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Manchester Pride

img_1012I’ve lived in Manchester for 10 years this coming December but I’ve never been to Pride.  For some reason I have always been away working on August Bank Holiday weekend, but not this year.  As the time approached and I realised it was unlikely I’d be working I decided to have a look into what would be going on over the course of the weekend.  I had been invited out to a festival on the Sunday so Saturday was the only time I would be able to sample the delights of Pride.  Luckily enough Saturday was also the day of the parade, ‘what better way to experience the event?’ I thought.  Then, at a local branch meeting for my trade union, Equity, it was announced that we as a union had managed to secure a place in the parade itself – happy days!  So not only was I going to go to Pride for the first time but I was also going to take part in it!

On the day itself we were told to meet at 11am to be ready to start marching at 1pm.  Well, after hanging around for about 15 minutes a few of us got a little bored and decided to go for a pint.  Or two.  Anyway, we returned to our comrades in plenty of time before the parade began.  In the holding area we were surrounded by a diverse range of societies, groups, costumes aimg_1023and themes, all happily chatting away, having pics with each other or playing games.  The LGBT Tories had blue t-shirts with ‘I kissed a Tory (& I liked it)’ on while next to them in the parade the LGBT Labour group had red t-shirts with ‘Never kissed a Tory’ emblazoned on them!  We were in the parade behind the Canal Street Blues (that’s Manchester City’s LGBT supporters club) and directly in front of the delicious Village Bakery group (who I’m still annoyed with as they didn’t give me any cake!).

The parade swept through the city centre and it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to make it to the end, not because it was a long way but because there were so many people to see, meet, wave at and greet!  Honestly, it was at least 3 deep all the way round with crash barriers holding the majority of the spectators back.   People everywhere were bedecked in rainbow colours and glitter and fabulous costumes… except us.  Now, we aimg_1019had a little chat about this amongst ourselves as we were waiting to leave the holding area.  As we were representing Equity, the Performers union (and yes I know we’re not just performers – bear with me on this!), you’d have probably been expecting us to have the best costumes there.  Well, a handful of us were wearing Equity t-shirts and we had a few flags but that was it.  I think we must have been really underwhelming for the people who came to see us!  We justified it, however, by pointing out that we dress up in costumes most days of the year where as the people in the parade from say Natwest or NHS England or Tesco or Thomas Cook etc only get to do it one day of the year.  This was us giving them a chance to steal our limelight for the day whilst still supporting them at the same time!  That’s our story and we’re sticking to it…!  We did say that next year we’d up the ante a bit, though, and maybe dress up a bit more but that’s for us to decide nearer the time.

As the parade came to an end the majority of us from Equity went to a pub and had a few celebratory drinks.  The mood was happy, our spirits were high and we were bouncing off each other like kids at a birthday party. A fun evening followed with a few of us going out for tapas and then, you guessed it, a few more drinks.  I’ve never encountered an atmosphere like it in Manchester.  Over the course of the whole day I didn’t see any trouble, experience any negative feeling or have anything other than a wonderful, positive and life-affirming time.  I want to say a big Thank-You to everyone who was there but especially to Equity member Hayley Cartwright for organising our pitch and to Jamie Briers from Equity for supplying the t-shirts and flags.  Top people.

To sum up, I really can’t express to you how much I enjoyed myself at my first ever Pride and taking part in my first ever parade (as me, not as a paid gig).  The best thing for me about the whole event was just how many families were there.  There were kids all over the place clapping, cheering, dancing, supporting the floats, waving flags and dressed up in some amazing outfits, all of which were clearly having such a fantastic time.  Just as it should be, all inclusive and proud.aimg_1049

When we passed Canal Street in the heart of the Gay Quarter.

Summer Food Fest 2016

I’ve just finished a month long tour of the UK giving away just undeaimg_0788r 30,000 free samples of food.  I’ll just let that sink in for a moment…  It’s quite a lot of food, really.  The foodie event that I was hosting was called the Summer Food Fest and it happened in 9 different Hammerson shopping centres from Aberdeen all the way down to Southampton.  Along with the rest of my team (well, they weren’t my team, more the team I was on) we travelled the UK train network with our mini cases and M&S cheese boards, checking into hotels and (for me at least) meeting up with as many local friends as I could.  It was a blast!  Despite genuinely not remembering which city we were waking up in each day we were able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves and hopefully that was reflected in our work.

aimg_0867The job was to encourage people to try different food or different restaurants in the shopping centres in the hope of spreading their culinary horizons.  We had a different restaurant or eatery provide our Menu Bar (ie. temporary stand in the middle of the mall) with a minimum of 200 free samples every hour.  For example, a schedule for a day could have been 11am Boost Smoothies, 12 noon Yo Sushi, 1pm Bill’s, 2pm Wagamama, 3pm Jamie’s Italian, 4pm Handmade Burger Co, 5pm Krispy Kreme.  All these restaurants took part along with other brands such as Chiquitos, Bella Italia, Millie’s Cookies, Hotel Chocolat, Harvey Nic’s, Ed’s Diner, Harry Ramsden’s and Joe Delucci’s to name but a few.  So as you can see there was a wide range of differing cuisines available.  People could come back as often as they liked to try as many of the restaurants as they wanted.

That’s essentially it.  Free food in return for, well, nothing.  No data capture, no form to fill in, aimg_0790no signature, just a case of ‘What? You’ve never eaten in a Nando’s before? Well try this!‘.  My role in the event was to talk on the mic about the food, explaining what people were eating and describing the different textures, flavours and even preparation methods.  Because of this I got to eat EVERYTHING.  Not a great job for my waistline but a fantastic gig for my taste buds!  Over the course of the tour we were treated to some really fantastic samples (too many to list here) aimg_0857but I did learn some interesting things along the way, too.  Sushi has never been high on my food choice list.  It’s never really come into my head to get it before and I think that that is down to the small portion sizes and common misconception that it’s all just raw fish.  Well were my eyes opened on this job?!  Sushi comes in all manner of different ways; veggie, beef, chicken, duck, pork etc. before you even get to fish.  Yes, some of the fish is raw but by no means all of it.  I’m proud to say that I’m now a massive sushi convert and, even better than that, so are loads of different members of the public who we convinced to give it a go.  The number of times I extolled the virtues of sushi, including all of the health benefits garnered from it, I can’t even begin to count.  This really sums up the purpose of the event in a nutshell, and sushi could be replace by any other food be it Thai, Indian, Italian, Mexican, even British.  Try something new, like something new.

So that’s it really.  A massive thank you to my fellow cohorts Chantelle, 2016-08-13-photo-00000426Helen and Beckie plus Rowenna, Ryan, Kate and Becky, not forgetting Andy and Kyle back in Maynineteen HQ who somehow managed to pull off the logistical nightmare of getting this incredibly successful tour up and running without a hitch.  Kudos all round.  Thanks also to Rachael, Chops, Chris, Ozzy, Grandma Jennie, Lee, Kayleigh, Danny and Ann-Marie for meeting up with me en route around the country.  Finally, thank you to Union Square in Aberdeen, Silverburn in Glasgow, The Bullring in Brum, Cabot Circus in Bristol, The Oracle in Reading, Highcross in Leicester, West Quay in Southampton and both Brent Cross and Centrale in London for looking after us all so incredibly well (that’s the shopping centre staff PLUS the punters, too).  Such fun!2016-08-23-photo-00000709

Bradford Festival 2016

Bradford Festival

What a wonderful weekend!  I was honoured to have been asked to come back to host the main stage of Bradford Festival for yet another year, a gig I never fail to enjoy and, seeing as over 100,000 people turn up, I think I’m not the only one.  This year was certainly no different with some fantastic acts appearing on my stage along with a plethora of other entertainment all around City Park.

George OrangeLet’s start at the beginning, though, with Friday’s events.  The daytime was taken up by Party in the Park, a day for school kids to all come along and perform.  Although Centenary Square around the main stage was closed off to the public to help keep the 1,000 children safe there were still plenty of parents stood outside the crowd barriers to support their offspring.  Over the course of the day we had choirs, dance troupes, orchestras (wind, youth, brass etc!), soloists, samba bands, a group of saxophonists and some cheerleaders amongst others.  It goes without saying that there is a very talented generation coming through in Bradford and the day spawned my favourite moment of the whole weekend (but more on that later).   Friday night saw the start of the Festival proper (no disrespect to the kids) with a performance by local band Nervous Orse.

Saturday saw the start of the street theatre, arts and crafts activities, music and dance plus the poetry, storytelling and reading.  There are too many acts for me to list them all so I shall just name a few favourites.  On stage I thoroughly enjoyed Hope and Social with their hearty mixture of covers and original numbers all of which oozed their own style of playfulness and charm.  Chainska Brasika really got the crowds dancing to their loud and flavoursome ska beats, Paprika who treated us to some wonderful Balkan style music Phoneboxand Sam and the Womp who gave us a madcap set featuring dance music fused with live brass.  All in all quite wonderful!

Strolling around City Park (and indeed pretty much all of the centre of Bradford) were some wonderful street performers.  Again, my favourites were George Orange performing his remarkable one man show Man on the Moon, Corey Baker Dance‘s innovative production of Phonebox, Q20 Theatre‘s hilarious Mexican (spoof!) boyband Los Romanticos and Wet Picnic‘s cleverly scripted and delightfully funny The Lift.

Unfortunately I didn’t really get the chance to take in the poetry performances as they were all just a little bit too far away from the main stage for me to be able to spend any time at.  Gutted as I’d heard nothing but good things!  Same goes for the fun fair, too, although to be fair I’d heard nothing but screams from there….!

So all in all it was a fantastic 3 days and the best part was that absolutely none of it felt like work.  That type of gig doesn’t come around very often but when it does you know you’re in the right profession.

The LiftI can’t finish without telling you my favourite moment of the whole 3 days, though.  It came out of the 8 minute performance by Chellow Heights Special School on the Friday morning.  Around 10 or so primary age children took to the stage to perform their own samba composition called Chellow Beats.  As the kids, conductor and various carers came onto the stage one young boy started crying.  And screaming.  And flailing.  He was clearly very distressed about being on the stage in front of a large group of people.  His carer tried to calm him down as did the conductor but he wasn’t having any of it, huge streams of tears were hurtling down his face.  Instead of removing him from the stage, though, they decided to start their piece.  It was like a switch hadBradford Host MrCC been flicked, suddenly he started laughing.  He grabbed his drum and began to play.  Now samba is a very precise form of music where drums can only be struck in very particular rhythms.  This young boy was beat perfect – and he wasn’t even looking at the conductor!  He knew the 8 minute piece off by heart, knew all the rhythm changes and all the different patterns he had to play.  But what really made it for me was the fact he was smiling and giggling all the way through.  By the end of it his cheeks still had tear stains on them but his mood was a million miles away from just a few moments ago.  That is the power that music can have over people, the enjoyment that it can create, the freedom it gives, and seeing it so perfectly presented in this young disabled boy is why it was my favourite moment of the whole Festival.

Bradford Main Stage - small

Two new adverts

Potentially my busiest month on record.  Coupled with the usual castings/auditions, trying to get down to Leicester to watch my beloved Tigers play, seeing my Mum and Grandma for Mothering Sunday and attending my weekly pub quiz, I’ve been terribly busy with work.  Which is, of course, great – I’m not whinging at all!  What with my better half being away on tour at the moment I’m always trying to keep myself occupied and March has been far from dull.  Along with 6 magic gigs, 3 trips to the theatre, 2 street theatre shows, getting new headshots taken and lots of prep meetings for events in April, I’ve also filmed 2 new commercials.

First up I filmed a new Samsung viral for their new AddWash Washing Machines.  They’re surprisingly nifty bits of kit which allow you to add stuff to the Samsung Logo cropwash (not just a clever name!) after the cycle has started and they can also be controlled by your smart phone.  The advert features myself and my daughter (played by a lovely young lady called Leela) in our laundry room and was beautifully shot for Rogue Films by director Nicholas Barker.  What with it being a viral it will only be appearing on the internet for (as it stands) 1 year.  It will, however, be shown worldwide so that’s really quite cool!

The second advert that I filmed is for the UK and was for popular cereal Alpen.  We had a long old shoot day and my wife (Sophia Jackson) and I ate somewhere iAlpen Logon the region of a whopping 20 bowls of Alpen each over the course of the day!  When the 1st AD called ‘That’s lunch, people’ Sophia and I looked at each other wistfully knowing we were both already stuffed full of granola goodness!  Our young daughter, Rosie, was a delight to work with and the three of us had a real giggle throughout the day.  The commercial will be aired in 2 bursts of 8 weeks over the next 12 months (with the first burst scheduled for May all being well).  Links to both ads will be on this site as soon as they are ready (I haven’t seen them yet, only the raw footage from the shoot days themselves).

Now all that’s left to add is that I’m hoping April will be just as good as March (and knowing my agent I don’t see why it shouldn’t be!).  *crosses everything*

The Alpen cast

Sophia Jackson, Rosie and Chris Clarkson

Panto is over for another year

Well, the dust has settled and we’ve all moved on, Jack & the Beanstalk is now just a happy memory.  It’s 2 weeks since I drove away from the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, with my car full of 9 weeks worth of stuff and my head full of 9 Bo Rhap groupweeks worth of happy memories.  It was quite an emotional ending to the contract with everyone from cast, crew, kudos, creatives, kids, parents of kids, chaperones and theatre staff all gathering in the bar for a final drink and a friendly hug goodbye.  As much as I wanted to hit the road (I had a 4 hour drive to Manchester awaiting me and 9 weeks is a long time to be away from home!) I felt compelled to say yet another goodbye to the masses of people involved in making the panto so successful and one of my most enjoyable.  I just didn’t want the Bury dream to end!  I’d already said goodbye to the family that I’d been stopping with (or should I say ‘been adopted into’?!) and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take so after a cheeky orange juice I attempted to slip out as quietly as I could leaving everyone else giddy with the excitement that the end of a show brings.  Bitter sweet.

Pubs in BSE

So, my evaluation of the job.  Bury St Edmunds is one of the most delightful towns I’ve ever worked in.  Aesthetically it is beautiful, well kept and full of character.  The locals are lovely; always helpful, polite and cheery, and everyone clearly cares about their home town.  Very refreshing.  I had a delightful 20 minute walk to and from work everyday with gorgeous views of the Cathedral, and the local public houses (of which I sampled all of them – see my list!) were fab.  The theatre was stunning, the only working regency theatre in the country.  The fact it’s the only theatre owned by the National Trust tells you just how special it is!  The theatre staff in the offices are all more than welcoming despite almost sitting on each other’s laps in their, shall we say, bijou offices.  The box office team and bar staff always welcomed you with a smile and the Front of House Managers had everything running like clockwork, keeping their ever eager volunteers in check!  Backstage was no different, the 3 resident in house crew worked their proverbials off and the extra crew and stage management employed for the run all seemed to fit in perfectly with the ethos of the whole building.  The band (well, Aunty Vicky and our selection of 3 drummers!) kept perfect time to keep us running and continually showered us with bu-dum ting‘s and incidental plinky plonks.  The kids in the ensemble were possibly the best I have worked with on panto (and this was my 15th!), full of vigour, stage presence and oodles of talent.  So often the ensemble tend to just drift to the back of the stage and almost melt into the set, well not this lot.  They all had individual moments in the show where they featured by either having lines, singing solos, dancing solos or even being Daisy the Cow!  I doff my hat to the girls (and their chaperones and parents), I really do.

Costume SelfieSo that only leaves the cast.  What a let down.  Hated them all… not really!  As a unit of 8 we were very tight indeed.  I think the show was very well cast in that everyone seemed to fit their role perfectly (I’m not including myself in that statement, I’m not so vulgar as to pat my own back!).  I don’t want to pull out individuals (mainly as it would upset Alan if he didn’t get a mention) but I want to say a very hearty thank you to my Dressing Room buddies.  We had a lot of banter in there, pretty much none of which is printable in this blog!  Needless to say I’m missing all 7 of the others, and not just in a gushing theatre-type way, I genuinely am.  What a lot of people who don’t work in or around our industry don’t realise is just how close a company can get.  Bear in mind that I hadn’t met any of those guys before I turned up on Day 1 of rehearsals and being in a place where you don’t know anyone local you end up working and socialising with the same people, essentially living in each other’s pockets for the duration of your time there.  It’s much more than just saying lines to someone on a stage.

Panto is full of tradition.  I’ve covered a lot of these in previous blogs but it’s things like baddies always entering from stage left (the audiences right), the good fairy from stage right, not speaking the final couplets out loud until the first night etc, but I have a lot of personal traditions on panto, too.  A particular favourite of mine I call ‘One of Everything‘.  A show of any genre takes a lot of people to make it work.  The audience quite often only take in the cast and the band but there are a whole host of people behind the scenes making the show actually happen; wardrobe, lighting, sound, stage crew, stage management, flymen to name but a few.  Well, back in Wellingborough over Christmas 2002 Follow SpotI decided I wanted to sample how it felt to work in each and every department.  Over the course of a run I did one cue from each department that I was physically capable to.  By that I mean it had to be within certain parameters namely when I was not on stage (obviously!), nothing that would risk the safety of anyone in the building, nothing to the detriment of the show.  Simple really!  Since 2002 I have done this every year and Bury St Edmunds was no different.  I did my wardrobe cue by doing Jack’s quick change into his pyjamas in Act 1, I played the funky egg in the band during Wendy’s song Strangers in the Rain, I follow spotted Tina during her opening speech, I fired a sound cue for one of Jack’s gags and I helped set the stage for Gordon’s Kitchen during one of Jack and Jill’s duets.  I even called a cue (as in I was the deputy stage manager on the radio telling the crew what to do!) during the slosh scene!  There were plenty of others, too, and as I only allow myself to do one per show I had to start well before Christmas!  I’m really pleased the company let me play ball and continue a small tradition that means a lot to me personally.

So yes, another panto is consigned to memory.  Thank you to everyone at the theatre who made it what it was and to everyone who came to watch the show.  This year I had friends and family travel from Manchester, Leicester, Farnborough, London, Worcester, Aylesbury, Northampton, Cardiff, Clacton-on-Sea, Sunderland and Loughborough – I really appreciate it!  Every year I say that I think I’ll take the next year off but… well… when you have as much fun as this… never say never.


P.S. I’ve done Dry January for the last 7 years (since before it was fashionable!) but as I don’t start it until panto finishes I’m now only 2 weeks in – for me it’s more of a Dry half-of-January-&-half-of-February!

Jack & the Beanstalk – 10 shows done…

Well, we’re open… and it’s SO much fun!  After a mildly stressful tech week (nothing new there – most tech weeks are very stressful!) our first performance was at 11am last Friday followed by a second show later that day at 7:30pm.  The audiences that day were nothing but positive in their praise for the production, something that I know pleased all the cast, crew and creatives greatly.  Although we all knew deep down that the show was set to be a good one, it’s always fantastic to have feedback from people that agrees with what we thought.  In the front of house bar on Friday night I lost count of all Oliver Mawdsley, James Parkes, Chris Clarkson and Louise Olleythe lovely people who came up to us to congratulate all involved.  The Theatre Royal, Bury, is very fortunate to have such a loyal and honest following!

A lot of people that aren’t involved in theatre (or panto in general) don’t necessarily appreciate how important the audience are to the production.  By that I don’t mean ‘we need the ticket sales to pay our wages’, I mean that in a panto the audience are actually a character in their own right; they have lines, they help progress the plot, they often provide a stooge (usually a chap near the front) and quite often some kids might go up on stage.  During rehearsals we leave gaps where we expect the audience to shout it’s behind you or oh no it isn’t along with various other lines but it’s never the same when it’s only the director and the deputy stage manager responding compared to the many hundreds of voices you’d usually get.  The thrill on the opening night of hearing the audience respond how and when you’d anticipated sends a lightning bolt of excitement through your veins!

In panto there are essentially 3 types of audience.  The first type is a schools show.  Before term finishes most theatres put shows on at 10:30 and 2pm (give or take half an hour) when schools essentially bus all of their pupils in.  These tend to be the noisiest shows as they are predominantly young ‘uns (think 20 kids per teacher!) and they laugh a lot at the physical comedy (people getting hit or falling over etc) plus the sillier gags usually told by the comic (Wishee Washee, Buttons, Silly Billy etc).  That isn’t to say the adults in the audience get a bum deal, as performers we don’t change anything, it’s just that the audibility of the laughter varies.  The second type is an adult audience – and by that I don’t mean we do a… *ahem* … ‘blue‘ show!  These tend to be the 7:30pm performances when it’s too late for the little kids to stay up (not many parents let their child still be at the theatre at 10pm!) so the ratio tends to be more like 3 or 4 adults per kid.  These audiences usually laugh more at the Dame’s gags, the cheeky double entendres and witty wordplay, with the comic’s bits getting less.  When I’ve been the comic before and I’ve come off after my opening spot to tell the Dame that it’s his crowd tonight and similarly (or adversely if you prefer) that he might as well not bother as they really Nancy Hill, Alan Mehdizadeh, Oliver Mawdsley, James Parkes, Chris Clarkson and Louise Olleywent for my bits!  You can generally tell quite early on in the show.  Even though both types of audience are always fun and rewarding, it’s the third type that are the best.  The perfect mixture.  When you’ve got just the right amount of kids and just the right amount of adults the show is usually at it’s best.  There is no hard and fast rule as to when these shows happen, different theatres in different towns have different demographic and different schedules so it’s always a nice surprise for us as performers.  The perfect mixture does tend to happen more often than not, though, it’s not the case of only getting one of these per run, quite often you could do a week with 13 shows in where 11 or 12 have been perfect mixtures.  There’s no science to it at all!  I want to point out that these are just my opinions, though, and are by no means definitive – there are always exceptions to the rule!

Anyway, I digress.  The Theatre Royal is just as unique as any other theatre (bit of an oxymoron, I know!) and so far we’ve had nothing but great houses.  I’m writing this between shows having already had a packed out crowd in at 10:30 this morning and before we have another load in tonight at 7:30.  I’m back in my digs, I’ve had lunch, walked the dog, done some Christmas shopping online and now I’m writing this – a productive way to spend my 6 hour gap!

We’ve had 3 reviews so far; The Grapevine, The Reviews Hub and The East Anglian Daily Times.  All have been positive and 2 say very nice things about me *blushes*.

Right, I’m going to put the kettle on and have a brew before I head back into the theatre.  Have a great weekend folks.  Oh… and don’t forget to BOOK YOUR TICKETS!!

1st Night Champagne!

(L to R): Leonie Spilsbury, Chris Clarkson, James Parkes, Oliver Mawdsley, Nancy Hill,

Alan Mehdizadeh, Louise Olley and David Zachary

Panto in Bury St Edmunds!

Well, it’s been a while since my last major post (mainly down to working lots of gigs that I had to sign non-disclosure agreementsSt Eds Cathedral for!) but now I’m back in the open and gearing right up to my next adventure – panto season!  This year is one of my favourites, too – Jack & the Beanstalk.

I’ve been in beautiful Bury St Edmunds for a fortnight now and a lot has been packed in to that time.  We’ve rehearsed and rehearsed and the panto is already looking in good shape as we move into tech week tomorrow before opening this coming Friday.  But let me start at the beginning…

I auditioned for the show back in early June time and I thrilled to meet up with director Karen Simpson again, a full 12 years since we last met when we were both still up in Yorkshire.  Karen offered me the role of Duke Box (my first King role in panto) and after reading the script I was more than happy to accept.  Having never worked in Suffolk before, in 2015 I will have hosted a black tie charity ball in Bury St Edmunds in May then spent 3 months doing rep in Southwold and Aldeburgh and now I’m back again for another 9 weeks.  I’m feeling the love for Suffolk this year!! Chester crop Fortunately I’ve got quite a few friends in Bury and they offered for me to stay with them this Christmas so I’m very lucky to have all the creature comforts I could want – including the sweetest little poodle called Chester!!

Anyway, we started rehearsals on Monday 9th November and began with a read through at the Theatre Royal (more on that wonderful place later).  I’d never worked with any of the cast or creatives before and I’d only met 2 of them briefly in the auditions back in London in June.  It was essentially a completely new company to me, something I quite enjoy but also something makes me quite nervous as you don’t have a ready-made friend from the off!  As I mentioned earlier, this is my first King-type role (having already played Princes, Comics and Dames) and it turns out that I am also the oldest cast member this year in what is (I think) my 15th panto.  There was no need for me to worry though as everyone has turned out to be really quite lovely!  I’m very lucky that I keep on getting put together with people whom I genuinely like and get on with, I’m forever counting my blessings!  So the cast includes James Parkes (Tina Trumpington), Oliver Mawdsley (Jack), Louise Olley (Jill), Leonie Spilsbury (Wendy), Alan Mehdizadeh (Ghastly Gordon), Nancy Hill (Sue Chef) and David Zachary (the Giant) plus 16 local dancing girls.  Along with our director Karen we’ve got our cracking DSM, Sam, our MD Vicky and our Choreographer Julia Cave.  All in all a fantastic creative team!

Rehearsal Room cropRehearsals have been tough but then they always are with a panto as you have a very short time to get them on their feet.  If you were putting on a musical you’d probably have at least double the amount of time to really hammer home the dance routines, the songs and the comedy (sometimes the comedy routines take the longest to make them look natural, off the cuff and downright hilarious!).  Inevitably we work long hours and really have to cram our lines into our heads when we get home.  This isn’t a whinge or a complaint, by the way, I love panto and I wouldn’t change it for the world!  I don’t want to dwell too much on the rehearsal process as I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the show but rest assured it’s been an absolute hoot in the rehearsal room – so much fun!

As I mentioned before, the Theatre Royal is a wonderful place.  Built in 1819 it is the only working Regency theatre left in the UK and as such it is the only theatre owned by the National Trust – now that should tell you how wonderful it is in itself!  It has been lovingly restored and re-opened in 2007.  I can honestly say that I have not played to a more charismatic and beautiful auditorium.  I’ve been lucky enough to work in lots of fabulous theatres the length and breadth of the UK over the years but the Theatre Royal is just enchanting.Theatre Royal BSE

So yes, that’s me for the moment.  I’m sure I’ll be writing a new post once the show has opened and I’ll post some production pics here, too.  So far I think I’ve got around about 27 friends coming to see the show over the course of the run, if you can make it then please come, too!

BSE-Beanstalk-BannerClick here to visit the Theatre Royal website (opens in new window)

Golden Square Christmas Lights 2015

I had the pleasure yesterday of hosting the Christmas Lights Switch On at Golden Square in Warrington, an event I last hosted back in 2009.  It’s always really good fun down there in the Old Market Square Chris & Warr. Wolves playersand the crowds never fail to make a lot of noise!  This year we were lucky enough to feature the new kit launch for Warrington Wolves, have performances from Britain’s Got Talent finalists Misstasia, A2AA, the cast of the Parr Hall panto, Dick Whittington, Santa (yes, the *actual* Santa himself!) and our star guest, Justin Fletcher aka Mr Tumble!

The stage show all kicked off at 6pm and positively rocketed through until the big switch on at 7pm.  All of our acts were lovely (I must say I certainly had a soft spot for Misstasia!) and really got the crowd going.  Santa invited 10 lucky competition winners up on stage and gave them all gifts before he and I had a nice bit of banter between us.

TChris and Justin Fletcherhen, with the switch on fast approaching, our headliner, Justin came onto stage and started entertaining the 3,500 strong audience.  His brand of comedy made him the perfect choice for this event and he had everyone there in the palm of his hand.  Incidentally, he was a thoroughly lovely bloke off stage, too.  Very chatty, polite and just an ‘everyday’ kind of guy.  Brilliant.

So after the lights went on and we had had a mass sing-a-long to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer I was straight back into my car and on the M6 driving back down to Bury St Edmunds where I’m currently in rehearsals for panto.  Next week I get to be part of the Bury Christmas Lights switch on but only as part of the panto company and not hosting the whole thing – much less pressure!!Chris & Justin pressing the plunger

Suffolk Summer Theatre – 8 weeks in…

Right, I’m now two thirds of my way through my contract but I’m about to go through the hardest week I’ll have here.  Out of Order has completed it’s two week run in Southwold and we’re off to Aldeburgh with it next week.  Then, a week tomorrow (Monday 24th), we open September Tide there.  First things first, though.

How The Other Half Loves ended it’s run in great style a fortnight ago.  As a cast of six and a company of nine we bonded so closely I think we were all upset that it had to finish!  Finish it did, though, and we got to open OOO two days later.  I really wasn’t sure how we’d get on on opening night as we hadn’t done nearly as many runs of it as we’d have liked but we managed to pull it off and the audience lapped it up.  We had a few minor problems on the night but nothing that the audience would necessarily have Ray Cooneynoticed (fortunately the cast and stage management team are all able to cover things up with a touch of panache!).  Over the last two weeks we’ve managed to hone the production and take advantage of some great feedback from the audience; both in terms of laughs on the night and comments in the local press or even in the local pub!  The show is now fettling fine and should go down a storm in Aldeburgh next week!  Some notable quotes from The Stage review include ‘Deftly performed, the cast keep energy levels high‘ plus ‘the characters always remain believable no matter how farcical the situation becomes‘ and on a personal note ‘Chris Clarkson is almost unrecognisable from earlier in the season.’  In fact, the writer of the play, Ray Cooney, came to see us a week last Thursday and thoroughly enjoyed it.  He even invited us all to the pub afterwards and put a tab behind the bar!  Always nice to know when you’ve impressed the writer himself!  Especially as he originally played the role I was playing…!

During the daytimes of OOO we’ve been rehearsing September Tide.  Now ST is very much a straight drama, nothing like HTOHL and a million miles away from OOO.  The cast is made up of myself, Eliza McClelland, Rosanna Miles, Michael Shaw, Harry Emerson and Jill Freud.  It’s been fab getting to know Jill (or Lady Freud as we know her!) and I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to work with her.  She’s in excellent form, particularly as she’s 88 years young!  We’ve also got a new director for it, Phil Clark, and I can honestly say his rehearsals are probably the best I’ve been in for any show in my career.  The rehearsal room is calm, enjoyable, open and just filled with an air of relaxation.  Phil has been very clear that the process for rehearsing this play (I don’t know if this is how he does it for other plays, too) should be led by us as actors playing to our natural instincts.  He doesn’t use the stage directions printed in the scripts (and rightly so in my opinion), he makes sure that we are playing the scenes in a truthful way that suit our characters, not just because we are being told to stand somewhere or walk somewhere.  It’s incredibly refreshing!  At first I thought working like this would hold us up and delay the process but it has actually done the opposite.  Yesterday we were able to do a first full run through of the play off book (ie. without using scripts) and it was wonderful.  To be in this position when we’ve still got a week to go is fantastic!  He can now look at sections of the play that need some finesse adding to them and fine tune our performances well in advance of us getting onto the set.  His positivity has been rubbing off onto all of us and that has helped us all to relax into our characters, cement our on stage relationships with each other more easily and learn our lines more quickly.  Like I said, I’ve never been in a rehearsal process like it!  I don’t think I’ve ever said this before but opening night can’t come soon enough!

I mentioned earlier that this week will be the hardest of my whole season in Suffolk and here’s why but first of all I want to clarify this isn’t a complaint, it’s merely me letting you see the other side of the theatre that you may not be aware of!  We will be rehearsing ST (a very emotionally charged play) from 10-5 everyday before jumping in the van at 6 to head 45 minutes down the road to Aldeburgh where we then perform OOO at 8pm (a play in which I drink 1½ litres of water to replace the fluids I lose through sweat!).  After that we get back in the van to come home again, getting in at around 11pm.  That’s a minimum 13 hour day (matinee days will be a touch longer).  All of this is after 8 previous weeks of similar scheduling so we’re all pretty shattered to begin with!  Like I say, I’m not moaning at all and in fact, I’m actually looking forward to the challenge of it.  I’ve always wanted to do Rep and this coming week sums up very nicely how hard actors, stage management and creatives have to work to make sure that what the public see are tight, quality and seamless productions.  The only thing I will say is that I may end up starting to drink caffeine again before the end of the week!

Finally, I want to add that I’ll be getting to see The Titfield Thunderbolt tomorrow night in Southwold being performed by the ‘other half’ of the company.  They opened last Monday in Aldeburgh and tomorrow is the only night of their run that we can watch.  As much as I love being on stage it’ll be so nice to be sat in an auditorium being entertained again!

Right, I’m off now to have a look over my script for rehearsals in the morning.  Preparation is the key.  Laters!OOO Slide

Production photos by Stephen Wolfenden

Suffolk Summer Theatre – 5 weeks in…


Simply exhausted… but loving every minute!

My first play, How The Other Half Loves has spent a week and a half in Southwold and half a week in Aldeburgh with just 7 performances left to go in the latter.  This time next week I will be frantically deletingHTOHL Champagne all my lines from my memory to create space for my final show, September Tide, to go in.  Let’s not forget that a week tomorrow I also open my second play, Out of Order, whilst all that is going on, too!  Let’s deal with them individually, though.

HTOHL has been a wonderful experience.  It’s one of my favourite Alan Ayckbourn plays and it’s produced huge challenges for the cast (see my previous blog about who’s involved by clicking here).  As lovely as the two theatres are that we are playing neither of them are renowned for their large stages.  In fact, we usually refer to them as acting on a postage stamp!  Nevertheless we’ve been able to make the show work and our feedback from the audiences has been nothing but complimentary.  We even had a 4 star review in The Stage (have a look here if you want) which we were all tickled pink by!  Southwold Theatre was a joy to play but the move to Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh was a bit of a shock.  Originally designed for concerts and where Benjamin Britten premièred a number of his works in the mid 1900’s it takes a different technique from actors to make sure we’re heard correctly.  Imagine the echoey sound in a church, that’s the kind of atmosphere it has.  It’s not a question of us belting out our lines at a greater volume, it’s more of a case of over enunciating them.  Not a problem in the main but suddenly we’re performing a play that is very settled in a slightly different manner to how we’ve been accustomed.  Again, though, audience feedback has all been fab and it’s a great space to play.

We’ve been rehearsing my second play, OOO, for 2 weeks now and we’ve got one more week to go.  We rehearse from 10 until 5 everyday before heading off to perform HTOHL in the evening.  My character is worlds aparFirst swimt from the one I’m already playing so there has been no confusion of lines… so far!  OOO is a farce and therefore in many ways it’s one big dance routine; people hiding in cupboards, climbing through windows, rushing in and out of doors, there’s underwear, wheelchairs, physical comedy and sleeping pills a plenty.  The only downside for us is that due to the rehearsal schedule we’re using we don’t actually get to run the show until next Thursday – 2 rehearsal days before we open!  Learning a show in a literal manner that relies so heavily on the physical aspects of performance is flippin’ hard!  Nevertheless, that’s what we’re doing and I have full confidence in the ability of the 9 strong cast plus our technical team to get the show ready in time.  The cast is the same as HTOHL plus Christopher Elderwood, Harry Emerson and Jim Morley.  We have a new ASM, too, called Becca.  The 4 of them have all had their evenings off as the rest of us have had to do HTOHL each night – not jealous at all!

And as for September Tide?  Well, I’m still learning OOO at the moment so it’ll have to wait – even if we do start rehearsals for it in 9 days time!

Socially it’s been a great couple of weeks.  We’ve had mini rounders tournaments the last two Sundays (it’s too wet today), had a big Chinese Takeaway night, been swimming as a group in the sea at 8am and been out for lovely bike rides to country pubs.  I know I keep referring to ‘my’ plays but that’s because there is another cRounders #2ompany here, too.  They opened Anybody For Murder on Monday and we all got VIP tickets to their big night.  It was great!  It’s a comedy thriller which has a rather ridiculous plot (don’t they all?!?) but which was played and directed with such finesse and clarity that you didn’t care a bit.  It rocketed through without taking it’s foot off the pedal and made for a very exciting night at the theatre.  I won’t lie, I did have a pang of jealousy that I wasn’t in it myself…!  Their cast of Rikki Lawton, Pamela Banks, Amy Christina Murray, Clive Flint, Harry Gostelow and Sarah Ogley all shone and fully deserve all the plaudits they get! In true rep style they are now rehearsing The Titfield Thunderbolt in the daytimes.  Honestly, it’s non stop here, y’know!!

This afternoon I made a visit to the annual FESPA Theatre Summer Fete on Raffle!Southwold Common.  Despite the torrential rain and howling winds it was great fun.  I managed to win on the raffle (both water AND wine!), I guessed the correct name of the scarecrow, I played bowling, had a go on the coconut shy (I swear the bloomin’ thing was rigged…!), made use of my refillable coffee cup and had a dance to the live jazz band.  All the proceeds go back into the theatre via FESPA (Friends of East Suffolk Performing Arts) so hopefully they’ve raised quite a bit.  I know my wallet was quite a bit lighter by the end of it all!

So that’s it really.  Plenty of other stuff happens here but I either can’t tell you about it (what goes on tour stays on tour etc!) or wouldn’t want to bore you.  I’ll write another blog when I get the chance and let you know how everything is going.  It’s not all glitz and glamour in the showbiz world when you’re working 14 hour days, you know!HTOHL Slide

P.S.  We had 2 company birthdays this week so many happy returns to Christopher and Amy!  x

Production photos by James Laws