On a warm August day, with azure skies, it seemed a little strange to be thinking of pantomime with its connotations of winter and Christmas, but that is exactly what happened in the beautiful Stanley Park, as the Grand held the annual Meet The Panto Cast event as a prelude to this year’s show, Sleeping Beauty.
This popular and fun event was hosted by Radio Wave and featured a bouncy castle/slide for the little ones and an opportunity to attempt circus skills with Blackpool Circus School. Both had a steady stream of eager youngsters, and, in the case of the circus school, some not so young participants.
Just before 1pm we were advised that the cast were about to arrive by boat. First across were the dancers, followed by Prince Charming and the Good Fairy. Silly Billy dared to be different, and crossed the lake in a giant hamster ball. Hilariously, he attempted to stand a few times, but always ended up on all fours in true hamster style. The Wicked Fairy Godmother, however, decided that as she was bad, she wasn’t going to do as she was told, so she came on foot. They then retired to the bandstand for interviews.
Prince Charming, in real life the equally charming Lewis Bradley, was my first interviewee. Fresh back from seven months performing on a cruise liner, Lewis told me that he was glad to be back on dry land. He has previously been in several pantomimes, but this is his first time at the Grand. He said that he is eager to explore Blackpool and desperately wants to go on the Pepsi Max. He is also about to open his own drama school in London, so it sounds like busy days ahead for him.
Next I met Jennifer Ellison, who will play the part of Carabosse, the wicked fairy godmother. Best known for her parts as Emily Shadrack in Brookside and Meg Giry in the film version of Phantom Of The Opera, Jennifer was a delight to interview. She told me that as a small child she adored panto. When asked if she had ever thought that one day she would be starring in them she answered that she ‘always sort of did’. In addition to rehearsals and four weeks of performing, Jennifer, who has two young sons, is expecting her third child in a few weeks’ time – that explains why she didn’t want to arrive by boat.
I then spoke to the Good Fairy, Radio Wave presenter and local girl Hayley Kay. Hayley deserved a big round of applause just for negotiating the boat in her dress. This is her third season at the Grand. In common with the others, she also adores panto and used to perform with Blackpool Youth Theatre. She told me that she considers herself to be extremely lucky to be paid for doing something that she adores.
Silly Billy, comedian Steve Royle, is in his twelfth year at the Grand. He also loves panto and the Grand Theatre. Still exhausted from his antics in the hamster ball, he remarked that as the theatre has recently celebrated its 120th birthday, it means that he has performed there for 10% of its life.
The cast were then available for photos and autographs, greeting everyone with a big smile and a few words. The afternoon ended with a fancy dress competition for the youngsters. The prize was originally a family ticket but the turnout and standard was so high, they decided to award two tickets.
Much as I don’t want summer to end, after this launch, I can’t wait for December!
Sleeping Beauty is at the Grand Theatre from Friday 5 December to Sunday 4 January. Tickets can be booked at the box office, by telephone on (01253) 290190 or via the website.
Featured image courtesy of C J Griffiths Photography.
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