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The Rehearsals Begin! Day One

November 24, 2014

Monday 24th November 2014

Somewhere in Pimlico

Hull

Hard to believe a whole year has passed since Panto rehearsals began for Llandudno! This year the same rehearsal room but a different panto- “Aladdin” and a different venue- Hull New Theatre.

It is twenty five years since I was last there in “Cinderella”, so I guess the “Back by popular Demand” billing can still be used.

This is- and I find this amazing- my FORTIETH  panto season! Forty Years On!  Where did that time go? It went in Pantoland with an assortment of “Puss In Boots”, “Mother Goose”, “Cinderella’s”- twenty eight of them, and assorted “Aladdin’s”, “Snow White’s”, “Sleeping Beauties” and “Jack And The Beanstalks”. In fact it was Wolverhampton’s “Jack & The Beanstalk” that Sherrie Hewson and I worked together last, and it is a great delight to be repeating that experience up the Hull- This time Sherrie is Empress and I’m Widow Twankey. No Beanstalk involved, but a neat flying carpet and a fabulous cast!

Meet The Team!

 The Creative Team.

This year we have Ian McFarlane as our Director- Ian has managed to meet up with quite a few of us over the past week or two, and so our first day at school (with sharpened pencil to hand) is that much easier when you’ve met the Headmaster! Ian has recently spent Pantoland in the company of the Boy who never grew up in some pretty big theatres, and so leaves Never Never Land for the Street of a thousand Nappies and Peking!

Our Choreographer is no stranger to this ancient town, as he choreographed my last “Aladdin”- it’s Matt Cole. Great to be working with Matt again and hoping that he will be as kind to me as he was last Panto, and remembers I have two left feet!

The man in charge of things musical is Philip Shute, our Musical Director and keyboard wizard. When we arrive at Hull New Theatre we’ll meet his musicians Sean McMonagle and Nathan Dawe once we “get in” to the theatre, and start running after the bandcall.

Our Company Stage Manager for this Panto Season is Philippa Pickup– it will be her job to co-ordinate the stage management team of Marc Hopkins (DSM- Deputy Stage Manager for the uninitiated) ASM & Bookcover Cat Robson and Acting ASM, Jonathan Broderick.

 Meet The Cast!

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 Sherrie Hewson tops the bill, as the glamorous Empress Of China- Sherrie has recently returned from filming “Benidorm”, and is now the longest serving member of the “Loose Women” team on Television. Somewhere in between these two long running series she’s managed to publish a cookbook between scenes with Joan Collins and The Krankies!

Our line up at Hull was originally to star Keith Harris, along with Orville & Cuddles. Keith has been unwell since last year when he was forced to rest up, and once again under Doctor’s orders he was unable to join us- he will however be performing in a few sell-out matinee shows at Blackpool over Christmas. Best wishes from us all here in the rehearsal room Keith!

Joining the cast as Genie of the lamp is David Witts, known to millions as Joey Branning from Eastenders. He hails from Essex, my adopted country, and is an ex National Youth Theatre lad with a recent appearance as Link Larkin in “Hairspray” at The Curve Leicester.He appeared in this with my mate Damian Williams, Dame at Sheffield Lyceum once again this season.  “Snow White” was David’s recent appearance in Panto before graduating from Prince to Magical Genie here with us in Hull.

The Grumbleweeds- Robin Colvill has been joined this year by James Brandon. Robin has 45 years of Panto appearances, and following the sad passing of his stage partner Graham Walker, he has vowed that the formula of mayhem and magic in pantoland will continue- and both Robin and James will be joining us mid week here in Pimlico.

For me this Panto lark started early, and by last week my costumes and skips had been packed and collected, and are now sitting in the Qdos store in Scarborough awaiting delivery next week. This time around I think I have between twelve and fourteen changes- if you don’t count the additional eight layers when I do my “Strip” routine!

I’ve just finished a seven week tour with Andrew Ryan in the “Pantomime Roadshow”, and seventy shows down, start today on the Hull ones! No rest for the Dame this year, as I start “Babes In The Wood” at Brick Lane Music Hall a week after we finish in Hull, and cavort about on stage as Nurse there until the middle of March!

Two of Hull Panto’s performers from last year join us- or rather we join them, in the persons of my Son Aladdin, played by Sam Cassidy, and The Evil Mr Ava Banana – or rather Abanazar- James Barron. Both Sam and James were at The New Theatre last year with the gorgeous Chris Biggins and Bob Carolgees (and Spit The Dog!).

Princess Jasmin is played by Tara Verloop, who played opposite the Jungle’s Joe Swash in Panto at her native Chatham recently, and has been touring for twelve months in “Dirty Dancing” and also in “Rock Of Ages”.

Our mysterious Scheherazade (I think the character name might get shortened to “Shezza” pretty soon for typing purposes!) is played by Rebecca Perry, an  East Yorkshire native and in her first panto role helping guide my son Aladdin into the Cave Of Wonders!

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No panto is complete without a line up of hard working and talented dancer/singers- our hard working Ensemble this season number six in total, and are James Pullum, Emily Kenwright, Chante Simpson, Callum Clack, Hollie Amanda and Katie Singh.

First Rehearsals

It was great to start the rehearsal with a big musical number that involved us all- that way we get to do a few bits on stage together, before the dancers leave us and go with Matt into the other rehearsal room, and emerge with an amazing number of set pieces by the end of the week! My total admiration to you guys- so many steps and routines and so little time!

Meanwhile, while Ian starts to take us lot through the blocking, and Matt takes the ensemble through the numbers with Philip, the wardrobe team are starting to unpack the costumes that have arrived here for fitting. The wardrobe team this year are Anna-Lisa Maree and her assistant Giles Bishop. They will add to their numbers once we arrive at the New Theatre next week.

We are sharing the building with the company of “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs”. I latched on to this as I emerged from the tube with five of the seven, and bumped into an old pal Chris Jarvis, who is giving his “Muddles” . I also mis heard the directions to our rehearsal room, and sat in a big empty one. It was when Jerry Hall walked in I knew I might not be in Kansas anymore… I was in the wrong room! Happily (as they say in “Snow White”) I bumped into their director, the wonderful Carole Todd and said a quick hello before finding the right room. Lovely to see Carole again- we shared many happy “Cinderella’s” together in the past.

Today we ran through scenes in one room with Ian and the Stage Management Team, while Philip ran through musical numbers in another room while wardrobe unpack and Matt choreographs in the biggest room next door. A hive of industry! Not bad for day one in Pantoland!

 

 

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