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Friday 4th January 2019

Full houses, and a lot of pensioners! Always love a house full of pensioners- ever since playing Bournemouth Pavilion back in the early ‘eighties, I appreciate the roar of laughter you get from the fiesty Senior Citizens!

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Photos By Steve Tanner. The Sultan is suspicious!

The above picture shows a gentleman dressing up as a lady. You’d never catch me doing that……..

Show went swimmingly. Once again I marvel at the scene changes- watching the guys move the scenic trucks into place like a large Lego set! Large touring houses like Plymouth have a crew used to bigger pieces of scenery than even we have. I will never tire watching pieces move, lock together and then be removed swiftly while a frontcloth hides the activity. Old as Theatre itself that.

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The Sultan makes his choice!

Talking of Old Theatres- Here are a few random “Dick Whittington” bills from the past.

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Its great to know we are part of a tradition going back almost two hundred years, and still going strong. No matter how sophisticated things become, you can’t beat the yell of “Its Behind You!” when the Ghost appears in the bedroom!

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Photo courtesy of Steve Tanner. Ghost courtesy of Christian Jones. Llandudno’s own!

Both shows flew by. The luxury of dinner in the backstage Green Room, followed by the one hour snooze on the dressing room floor. Several pantomimes finish either tomorrow (Saturday) or Sunday- The trucks are going up and down the country, and back at The Twins FX vast warehouses the massive special effects are being returned to the fold.

Two shows tomorrow, and two more on Sunday then the Day Off .

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Thursday January 3rd 2019

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Photos by Steve Tanner

Its colder- first Wintery feel here at Plymouth! Left the cosy warm Hotel for the streets of Plymouth which are surpringly NOT paved with gold. I didn’t hang about and headed straight for the Theatre, and the Dressing Room.

Had a lovely chat with TRP’s CEO (That is a lot of abreviations!) Adrian Vinken OBE, the two of us reminiscing about the many classic pantomimes and Dames that have trod the boards here in Plymouth- Jack Tripp and Les Dawson in particular, and the lovely Dame June Whitfield who passed away last week. A Fabulous Fairy in those Roy Hudd  & Jack Trip Pantomimes. Wished we’d chatted longer, but had to get my face on in time for the matinee. I arrive an hour before curtain up- and the “new” me has all my make up on by the half. The “old” me used to leave it to the last quarter of an hour!

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The safe is open!

Our slick Quick changes are going swimmingly. Team Felicity – Ryan, Theresa and Jannine on sound (My wigs need to be put on carefully under supervision to keep the microphone and indeed the battery pack in position) is a mean changing machine!

Here’s a short video of our fastest change- from Lady Admiral to Sailor with a Ship On My Head in a matter of about twenty seconds!

 

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The Story Of Dick Whittington is of course a British tale- based on fact. The other British Legends or Fairy Tales include Robinson Crusoe (also based partly on fact- Alexander Selkirk was the original Crusoe) Robin Hood (and The Babes In The Wood) and Jack and The Beanstalk- originally Jack The Giant Killer. Joining this Brit pack nowadays is “Peter Pan” which has become a Pantomime. Why A Cat as the character in “Dick Whittington”? Paws for thought…. (ouch!)

How a cat came to feature so heavily in the pantomime version is not clear. Richard Whittington may well have had a cat, but certainly it does not feature in any accounts of his life. Possibly the answer lies in his life as a merchant. Ships feature in the pantomime, and Whittington was a merchant. His fortune depended on the sailing vessels bringing goods from Africa and the Far East. More humble sailing vessels carrying coal were known as “Cats”, so that could be one reason the story became confused with the humble moggy. Another theory is that the French word “Achat”, which means “A Purchase” might have found itself intertwined in his legend.

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Why King Rat? The pantomime version has the villain depicted as “King Rat”. It is Whittington’s cat who destroys all the rats in the Sultan’s Palace, and indeed in his Kingdom, and this act makes Dick Whittington his vast fortune- half the wealth of the Sultan in return.

More likely the very shadow and spectre of the rats, bringing plague to London frequently made them the ideal villains for legend. When Samuel Pepys wrote in his Diary of 1668

 “To Southwark Fair, very dirty, and there saw the puppet show of Whittington, which was pretty to see

The Great Plague had only recently abated in London  three years previously. Londoners would have no problem associating the rodents with arch villainy.

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Photos by Steve Tanner

Two Shows tomorrow. 2.30pm and 7pm.

 

 

Wednesday 2nd January 2019

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All Alone At Sea!

Two shows today following a welcomed day off! I had a quiet dayoff on The Plymouth Hoe, watching the boats go by, and enjoying this beautiful Ocean City.

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Back to work after the New Year-it seems everyone had a great evening on New Year’s Eve, and the houses are full for each performance. this was our final show of 2018 caught on camera!

Interesting that Dick Whittington seems to be on the increase as a subject for Panto- it is, of course based on a true story- well, to the extent that Dick Whittington really existed, and yes, he did marry Alice Fitzwarren! This is from our “Storybook” section of the site:

Richard Whittington was born somewhere around 1350, legend has it at Pauntley Court in Gloucestershire. He was not, however the penniless boy he is depicted in pantomime, but was in fact the son of an Alderman – Sir William Whittington of Pauntley. He arrived in London around 1379, and began to deal in costly textiles, and became an extremely wealthy merchant.

He married the daughter of an Alderman – Alice Fitzwarren, (or Fitzwaryn) and became an Alderman himself, before taking the honorary title of Sheriff in 1393.

It was under the patronage of King Richard II that he became Lord Mayor of London in 1397, and later again in 1406 and 1419. He became a member of parliament in 1416.

Whether Dick really had a cat- that we’ll never know. Tommy has become an important player in the story of rags to riches. Here’s Fred Whittaker, Feline Impersonator in the Edwardian Era.

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Today our Ryan Kayode is playing Tommy and is a great hit with the audiences.

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The story remains the same as the early pantomimes- Samuel Pepys writes in his 17th Century Diary that he saw a puppet show about Dick Whittington. Our tale follows the adventures of Dick as he fights rats and becomes Lord Mayor Of London gaining fame and fortune. My character was added later- usually Sarah The Cook (I’m the Widow of Alderman Fitzwarren in this version) and Idle Jack was added in the Victorian era.

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Photos by Steve TannerBoth shows went very well today, with lots of audeince reaction. We heard news today that Darren Day will replace Jimmy Osmond at The Hippodrome Birmingham. We wish Jimmy a speedy recovery from his stroke. A very lovely man.

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The Spirit Of The Bells Has King Rat at her feet!

A drink in the very cosy Pub On The Hoe before turning in on a very cold night. The schools go back next week, so we are in for busy shows every day this week!

 

 

Sunday 30th Dec- 31st New Years Eve 2018

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Sunday 30th December

Early shows today- 1pm and 6pm. I stopped off to get some tooth repair and tongue soothing medicines en route! The lost filling has resulted in a swollen tongue, So Felicity Fitzwarren was having trouble with her own name by the end of the first show! Took Ibuprofen and some recommended mouthwash,plus gargling in salt- and was a brave soldier! Hopefully a Dentist will be open tomorrow!

Here was my big decision for between shows dining. It is such a glamorous life backstage!

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Had a visitor for the second show- Lee Redwood. Lee has been visiting my pantos since.. well, since he was a young lad, and now he presents two pantomimes in the South- Weymouth and Wimbourne. Some of the costumes are from The Kenneth More Theatre, so I catch up with him in the Summer as well, to sort villagers, finales and the like! Great to see him, and catch up with a meal after the show.

Both shows were very jolly- despite my sore tongue giving me a few pronounciation problems! Think Team Felicity achieved the fastest ever Quick Change today- The thirty three second change now I reckon a slick eighteen twenty seconds? We must try to film it and put it on the blog!

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Made no plans for the New Year- I think a quiet night in the Hotel after a drink will be the order of the day- A nightclub just isn’t for me, but here’s hoping the gang heading there after the show tomorrow have a fabulous time! It’s been a funny old year, has 2018….

My Brother Vivyan went to see Southampton “Dick Whittington” yesterday with Andrew Ryan as Sarah The Cook- and now today I spoke to him as he was about to set off on the hovercraft for Newport on The Isle Of Wight to see our mates Christopher Marlowe and Sue Hodge in “Jack and The Beanstalk” at The Medina Theatre.

Monday 31st December

Two early shows today- earlier for me, as I was in the Dentist’s surgery at 10am getting sorted! The Dentist had seen The Panto at Torquay- but the Receptionist had seen the Panto at Plymouth, so we evened out! I’m sorted but still sore and having the fun of gargling salt between entrances. Mmmm…Lovely!

Both shows were extremely jolly- we had a brief practice of “Auld Langs Syne” before the second show, so we could try and ensure no-one was dragged into the orchestra pit by an over-enthusiastic audience member!

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Photos by  Steve Tanner

Sad news today that Jimmy Osmond has suffered a stroke, and was taken ill during a performance at The Birmingham Hippodrome, where he is playing Captain Hook. He is recovering in Hospital and we all send him love. He really is so well regarded by everyone in Pantoland. A true Gent. A Real Pro. His part will be taken now by Darren Day later in the week.

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Today we say farewell to Tom Blackler. Tom is on Stage Elex. He is a Third Generation TRP Employee, His Dad Chris before him and his Nan, Sylvia Blackler was Dressing me in 2004-2005 here at The Theatre Royal. Tom is off to his other job rigging and setting up lighting. His successor is JB who “shadowed” Tom today and takes over all things smoke and Pyro on Wednesday.

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Tom Blackler

We finished the very jolly second show with “Auld Langs Eyne”. The Younger element off to a nightclub, and I had a drink with Ian (Sound) and Andy Ford and his wife before I headed off to the Hotel. Lots of phone chats with mates, including Sherrie (Hewson) on a week’s break from the tour of Benidorm, and catching up on the news before the Twelve O’Clock bells.

From Simon and Myself- Have a VERY Happy New Year. Here’s to a magical 2019.

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Saturday 29th Dec.

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Another two show day at The Theatre Royal. Quite a few cast members had sessions booked with the visiting masseur, before and between the two shows. I have lost a bit of filling from a tooth! Its sharp- so Christian brought me some sort of cement you use as a temporary filling. Very messy- I looked like a Charlie Cairoli Slosh scene by the end, but it has helped! No Dentist will be open I fear until at least Wednesday!

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A visit today from Daniel Dawson, co-founder of The Great British Pantomime Awards, along with Ben Todman- this is Daniel’s 38th Pantomime this season! Today he saw Cheltenham Matinee, and joined us for the 7pm show! Here we are with Andy at the restaurant next door to TRP. He drives back to Bristol tonight then on to Swansea and Cardiff Pantomimes! What a mammoth task!

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Photos by Steve Tanner

Thanks to Steve Tanner’s excellent e-mail communication, I am able to publish large pics of the show, instead of the postage stamp size ones previously! I’ll add them throughout the blogs to come!

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Ryan Kayode as Tommy The Cat

Had a lovely phone call from Sunny Australia today- my mate Ray Meagher! We chat every so often, and he keeps up with the world of Pantomime, of which he is an exceptional member- he’s done many Qdos pantomimes, and E&B Pantomimes on his “holidays” from “Home and Away” as Alf. We talked all things Panto. He’s recently completed another production of “Priscilla” in Australia- he was inj the West End Production for over a year at The Palace Theatre.

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Tomorrow- Sunday we have earlier shows- at 1pm and 6pm. Some pantos will have already finished, or finish tomorrow. We have a further two weeks left after New Year’s Day- with twenty performances.

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Friday 28th- How Panto is made!

A bit colder today- first day I’ve noticed a chill in the air- its quite mild here on the edge of the sea. Let’s hope it stays that way over the New Year.

Today’s two shows were packed to the rafters, and a very jolly crowd for both Matinee and Evening shows. Having made no plans for Christmas Day,it is time to think about New Year’s Eve- we get our next day off on New Year’s Day. Grace has organised a table at a Nightclub, and there are a few possibilities for strangers in a City, – fellow Panto Persons to congregate and see the New Year In!

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Some of my costumes are needing a bit of repair- the quick changes take their toll on the odd seam, or poppers , and Fiona and Jerry in running wardrobe are amazing at dealing with the upkeep of this hectic show on a daily repair and laundry basis.

The audience have no idea – nor should they- of what is happening as they watch the Pantomime unfold. The technicians firing pyros as Rat or Fairy Enter- the Scene shifting going on so swiftly behind the frontcloths, and the frantic fast changes of the Ensemble in a corridor backstage going from Townspeople to Rats, to Sailors, To Posh Townspeople, Guards, Wives of The Great Sultan Vinegar and into their finale!

Here is a recent item on the news- Michael Harrison, head of the Pantomime Division of Qdos explains some of the production values. it opens in facebook. I’m working on how to open it otherwise!

https://www.facebook.com/505369484/posts/10157012779074485/

All this happens swiftly so there is a constant flow of scene and costume going on, while the band plays ballads, hornpipes, harem dances and pop numbers without being visible in their deep orchestra pit, on cans and monitors.

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Panto is a HUGE production. It has all the qualities of a major Musical and more- with special effects and a big production back up, yet rehearsed in ten days and running for four weeks! The team effort behind all this is what makes that happen!

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Here is a link to a glimpse of how Pantomimes were put together in the past- its interesting that very little has changed!

https://www.facebook.com/BBCArchive/videos/2496341153714001/

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I had a backstage visit today from IBY regular contributer Peter Leatherby. He and his SisterSusie called in before the show to say “hello”. I last saw Peter in Newcastle when I was there in “Cinderella” at The Theatre Royal.We had a brief catch-up before the half loomed, and he went to watch the show. Great to catch up, albeit briefly. Can’t believe it has been thirteen years since we met last at Newcastle! His collection of programmes, flyers and ephemera on Pantomime is as large as my archive!

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Thursday 27th Dec.

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Two shows today. The shops in Plymouth are now heaving- yesterday they were reasonably quiet, but today any thoughts of visiting the sales is deterred by the long lines forming at the tills! I fled to the peace and tranquility of the Dressing Room!

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Most of the company’s Christmas visitors have now left, and our next break will be New Year’s Day- it is a twelve show week. Things have settled nicely backstage. I write about this each year, but the backstage comings and goings, the scenic changes and to-ing and fro-ing from the stage to the wings settles into a pattern. You see everyone waiting in the wings in the same places- the crew move to a regulated rhythm as they change the set, wheel the trucks into position, then strike and reset. It is a very disciplined life backstage, and always has been.

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The Quick changes particularly so. Ryan Wardrobe and Theresa are moving swiftly to the same positions each show, the changes – especially mine, are very swift, and executed like clockwork. That’s what you get from a touring house manned by professionals- they will assist Shrek, The Ballet, The Opera and The Panto in exactly the same consumate manner.

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I’m now wearing twelve layers!

I’m underdressing after the third change I do, with Ryan swiftly dressing me into the seven layers plus a washing line, before disguising this with a coat for the shop scene, a long sequinned dressing gown for the “safe” scene, a Long fur coat for the “Unsafe Scene” and THEN on exit, Ryan finishes the underdressing with four coats and I’m on for the Strip Scene!

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Down to One Layer!

Pantomime “front Cloths” disguise a flurry of invisible activity- to the audience- as scene changes are being carried out by fourteen crew members including stage Elex , and costume changes with ensemble and Principals being carried out in various places- it all results in a seamless transformation from Shop to Ship. From Moroccan Palace to Sewers of London. That’s the real magic of pantomime!

Two shows tomorrow. 2.30pm and 7pm.