WATCH ‘It’s just Christmas on a plate’ - backstage at the Cromer Pier Show
PUBLISHED: 10:25 24 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:27 24 December 2018
The only end-of-pier show of its kind in the world entertains and enthralls audiences every year. Jessica Frank-Keyes went backstage at the theatre to find out what it takes to make the magic happen...
On the ceiling above the stage at the Cromer Pier theatre are signed the names of cast members from over the years.
From dancers and singers, to comedians, magicians and jugglers and even TV star Bradley Walsh, it’s an irreplaceable piece of the show’s history.
And from the cast’s dressing rooms, packed with costume rails and wigs hanging from light fittings, to the side of the stage, echoing with the sound of vocal warm ups, the atmosphere is one of energy and excitement.
Lead vocalist Fiona Jessica Wilson, 46, described the show as “fast paced and fun,” adding: “It’s just Christmas on a plate.”
She said: “What’s been lovely about this cast and really struck me is that it’s a talented and lovely group.
“It’s a very friendly show.
“I’ve got a little flat up the road. We all get our own digs and there’s about four of the cast in the building.”
She added: “In this industry, we’re all trying to develop and expand our skill set all the time.
“I come in early to give singing lessons to one of the dancers, and Harvey, the other lead vocalist, is also a great dancer and he’s giving tap dancing lessons to Mark, the magician.”
Her dressing room, where she rolls out a camouflage-patterned sleeping bag for a 45 minute nap between shows, is mostly taken up with a costume rail, showcasing the Strictly Come Dancing worthy dresses worn by the singer and celloist on stage, including in six changes during just the first act.
And one flowing silver sequinned dress, from the ZARA Basic range, was even worn by judge Shirley Ballas, during a recent episode.
Dance captain, 29-year-old Gemma Foulkes, who shares a dressing room with the three other female dancers, praised the show’s freshness and originality.
She said: “I just love all the different styles we get to do throughout the show.
“From jazz, tap, and ballet, including pointe work, to musical theatre numbers, it’s always new and fresh, amazing choreography.
“This will be my third Christmas but I’ve done two summer seasons at the Pier.
“I just love it - it’s exciting still.
“We come off from one number and help to change each other really quickly, doing zips up in a line.
“We have to change our hair for every number as well.”
She added: “I’ve been dancing since I was two or three.
“I went to dance school in Southampton and trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Surrey, before going on a cruise ship to South Africa.”
It’s one example of how the Pier show brings together a diverse range of performers, from dancer Joan Lopez Santoz, from Barcelona, to singer Harvey James, originally from Kings Lynn, who lived in Germany for eight years.
He said: “I’m lucky to do a job I love that’s also allowed me to travel.”
The cast are also celebrating a brand new addition to the show team, as costumer designer Laura Whyte, from Cromer, has just welcomed her second baby.
But while some members of the cast and crew are new to the show, others can trace their involvement back over the years.
One long-standing crew member is stage manager Phil Broughton, who said his job, standing by the side of the stage throughout the performance, is “making sure everything happens correctly and at the correct time”.
And with 19 set changes to oversee and dozens of lights to get into position, ensuring everything goes off without a hitch every night can be a challenge.
He said: “We have had a few memorable things happen - it’s always more fun when things do go wrong.
“It mixes it up a little bit so it’s not so structured. You have to think on your feet more.”
He added: “My very first season here, there was a sketch with a shop window with fruit and vegetables on top of it.
“As we picked it up it all spilt and spread across the stage.
“Dancers were kicking apples out of the way and picking up the vegetables as they were dancing.”
The 29-year-old, who has worked at the Pier theatre for 13 years, since leaving school in 2005, is also responsible for lighting the show during the performance.
He said: “We’ve got four moving lights and 40 intelligent light fittings.
“It must be 100 to 120 lights.”
A day in the life of... a Cromer Pier Christmas Show dancer
Gemma Foulkes, 29, trained as a dancer in Southhampton and at Lane Theatre Arts in Surrey.
She is now the dance captain of the Cromer Pier Christmas Show dancers.
She said: “I’ve got a little cottage that I rent with one of the other dancers and we stay in the cottage over Christmas.
“I wake up around 9am or 10am and I’m quite healthy and have eggs and salmon for my breakfast before going to the theatre.
“I might go for a run or we might have a rehearsal before we start getting ready for the first show.
“Because I live so close I’ve got time to go back to the cottage for dinner in between shows, but others stay at the theatre during that time.
“We finish the show at 10pm and I get home at half past and have time to chill out, have a cup of tea and watch something on TV.
“I love the supportive family atmosphere here.”
The Cromer Pier Christmas Show in numbers
It takes a lot of work from a lot of talented people to pull the Christmas show together.
From glittering costumes, polished tap shoes and fluttering lashes, to hand-painted sets, dazzling spotlights and chorus line kicks, here’s a breakdown of the Cromer Pier Christmas Show in numbers:
• 13 children
• Six dancers
• Two vocalists
• One magician
• 172 pairs of eyelashes for the whole cast throughout the show’s run
• 156 accessories
• 87 costumes
• Five pairs of tights each
• Four pairs of dance shoes
• 1,260 taps
• 107 kicks
• 30 lifts
• 20 musical numbers
• 40 lights in total
• 30 light fixtures
• 19 set changes
• Four moving lights
• Shows are performed daily at the Cromer Pier Pavilion Theatre at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
• For tickets and more information about the Cromer Pier Christmas Show 2018, visit: www.cromerpier.co.uk