We’re not ‘throwing in the towel’  – Tier 2 has ruined our panto plans

Behind the scenes look at Gorleston panto production of 'Mother Goose'.
Helen McDermott with some

Helen McDermott with some of the cast of a previous production of Mother Goose at Gorleston in 2012 - Credit: Archant © 2012

Under normal circumstances we’d be well under way by now with our pantomime at Gorleston Pavilion. But as we all know, the circumstances are far from normal. 

We would have had hours of rehearsals with no end of costume and scenery adjustments and by now the cast would have been a few days into a five-week run of Mother Goose. It would all be tiring but rewarding as we encourage audiences to join in the old panto traditions, yelling at the flitting ghostly figure “It’s behind you!” and being contradicted just as loudly with “Oh, no it isn’t!”

But sadly, it was not to be. As a tiny company, run and funded by only two of us, we found ourselves in the same situation as many other theatres and unable to put on our show. It wasn’t a question of “throwing in the towel” as Peter Jay of the Hippodrome suggested recently in the EDP. It was because there was no way that we could have staged a full-blown panto safely in a small theatre.

It’s not just the audience seating area; we had to consider backstage with only two dressing rooms and with a really tight squeeze in the wings there was no way that we could keep cast and stage crew safely, socially distanced.

I have to say I’m a great admirer of Peter Jay and his talented family and I’m happy to learn that they are putting on a show at Yarmouth Hippodrome this year. Of course, as ever, it will be spectacular. We would love to have joined him by staging our pantomime just down the road at Gorleston, but I’m afraid Tier 2 has knocked that on the head. Some theatres in the region are managing to put on shows over the festive period. I must say I do admire them and I envy them. I hope they do well.

Having been involved in panto for very many years I shall miss the fun of being part of a production and being taken over by the spirit of Christmas.

Of course, every year something goes wrong. When I was in my teens I was in a production of Aladdin where the chap playing Abanazar had something of a drink problem. Having had so much practice he managed to disguise it quite well, though it paid not to get too close to him on stage. But there was one important line that he managed to get wrong in pretty well every performance. Instead of “Old lamps for new,” he always came out with “New lamps for old”, which meant poor old Aladdin had to try keeping a straight face every time.

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There was quite a lot of backstage drinking in those days, now outlawed, so you were never entirely certain what some performers might say or do.

There was a fight scene where Aladdin takes on Abanazar and of course Aladdin as the hero is the winner. In the production Abanazar was supposed to “die” upstage so that when the curtain comes down we dancers could skip merrily in front of it to be in the next scene. But one night Abanazar “died” in the wrong spot and fell in front of the curtain, leaving the pianist and us to wonder how we might dance round the villain’s corpse. Eventually, he realised his mistake and slowly staggered offstage groaning: “I don’t feel very well.” The show went on.

We believe there’s a pantomime ghost in Gorleston Pavilion because every year something will go wrong. We’ve had curtains getting stuck, lights blowing, wardrobe malfunctions, and missed cues. In one production our Baron Hardup, a delightful fellow, was frequently prone to forgetting he was wearing slippers, which few people noticed but one night not only was he in the wrong footwear but his trousers fell down leaving us with a memorable end (pardon the pun) to the show.

Sadly, this year we had no show to end but we hope to be back. Meanwhile, there are more important things for us all to worry about. 
I do hope that whatever you manage to do this Christmas it is a safe one. Here’s to a happier 2021.

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