The magic of pantomime came early to the children of Field View Primary School in Bilston this morning. This year's pantomime Dame, Nigel Ellacott has been busy spreading the festive cheer to schools all over the country in a tour that teaches children about the traditions of pantomime. The tour has already visited London, Bradford, Glasgow and Aberdeen and is now visiting ten local schools in Wolverhampton and the surrounding area.
After helping with the get-in (yes, I have backstage skills too) it was time for the pupils of years 1 to 6 to find their seats in the audience - the show was about to begin... but wait...! Mr Daniel, the director had a very big problem, the star act had taken ill and he had to find a... a.... oh what's the word when an actor has to take the place of another actor? "Stunt double" said one of the children, no... "Intern"... "Double act" ... we finally got to 'Understudy' and on came the suitable replacement. From then on in the children got to learn about life backstage including how to put on stage makeup and the secrets of the quick change. They were understandably impressed with a five second transformation from a Chinese Emperor to Dame Trott.
Joining Nigel for the Roadshow is pantomime legend Andrew Ryan and Musical Theatre performer Nathan Daniel. Both experienced pantomime dames Nigel and Andrew have plenty of expertise. Nathan trained at Laine Theatre Arts and has since starred in various pantomimes and toured the UK in the 50th anniversary tour of West Side Story.
Between them all they performed comedy routines, introduced familiar pantomime characters and lead everybody in an all-singing finale of My Hat Has Got Three Corners. The children learnt that the pantomime dame is always a man and that sometimes the principal boy is played by a woman - how many times have we seen Bonnie Langford as Peter Pan? There was a short interval (that's a break in the performance) and then the children were given the chance to ask some of their own questions.
Questions varied from "what's it like to be an actor?" to "how long does it take to learn a really big script?". Nigel likes about two weeks to look over his - "It's only 32 days until opening night, and even less until rehearsals I've still not had the script, I'm on edge!"
One girl told us that her favourite part was the whoopee-cousins. "They love the toilet humour, they'll laugh at almost anything, but they always love that bit" Nigel added.
Nigel is starring as Dame Trott in this year's pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. Andrew Ryan will be directing Snow White in Mansfield before starring as Mrs Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Nathan Daniel will be taking to the stage in Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.
You can find out more information about the roadshow along with heaps and heaps about Pantomime on Nigel's website (http://www.its-behind-you.com/roadshow.html) and other education events on the Grand theatre's new Pantomime website (http://grandtheatrepanto.co.uk/teachers-zone).
Nigel has been busy promoting the pantomime for the last few months - which included a trip to meet the Tapirs at Dudley Zoo, the pantomime's local partner. Nigel hosted the race night, a press event at the Wolverhampton Racecourse in September and his account of both the zoo and the race night can be read on his website, in the articles section: http://www.its-behind-you.com
The Grand Theatre have recently set up their own blog which will include all of the backstage shenanigans from the pantomime and for the productions visiting the theatre in 2013. You can read about the latest panto star Ben James-Ellis and his visit to the theatre here: http://grandbackstageblog.co.uk
If you want to book tickets to this years giant pantomime spectacular you can call the Grand Theatre box office on 01902 429212 or book via the website here: http://grandtheatre.info/WhatsOn_focus.asp?ShowId=604&sC=page46