(Mother) Goose is getting ready for Christmas at Gorleston

PUBLISHED: 20:46 09 December 2012

Behind the scenes look at Gorleston panto production of Mother Goose.

Behind the scenes look at Gorleston panto production of Mother Goose.

Archant © 2012

The metaphorical sand began trickling through the hourglass last Monday and by Wednesday it will all be at the bottom - and the curtain will rise come what may.

The Christmas pantomime at Gorleston’s Pavilion Theatre is a year in the planning but rehearsals and scenery building are all sandwiched into a frenetic 10 day period.

Four days in, former Anglia star (and perennial panto fairy) Helen McDermott puts down the sandwich that is helping to sustain her through a long day - and picks up her wand.

It’s 4pm. Cue the entrance of youngsters from the June Glennie School of Dance.

It seems almost as cold in the dusty upstairs theatre room as the bleak prom outside but everyone is quickly and enthusiastically ready in their leotards.

Tony Howes (AKA Silly Billy), a seasoned pro who has appeared on such television programmes as Emmerdale and Midsomer Murders, is eager to sign off for the day with a cheerful rendition of We’re in the Money.

The right music starts to order, not from a wave of Helen’s wand but the precise instruction of stage manager Emily Moitoi-Sturman, 29, already a veteran of many pantomimes.

As Silly Billy chirpily finishes with a rousing, “I said hello everyone, you can do better than that”, Helen remarks that this year’s panto, Mother Goose, is coming together well - despite even more challenges than normal.

“The day we started rehearsals, our musical director decided he would not be able to make it,” she said.

An extra worry with snow in the forecast is that Shakespearian actor Des Barrit, her partner in Ohyesitiz Productions, is dividing his time between directing the panto and playing Falstaff on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Helen said: “It all started a decade ago when I was still working at Anglia and Des and I were in panto together at the Theatre Royal.

“After two seasons doing that, the following year I had a call asking me if I wanted to come to Sheringham Little Theatre.

“I rang Des and asked him, ‘how do you fancy coming to Sheringham and putting on a panto for very little money’. We ended up putting on Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Helen, who has a stage school background, said Ohyesitiz Productions was born out of their shared desire to keep small theatres going and keep alive the spirit of traditional pantomime.

She said: “It gives young people the opportunity to work in professional companies in small venues.

“There is so much young talent locally and a lot of the people appearing in Mother Goose are from around here. For example, Lucy Garland, who plays the Spirit of Vanity comes from Norwich and Yasmin Soraya Cocca, who plays Mother Goose’s daughter is an Oulton Broad girl.

“They don’t realise how much they are learning from actors like Des who is such a master of comedy.”

She said the Pavilion, which had become their home, was the perfect family venue with its relaxed seating around tables.

“We have lots of schools coming and for many of the youngsters it is their first introduction to theatre. It’s difficult to prise them away from their computers but live theatre is very different. We hope they will enjoy it,” she said.

Des, who does everything from writing the script to choosing the costumes and sets, said: “Up until 10 years ago, every city had its own repertory company so young people could do their training in the provinces.

“The reason we started is that we were seeing some of the big pantos starring people from sitcoms and sports personalities who could not do panto. So the productions were awful.”

On the first night he said he would be applying his toilet test.

“We have to make some changes if I see too many kids going out to the toilet,” he said.

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