ALEX Weatherhill took a call from York Stage artistic director Nik Briggs in the quietude of September.
“How do you fancy getting your dame on this Christmas,” asked Nik, having decided he would stage a pantomime at Theatre @ 41 Monkgate to close out a year blighted by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The sight of Alex in full dame attire and face paint at the October 30 photocall to launch Jack And The Beanstalk provided the answer to that request.
“Right now, I would normally be in Spain, as quite often I do a guest musical-directing spot for the Institute of Arts in Barcelona,” he said that autumn day. “I very luckily have managed to get on board to do projects there three times with their second and third-year students, then flying back to go straight into working on pantos.”
Alas, this accursed year has been different, however. No musical directing in Barcelona, nor his usual pantomime commitments for Paul Holman Associates. “I’ve been a musical director for Paul, including for pantomimes at The Carriageworks in Leeds, and then, four years ago, I made the move across to director,” says Alex.
“I directed the panto [at the Spotlight] in Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, for three years and I was due to direct Sleeping Beauty at The Harlequin Theatre in Redhill, Surrey, this winter until it was cancelled.”
Hence the September call from Nik Briggs, inviting him to make the journey from his home in Speeton, the easternmost village in North Yorkshire, on the cliff top between Filey and Bridlington, to be Dame Trott in Jack And The Beanstalk.
“I would last have been on a York stage for York Stage Musicals in Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert,” says Alex, recalling his drag-queen role as Bernadette at the Grand Opera House. “It was so much fun to do, but very intense.”
He is no stranger to wearing women’s clothing on stage. “I’ve played a lot of middle-aged ladies: the number is probably running into double figures by now, so I suppose it was inevitable I would play dame one day,” says Alex.
“But I’d shied away from it, as it’s a role unto itself, particularly here in York, with all the history of Berwick Kaler’s shows, but now I’m looking forward to it, my first time as the dame, and any trepidation will go during rehearsals.”
Reflecting on past roles, Alex says: “Everything that I’ve done has been character acting, almost trying to fool the audience so they don’t know they’re watching a man playing a woman, starting with Mary Sunshine in Chicago, where there’s no drag element to it. You are there to trick the audience. The way of becoming a woman for that role is very different from playing the pantomime dame.”
Alex has been settling on his brand of dame “who happens to be in Jack And The Beanstalk this year”. “I’m drawing on Patricia Routledge, Maureen Lipman and Julie Walters as my influences, so Nik has been writing with those influences and mannerisms in mind, and they’ll come out in my voice and movements,” he says.
Routledge crossed with Lipman and Walters? What fabulous fun awaits!
York Stage presents Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, from December 11 to January 3; show times, Monday to Saturday, 2pm and 7pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6pm; Christmas Eve, 12 noon and 5pm; New Year’s Eve, 12 noon. Box office: online only at yorkstagepanto.com. Please note, audiences will be seated in household/support bubble groupings only.
Jacob Husband, as Adam, front, Alex Weatherhill, as Bernadette, and Joe Wawrzyniak, as Tick, in York Stage Musicals’ Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, The Musical, at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Benedict Tomlinson. September 2017