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 agreements 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!! 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!
Rehearsals 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.
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!