There are many traditions in the theatre, some have been there since the beginning, some have come in because of certain events that happened; others are established because of great performances.
In Blackpool, the Grand Theatre pantomime has become a tradition for many. My partner and our son go every year and love it. This is due, in the main, to the great performances of Steve Royle. Year in, year out, his madcap antics elevate the production from brilliant to amazing.
So, when I heard that this pantomime performer extraordinaire would be playing the part of a music hall and pantomime genius in a new play by David Slattery, I must admit, my interest was well and truly piqued.
Dan Leno was a music hall great. Born to the boards in 1860, George Wild Galvin (real name) lived his entire life around the stage. Always popular as a performer, he got his big break as Dame Durden in Jack and the Beanstalk (1886). It was here that his genius for entertainment came to the fore and he became well known, and well sought after, as a pantomime dame. A lot of the tropes we associate with the role of pantomime dame were established by Dan Leno. He transformed the art form, but his personal life was hard. Behind the great showman there was darkness and pain.
I managed to grab a few words with the show’s star Steve Royle.
CD: You are a bit on an historian with regards to panto and the jester style of entertainment, was Dan Leno an influence for you, and if so how would you sum up his importance to the comedy industry?
SR: Not a personal influence because there is no real footage of his act but he introduced a lot of pantomime “traditions” like whigs falling off etc…
CD: So before you got this part did you know a lot about him?
SR: Not really. Although Amanda Barrie used to say I looked like him.
CD: So what attracted you to the project?
SR: Personal challenge more than anything. See if I can learn a huge script, and it’s a very good script as well. Very moving actually.
CD: It’s quite a departure for you. Normally you just get to be silly and make people laugh. How have you found the process of getting I to the head of such a troubled genius?
SR: I empathise a lot with him. Being very different off stage to the person people see on it. I’m generally a shy quiet person and I think Dan struggled with that too. Comedy, especially character comedy, is an escapism, on stage you can be the confident person you wish you were in the real world. That said, trying to understand and act like I have severe mental problems is very hard.
CD: So, sell the show to me, why should everybody but up every single ticket?
SR: Because it’s a moving tale combined with some classic comedy. At a time when mental health issues are prevalent it’s a good time to see how even the most successful entertainers of their generation (Dan not me) have struggles. And because I’ve spent months rehearsing!
I will not spoil it any further, you’ve got see it.
The show runs Wednesday 18 to Sunday 22 July at the Wesley Hall Theatre, Methodist Church, Park & Westby St, Lytham FY8 5LU. Evenings Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30pm. Matinees Friday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets from £8. Tickets are available online via Ticketsource.
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