Gallery: Cast of Ipswich Regent Aladdin’s best and worst panto moments
Everyone loves a pantomime, even, indeed especially, when things go awry. The stars of Aladdin at Ipswich Regent - which runs until January 2 - reveal their favourite pantomime disasters to entertainment writer Wayne Savage.
I sang to the back wall!
Disney Channel presenter and West End actress Sam Dorrance, playing Princess Jasmine, is having such fun during rehearsals it doesn’t feel like a job. But it hasn’t always been such smooth sailing.
“I was playing Wendy in Peter Pan. It was the scene where we all get covered in fairy dust and fly for the first time in the nursery. I went to the window, got hooked up on the wires, but they’d been twisted by accident. I shot up in the air and was whizzing around like (a spinning top), smashing the scenery.
“I had to sing I Believe I Can Fly while spinning around. Then, on the very last big note, I stopped turning but was facing the back of the stage,” she laughs. “The audience love it, they think it’s hilarious.
“It was horrific.”
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“There’s this one scene where we appear at the seaside and the set is these iron bars that come down the front of the stage. I’ve got this beautiful love duet but there was something sticking out the side so as the rail went up it caught the side of my dress and started taking me with it.
“On the last note of the song, I’m just about to come off the ground and pull myself free; suddenly these bars are swinging and smash one of the lights. Glass comes down and we had to stop the show. Luckily no one was on stage but we had a letter from a guy who said it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen; he loved it.”
Her main worry is being put off by the rest of the cast.
“Unfortunately I’ve told some of them I’m a giggler,” she says, as Aladdin pulls faces around a doorway. “It wasn’t a good move because now they’re going to be trying to make me corpse on stage.”
They shouted Off Off Off!
Best known for playing the foolish but hopefully loveable headmaster Mr Flatley in CBBC’s MI-High, Chris Stanton has come to love the wicked wizard Abanazar; having played him four times.
“I try to find my inner evil,” he laughs. “When I was offered the part of the baddie I thought ‘well, I’m not really Alan Rickman’...(but) I like people booing at me; it means I’m doing something right.”
His worst moment?
“The first panto I ever did I was Wishee Washee. I got the script which said ‘Wishee Washee enters, does five-minute spot, exits’. I went to the director and said ‘there’s nothing here, there’s no script’ and he said ‘oh just the usual stuff’. I said ‘what’s the usual stuff?’. They had to teach me. Pantomime scripts are quite slim because it just says ‘insert laundry routine here, sticks gag here’. There’s this great tradition of routines and gags.”
Chris hasn’t had much luck playing Abanazar.
“I think it was a school’s production where the kids had either had too much sugar and it was coming up to Christmas but they wouldn’t stop booing. It was just me on stage and I had a whole piece of dialogue and exposition. They were going ‘off, off, off’. It was very sweet and they wouldn’t stop so eventually I said ‘okay, fine you win’ and left. They went ‘yeah, we’ve won’,” he laughs. “I thought this was the only time they’ve ever defeated Abanazer.”
My co-star left me stranded
Aladdin Ciaran Joyce, probably best known to younger audiences as Lol in CBBC’s The Story of Tracy Beaker, remembers his first pantomime well. He was Dandini - “(I’m) too short to play Prince Charming,” he says - in Cinderella 10 years ago.
“The beginning (had) a big old cloth on a rig that when the music kicked in was supposed to drop out and all the company would come running to the front of the stage. I can’t remember what the song was, but it was quite soft then BANG, MUSIC, GAUZE and it didn’t drop out. We had the local dance company with us, the kids, as we have here. Bless ‘em, they’re only young they don’t really know what to (do); people who are experienced just jump under it and carry on.
“Luckily I wasn’t in the opening number but I was in the wings and saw this, we had tears and everything. I think there were a few kids in that company who will never go near a stage again.”
Anything can happen with live theatre.
“I’ve done some where people haven’t come on for their entrance, they’re in their dressing room on their phone or something, not to mention any names,” he laughs.
“There’s nothing you can do. If someone forgets their lines you can try to prompt them or wing around that, but for somebody not to come at all. He was so intergral to the scene, it couldn’t carry on without him. You’re stranded and like ‘ooh please’... When stuff like that happens five seconds on stage feels like five hours. You forget the audience don’t know something’s gone wrong...”
Paul hid in a box for an hour-and-a-half
Describing her character of Slave of the Ring as ethereal and, well, a bit out of it and dotty, Debbie McGee’s only worry is getting enough time to rehearse with the props.
“Years and years ago I was doing big panto in Bournemouth. I was fairy and had a special wand made for me that flashed and shot things out of it and whatever, but they gave it to me in the dress rehearsal so on the opening night it wasn’t my best performance but because that blooming wand was going wrong and bothering me.”
Like Dorrance, McGee’s also a real giggler; once she’s gone she’s gone - particularly if she’s in a scene with husband Paul Daniels.
“I remember Dick Whittington where Paul was Alderman Fitzwarren, every scene I had with him, he only has to look at me and I’ve gone. I played a fairy in Aylesbury and the crew did a midnight matinee panto which we went to watch. They took us off and the person that played me was a fairy in a cage that you put a coin in and it made her giggle; so that tells you of my reputation.”
She recalls one panto, before she and Daniels were married, that was a shock and a giggle. The magician was doing some shows in Germany and she was playing Maid Marian in Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood in Norwich. Halfway through, there’s a scene where McGee put the babes in a magic cabinet.
“I go to it to say ‘ooh, they’ve been in there a long time I must check on them’ and open the door and usually they’ve vanished. When I open the door, Paul stepped out. He’d come back two days early to surprise me.
“That prop had been in the wings through the whole of the first half and the interval. Some of my scenes I came on from beside it, I’d be standing chatting and he’d hid inside it for an hour-and-a-half just to play the joke on me so panto is great fun.”
The set collapsed. We could have died!
Breaking news, Britain’s Got Talent impressionist Andrew Fleming, playing Wishee Washee, is off the market.
“I’m married to a camel now,” he laughs, referring to Elvis, who joined the cast for a walk along Ipswich High Street a few months back.
Outraged by the number of companies across East Anglia also staging his favourite panto - “the swines,” he laughs; Fleming remembers a lot of things that have gone wrong over the years. There was a rather naughty tale too I’ve sworn not to repeat. He may tell the grown-ups in the bar afterwards.
“We were doing Jack and The Beanstalk and had the big wiz machine, the big payoff in the show when the Wiz gets outed. We had all these big pyrotechnics, flashes and stuff. It went bang and caught fire. We didn’t realise at first, we were just doing the scene. When we turned around the set was on fire, obviously with panto sets it’s dry wood - it went right up.
“Another time I was doing the Wizard of Oz, we got back to Kansas and there was a big barn, a wooden shack. As I started speaking one of the wires holding it together broke and the whole set collapsed and missed everybody like a Buster Keaton movie. We stood there but could’ve been killed.”
The audience didn’t get the jokes!
One of X Factor star Andy Abraham’s strangest panto memories was when he played King Crumble in Weymouth.
“They brought in French school kids from Calais or Boulogne and they didn’t get the jokes and that was making me laugh more on stage. Every time a person had a punchline I would say ‘wait for it’ and they’d say the punchline and there would be complete silence. I would be the only person cracking up and these kids are like ‘what is going here’. When it came to the music they freaked out, it was incredible; they loved it.”
It’s my first time
Town 102’s breakfast presenter Wayne Bavin plays bumbling policeman Pc Pong who spends the entire show trying to catch Aladdin, who’s a very naughty boy.
“It’s hard work, doing the breakfast show (then) rehearsals. I’m not getting any lie-ins. I’m a panto fan, I’ve been going for years with my children but this is thew first year I’ve done it. I’m absolutely loving it.
“I haven’t got any bad experiences... I’m a little nervous because I’m working with people who’ve done this before and people I respect. I’ve watched Paul Daniels on the telly for years and to be thrust into the environment where you’re working with him every day for a month is odd. I don’t want to let anybody down and I’m probably a bit of a hindrance at the moment because it’s my first one.
I’ve never made a mistake! (Famous last words)
Making his panto debut in 1988, Stephen David he’s been playing dames - the heart of the show, unlike the uglies who are nastier - since 2000. Playing Widow Twanky this time, he’s struggling to think of a particularly funny disaster.
“I think it’s called professionalism and well-rehearsed,” he says in his best recieved pronunciation.
“Did I hear professionalism,” cries Paul Daniels as he appears at the top of the stairs almost like magic.
I’m worried I’ve jinxed it and something will happen.
“Absolutely,” he laughs.
“We’ve been talking about whether we adlib, just amongst ourselves. I never adlib, never gratuitously; but if something goes wrong then I would or if somebody adlibs I may come back with a retort. The less messing about you do and the tighter its rehearsed and the closer you stick to it when you’re on stage... That’s not to say it doesn’t grow, because once you’ve got an audience you find what works and what doesn’t and then you might play with it.”
A lot of work goes into making it look like no work’s gone into at all.
“That’s the old Morecambe and Wise thing isn’t it, that they rehearsed and rehearsed.”
Enchanted Entertainment will take you on a magical carpet ride to the far east, well the Ipswich Regent, in their family pantomime Aladdin until January 3. Check out the gallery for pictures from the show. Read my interview with Grand Emperor Paul Daniels here and Kate Dodd’s review here.