The pantomime dame’s best days are behind her – oh no they’re not!

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The traditional festive character has been hitting the national headlines with suggestions the role may not be as popular as it once was but in Norwich that is certainly not the case as this year’s Theatre Royal pantomime boasts two dames on the cast list.

For Cinderella’s ugly sisters –Candy and Flossy – will both be playing versions of the outrageous character complete with a selection of crazy outfits in the festive show which started rehearsals this week and opens on December 17.

However, the show has chosen to break with some pantomime tradition and cast a male lead, Matt Milburn, to play Prince Charming but actress Michelle Pentecost will be playing Dandini.

The show’s writer and director, Richard Gauntlett, a veteran dame, will this year be playing Buttons. He said there had always been modern twists in pantomime but that traditional elements continued to be popular.

He said: “I am a big fan of traditional pantomime and I still put in the routines. Last year, we had a principal boy with a girl playing Aladdin, and we still have the dames otherwise I would be out of work over Christmas. I think traditional panto is still loved and is still done. There are a lot of modern pantomimes being performed nowadays but I don’t think they interfere with the traditional ones.”

Candy, played by Graeme Henderson, said: “Who says tradition is dead? Just come to see Cinderella and you can see the most glamorous Ugly Sisters ever. The show wouldn’t be the same without us.”

Flossy, played by Ian Belsey, added: “Exactly. Lots of people are coming to see the show. If people keep saying panto is dead, we’ll get the Fairy Godmother to cast a spell on them. Oh yes, we will.”

Soul diva Sheila Ferguson, who is playing the Fairy Godmother, said: “How can you have a pantomime without the dame? Don’t be ridiculous! Pantomime is a great English tradition.”

Today some national newspaper websites suggested there was a decline in some pantomime traditions including the dame.

It followed results from the new National Database of Panto Performance showing that Snow White – a show that doesn’t have a specific dame role – was the fourth most popular pantomime with 24 productions taking to the stage nationally this festive season.

Simon Sladen, who was involved in creating the database and is pantomime editor for The British Theatre Guide, said this did not signify the end of the panto traditions and he also highlighted that there had never been a set format for panto.

He said while Snow White did not necessarily have a dame role, many productions of the show created one. He said about 25pc of the Peter Pan productions this year had created a dame role. “Pantomime is constantly evolving and changing, and embracing change – and to me that is what is interesting about it. There has never been a set format,” he said.

The database has also shown the most popular title this season is Jack and the Beanstalk with 39 productions, followed closely by Cinderella with 38 and then Aladdin with 29.

Fourth and fifth most popular for 2013 are Snow White (24) and Sleeping Beauty (22), with Dick Whittington (18), Peter Pan (15), Beauty and the Beast (13), Robin Hood/Babes in the Wood (8) and The Wizard of Oz (3) completing the season’s top 10.

Cinderella is at Norwich Theatre Royal from Tuesday, December 17 until Sunday, January 19. For more information or to book tickets visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call 01603 630000.

Are you involved in a festive arts event? Email arts correspondent Emma Knights at emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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