especially by tradition at the Drury Lane Pantomimes.

Here we are again indeed- it is now September, and the Summer is still hanging on, but already the signs of impending panto are everywhere! This week my panto script from Qdos popped through the door- and I was in Hull last week sorting out the accommodation. The Panto Roadshow tour is fully booked and next week I will be collecting my “Aladdin” Finale from Mr Bahal- It must be September!

The Panto  press calls are well underway, although I must say that this year the policy among producers seems to be holding back on the announcements and the press calls until much later- a good few won’t “launch” until the Autumn to maximise the effect of marketing. Too early and people are more concerned with booking their holidays than they are booking their panto trips.

Behind the theatre’s front of house, in workrooms around the country Pantomime has been in full swing since the first cuckoo and before! The cycle begins while the current pantomime is still playing twice daily. Somewhere towards the middle of the season the theatre managers and Pantomime producers will get together to pencil in the following year.

Theatres have a great deal of input- after all, it is their venue, and their public, and they may well have ideas they would like to feature in the next pantomime- certain stars will be suggested, and certain subjects- the titles of the pantomimes discussed. Panto subjects generally go on a “Five year plan”- sometimes six years, but there is an unwritten law that says there should be a rotation of subjects. Many theatres asked for a “Cinderella” for the Millennium, and as a consequence you might see a lot of “Cinderellas” cropping up around 2005/6  and again in 2010/11  so perhaps next year will be a “Cinderella” year?

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Some subjects are being resurrected- it looked at one point as if “Dick Whittington” was going to slide out of the popularity polls- and on our annual Pantomime Roadshow I’ve made a point of discovering if children still know this folk tale- I’ve asked the question from Aberdeen to Southampton, and discovered that not only do they NOT know the story, but in many cases neither do their teachers. Perhaps the blessed hand of Disney didn’t linger over Richard Whittington’s story- but as in all good stories it does look as if “Dick Whittington” is back on the boards!

Here are a few pictures from the IBY Archive on the subject of Dick Whittington.

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This programme is very poignant at the moment, with the Hippodrome in Brighton facing its darkest hour- this gorgeous and historic building is in peril.

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Albert Felino and Fred Whittaker were Feline specialists in the days when Principal Boys were, of course, Girls!

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Dick Whittington featured on a live broadcast for the BBC in 1935 from the Bristol Prince’s Theatre.

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No after Eight Chocolates in those days! The Lyceum had some confusing rules!

Back to the present- During the early Spring plans are afoot for the next pantomime. With Subjects and stars in negotiation, the managements work out who is going where, and in what, and with what particular scenery. That five year plan  works for scenery too-and convoys of trucks will take Ballrooms and Giant’s Kitchens to venues up and down the country, dropping off the odd Pagoda and Dwarf’s cottage en route.

My annual panto job starts around late May when I get the brief on the Kenneth More Pantomime to be. This year the theatre celebrates 40 years- quite a birthday party that will be (sadly I’ll have to miss it as I’ll be giving my Twankey at the time!) in December. The first Pantomime here all those years ago was “Dick Whittington”, so it is apt that that is to be this year’s subject, forty years on. I didn’t costume the first few at Ilford- the theatre hired the first, and also the second, and then bought two sets and costumes for the third and fourth- purchased from dame/producer Cyril Fletcher (he of Esther Ransen and the “Odd Ode”)  and these formed the beginning of what must now be a collection of some four thousand costumes all in all!

Once I knew what the subject was I went to our stores and sorted out what could be used from stock. As a rule about 40% to 50% will be taken from stock, spruced up and altered to fit, and the rest will be made from scratch.

This year the Theatre won’t feature the Under The Sea scene we’ve done several times, but will feature an exciting voyage when The Saucy Sally sails for the Pirate Islands- something new for me to get to grips with- as we’ve never done “Peter Pan” here, this is a chance to shiver my timbers so to speak, and set to making Pirates.

I started sketches by mid June, and went on a few shopping trips to buy the fabric for the new costumes. Early on the Juveniles were cast and measured, and by the second week of September all their costumes will be complete and ready for fittings to take place. I bet that takes the edge of “Back To School!”

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The principals are cast- or as many as possible by the end of July, and as soon as measurements are received, I can give the makers the “Go Ahead”.

Margaret Brice made the costumes “in House” here for well over twenty five years, and some of her gorgous creations live on across the store, and will be making appearances- they were beautifully made to last. When Margaret retired the job that she did alone has been cast to the four winds, and I now have about three or four regular makers who work on the costumes from all parts of this country, and in a few cases abroad.

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If you’d like to look at some archive photos of some of the past Kenneth More Pantos, they are on our main page- Costumes designed by Nigel Ellacott. Take a look!

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For a full listing (a very detailed listing) of EVERY KM Theatre panto, take a look at my Brother Vivyan’s website www.overthefootlights.co.uk  Click on the Kenneth More section and then on the Pantomimes. Forty Years of them! Some great photographs too.

Back to the present-  hopefully the costumes will come together around the second week of September, so that I can do the fittings before I set off on the annual Pantomime Roadshow tour. This year it is a seven week adventure from East London to Glasgow, via Southampton, Bradford, Llandudno and Wolverhampton. After that it is almost rehearsal time for my panto (Hull this year) and then twice daily into the New Year. This is why everything here at the KM Theatre is organised early- my busy panto period is June through to September for supervising the panto costumes, touring from September to November with ten shows a week, and then into pantomime with the gorgeous Sherrie Hewson until early January. I leave for the Roadshow with as much wrapped, labelled and fitted across the store!

This next few weeks are the best bit! This is when the costumes I have sketched, and the fabrics I have bought hopefully match up to the picture I have in my mind. I get to see the reality, and fit them on this year’s Dame, my mate Marc Seymour who is returning to Ilford to play Sarah The Cook.

Arriving this week are his opening costume (yellow check, novelty trimmings) his Kitchen Costume (a waterproof duster coat in attractive yellow PVC), his Act One Finale- sequins, red, white and blue and a sea of patriotic boas, and two nautical costumes- all brand new and shiny! Along with stock- a large boat and a few others, Marc will eventually change costume about twelve times in two and a quarter hours.

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On the day Marc has his fittings  Gerry & Kevin from “Wigart” will join us to sort out the solid wigs that will be made, and also take the wigs that need a respray and a renovation. Kevin & Gerry made my first wigs when I played Sister with Peter Robbins some 34 years ago, and their creations can be seen all over the UK every  year.

The week will hopefully end up with the Ensemble being fitted- nearly all their costumes are ready- they have a Villager, A Rat (of course), a Beefeater, A Sailor, A Pirate and a finale costume- not as many as usual, but enough to be going on with. The four ensemble join the juveniles in wearing what will be a total of nearly sixty costumes.

Before I set off on my travels I will have fitted  another mate of mine (we both did a few Paul Elliott Pantos together) Natalie Cleverly. She will be a slinky and shiny Queen Rat. Her costumes are now complete, and her gorgeous “leather wrapped” headdress will be finished ready for her fitting. Shirley Davis will be creating this, as well as Tommy The Cat and a large Dame Headdress before she starts making for the mammoth “Thursford” production that takes place each year. Shirley made fabulous headdresses for Danny La Rue to Mark Cantor’s designs,  and for major shows and floorshows for many years. She, along with Gerry & Kevin is one of the true specialists who make costuming a dream.

So- Here we are again. Something like my thirty fifth year of  designing and supervising the Kenneth More Panto. The past few weeks have seen me use a needle and cotton (very rare that!) a Glue Gun (not so rare) and asking the advice of Bra experts in Marks & Spencers, discussing the pros and cons of foam bosoms. ..I’ve walked one end of Goldhawk road to the other several times, ordered rats tails by telephone, A Pirate from the USA and I’m awaiting sequinned gowns from India.

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Porselli have provided twenty five pairs of shoes, some fitted some didn’t, and have replaced them- Barnett & Lawson have unravelled forty metres of gold braid on the counter, Frank Kershaw and I have discussed the ins and outs of boning, Pat Moss has sewn miles of sequin braid on sailors,  and Mary Ann Trigg  has worked her magic over the Dame collection.

It won’t all be completed by the end of September, but I can go off on my travels safe and secure in the knowledge that thanks to all these great pros in the world of wardrobe & wigs, all is safe & secure and magical!

This applies to all those working away at this moment all over the UK in wardrobe, props and scenery. Here at the KMTheatre Lauren has been in painting each day, now that the theatre is on Summer close-down, and like her there are scenic artists in workshops taking on Fitzwarren’s Stores and The Cave of Jewels as we speak. To each and every one of you out there in the workshops of pantoland- have a great Autumn and may all your hangers be the right way round!

 

 

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