“If you’re blue and don’t know where to go to” – Top Hat on Tour at the Birmingham Hippodrome

TOP HAT THE MUSICAL DRESS REHEARSAL

Last night theatre-goers flocked to the Birmingham Hippodrome in posh frocks and dinner suits, “spending every dime for a wonderful time” at the special “Top Hats and Tiaras” themed opening of Top Hat.

Based on the classic 1935 RKO movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat is an Olivier Award-winning musical adapted by Matthew White and Howard Jacques. The original film was the first to have a score comprised entirely of brand-new songs by the Golden-Era master, Irving Berlin, and proved a phenomenal success, breaking box office records and inspiring new dance trends while cementing the burgeoning popularity of its songwriter and stars. Already a soaring success in its own right, the stage production is the first Irving Berlin movie to be adapted for live performance, packing out theatres and kindling a love of the songs and story in a new generation.

TOP HAT THE MUSICAL DRESS REHEARSAL

Returning to the Birmingham Hippodrome after its previous run in 2011, the show has been hotly anticipated by attendees, with many avid attendees booking their tickets many months in advance. And if last night’s smiling faces and thunderous applause are anything to judge by, it seems that it more than lived up to expectations.

The performances were top notch, with Alan Burkitt deftly capturing Jerry Travers’s cheeky charm, while John Conroy as the Hardwicks’ in cognito butler, Bates, and Sebastien Torkia as ambitious Italian fashion designer, Beddini, left the audience giggling like children. Despite a few vocal slips, Charlotte Gooch made a charismatic and beautiful Dale Tremont, expertly and energetically pulling off some very difficult dance moves. Dancing and choreography were faultless all round, and both Burkitt and Torkia delivered Berlin’s iconic tunes with pitch-perfect gusto They were helped along by an excellent orchestra (led by Jae Alexander) who alone would have made this show worth attending.

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It wasn’t just the viewers looking fabulous, either – there were some truly stunning costumes on stage. My personal favourite was a radial pleated gown in shimmering gold that made its wearer shine like a sunbeam, followed a close second by Madge’s saucy, red satin number, complete with a low, draped back and offset by a dazzling white crystal choker.

Even more striking than these, however, was the lavish yet versatile set which allowed for fluid shifts in location from New York to London to Venice. The portrayal of Jerry tap-dancing with a hatstand in the hotel room above Dale’s was particularly well-designed, using a clever trick to allow us to see both rooms side-by-side at once.

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The performance closed with an unquestionably deserved standing ovation and extra renditions of songs that will no doubt be stuck in viewers’ heads for weeks. Definitely a show worth every dime.

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Summer in Southside, Closing Weekend: Bank Holiday Jamboree

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A jamboree jam-packed with a huge range of amazing live acts, the closing weekend of this year’s Summer in Southside finished off the festival in spectacular style, with singing, dancing, clowning, acrobatics and a truly explosive finale!

The events kicked off on Saturday with Ida Barr’s Mash-Up, a hilariously bizarre blend of music hall, R&B and pantomime drag led by acclaimed theatre creative Christopher Green, while Inspector Sands‘ audio tour High Street Odyssey roamed Hurst Street and Arcadian, delving into the past, present and future of Southside with some surprising consequences.

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At 1.30, Wired Aerial Theatre presented a series of spectacular feats in Straw Dog, with two performers portraying internal conflict through a breathtaking physical struggle, inspired by a Native American saying. At the same time, Candoco Dance Company explored the themes of frustration and disappointment through two duets – Studies for C and Two for C – telling the story of a slowly stagnating relationship. Meanwhile, in Push, Tangled Feet offered a playful and touching take on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, perfectly capturing both the sheer joy and utter anguish of bearing and raising children.

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Showcasing circus skills and traditional clowning, Le Navet Bête‘s Extravaganza was a fun, family-friendly farce taking over Arcadian in between appearances by Ida Barr. In sharp contrast, the Helen Chadwick Song Theatre‘s poignant White Suit used music to tell the story of an aspiring footballer who becomes a landmine victim, highlighting people’s willingness to ignore the suffering of others rather than risk the consequences that helping out might have on their own lives.

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Throughout the day, popular arias were presented in a series of pop-up shows by Oyster Opera, while Icarus‘s beefy Rugby Player Duo wandered through the crowds on stilts, chatting to visitors, actors and volunteers alike.

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And of course, beneath the Arcadian Umbrella, the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors were on hand to chat about the shows at the Talkaoke table, hosting a series of interesting discussions with creatives and performers from Wired Aerial Theatre, La Navet Bête, Southpaw Dance Company and High Street Odyssey.

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On Sunday, High Street Odyssey, Straw Dog, White Suit and Extravaganza returned, while Talkaoke was shifted to prime position in front of the Hippodrome theatre.

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Taking over from Ida Barr, Circus Mash set up early in Arcadian, showing off some amazing circus skills and calling on audience members to participate in workshops in Float, with a great response from lots of enthusiastic kids and parents. At 2.30 and 5.30, Company Chameleon‘s Push examined the complexities of human interaction and power balances.

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At the end of the night, audiences were invited to grab themselves some gourmet hot dogs and dance to tunes chosen by Summer in Southside’s guest DJs, The Smoking Dogs, before settling down to watch Southpaw Dance Company‘s Faust. A lively reimagining of the harrowing tale of a man who sells his soul to the Devil, Faust saw the story’s arrogant scholar transported to 1920s Speakeasy, with drinking, gambling and illegitimate boxing all set to cool big band music. Members of the company moved fluidly and faultlessly across a blazing stage, performing complex stunts and energetic dance fusions all with apparent effortlessness.

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DSCF2034Finally Arcadian’s Le Truc played host to a late-night festival wrap party where the Summer in Southside team finally got to relax, enjoying a well-earned rest accompanied by more music. It was fun enough to make some of us miss the last train home….

If you attended any of the shows, please let @brumhippodrome know what you thought on Twitter using the hashtag #BHOutdoors.

Hippodrome Volunteering Opportunities – Minimum Monument & Summer in Southside

Minimum Monument

As part of its education and outreach programme, Hippodrome Plus, the Birmingham Hippodrome is offering two exciting volunteering opportunities over the summer, perfect for those with a passion for the creative arts or looking to add to their CV.

First off, from Thursday 17th July until Friday 2nd August, award-winning Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo will be working on a new public art project, Minimum Monument, in Birmingham’s city centre. Designed to commemorate the First World War 100 years on from the event, Minimum Monument will be a striking display of 5000 figures sculpted from ice, celebrating the common man and the bravery of ordinary people – not only soldiers, but also their families and all those who suffered and made sacrifices during the war.

Minimum Monument 2The finished piece will be presented to viewers in Centenary Square on 2nd August, but in order to turn the idea into a reality, Azevedo requires a dedicated team of 20 volunteers to help create the sculptures and to work alongside the exhibition production team. Volunteers will not be required to work every day, but will need to be able to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts between 17th July and the exhibition opening, and must be aged 18 or over. Those interested should fill out the online application form, or contact zaraharris@birminghamhippodrome.com for more information.

Summer in Southside

Following the exhibition, the theatre’s annual outdoor performance festival, Summer in Southside, will be making a return in three weekends packed full of short plays, dance, circus skills, live music and more. Thanks to the success of last year’s event, Summer in Southside has this year expanded from covering just two weekends, and as such, the theatre will need all hands on deck to ensure everything runs smoothly.

There are a range of roles available for enthusiastic volunteers to try out, including event promotion, stewarding and assisting artists and performers directly. In addition, all volunteers will also receive World Class Service training in Outdoor Arts and a certification of their volunteering hours. Those interested should fill out the online  application form or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. All volunteers must be aged 18 or over.

All Singing, All Dancing – 2014 at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Having ended a hugely successful 2013 with record-breaking Christmas panto attendance (over 115,000 people saw the show), the Birmingham Hippodrome is now dancing and singing its way into the new year with tons of exciting ballet and musical shows, beginning with a run of Matthew Bourne’s acclaimed Swan Lake production, which opens at the theatre tonight.

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Following several previous sell-out seasons at the Hippodrome, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is returning for a two-week run, from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 15th February. Widely considered to be a “modern-day classic”, Bourne’s reinterpretation of the original ballet sees the traditional female cast replaced by an all-male ensemble. The iconic production has so far received over 30 international theatre awards, including three Tony Awards. Said Bourne of his return to Birmingham:

Birmingham Hippodrome continues to be one of the most important dance venues in the country and has some of the best facilities for dancers.  I am privileged and thankful to have such a strong relationship with all at Birmingham Hippodrome and the audience who have been so supportive of my work and my Company.”

This current season will see the Prince played by returning dancers Simon Williams and Sam Archer, as well as Liam Mower, who will be making his debut in the role. The Olivier Award-winning Mower previously starred in the original West End run of Billy Elliot.

In addition to the main production, audience members attending on Thursday 13th February will also have the chance to see a special “curtain raiser” performance by students from Stratford-Upon-Avon College, Walsall College and Birmingham Ormiston Academy. Inspired by Swan Lake, this five-minute show will be performed by 19 students who, over the past few months, have been working closely with Dominic North, one of Matthew Bourne’s principal dancers, and Clare Palethorpe, a freelance dance practitioner. To see get a sneak preview behind the scenes of the show, check out the official Hippodrome blog.

If you’re attending the show, don’t forget to tweet @brumhippodrome about your experience, using the hashtag #BHSwans. If you’ve been lucky enough to grab yourself £5 First Night tickets, please give us your thoughts on the scheme here.

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Following on from Swan Lake, an exciting new production of Fiddler on the Roof will be showing from Tuesday 11th – Saturday 15th March. The nine time Tony Award-winning musical is amongst Broadway’s longest running shows, and is filled with instantly recognisable songs such as If I Were A Rich Man, Matchmaker Matchmaker, To Life, Tradition and Sunrise Sunset.

This latest production is directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood and stars Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky & Hutch) as Tevye, a local milkman whose traditional ideals are challenged when his headstrong daughters decide to marry for love, rather than accept the advice of Yente the Matchmaker. Glaser also featured in the 1971 film adaptation of the show, as the student and Bolshevik revolutionary Perchik. Sarah Travis is the production’s musical director and set and costume are designed by Diego Pitarch. Said Executive Producer John Stalker:

We are thrilled to welcome Paul Michael Glaser to the iconic and starring role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. It is a part he has longed to play for years and that he has chosen to realise his dream in this new production from Craig Revel Horwood for Music & Lyrics is both humbling and tremendously exciting. Musical theatre lovers the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland are in for a very special treat and we expect demand for tickets to be high”.

Tickets for Fiddler on the Roof cost £15-£37 with some £5 tickets available for those aged 16-23 as part of the First Night scheme. Please let us know if you are using the scheme. To book, call 0844 338 5000 or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

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In May, Matthew Bourne will be directing a second production at the Hippodrome, his large-scale dance spectacular, The Lord of the Flies. The production will be showing from Wednesday 14th until Saturday 17th May as part of the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014.

Presented by New Adventures in partnership with Re:Bourne, and choreographed by Olivier Award nominee Scott Ambler, the show will bring together professional dancers with young people from the West Midlands region. Professional dancers will include Sam Archer as ‘Maurice’, Luke Murphy as ‘Sam’, Dominic North as ‘Ralph’, Sam Plant as ‘Piggy’, Alastair Postlethwaite as ‘Eric’, Danny Reubens as ‘Jack’ and Dan Wright as ‘Roger’. The young cast will be unique to each venue on the production’s tour, The full cast for the Birmingham Hippodrome performance has yet to be announced. The show will also feature music by Terry Davies and set and costume design by Olivier-Award winner Lez Brotherston. Its touring directors are New Adventures principal dancers Adam Galbraith and Alan Vincent.

Tickets for The Lord of the Flies are priced at £15-£36 and can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 338 5000, or by visiting the Hippodrome’s website.

Finally, if you’re a user of the Hippodrome’s First Night scheme for 16-23 year olds, we’d love to hear your thoughts. The Hippodrome’s current First Night Bloggers have designed this quick survey to find out how you use the scheme and what shows you’d like to see more of, to help the Hippodrome to keep making things even better for you. If you have the time, please take a moment to fill it out. Thanks for your help!

I’m Dreaming of a Snow White Christmas…. The Hippodrome’s 2013 Christmas Panto

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Nothing says Christmas quite like a panto – other than, perhaps, being shocked out of your skin by a man in a Christmas tree costume, but I shall say no more on that. Packed full of magic, music and mischief, the country’s biggest and best professional pantomime never fails to leave audiences full of festive cheer, and this year was no exception.

JS26360892-6379573Beginning with the descent of a sparkling, silver-clad Gok Wan from a magic mirror suspended in the air, the spectacle was superb throughout, with vibrant, colourful costumes, expertly choreographed dance sequences and some breathtaking special effects, including an enormous, terrifying dragon from the darkest, deadliest depths of the Black Country. The show’s many sets were also incredible, seamlessly shifting from one elaborate backdrop to another.

Of course, at it’s heart, pantomime is all about the comedy, and here it was laid on as thick as Dame Nora Crumble’s make-up by Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack as the Dame and her hapless, lovesick sons Muddles and Oddjob. First and foremost a comedian, Slack really stole the show, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Birmingham Hippodrome. 23rd Sepleaving the audience howling with his slapstick and one-liners. Meanwhile ventriloquist Paul Zerdin built up the humour over longer routines, often involving a lot of audience participation, as in one almost unbearably funny scene where two viewers were called up onto the stage and left at the puppet-master’s mercy. As for the Dame herself, Wilmot excelled at the musical comedy, with a rousing number extolling local Brummie curry dish, balti, and a lovely singing voice that lent itself well to a more sentimental song about motherhood. The highlight of the show, though, was a lightning-speed musical bit packed full of physical comedy and involving all three members of the little family as well as Man in the Mirror Gok Wan: by the end of it, even Gok himself couldn’t keep a straight face, bursting into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.

snow white 2013 4Though this was his first foray into the world of acting, Gok was, as ever, charming and brilliant, showing off his moves in his own mirror-themed musical number (#FABULOUS!). Equally fabulous in her own way was Stephanie Beacham as the wicked Queen Sadista. Though perhaps not quite the fairest in the land, the glamorous villainess could certainly give most a run for their money, and of her dazzling outfits it was impossible not to be “well jeal”.

Towards the end, her transformation into the old crone was a properly spooky, Hammer-esque moment, featuring a strange,  ghostly figure floating above the stage. And as if that wasn’t enough for your Christmas ghost story fix, an appearance is also put in at one point by a mysterious headless horseman….

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Birmingham Hippodrome. 23rd SepOne general criticism is that less time was spent with the lead characters than might normally be expected, and the story itself was mostly secondary to the comic set pieces. All told, though, it mattered little, since it’s such an energetic and entertaining production that whatever’s lacking in traditional storytelling is more than made up for elsewhere. Without giving too much away, it was especially interesting to see a new take on the story’s ending with the Queen facing a rather unusual fate.

Overall then, a triumph once again. If you haven’t quite got into the festive spirit yet, then a trip to see this show should be just the ticket!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 2nd February 2014. Don’t forget to check out Gok Does Panto at 7:05pm on Monday 30th December for a look behind the scenes. You might even catch a glimpse of me at the rehearsals in the Jerwood Space in London!

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Top photo by Tal Fox. Check out her blog here.

“Delivered From Madness” – The BSA’s Equus at the Patrick Centre

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Sliding in an instant from in-depth philosophical musing one moment to total nudity the next, Equus is far from an easy choice for training, undergraduate actors, making the BSA’s recent production at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre all the more impressive.

cmsproxyimageWith professional-standard acting ability all round, the cast tackled the play’s difficult and disturbing themes with ease, gauging the tone just right and providing their characters with real psychological depth. From the beginning, the lead actors were thoroughly compelling: Harry Russell maintained a commanding presence as Dysart throughout, while Jack Whitehurst effortlessly conveyed the complex and turbulent inner life of the troubled Alan Strang.

The supporting cast, too, were excellent, with Gareth Adams and Vivian Glaskin convincingly downtrodden and desperate as Alan’s pitiable parents. Grace Bussey, meanwhile, underwent a complete transformation between her two roles as Jill Mason and the Nurse. Had the play allowed for it, it would have been great to see more from this actress, but in spite of her characters’ limitations, her talent nevertheless shone through. As Nugget and the Horseman on the beach, Mikael Froman’s energy was utterly tireless, and with the help of some beautifully made horse-head props, reminiscent of the skeleton-like structures used in The National Theatre’s War Horse, the rest of the cast joined him to create an amazingly effective herd of horses, capturing the creatures’ subtle movements and raw animal pain.

Though minimal, the set was well designed, making the best possible use of the space available which became, at various points, hospital, home, stable, beach, cinema and bus stop. Even when not performing, the full cast generally remained on stage, something which could easily have become distracting had it not been so well done.

Overall, the production demonstrated a great deal of promise, ability and professionalism from its young actors, who, based on this, should be proud of their achievements and confident about their future careers.

Feeling Festive – A Day at the Hippodrome Panto Rehearsals with Cast Interviews

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As Christmas draws ever closer, the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs panto cast is beginning to get into the festive spirit with rehearsals for the show, which will open at the Hippodrome later this month. Along with a handful of journalists, I joined a coach trip down to London for a special behind-the-scenes look at how things are going so far. Just three days into rehearsals, it’s already looking fantastic, with the promise of even more spectacle, singing and surprises still in store.

After arriving at the rehearsal space, we were first treated to a few snippets of the show, beginning with a musical number featuring John Partridge as Prince John, along with an impressive group of dancers. This first scene takes place at the beginning of Act 2, with the Prince assembling an army to go in search of Snow White (Danielle Hope), who has been captured by her stepmother, Queen Sadista (Stephanie Beacham).

The second excerpt featured the wicked Queen herself, calling upon the Man in the Magic Mirror (Gok Wan), to reassure her of her beauty after she discovers that the dashing Prince John is a long-lost childhood friend of her “uber-cute stepdaughter”, Snow. As Stephanie Beacham hammed it up as the dastardly drama Queen, Gok Wan “flew in” with perfect comic timing, interrupting her preening with deadpan put-downs.

Finally came a scene featuring our heroine Snow White, alongside the Dame’s son and secret Snow admirer, Muddles (ventriloquist Paul Zerdin). During the play, Muddles competes for Snow’s love with his brother Oddjob (Matt Slack). In the scene we were shown, Muddles uses his puppet pal to help him tell Snow White how he feels about her.

Following this, the cast gave interviews and I teamed up with Paul Hadsley from The Bridge radio in Birmingham to speak to John Partridge, Gary Wilmot (The Dame) and Danielle Hope. Transcriptions from the interviews are below. At some point, the audios should be going out on The Bridge Radio – more info on this when it arrives!

BapGXjZIYAA0kxv.jpg largeAn Interview with John Partridge

PH: You’re a serious actor who’s had many serious roles. Is this where you have some fun and let off some steam?

JP: We do have fun, but make no bones about it, panto is a very, very serious business. There are no shaky sets or dodgy costumes: this is a multi-million pound production in every sense. We play 12 shows a week, and if you didn’t have seasoned professionals who were able to handle that type of schedule….you know, we’ve got no understudies in panto so if you’re sick, there’s a problem. You have to take it very seriously. Of course there’s the winking and the nodding to the audience but everything is in it’s place. It may look off the cuff but it is rehearsed and drilled and we only have 10 days to put all of that together. It is great fun, don’t get me wrong. We all do it because it’s fun, but it is also a very serious business at the same time.

PH: So, after you’ve said all that, we know that Gok Wan will be joining you on stage. All I’ve heard so far has been fantastic praise for him, being thrown into this world for the first time, with people saying he’s doing really well. Is that right based on what you’ve seen?

JP: I think that what Qdos do so well when they put these shows together is that they make things very collaborative with everybody bringing to the table what they do best. Somebody asked me before if I had any tips for Gok and I said, “I don’t need to give Gok any tips because panto is all about making an audience feel good and that’s what Gok does for a living – he makes an audience feel good about themselves and this is no different.” Everything that each of us does individually we bring to the table here. So, you know, Stephanie’s here for your dramatic art and Gok’s here to chat to the audience. I’m here to do showstopping numbers. Everybody’s actually in their “box”, for want of a better word. He’s gonna do great, he has a natural rapport with the audience and that’s basically what pantomime is, so he’s already winning.

HK: What’s been your favourite scene to rehearse so far?

JP: Well, obviously we’re only about three quarters of the way through and we haven’t finished the end yet. I always love the end because we have a rule in panto which is that you never perfom the last scene until the first show because it’s bad luck, so that’s the first time you do it and I always love waiting for that scene because, you never know: something might go wrong in that bit. I do have a couple of scenes with Stephanie and I have to say, I’m a huge Stephanie fan. I just think that for somebody like Stephanie to be appearing in a show like this – somebody who’s been at the Royal Court, who’s been in Hollywood, who’s had such a breadth of experience on both stage and screen – for me, it is an honour to play scenes with her and I relish all the moments I have on stage with her. On the first day of rehearsals, she came in in a full-length fur and I was like, “There you go, Miss Hollywood!” A bit of Hollywood’s coming to Birmingham and I love all of that. It’s just great. And that’s the other thing, you know, ‘cos panto can sometimes get a bad rep but you’ve got celebrity Big Brother if you wish to go and die now so you don’t come and do it in panto.

HK: Obviously you’re not able to tell us everything at the moment, but have there been any big surprises reading the script? Any diversions from the traditional Snow White story?

JP: There are no big diversions from the traditional Snow White story but I love it when I get a script from Michael Harrison, because basically there’s nothing in it. You know, you get the script, and you know it’s gonna be nothing like that by the time it comes to the show, and then they start saying, “Oh, you don’t mind if they do this, do you, John?” Erm…. And, “Oh, you don’t mind if this happens, do you, John?” Hmmm… So, there are a couple of moments – and I actually will be looking forward to it – where I really send myself up, and they’re not on the page. You suddenly think, “What have I let myself in for?” But it is gonna be great!

HK: Have you done much panto before?

JP: This is my third panto, and somebody described me as a “panto veteran”, but some of these guys here have done, like, 10, 12, 13 of them so I’m still…almost virgin-like. Not quite, but almost (it’s nice to be a virgin at something at 42, that’s what I say)! But yeah, I’ve done three before and I loved all of them so I’m very much looking forward to this one. I’ve been at the Birmingham Hippodrome before: I was here in about 2005 with Miss Saigon and I was in the old theatre, way back in about ’96, I think it was, so I’m very much looking forward to coming back. It’s great to be at the Birmingham Hippodrome because they have such a great crew there, who know what they’re doing, which is great for us because when you’ve only got such a short amount of time to put a show on, it’s great that everyone else around you knows what they’re doing even if you don’t! We will, by the time we get there, but it just takes that pressure off you when you’ve got such an experienced theatre staff there looking after you. It really makes a difference.

HK: I have to ask – have you enjoyed wearing the prince costume?

JP: I love my prince costumes, even though they keep trying to push me into tights and I won’t wear ’em. I don’t like the junk on display, not at my age! But yeah, I love my prince costumes, especially my prince shoes. I’ve got fabulous shoes that are made especially for me: gorgeous, gold, high-heeled, buckle-up shoes!

HK: You’re gonna be looking for fashion advice from Gok soon!

BapE7O3IQAARGCL.jpg largeJP: (laughing) Listen, you wait till you see what he’s wearing! I won’t be taking any fashion advice from him!

PH: Just one last question: pantomime is obviously a Christmassy thing, but you’ll be carrying on past Christmas, won’t you? So how are you going to keep the Christmas spirit alive into mid-January?

JP: Darling, we wish to keep the Christmas spirit alive past January and beyond! So for us, well, I’ll just keep slapping that thigh until somebody tells me not to!

An Interview with Danielle Hope

PH: Have you been to Birmingham before?

DH: I have, I’ve been once before, we did a press launch for the show, when I went for the day there and it’s amazing. I’m really excited to be spending Christmas there. Being Northern, it’s nice for me because I’ll be halfway between home and London, which is great.

PH: Did you have any trouble finding your way around? Because I’ve heard quite a few people saying they got a bit lost.

DH: (laughing) Yes, it’s huge! All the streets are amazing but they all look the same. I was running up and down the shops and I couldn’t find anything, but two wonderful people showed me the way to the theatre, so thank you to that couple!

PH: People may remember you from Over the Rainbow, and you’ve had some serious acting roles, so is doing panto a chance to have fun and let go, or is this a big challenge itself?

DH: I think this is actually a challenge in a completely different respect because panto is such a different beast and you have to approach it in a different way. It’s on a huge scale! When I did Les Mis, for example, it was in quite an intimate space, whereas this has got to be able to read from all the way over there (gesturing far away). So yeah, it will be a challenge in a different way.

HK: Do you get much of a chance to use your lovely singing voice in this production?

DH: Yes indeed! I’m getting my Disney on! I’m gonna be singing a song that I’ve sung before and that’s all I’m saying.

HK: How are the rehearsals going so far? Is it all going well?

DH: Yeah, really well! I mean, we’re on day three and we’ve almost finished the whole thing. For me on stage there’s usually about three weeks where we move through and we’re all like “Oh gosh!”, but with this we’re on day three and we’ve nearly finished it already! It’s amazing, we’re moving so fast! And then we get a week and a half to get it all fleshed out and then we’ll go back and run it and run it and run it.

PH: Is that a normal time frame for this kind of thing?

DH: For a pantomime apparently you get about a week to a week and a half but usually for any other shows you get about three weeks so it’s all condensed.

PH: Do you think it’ll be better in the early stages while you’re still working things out or later, once you’ve perfected it a bit?

DH: I think it’s like anything – it evolves naturally, doesn’t it? I think it will develop and change but I’m quite excited about that. The more different things you find, the longer you can keep doing it.

HK: Do you have a favourite scene that you’ve worked on so far?

DH: I think all my scenes with John, my prince, are probably my favourite, when we’re dueting. It’s all very lovely and very romantic!

HK: Has he been good to work with?

DH: Oh yeah, amazing! I mean, obviously I know John from doing Over the Rainbow but getting to work with him on stage is lovely.

PH: You get to judge him on his performance! It’s your revenge! (laughter) One last thing: I just wanted to know why on the publicity pictures there’s no Snow White. Is that just because you were late or was there another reason?

BapQ0a9IcAAbnw9.jpg largeDH: It was. I confirmed a lot later than everyone else. But, you know, that’s quite nice actually. Anyway, it’s called Snow White, isn’t it? You don’t need my face! I’m pale anyway, you know. And it’ll be a nice surprise. People will be like, “Oh, Danielle Hope’s in it!”

HK: Are there any surprises to look forward to – anything we’re maybe not expecting from a traditional Snow White?

DH: Oh goodness, many! But probably different things on different nights. I’m working with an amazing team and they’re all incredibly funny. I’m just playing it straight and trying to keep a straight face but they’re all wickedly funny!

An Interview with Gary Wilmot

HK: So how have you found working on the pantomime this year?

GW: It’s fun. It’s a giggle, and it’s a great bunch of people.

HK: I’ve heard that you’re from Birmingham, so has it been good to be doing a show back at home?

GW: Well, it’s not really my home, but my mum is from Birmingham and I’ve got family who live there, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Birmingham. I’ve been to the Hippodrome lots of times, and the Alex. Years ago I did a show at the gay club called The Peacock but that’s not even there now. I went to the Studio Theatre when I was growing up. So yeah, I like Birmingham very much.

HK: You’re playing the Dame in the show. Is this your first time dressing up in drag?

GW: Erm…sort of, I’ll say yes. It’s my first time doing it in a panto. Years ago I did a sketch programme and we were all required to dress up as women from time to time, but dressing up as a Dame is different. I mean, I’ve never seen a woman dress like that before. I think of her more as a clown than a woman. But it’s not been a problem at all – in fact, the dress is surprisingly comfortable.

HK: Can you tell me a little bit more about your character? How does she fit into the story and what’s her relationship with Snow White?

GW: Yeah, Snow White doesn’t generally have a Dame in it. There isn’t one in the story but for the pantomime they’ve put one in. She’s the cook at the palace and she’s Snow White’s best friend, really. She kind of mothers Snow White a bit. She’s got two sons, and again I’ve never seen these two sons in Snow White before. The three characters are new to the show – they’re the kind of modern addition, if you like. There are a lot of characters in the show who aren’t particularly funny so the Dame comes on really to raise the comedy (there’s some laughing and complaining from other cast members in the background about this!), so that’s what I’m booked for.

HK: Do you have a favourite scene or favourite gag for your character?

Well, I’m not gonna give any gags away now but I do have a favourite one. As for scenes – well, any of the scenes where we’re all interacting. We’ve got a scene where it’s kind of got worse for the Queen and it’s a great ensemble. Everybody mucks in and it’s very, very visual. We’ve actually been rehearsing that all morning.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opens at the Birmingham Hippodrome on Thursday 19th December and runs until Sunday 2nd February, with a special, relaxed performance on Thursday 30th January. For more information and to book, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Merry Christmas!