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I have just had a pleasant encounter with a celebrity, who is known on British television for a programme called Coach Trip, as I visited the library this morning. Yes @brendan_sheerin was in there learning his lines for his role in this years pantomime at Hull New Theatre and given that I have had some experience in playing pantomime roles I was able to talk about them to Brendan. A truly gracious and approachable man.
This though got me thinking about today’s piece: the joy of being a dame.
My first pantomine was a semi-professional affair playing alongside the wife of Martin Daniels (late magician Paul Daniel’s son). I played Sarah Spice, in Dick Whittington, a mixture of all the Spice Girls (shows how long ago this was) and a butch barmaid. The idea was to have me coming out in different Spice Girl costumes but that didn’t work. I mean, I might be skinny (for a dame) but I wasn’t that skinny!
Before I was offered the role I never thought myself of ever playing such a part. But I have to tell you, from a theatrical and performance point of view, it was extremely liberating. I was able to be so much larger than life, to truly enter into character and be someone far removed from myself. Though I have to admit, wearing high heels was painful. All I can say on that, women must have different feet and ankles to cope with those methods of torture.
A year later I played an Ugly Sister in, obviously, Cinderella. This time the comic value was pushed to the limit because I had someone I could work off. One memorable scene was a version of 12 Days of Christmas with other items such as ‘a bra that can hold three’ rather than ‘partridge in a pear tree’. There were four of us doing this song but twelve items to get through meaning we had three each all spaced four apart. The comedy came from trying to get from one end of the stage after doing your other items. So I was at number three, seven and eleven. At three I had three big bananas, huge inflatable things. I can’t remember what I had at seven and eleven but running down stage, in time, to get the three big bananas, which, being inflatable, would fly off in all directions resulted in comedy gold. Especially on one particular night I ended up with one banana under each arm and one between my legs. I would fall, purposely, off the stage (which was quite high) just to get a laugh.
These are great memories and taught me not to take life to seriously, that sometimes we have to break the mould and challenge ourselves. Up until that point all I had done was straight drama, John Arden, Shakespeare and Ionesco. Playing a dame gave me a performance freedom I never had before and I am thankful for it. Of course that was then. Performances reduced as other commitments came but it is a time I remember fondly and it is nice to draw upon such memories and write them down.