The pantomime Cinderella ran at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle until 30 December 2018.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was invited to review a performance of Cinderella. The Tyne Theatre and Opera House did not review or approve this article.
In what other type of show can you shout during the performance and boo members of the cast without running the risk of being booted out of the theatre? It’s not a proper panto if you can’t yell out lines such as ‘it’s behind you’ and get involved with an “oh yes it is” and “oh no it isn’t” argument with a character hamming it up.
The stars of Cinderella
Cinderella got the audience laughing, singing and clapping along to songs. It stars Lola Saunders as Cinderella, Charlie Richmond as Buttons, Maureen Nolan as the Fairy Godmother, Jamie Lambert as Prince Charming, Connor Byrne as Baron Hardup plus Lewis Denny as Dandini. The Ugly Sisters — named Ivana and Ivanka — are played by Jay Worthy and Gavin Ashbarry.
The show features occasional topical references to the likes of Brexit and the Big Brother television show. It has deliberately corny gags designed to prompt groans, plus jokes that are sharp and well delivered. There aren’t many forms of live entertainment that can effectively entertain three generations of audience members like a good panto.
Interviews with Cinderella cast members
After the show, I chatted with members of the cast to find out what went in to putting on Cinderella.
“Blood, sweat and tears! What you saw there was put on its feet in 11 days. It was all the right lines but not necessarily in the right order,” joked Connor Byrne.
“We started in Sunday the 25th of November and rehearsed eight or nine hours a day for the first week. Then we had one day off, when they put the set in. From then on, we’ve been working from 10 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night every day. It’s hard work. it’s really hard work. You’re never quite sure you know it, because it’s a very short time to put it up on stage. We’ve gone from rehearsing all day to rehearsing this morning, playing this afternoon and playing tonight, and we’ve got three show tomorrow, then Monday off,” explained the actor who grew up in the west of Ireland and has appeared in television shows including London’s Burning, The Bill and Inspector Morse.
Byrne, who’s appearing in his fourth pantomime, plays Baron Hardup. “He’s lovely. He’s potty. He suits me down to the ground,” said the actor of his character.
On stage in Newcastle
“I’m glad to be back in Newcastle. I work here a lot. We film The Dumping Ground, one of the television shows that I do, up here. I’m up here for six months and I’ve been doing that for 10 years, so Newcastle’s my second home. I live in London, but I’ve lived all ower the place,” said the Irishman, slipping into a few words of Geordie.
“One of the best things about this show is that the majority of the leads are all Geordies,” he commented.
But what about pantomime. What is it? I asked.
“It’s very traditional. It comes from a British music hall tradition. The biggest and most important member of the cast is the audience. It’s quite a Victorian thing. It’s full of double entrendre. The kids don’t get the slightly naughty stuff, and the mams and dads do, so there’s something for everybody. There’s a language that everyone in Britain understands when they come to a pantomime,” answered Byrne.
“Of course, kids in Britain have been going to pantomimes since they were small. So it’s a tradition that’s handed down. There’s a really thick tapestry of tradition and innovation. There’s lots of songs that people know and they try to keep it current. Two men dressed as women, not really being women but being silly, silly sort of camp men; it’s quite funny. And in this show, of course, the dames are the baddies too…it’s great fun,” commented the actor while sipping a well-deserved pint on the opening night of Cinderella’s run.
In the mood for panto
“It was really, really good. The audiences are great; they are so receptive. It’s the north; they are so much more receptive than the south,” said Maureen Nolan, who plays the role of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.
“I love this company, Enchanted, they’re so nice to work for. This cast is fantastic. I know probably everybody says that, but we’re such good friends offstage as well. We’ve had a really good time offstage as well as on,” added Maureen, who estimates that she’s appeared in ‘at least’ 25 pantomimes.
“I’ve been to Newcastle loads and got brother in laws who from Newcastle, so do love the city and Geordies. Lewis [Denny], who plays Dandini, is a local lad and he’s shown me loads too,” said the singer and actor, whose band, The Nolans, has sold more records than The Beatles in Japan.
A Britain’s Got Talent winner
Jamie Lambert, who was a winner of Britain’s Got Talent in 2014 with his band Collabro, is a local lad.
“It’s my home town and I’ve performed in this theatre before. I live in Washington with my mam at the minute, I’ve travelled up for this. It’s nice to be home,” said Jamie.
“It’s was a real pleasure for me to play Prince Charming because last year I was the beast [in Beauty and The Beast at Barnstable]. That was my first panto and it was a lot darker last year. This year I’ve got a bit of an easy job, as I stand there and sing a song, which is what I do for my career anyway,” said Jamie, before describing fellow cast members a ‘phenomenal’.
10 years of Pantomime
“Tonight I played the hilarious Buttons, the lovable character — the link between the audience and the story — the one who fancies Cinderella but ends up with nobody in the end,” said Charlie Richmond.
“This is my tenth year here at the Tyne Theatre. To be honest, it’s one of my most favourite jobs I do a year because it’s about Christmas and the kids and I get to jump around on stage and act stupid, so I absolutely love it,” commented the actor who played the role of Henry Morgan in Ken Loach’s film Sorry We Missed You, which is scheduled for release in cinemas during 2019.
After being impressed by some of Charlie’s lines, I was intrigued to know how much of the performance of Cinderella was improvised and how much was scripted.
“I add a few one-liners here and there, but I got told off today because it takes too long. We want it to be as tight as we can possibly get it. The director said to me, ‘if something funny happens and it’s there, say it, do it,’ so I’ve got the freedom. It looks as if it’s off the cuff but those routines are tightly put together and it’s well worked,” he revealed.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
My favourite part of the panto was the Geordie adaption of The Twelve Days of Christmas, which sees the characters Buttons, Dandini and Baron Hardup racing around the stage and into the audience. I was keen to know what Charlie most enjoys about performing pantomime.
“It has to be the end bit, when I get the kids up on stage. You can craft jokes until the cows come home but when you get four or five kids up on stage you divn’t knaa what they’re going to say, so it can be comedy gold. This afternoon we had a little boy who just decided to dance. Tonight, I gave a surprise to a girl and she nearly jumped out of her skin. It’s fabulous and you can’t script that,” he answered.
“I love the interaction with the audience. You take down that fourth wall. I’ve been in loads of serious plays where you’ve got to keep the boundary but with this you can just chat with the audience; bring them in and make them feel part of it,” added Charlie, who has appeared in Sting’s musical, The Last Ship.
Visitors from around the world
“We get people from all over the world travelling in. People come from Australia, America and Canada to see the show, every single year. We’re lucky here at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, because this is the oldest working Victorian Theatre in the country. We pride ourselves on doing a traditional Geordie panto every Christmas; a traditional family panto, so it’s friendly and the jokes are never crude or intentionally rude. There might be a double entendre but it’s left to the audience to make the decision whether that’s a rude joke or not. We pride ourselves on doing a good show that gets everyone involved. So it doesn’t matter where you come from in the world, I think you can come to this show and there’s a little bit of something for everybody” said the actor who plays Buttons in Cinderella.
The images illustrating this article were supplied courtesy of Enchanted Entertainment via Jam Marketing.
Stuart Forster, the author of this article, is based in the north-east of England. He was awarded the 2017 British Annual Canada Travel Award for Best Online Content and has twice been named Journalist of the Year at the Holland Press Awards. Stuart is available for freelance commissions. Feel free to make contact via this website or by calling +44 (0) 7947 587136.
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Disclosure: Stuart was invited to the press night performance of Cinderella. Oh yes he was! The Tyne Theatre and Opera House did not review or approve this article. Oh no they didn’t!