I’m always giving an excuse for the length of time between my posts; but I really have been busy this time! And it’s all panto related, of course (albeit some of it loosely!)
At the end of June I was involved in the workshop of a great new musical called Hoods which is an adaptation of the Rat Pack film Robin and the Seven Hoods. It’s a mix of new music and some really classic Rat Pack songs. The talent that was involved was incredible and, to be honest, I couldn’t believe that I was in the same room as a lot of those people.
I participated in the table read earlier in the year, because I happened to turn up to work at Drury Lane just at the time that Drew Jaymson was looking for someone to take part. Networking like that was one of the reasons I wanted to get a front of house job... It only took four years for an opportunity to arise!
There were a lot of people from Drury Lane involved in both the table read and workshop and it was lovely to be able to explore a new working relationship with them. However, the biggest thrill for me, during the workshop, was to work with some real panto talent! The production was directed by Craig Revel-Horwood (Wicked Queen and now Captain Hook) and the cast included Nigel Garton who was a charming Emperor in the Lily Savage Aladdin at the O2. I was quite in awe of Craig because he really lives up to his reputation (the good parts!) and Nigel turned out to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I can sing and dance fairly well, but I was intimidated by a room of seasoned West End pros and Nigel really helped me relax and realise that I deserve to be there as much as everybody else.
It was the presence of comedian extraordinaire Damian Williams that really floored me, however. When I was growing up in Bristol my Mum used to take me to see the Bruce James produced shows at the Playhouse in Weston-Super-Mare and Damian was always the genuine star turn. He is one of the funniest men I’ve ever seen on stage. There’s only two other performers that I’ve seen who can control an audience and have the same freedom on stage as Damian and that’s Roy Hudd and Barry Humphries. They’re both heroes of mine; so that should give you some impression of how I felt meeting Damian.
To top it all off it turned out that Damian and I were the comedy double act and that was a real treat! It meant I really had my work cut out though: Damian can do the slightest hand gesture and people collapse into laughter... I have to really concentrate on being funny! Mind you, I got the laughs where I needed them on the night; so I must have learnt something from the company I was keeping!
We performed the workshop at the Arts Theatre and I felt really honoured to be on the same stage that I’ve seen trod by performers such as Caroline O’Connor, Vanessa Redgrave and Eileen Atkins. I was also very grateful for some of my Magic Beans panto family coming to support me. I’m having a bit of an odd year thus far and they’ve really stood up to the mark. It’s extraordinary to realise how important they all are to me (they’ll most probably rip me apart for this... but I’m mid tour and feeling sentimental, so...)
The workshop was the day before I joined rehearsals (two days late – thank you Haven!) for the Haven summer pantomime tours. That most probably explains why my head was a-whirl when I arrived in Chalfont St. Giles. Within minutes of turning up and literally seconds after meeting my new team I did a full run-through of a show that I’d never rehearsed. I was petrified. I did my best to throw myself in at the deep end; but I’m not convinced that my colleagues were thrilled that I’d turned up!
Luckily they’re a very nice group of people and I vaguely knew most of them; which I didn’t realise would be the case. Laurie Fogg did the tour last year and I really enjoyed her company in rehearsals. Ollie Marriage and I have worked together at Drury Lane (we’re everywhere!). Amy Skillman was very familiar to me and it turns out that she auditioned for one of the earliest editions of Panto Factor. Finally, Katy Lye, who I didn’t know, but had made quite an impression on me when I was in the auditions, so I was really pleased to see her in my team.
The rehearsal process for the Haven tours isn’t the easiest, with four teams rehearsing in the same room. Adding to this was the pressure of rehearsing two different shows at the same time; as this year Haven are touring Aladdin and reviving Cinders from last year.
I had a little hand on the creative side for both shows and I naively thought that this would make my rehearsal process a little bit easier. In fact, it doesn’t, because not only was I worrying about my own performance, but I was constantly taking into account the bigger picture.
I was fortunate in that I managed to escape participating in the showcase performance at G Live! This was in front of an invited audience of industry bigwigs and I would have loved the opportunity to be seen by such influential producers etc. Initially I was a tad put out at not being included; but it gave me the opportunity to watch seasoned dame David Rumelle at work, which was a truly fascinating experience.
David has an enviable wealth of experience and represents an era of dame that a newer generation won’t have seen in action. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to David talk about his career and the people he’s worked with you should definitely take it. Plus he does an impeccable impression of Dame Hilda Bracket (as well as having stepped in for Dr. Evadne Hinge), so that’s top marks in my book!
One of the most interesting things throughout the rehearsal process was working with actors who haven’t played dame before. In the auditions it had been very hard to find people that would suit the role. One person that stood out was Paul Michael Hill and I was pleased to see him in rehearsals. Paul had a strong understanding of the dame role, but no preconceptions as to how to approach playing it. It was fascinating to sit down with him, Danny and David and discuss our various approaches.
I’ve said it before, but for me the role should be a broad extension of your own personality: the audience need to know both you and the character. I like my dame to be integrated into the production, whereas David certainly likes his to be the centre-piece and Danny’s dame controls proceedings. None of these approaches are better or worse and none of them are wrong. It is one of the joys of the job that we work in a genre that is so flexible that it can create fantastical fiction out of any factual personality.
If I go into too much detail about the process you’ll be here forever; but if there’s anything you want to know don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re out on the road now and I feel that we’ve got two really good shows on our hands. The audience reactions have been sensational and I hope that everyone at TAG / Bourne Leisure / Haven (the producers) and Stuart Glover, Sheryl Glanville and Mark Jones (a selection of the creatives) are happy with their product.
Pop back in a couple of weeks to find out how the tour went!