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 weeks 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.
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.
So 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 I 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!