NEILSON'S COLUMN (January 14, 2016): The spotlight's on the dotty Dames at this time of year

I've just seen the most terrific production of Peter Pan at the Devonshire Park theatre in Eastbourne.

Martyn Knight playing Mrs Smee at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne. Picture by Robert Workman
Martyn Knight playing Mrs Smee at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne. Picture by Robert Workman

The people of that town are lucky to have such a great Christmas show mounted each year by Jordan Productions.

Chris Jordan, who writes and produces the yearly event has, quite rightly in my opinion, decided to use the same Dame and comic for several years running.

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In the case of Eastbourne, it’s Martyn Knight as the Dame and Tucker (that’s his whole name) as the comic. These two are now well established in the town’s seasonal offering and it means that the audience feels a connection with them; they know them. This connection makes the job easier for the performer and for the audience. As soon as Martyn and Tucker came on stage the audience started to giggle. They felt relaxed and in safe hands.

Berwick Kaler, who appears as Dame in York, has been doing so for more than 30 years and shows no sign of quitting. Paul Laidlaw has been Daming it at the Gordon Craig theatre in Stevenage for the past 28 years and Martyn has been the Dame at Eastbourne for the past 12 years.

Panto is a distinctly local event and having the same Dame or comic appearing year after year enforces that local, community feeling.

Another panto I saw was Jack and Beanstalk at the Hawth, Crawley. It’s one of my favourite pantos and one I appeared in as Dame four years ago at The Capitol in Horsham. My daughter happened to be one of the juvenile dancers in the show but my eyes weren’t totally glued to her. The main star was Steve McFadden from EastEnders as Fleshcreep the baddie but I really enjoyed Andrew Fettes’ performance as Dame Trott and the very funny Dave Bibby as her son Billy Trott. Both of these guys knew how to play an audience and kept the production moving along nicely.

As for me, I was giving my Dame Dotty Derrier in Beauty and The Beast at the Central Theatre, Chatham, with one of the friendliest casts ever.

The set was an amazing revolve and the costumes were wonderful allowing me to have a total of thirteen costume changes during the show, ending with a six-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower perched on my head for the walk down.

Next year...who knows?

Follow Michael Neilson on Twitter @michael_neilson.

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