Once upon a time, back in June 2012 Qdos Pantomimes launched Jack And The Beanstalk at the Novotel, Wolverhampton to be this year's 'Giant Pantomime Spectacular' at the Grand Theatre. There was a feast fit for a giant and beanstalks growing out of each table! Astoundingly at this point in the year and with only Sherrie Hewson, Keith Harris and Orville just announced, over 14,000 tickets had already been sold.
With the theatre's online social media presence as ever-growing as the Beanstalk, Facebook and Twitter hosted the announcement for another three panto stars in July. Niki Evans as Fairy Fortune, Ken Morley as King Crumble and pantomime legend Nigel Ellacott as Dame Trot. In September Nigel hosted a pantomime Race Night where pantomime horses raced around the track at the Wolverhampton Racecourse. As with the initial launch, a delicious three course meal followed! Earlier that day Nigel went to meet Tallulah the Tapir at Dudley Zoo, a friend who he has remained close to throughout the run of the show. Orville also visited the zoo with Keith to be one of the first to try out the new chair-lift. A firm favourite at the zoo, Orville was guest of honour to open their brand new offices earlier in January.
With many of the stars announced there was rising anticipation on who would be cast as this year's hero Jack. In October it was announced that West End star Ben James-Ellis would be the heartthrob hero and we met up with him at the theatre for his press day. Straight from the stage in the touring production of Dreamboats and Petticoats Ben said that that he loves panto and couldn't wait to start. "It's so festive and you become part of a really close family." You can read my full interview with Ben here.
Ken Morley got his press launch in November at Bantock House with the newly announced princess, Laine Theatre Arts graduate Sophie Brooke-Ford. There were jokes aplenty and a hilarious insight into Ken's Tipton origins!
The Grand Theatre also hosted Nigel Ellacott's Panto Roadshow teaching schools across the borough about the traditions of pantomime with Birmingham's pantomime dame Andrew Ryan. More about that can be read here.
Turning on Wolverhampton's Christmas lights this year was leading-lady Sherrie Hewson. She was joined by the Mayoress of Wolverhampton and even Spongebob Squarepants. The event was a huge success and soon afterwards Sherrie went back to London to join the rest of the cast at the rehearsal studios.
Completing the cast, the dancers were announced as Frankie Armitage, Lucian Collier, Oliver Dale, Sian Harriman, Matthew Hartley, Angela Sheppard, Bryony Thompson and Robert Tregoning. The full rehearsal process can be read at Nigel Ellacott's Dame's Diary.
The Wolverhampton Art Gallery made a giant beanstalk that was carried across town and into the theatre to be installed in the stalls foyer and wound around a post that stretched all the way up to the Grand Circle bar! The video of it's journey can be viewed here.
For Panto Day (5th December) I joined the cast in their tech-rehearsal at the theatre. This was their first day of tech-ing the panto after two days of get-in. As to be expected we had costume malfunctions, missed song cues, entrances from the wrong side but that's what rehearsals are for! All was fine on the opening night and Press Night (11th December) was a huge success.
Sherrie Hewson and Ken Morely visited the Express And Star newspaper offices and her video interview for the paper is filmed here. Christmas audiences were full of cheer and many of the cast travelled hundreds of miles after the show on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas day with their families. Their Christmas messages, including Orville's concern about what was being served up for dinner can be heard here.
There were competitions for schools throughout the panto season including the chance for two budding artists work to be turned into a Jack And The Beanstalk mural on the wall of the theatre. Kyram Stone, aged 11 from Hill Avenue Primary School and Zoe Woods, also 11 from St Dominic's High School for Girls. The winning school for growing the tallest beanstalk were St Paul's First School with a giant 165cm and they won a visit to the pantomime.
Panto Fairy Niki Evans celebrated her 40th Birthday this year whilst our hero Ben turned 24. Dancer Angela Sheppard also enjoyed a Birthday in pantoland.
On the penultimate day of shows, Saturday 19th January, dancer Sian Harriman understudied the part of Fairy Fortune in the absence of Niki Evans.
Sian Harriman as Fairy Fortune
This year the pantomime has had it's very own website and reviews have been added to the virtual beanstalk in their hundreds! Now we've reached the top and the castle has opened it's drawbridge and a very special prize is at the top! Click here to find out now: http://grandtheatrepanto.co.uk
Dancer Angela Sheppard reflects on her time in Wolverhampton: "It's been pretty hard work! Our day starts at 1:10pm to prep for the show... warm-up, make-up, hair. The dressing room has been our second home with a fridge and a kettle and it's a great social meeting point between shows. The cast are great and very easy to get along with, we have particular banter with Ken!! We have a very playful cast who are always playing jokes. My favourite part of the show is the beanstalk growing - I think it looks very real! My favourite part of the whole run though has to be having a fire alarm evacuation during the second half of the show and seeing two Teletubbies, a dame, Medieval villagers and fairy outside in the street! It was very amusing. I will be sad to say goodbye to such a beautiful theatre and such friendly staff."
Angela Sheppard and the cast outside in the rain during the evacuation.
Dancer, Matthew Hartley: "Wolverhampton, it's been a pleasure!"
Dancer, Frankie Armitage: "Thank-you to everyone at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, I've had such an amazing experience working there, such lovely people and a fantastic theatre!"
Dancer, Sian Harriman: "I've had the most amazing time in Pantoland. I've met some amazing people and will miss you all!"
Princess Apricot, Sophie Brooke-Ford: "Had the best time at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. I'm going to miss being a princess and all the wonderful people I've got to work with every day!"
Jack, Ben James-Ellis: "Thank-you to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and all the staff for making it a lovely home for the past 8 weeks! Such a friendly and warm place to work! Great to be part of such an amazing production! x"
Dame Trot, Nigel Ellacott: "Thank-you Grand Theatre and to all who look after you, it's been a fab season!"
Lady Temple-Savage, Sherrie Hewson: "Thank-you to the beautiful Wolverhampton Grand Theatre for a great panto season! Audiences were fantastic and everyone who works there are amazing, and what a wonderful cast too!"
So that's it! It's very sad to say goodbye to what has been without a doubt the most fun Wolverhampton has had at Christmas but we can look forward to Saturday 7th December 2013 where Joe Pasquale brings Sleeping Beauty to town! Tickets are already on sale and you can book here: http://www.grandtheatre.info/WhatsOn_focus.asp?ShowId=683&sC=page10
Photos courtesy of The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Nigel Ellacott, Express and Star, Scott Bird and Qdos.