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Valentines Night atBrick Lane!

February 16, 2015

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Saturday 14th February

 A busy week here at Brick Lane Music Hall. We’ve done five performances- Two Tea Shows, Two Lunch Shows and tonight a dinner. Rusty’s appearance as “Cupid” in Act One will be topical tonight on St Valentine’s Night. As a multi instrumentalist, film and television and stage artiste, it really is a case of “another string to his bow!”

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Nigel, John, Jack & Vivyan

We started the week off with visitors- My Brother Vivyan returning to join Chris Emmett, doyen of Panto Dames at a table with my friend (Dr) Jack Watters and John Osbourne. They watched the Tuesday Tea-Time show and had a very jolly time swapping stories and talking theatre between the acts!

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Chris & the Gentlemen of Number One

Chris Emmett is no stranger to the walls of Brick Lane, having written and appeared as Dame in several pantomimes here. Chris produced a number of excellent Radio Pantomimes for the BBC, which you can purchase from ebay and amazon and the like, all packed with guest stars and covering most subjects from “Puss In Boots” through to “Cinderella”. I have a good few of them on my ipod!

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Chris and Radio are no strangers either- his many years on “The News Huddlines” with Roy Hudd and June Whitfield, and countless appearances on TV in “321”,with Ted Rogers which he also frequently wrote, as well as “The Burkiss Way”, “Week Ending” and “Spitting Image” among many!

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Jack Watters has an encyclopaedic knowledge of theatre and Panto. He and my Brother were discussing weekly rep at the Byre, St Andrews later on- My Brother Viv was manager at Swansea Grand during the weekly rep days of the Late 1960’s and 1970’s.

Jack and I have collaborated on a few pantomimes that our actress friend Patricia Michael presents in Connecticut each year! He has a great interest in all things Frank Matcham too- and recently saw the Hackney Empire Panto on one his visits from The States. Lovely to see Jack again and many thanks for the gift of a ceramic “Dame Trott” all the way from Carnival in Switzerland!

The final guest on Tuesday’s table was John Osborne. John runs the Queensbury Arms in Brighton, and is a huge theatre fan. His pub has some amazing theatre posters on display, well worth a visit if you are by the seaside one day. He very kindly donated a large bag of panto programmes for the Its-Behind-You archive. Thanks John- very kind!

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The next show here that isn’t panto is a Music Hall, and during the interval it is lovely to sit in Number One with a cuppa and a cake and listen to Laura rehearsing with Kate on the piano. Laura will be singing two spots I think- one being an Ivor Novello medley- so we get serenaded with “Love is my reason”, “We’ll Gather Lilacs” and all those wonderful songs from “Perchance To Dream” and the like- absolutely lovely! This was followed by Lottie rehearsing a Florrie Forde Medley with “Oh Oh Antonio!” and “Tipperary” with of course”Down At The Old Bull And Bush!”- a lovely between- shows treat ladies!

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Its Birthday Time at Brick Lane. This week twenty three years ago the first Brick Lane Music Hall was opened. For a look at that historic occasion, take a look at the BLMH Backstage News. Here’s the link:

http://www.bricklanemusichall.co.uk/news/

A year ago I mentioned the 22nd Birthday in the Brick Lane Blog, and here’s a memory from that blog of the first show.

 In February 1992,  a former Truman’s Brewery Stables opened its door to present Music Hall. Vincent was in the chair. That chair is here in the current bar, and has followed him to each venue. The Bill that night featured Brian Walker, Judith Hibbert, Julia Sutton and Dockyard Doris

Brian Walker is currently working for Brick Lane taking Music Hall out and about to care and residential homes, and taking the Music Hall into community centres and homes. The raffle that is held during each show here helps to provide this essential entertainment, and specialises in visiting long stay homes in London and the South East.

Zara Kattan was at the first Brick   Lane for the opening show. She began as a waitress, and then as one of a group of “singing” waitresses before taking over the running of the Box Office the following year. She has been totally involved with the administration and productions ever since.

Zara recalled her first day at the converted Truman Brewery site, when the building was not quite open. She saw what appeared to be a caretaker sweeping up. He then jumped up on to the stage and did a sound check. She wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, and was introduced to the “caretaker” – Vincent Hayes, and realised the unique set-up she had walked in to.

Within three weeks the stress of running and opening the venue affected Vincent, and he fell foul of a virus. He remembers sliding down the wall of the building, and very little else! Dockyard Doris took over presenting the show until he recovered.

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This cartoon appeared in the London Evening Standard, where Robert Gore-Langton in one of BLMH’s earliest reviews, wrote “There is an atmosphere of dissenting comic anarchy in tune with the original spirit of music hall. It also has the most socially diverse audience I have ever seen in one room. The night I went, the Bishop of Lancaster was at a table with a nun and two monks.”

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Me with my little ukulele in my hand!

Friday the 13th. It occurred to me that this was indeed the date as I approached the Act One Finale. Assisted by the lovely Eleanor I very quickly got into the red beaded/sequin dress, wig, boa, boots. In doing so I got my sequin sleeve caught up on my tights. Eleanor untangled me – I took one step and caught my other arm in the dress and the sequins locked. The music continued coming up to entrance- Eleanor untangled me. I made it with a beat to spare!

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Act Two finale- this time Pink sequins, Boa, Shoes big wig. As I entered I thought “Hello.. I’m hobbling!”. Sequins front & back locked onto my shoe. I had to shuffle the end routine (no change there then!) and thought ah- it comes in three’s… just as I got my sleeve caught in Stephanie’s hairpiece and we ended up very close dancing partners! Never wear sequins o the 13th is my advice!

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Question: How do you empty Dressing Room Number Two in two seconds flat? Answer: Have Rusty Goffe walk in eating a Crispy Creame, announcing that Andy Percussion has just brought a box full in to share! Here is the resulting melee!

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What other events this week? Vincent has embraced Twitter, and launched his first Tweet from the Dressing room tonight. I’ve never tweeted or twittered, as I find this blog enough to keep me going! If you’d care to follow Brick Lane Music Hall and Vincent Hayes MBE his twitter is @vincenthayes13

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This week we were visited by Pop Royalty- Jess Conrad OBE. Jess was recently at Brick Lane in the Autumn “Be Bop Alula” show, and was in to see his mates, along with his wife Renee.

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Jess Conrad and the BLMH Gang

Jess’s Pop Career saw him record for Decca, Columbia, Pye and EMI with countless appearances on BBC’s “Oh Boy!” television pop programme alongside the ‘50’s and ‘60’s idols of Pop that included Marty Wilde, Gene Vincent, Joe Brown and Billy Fury.

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Jess began his career on stage in repertory, before being spotted and hurled into Pop stardom. He continued his stage career with film and television appearances throughout his career, and starred in “Godspell” and “Joseph” in London and on tour, alongside cabaret, concert and stage appearances.

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A veteran of pantomimes, I was fortunate to see him in my native Swansea Grand  in a “Dick Whittington”- his cat “Tommy”was played by the young Keith Harris long before Orville The Duck was ever thought about, let alone hatched!

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Jess has about thirty Pantomimes to his credit as Principal Boy and as Villain and Baron, including the adult “Sinderella” with Jim Davidson at the Cambridge Theatre and on the UK Tours.

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For a look at those Swansea Grand Theatre Pantomimes, take a look at:

http://www.swanseasgrand.co.uk/Swansea%20Grand%20Theatre%20Pantomime%20Archive.html

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So the week ended here with a rousing Music Hall medley coming from the room next door as the company rehearsed their Music Hall show for next Tuesday. Rusty and I sit that one out, and in fact, put our feet up. We return the next day, Wednesday to resume “Babes In The Wood”.

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Talking of the Babes- here as promised is the second and last part of the “Babes In The Wood” story as seen in pantomimes over the years!

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ACT TWO:

Nottingham Fair

Traditionally, whether the babes were abandoned at the end of Act One, or, if this plot does not occur until a few scenes into Act Two- the opening of Act Two is Nottingham Fair. Sometimes called “Nottingham Goose Fair”.

The Scene has the villagers enjoying a bank holiday at the fair, with Robin and his Merry Men attending in some form of disguise. The song and dance routine often centres around villages selling wares, stalls set up, and often a “floral” type dance.

This scene has as part of the plot to do with the Sheriff’s desire to capture Robin Hood. An archery contest has been arranged with a large prize. Robin attends in disguise, wins the competition by scoring a bulls eye on the target, and is nearly captured by the Sheriff.

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Arthur English & Peter Goodwright as Merry Men

The target has long been a complicated prop for the prop makers. A large circular target, often placed near the wing, it has one or more “flat” arrows flush against the surface of the target. These are painted to look like the target and are invisible to the eye.

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When Robin fires his arrow there has to be some distraction. As he fires the chorus will shout and point at the target. The audience looks at the target, and hopefully does not witness Robin not actually firing his arrow. It vanishes into his cloak. Meanwhile behind the target a spring is released, and the “flat” disguised arrow flips up. This all happens in a few seconds, and appears as if Robin has shot an arrow across the stage and scored a bulls eye!

If the Babes have been rescued by Robin at the end of Act One- in some versions they are kept hidden in Robin’s hideout in the forest. In one or two versions they are returned to Nottingham (much to the displeasure of the Sheriff) and the Robbers are once again employed to kidnap them. In one version the Robbers pretend to be fairground magicians, and perform a trick. The Dame is placed into a “magic Cabinet”, vanishes and re-appears. They repeat this with the babes, and this time both robbers and Babes vanish.

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The last section of the pantomime involves comedy front cloths with Dame, Robbers and comic. Often there will be a scene in the dungeons of the Sheriff’s Castle- possibly a “Ghost Gag”.

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In other versions either Marion or Robin- or sometimes even both are imprisoned deep inside the castle, and the Merry Men help them to escape. One thing is certain- whether the babes are abandoned at the end of the first half, or during the second  half, Robin comes to  the rescue. He will fight the Sheriff of Nottingham. In some versions he wins outright, in others he is tricked, and set for execution. The Sheriff has to be seen to be a villain by someone with more authority than he has.

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Enter King Richard

In many versions the fate of Robin is hanging in the balance when unexpectedly King Richard (The Lionheart) returns from the Crusades. This part is usually doubled with a chorus man, or even a “merry Man”, as he only appears in the very last scene.

The King has entrusted his realm to the likes of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and upon his return the Sheriff’s villainy is revealed. He has raised taxes, stripped nobles of their titles, attempted to murder his wards, and now is disgraced and exiled by the King. In the final scene Robin Hood kneels before King Richard, and has his former title- Earl Of Huntingdon restored. The Babes are put in the care of Robin and Marion, who announce they are to be married.

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Kenneth Alan Taylor at Nottingham Playhouse

The Songsheet follows- if the Robbers were the “star Turns” they will lead this sing-a-long, having been pardoned: And the scene is set for the Royal Wedding, often in a Grand Hall of the Castle, or even within the walls of the Tower Of London.

The two tales of the Babes & Robin Hood come together at the end. They may not sit too comfortably together during the pantomime, but  aided by the comedy of Dames and Robbers, the heroic deeds of the Principal Boy and the out and out villainy of the Sheriff, they make a jolly British Pantomime based not on Fairy Story, but on Fable.

All ends happily ever after!

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