CBeebies’ star Maddie Moate to play Tinkerbell in York Theatre Royal pantomime All New Adventures Of Peter Pan

Maddie Moate: CBeebies presenter, YouTube channel host and York Theatre Royal pantomime star

CBEEBIES’ favourite Maddie Moate is the first signing for this winter’s York Theatre Royal pantomime, All New Adventures Of Peter Pan.

Award-winning television presenter and You Tuber Maddie will be starring as feisty favourite Tinkerbell in creative director Juliet Forster’s production from December 2 2022 to January 2 2023.

Further casting will be announced in the coming months for the Theatre Royal’s third pantomime in partnership with Evolution Productions, after 2020’s Travelling Pantomime and last winter’s Cinderella, a show that featured another CBeebies’ star, Andy Day, and was nominated for Best Pantomime (500-900 seat category) at the UK Pantomime Association’s Pantomime Awards.

Maddie has presented the BBC’s CBeebies series Do You Know? since 2016, exploring the secret workings of everyday objects and winning the 2017 Best Presenter category at the BAFTA Children’s Awards to boot.

In addition, she has starred in the CBeebies Proms Live at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and multiple CBeebies Christmas Shows and presented the CBeebies Ballet. Elsewhere, she has hosted CBBC’s Show Me Honey, the BBC’s Springwatch Academy and CNBC’s The Cloud Challenge.

Maddie Moate: Making her York Theatre Royal debut as Tinkerbell in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan

Maddie has her own science and technology You Tube channel, wherein she takes her worldwide family audience on educational adventures and inspires them to “stay curious”. Latterly, her channel has been home to Let’s Go Live! With Maddie And Greg, her daily science show for families.

She presents and makes films for educational You Tube channels, including Fully Charged, focusing on electric vehicles and future energy, and BBC Earth’s Unplugged, where she investigates the quirks of our planet. She also appears on stage in her live science and wildlife shows for families and children.

Maddie is a patron of the Youth Stem Awards (YSA) and an ambassador for Eureka, the National Children’s Museum, in Halifax.

Welcoming Maddie to the Theatre Royal pantomime, director Juliet Forster says: “I’m delighted to be working with such a talented and much-loved CBeebies presenter. I know she will bring plenty of magic to our pantomime.”

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

CBeebies’ favourite Justin Fletcher promises fantastic family fun in The BIG Tour show at York Theatre Royal

CBEEBIES superstar and children’s favourite Justin Fletcher presents an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular extravaganza in Justin Live! The BIG Tour at York Theatre Royal on Thursday and Friday.

Over 20 years, Justin has become a TV institution, piling up BAFTA award-winning appearances on Something Special, Justin’s House, Jollywobbles, Gigglebiz and Gigglequiz, as well as providing character voices for Tweenies, Boo, Toddworld and Shaun The Sheep, latterly voicing Shaun in the Aardman movie Farmageddon. 

Tickets for his 11am and 2.30pm performances, presented by Imagine Theatre, are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Here Justin discusses his new live show and his inspirations with CharlesHutchPress.

What inspired you to make your first step into children’s entertainment?

“As a child, I used to watch Playschool with Johnny Ball, Derek Griffiths and Floella Benjamin and loved acting out the stories. During my three-year course at drama school, I was inspired by Philip Schofield and Chris Jarvis in the CBBC Broom Cupboard and thought I’d like to perform in some family theatre and television.

“I put a show reel together and managed to secure an audition for the theatre tour of Playdays, which was the show that took over from Playschool, and I landed the part of Mr Jolly. That was the very first part I played, which started my career in family entertainment.”

Who was your inspiration when growing up?

“I was very much inspired by the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. I used to watch their slapstick routines over and over again. They had such an amazing chemistry between them.

How has the world of family entertainment changed over the years and have you had to adapt your approach?

“The choice of family entertainment on television is now huge, whereas when I was a child there was a very limited number of programmes available to watch. However, having a good, strong, story-based script and engaging characters is still the key to having a successful programme.”

Although best known for your TV shows, you have produced and performed in plenty of theatre shows too. How important is live theatre for children and what do you enjoy most when playing to a theatre full of young people?

“Creating many family theatre productions over the last two decades has been incredibly important to me and hugely enjoyable. There’s nothing like performing on stage and meeting the families that support you and your television shows.

“Children’s theatre is so important, as it’s quite often their first live show experience. We’re hoping to inspire the next generation of theatregoers.”

Justin Fletcher’s map of destinations for The Big Tour

What do you enjoy about touring a live show?

“We have an amazing production team who work extremely hard to prepare the show before it goes out on the road. We’re like one big family. From the performers to the lighting and sound operators, the catering team, and the backstage crew, we’re all working together to put on the production. 

“We also support each other whilst out on the road, which is really important when you’re away from home for fairly long periods of time. Touring provides a fantastic opportunity to experience so many different towns and theatres across the country and to meet so many new friends along the way.”

How did you start the creative process for writing Justin Live! The BIG Tour show and what inspired you?

“It always starts with a storyline. Once you have that in place, I think about the music content. Music is a vital element of all my shows, and I try to write some original songs myself, as well as featuring some of the much-loved traditional songs too.”

The BIG Tour will be full of slapstick. Why is this form of comedy timeless?

“Slapstick comedy has such wide appeal. It’s great when children and their families laugh out loud watching comedy routines by performers like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s a timeless format and you can’t beat the sound of belly laughter coming from the audience from children and adults alike.”

What interactive fun and games can audiences expect in the BIG Tour show?

“When children and their families come to see my shows, I don’t try to create a show that is simply to be watched, I create a show that they can be a part of. I love audience participation and almost every song we do is interactive and we always end with a big party that everyone can join in with.”

What are your favourite songs in the show?

“I love the action songs that we usually start the shows with. You can’t beat seeing the audience join in with classic songs such as Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes, If You’re Happy And You Know It and The Hokey Cokey.

“Then, in a heartbeat, we can fill the auditorium with magical stars and all join in singing and signing Twinkle Twinkle. That’s the beauty of live theatre, you never quite know what’s coming next!”

Why should people come to Justin Live! The BIG Tour?

“It’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to tour. I can’t wait to get out on the road and to meet all of our friends once again.”

How would you sum up the show in three words?

“Fantastic family fun!”

Cinderella resumes tomorrow at York Theatre Royal after Covid forced week off

CBeebies’ Andy Day as Dandini in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

YORK Theatre Royal’s pantomime resumes tomorrow for its final run of shows after a Covid-enforced week off.

Positive tests among cast members and understudies meant the management was seeking its fourth Cinderella when the decision was made to stop the revolving door of replacements and extra rehearsals.

Now, Cinderella will be going to the ball again, extra shows and all, until January 2, and among those returning to the stage will be Andy Day’s Dandini, Faye Campbell’s Cinderella, Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and ventriloquist Max Fulham’s Buttons (along with his dummy, the cheeky monkey Gordon).

CBeebies’ presenter Andy Day had already made one appearance in York this year before Cinderella…with his band, Andy And The Oddsocks. “We did nine festivals this year – we usually do loads of shows over the festival season – and among those getting in touch was York Balloon Fiesta, where we played in late-August,” he says.

“It was one of our favourites gigs, playing next to the racecourse. I’d been to York only a couple of times before, but my dad is a massive fan of York, so he’s coming to see the panto. He’s not bothered about seeing me, just seeing York!”

Andy is performing in his sixth panto for York Theatre Royal’s pantomime partners, Evolution Productions. “The first one I did for them was Cinderella: that was the last time I did Cinderella, playing Dandini that time too, in St Albans,” he says, going on to recall making his panto debut at 21 as the Genie in Aladdin in Ilford.

Andy is synonymous with CBeebies, not only as a presenter but as an actor too. “I was very fortunate to get into kids’ TV 16 years ago. I always wanted to do that; that was my aim when I was doing stuff at the Millennium Dome and theatre in education in Italy, which I really enjoyed.

“From there, I got an audition for CBeebies, and out of 2,000 applicants, I got down to the last 11, and it just so happened I was different to the others and so I was chosen.”

His wide-eyed expressions, affability, strong singing voice and bond with children make him a natural for pantomime. “The great thing about Evolution pantomimes – and I love Paul Hendy’s writing – is that they really are a show for everyone, making it my favourite form of family entertainment, because parents can enjoy it as much as their children,” Andy says. “Good comedy, good music, something for the adults, and then there’s the magic of it all, especially in Cinderella.”

Andy has worked with Cinderella director Juliet Forster previously, having appeared in her TV production of CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, premiered in April. “They’re always great fun to do,” he says. “I’d done The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, and though I don’t class myself as a Shakespearean actor, it’s really nice to do the roles and enjoy Shakespeare – and Juliet is a real joy to work with.

“I played Lord Capulet, after I was Caliban in The Tempest: I always seem to play the slightly nasty one, whether in CBeebies’ pantos or Shakespeare! Though I was Peter Quince, one of the Mechanicals, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so that was a humorous role.”

Luton-born Andy is making his York Theatre Royal debut at 40, but where might his pantomime ambitions lead him next? “I’d love to play Captain Hook [in Peter Pan] one day. That would be my dream panto role,” he says.

Faye Campbell’s “independent, modern-day” Cinderella

Faye Campbell tweeted her excitement at returning to York today to prepare for tomorrow afternoon’s resumption of stage business. Just as she had been excited at landing the title role. “I got a first taste of working with Juliet last year when I was in the Travelling Pantomime that we took around the city.

“We did a few performances on the main stage at the start and the end of the run, putting the Travelling Pantomime set on that stage, so I have been on a ‘stage’ on that stage before!”

Faye previously did a school tour of Snow White in late 2018, in the title role. “It was similar to the Travelling Pantomime, going to community centres and primary schools for hour-long performances,” she recalls. “Now, Cinderella is my first panto on a theatre main stage.”

As a child, Faye went to pantomimes at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre (and sometimes at Birmingham Hippodrome too). “We used to go every year, and it was my first experience of theatre, as it is for many families,” she says.

“That’s why panto is so special for everyone: they go to pantomimes, even if they don’t go to anything else. Pantomime is more accessible, which I think is important.”

When Faye does not have an acting commitment, she works at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre as an usher. “For a lot of people in the industry, we can’t pretend work has not been slow or hard to get, but it’s just exciting to see theatres re-opening – and it’s very emotional for theatres to be able to present pantomimes again,” she says.

Her Cinderella fits the 21st century style of the Theatre Royal and Evolution co-production. “I’m playing her more as an independent, modern-day woman,” says Faye. “I think it’s important to represent a strong, independent woman today, with the same themes as before but with an edge to her.”

Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

Benjamin Lafayette could not have had a more contrasting start to his professional career, first making his debut in the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello at The Mill Theatre, Dundrum, South Dublin, followed by his pantomime bow as Prince Charming in Cinderella.

“This is my first time in York, my first time working with Evolution Productions,” says Benjamin, continuing the theme of firsts. “It came about through my agent. I got the call in a busy period because I’d just found out I was going to do Othello in Dublin.

“I was already packing my bags, and then my agent said, ‘Oh, I have an audition for you for a pantomime’. I’d never done a panto, but I’m the kind of person who will give anything a shot’.”

His audition negotiated successfully, Benjamin headed off to Dublin, and then briefly to York. “The launch day for Cinderella was during my rehearsals for Othello, so I flew in and out on the same day,” he says. “I’d just rehearsed Othello’s final scene, and then had to fly in and be…charming at the Theatre Royal launch!”

What an experience was in store for him under the direction of Geoff O’Keefe in Dublin. “Safe to say, I was exhausted after every show, doing two performances a day after the intensive rehearsal period,” he recalls.

There was no hiding place; there was so much to do, but it was brilliant. I’m still quite young, and playing Othello so young, at 24, was really special to do so early in my career. It was a real learning experience and I’ve really grown as an actor, realising the importance of different stage crafts.”

Performing in a cast with seven Irish actors, alongside Michael Ford from Surrey, Birmingham-born Benjamin drew good reviews – or so he was told. “I really try not to read them at the time, but from what my family and friends said, it went really well,” he says.

Benjamin completed his Othello run on October 22, and when he began rehearsals in York in November, doing pantomime initially “felt really foreign”, but gradually “the glitter of it all” took over.

“Prince Charming is seen as one of the ‘straight’ panto characters but we’ve been given licence by Juliet to have fun with our characters, which is an actor’s dream,” he says. “There are definitely moments of wanting to be part of the joke.”

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his misbehaving monkey puppet, Gordon

Plenty of the humour in Cinderella emanates from Max Fulham and his irrepressible Monkey in the ventriloquist’s York Theatre Royal debut.

Already he has a prestigious award to his name: Best Speciality Act at the Great British Pantomime Awards from his 2019-2020 season in Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. “Because of lockdown, I received that award at home, eating crisps, getting a nice little trophy,” says Max. “I was in such esteemed company: I think we beat Sooty and a dance group.”

He began doing ventriloquism – talking with his mouth closed – at the age of nine. “The puppet came first. I’ve always loved puppets, and I’m from the era where it’s not like I saw someone doing a ventriloquist act at a theatre. No, I saw a video on YouTube,” says Max.

“I typed in ‘puppet’, watched a ventriloquist, watched some more, old and new, and I became obsessed with everything, from Paul Zerdin and Jeff Dunham to the earlier talents of Arthur Worsley and Ray Alan, who was the master technique-wise. Phenomenal.”

Max first acquired a monkey puppet when he was ten. “I named him Gordon and he stayed with  me as I developed routines, starting to do children’s parties when I was 12/13, in Farnham, after we’d moved from Scotland, where I’d lived from when I was four to 11,” he says.

“I grew up there watching acts at the Edinburgh Fringe every summer, which made me think ‘I could do this’. I used to do shows for my grandmother when my parents were out at work, and I did my first paid gig for £25 when I was 12 for old people in a hall at a New Year’s party.”

Max performed his ventriloquist act throughout his school years. “Yes, of course I was seen as an oddball as I was talking to myself, though comedy is a social survival mechanism for us oddballs,” he says.

“It meant I could entertain people and I’ve always loved making people laugh. Now I can be a professional oddball, and a professional twit is a good thing to be. I like being unusual!”

Max was still in the sixth form when he did his first pantomime in 2017. “I was just turning 18, and I’d just learned to drive and had to drive from Surrey to Lincolnshire, so that was a baptism of fire, as was doing pantomime, because it’s so full-on. It’s great fun but it demands a lot of hard work,” he says.

He has performed in panto each winter since that Spalding debut, taking him to Cambridge, Bromley and the Garrick Theatre in Lichfield last year. “We managed to do our rehearsals for Jack And The Beanstalk, but saw what was developing, so we did a film version that was then streamed online when the performances were cancelled,” Max says.

Thankfully, this winter, Fulham has been able to perform to the Max in Cinderella…until the Covid outbreak in the cast intervened, but now the show can go on again in the finishing straight.

Cinderella’s remaining performances at York Theatre Royal: Thursday, 2.30pm, 7pm; Friday, 11am, 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1pm, 5.30pm. Tickets are available for all shows on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

UPDATE at 1.55pm on December 30

EVERYONE from the Cinderella principal cast is back on stage today except for Sarah Leatherbarrow. Amy Hammond, from the ensemble, will deputise as the Fairy.

Guitarist and bass player Luke Gaul is the musical director in place of Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price. Christian Mortimer, from the ensemble, is missing too. All three absences are Covid-related.

How Hayley Del Harrison brought the dance to CBeebies’ Christmas show and York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Cinderella

Cinderella choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, front, with the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble: middle row, dance captain Ella Guest, left, Thomas Yeomans and Lauren Richardson; back row, Christian Mortimer, Amy Hammond and Luke Lucas

YORK freelance choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison’s creativity can be seen at the double this festive season.

Not only has she choreographed York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions’ effervescent pantomime Cinderella, up and running until January 2, but also CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas.

Already this CBeebies Christmas show has made its cinema debut on November 28, and the TV launch on the Beeb will come rather sooner than the night before Christmas: Saturday, December 11 to be precise.

This is her second CBeebies project of the year, having worked with York Theatre Royal creative director (and Cinderella director) Juliet Forster on CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, filmed at Leeds Playhouse.

More on the Theatre Royal pantomime later, but first, Hayley, 50, recalls working on the CBeebies Christmas show from late-September through to October 10 in Plymouth, working under pandemic constraints that meant the company had to be put up in a hotel in social bubbles.

“We had the whole of the Plymouth Theatre Royal building to ourselves and the TR2 rehearsal room too,” she says.

“No-one else was allowed into the space because we knew the risk was too great. We had only that short window to rehearse it, a short window to film it, and that’s why we were so strict.

“We did it all in two weeks; the first week in the rehearsal space, and then in the second week we moved into the theatre, we teched it, and did two shows to invited audiences of schoolchildren and one without one for the couple of days of filming.”

York choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison

Hayley worked with director Chris Jarvis, a “CBeebies legend” with a theatre background, who had played Lord Montague in Forster’s CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet and has 25 years’ experience of directing, producing, writing and performing in pantomimes. This winter he is playing the dame, Betty Bonbon, in Beauty And The Beast at Poole’s Lighthouse, in Dorset.

Again the creative process was influenced by Covid strictures. “I got the songs [by Banks and Wag] and script in advance, and with everyone being so far away, we had the readthrough online, chats online with Chris Banks and a long Zoom meeting with Chris Jarvis about where my input would be, and I remember at one point jumping to my feet and saying, ‘I’m thinking of doing this’!” says Hayley.

“As the show is for young children, a lot of the choreography is designed so that they can copy it. It’s big on storytelling and simple to replicate because, once the show is on BBC iPlayer, they can watch it over and over again. These CBeebies shows are big on participation.”

Hayley worked with a CBeebies cast of 16. “I’d worked with eight of them before on Romeo And Juliet. It’s different from a theatre pantomime because it’s not like you have an ensemble,” she says.

“Everyone has their role, their unique selling point and their chance to shine, but they’re also brilliant at what they do whether as presenters or actors.  it’s been nice to get to know them over the two projects, getting an understanding of how they work and then wrapping the show around their characters to present Clement Clarke Moore’s beautiful poem.

“You’re working with characters who are much loved, so, for example, the character playing the villain has to be silly, rather than frightening, because it’s a show for two to six year olds. It means you have to be very careful; everything is more gentle but really funny.”

Looking back on her two CBeebies’ shows in 2021, Hayley says: “I feel I’ve built up a really good relationship and would love to do more of this work. Fingers crossed. 

“It already feels like being part of a family, similar to working at the Theatre Royal. When it feels right, it feels really collaborative and there’s a mutual understanding. I know how they work and they know how I work.”

CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini) with the ensemble in a song-and-dance routine from York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella, choreographed by Hayley Del Harrison

York-born Hayley’s focus then switched to Cinderella, working once more for York Theatre Royal after last year’s Travelling Pantomime (directed by Forster) and such previous productions as The Storm Whale and A View From The Bridge in 2019, For The Fallen in 2018 and In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum in 2015.

She received Paul Hendy’s script in October, when most of the music was signed off by musical supervisor James Harrison by the end of that month. “For this kind of show, the more information I have up front, the better I do my job,” says Hayley.

“I can start getting my head around it, though I do like creating in the room too. I’m up for being flexible, but I like to have a clear vision, and that’s what’s great about working with Juliet.

“Yes, she likes being creative in the rehearsal room but her vision is always clear, and because it’s clear, it gives me freedom. I understand where she’s coming from, and she trusts me.”

For Cinderella, Hayley has worked with the seven principals, a six-strong ensemble and two aerial artists, Connor and Tiffany of Duo Fusion, who take part in some of the dancing too.

“We did the auditions for the ensemble just before I went off to Plymouth, and I’ve been delighted to find such versatile performers,” she says.

“They have to do three separate dance styles: lyrical pieces; fun, comedic, highly technical jazz and tap, and work with the text.

“ I wanted everyone to bring something different to the table to ensure there were different characters within the ensemble, and we’re really happy with them. It’s not, ‘here come the dancers’; they’re very much part of the story.”

Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas premieres on December 11 and will then be available on BBC iPlayer.

CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas, choreographed by Hayley Del Harrison. Picture copyright : BBC

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on Cinderella at York Theatre Royal ****

Rev-olution: Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s ugly, brash, “aren’t-we-brilliant” sisters, Manky and Mardy, herald the new dawn for pantomime at York Theatre Royal. Oh, and yes, they are brilliant!

Cinderella, York Theatre Royal/Evolution Productions, runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THIS is a new age for the York Theatre Royal pantomime, both an Evolution and a revolution, and the earlier start and finish to the shorter production run is only part of the story.

On Tom Bird’s watch as chief executive, the Theatre Royal has decided to look to the future with a new pantomime broom ushered in by (kitchen maid) Cinderella after last year’s Covid-enforced detour into a Travelling Pantomime around the city wards.

Enough has been said of the toxic finale to Dame Berwick Kaler’s unique, unrepeatable era. Let’s focus, instead, on what’s rosy in the new panto garden, cultivated by the award-laden Evolution Productions’ partnership with the Theatre Royal.

Faye Campbell’s Cinderella and the ensemble in Cinderella

The seeds were sown with last winter’s witty, snappy, pretty, compact Travelling Pantomime, written by Evolution’s astute director, Paul Hendy, directed by Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and choreographed with bags of character by Hayley Del Harrison.

This team re-assembles for Cinderella, bringing along two of last winter’s panto players, Faye Campbell, for the title role, and Robin Simpson, who switches from dame to a rumbustious double act with big, boisterous Paul Hawkyard as scary-bikers Ugly Sisters Manky and Mardy. The beards may have gone since the press launch day, but they are still unmistakably two blokes in shock-frocks.

Forster knew they had chemistry from playing two of the Rude Mechanicals – Hawkyard was Bottom, by the way – in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s riotous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream in York. Now they form a rouge-and-ready, rowdy partnership, each as funny as the other, with fabulously over-the-top couture, and their Strictly Come Dancing send-up of clunky, hair-in-their-eyes hosts Tess and Claudia is a scream.

Max Fulham’s Buttons with his very cheeky monkey, Gordon

Campbell, meanwhile, looks even more at home on the big stage than she did in the community halls and sports centres last December, with her radiant smile, family audience appeal, sassiness, dance moves and soulful voice for Cinderella.

Appealing to families has been put at the forefront of the Theatre Royal’s panto mission, and while that might seem obvious, given pantomime’s traditional audience, it does need bolstering to build a new following. Producer Hendy and director Forster have dipped into commercial panto’s usual resources, but not in a cloying way.

Ever-so-amiable Andy Day, from CBeebies, is a canny pick for Dandini, often a straight-bat role, but here full of fizz, playful humour and natural rapport. Likewise, ventriloquist Max Fulham arrives in York with a 2020 Great British Pantomime Award in his pocket for Best Speciality Act and a very cheeky monkey called Gordon on his arm, who says everything that Fulham is thinking but wouldn’t get away with uttering.

A shoe? Bless you. CBeebies’ Andy Day, centre, with Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming and Max Fulham’s Buttons

Fulham, as fresh faced and dimple cheeked as Michael McIntyre, is a music-hall classicist yet inventive in his ventriloquism partners (not only Gordon, but a fly and a pedal bin too), and he is both quick thinking and dexterous, juggling four skills at once at one point. His Buttons shines from start to finish; a big future lies ahead of him.

Benjamin Lafayette has just made his professional bow after Mountview Academy as Othello at the Mill Theatre, Dublin. From such a heavyweight tragedy, he switches with handsome grace and charm to Prince Charming, a very contrasting role but one he plays with a lovely lightness of touch, matched by his singing.

Sarah Leatherbarrow’s forever-enthusiastic Fairy Godmother gleefully overcomes the impediment of her left leg being in a protective boot, with her rapper’s delight in her rhyming couplets, to complete a strong principal cast, highly individual yet good team players too.

Hop to it: Sarah Leatherbarrow’s Fairy Godmother, defying her protective boot

Hendy and Forster introduce a second speciality act, the Duo Fusion aerialists, to accompany Campbell and Lafayette’s romantic ballad to breathtaking effect; the climactic first-half transformation scene is spectacular, and only the opening and closing screen presence of an animal-loving, BBC Radio 2 presenter from Liverpool feels like an unnecessary concession to glitzy modern pantoland. The novel variation on the time-honoured ghost scene is far more rewarding.

Even with a running time of two hours 35 minutes (including the interval), there is not a wasted moment in Hendy’s script, with its combination of puns, social comment, romance, slapstick, knowing nods to panto tropes, crisp storytelling and sheer love of making you laugh. 

Forster’s direction enhances all these winning ingredients, full of pace, energy, visual delight and verbal dexterity, while Harrison’s choreography bursts with life, fun and even funkiness in a series of familiar pop songs, with the ensemble playing their part to the full.

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions’ producer, director and writer Paul Hendy

Musical director Stephen ‘Stretch’ Price enjoys plenty of interplay with the cast, while guitarist Luke Gaul has his moment in the solo spotlight. Helga Wood’s costumes are at their best for the Ugly Sisters, except for the wobbly hats; Phil Daniels and Michelle Marden’s set designs are solidly reliable, rather than full of inventive originality or beauty, but that is mere background detail. 

Typified by the glorious chaos of Fulham, Simpson and Hawkyard’s Disney-picture slapstick routine,  everyone is having a ball in Cinderella, setting a high benchmark for 21st century pantomime at its best.

In another break with last-night tradition, we even know the name of next year’s Theatre Royal & Evolution panto collaboration already: Peter Pan. That one will surely fly too.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Romantic pursuit: Benjamin Lafayette’s Prince Charming, accompanied by the York Theatre Royal pantomime ensemble

Who’s who in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Cinderella? Meet the cast…

O, happy Day: CBeebies presenter Andy Day will play Dandini in York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella

CBEEBIES presenter Andy Day will be joined by Travelling Pantomime familiar faces Robin Simpson and Faye Campbell for York Theatre Royal’s homecoming pantomime, Cinderella.

Presented in tandem with perennial panto award winners Evolution Productions, creative director Juliet Forster’s production will run from December 3 to January 2: an earlier start, shorter run and much earlier last night than past main-house pantos.

Day, who will play Dandini, joined CBeebies in 2007, since when he has presented animal and nature programmes, whether tackling dinosaurs, investigating baby animals and going on safari.

Sister act: After his Dame Trott in the Travelling Pantomime, Robin Simpson will be back in York as one of the sourpuss Sisters

Nominated for a Children’s BAFTA award for best presenter in 2009, he has pantomime history, appearing in the CBeebies annual televised panto, as well as playing the Genie in Aladdin, Dandini in Cinderella, Muddles in Snow White and Billy Goose in Mother Goose.

Day is no stranger to director Forster, by the way, having been in the cast for her 50-minute CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, screened on April 2 and available subsequently on BBC iPlayer.

Day fronts his own live band, Andy And The Odd Socks, who once again will be launching Odd Socks Day for Anti-Bullying Week in schools up and down the country alongside the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a charity for whom Andy is a patron.

Look who’s back: Faye Campbell moves on from The Hero in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime to the title role in Cinderella this winter

Faye Campbell will take the title role in Cinderella after playing The Hero in Jack And The Beanstalk and Dick Whittington in the Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 16 York wardslast December.

Actor-storyteller Robin Simpson will be returning too, following up his Dame Trott last winter on the back of a three-year damehood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. For Cinderella, he will form an (Ugly) Sister double act with Paul Hawkyard.

Comedian and ventriloquist Max Fulham, set to shine as Buttons, has played leading comedy roles in pantomimes throughout the UK, being voted Best Speciality Act in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards for his Washee in Aladdin at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. 

Award-winning ventriloquist Max Fulham: Making his York Theatre Royal debut as Buttons

Fulham has created his own comedy series, Drivel Pedlar, for his You Tube channel. Next summer, he will head to Australia to play Muddles in Snow White at the new Sydney Coliseum.

Forster’s cast for the first main-house Theatre Royal pantomime since the Dame Berwick Kaler reign will be completed by Benjamin Lafayette’sPrince Charming and Sarah Leatherbarrow’sFairy Godmother.

Written by Evolution producer Paul Hendy, the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella will relocate the timeless rags-to-riches story to York, as the stage “comes to sparkling life with magical transformations, glittering sets, stunning songs and side-splitting laughs”.

Sister double act: Paul Hawkyard as the other Sister, teaming up with Robin Simpson in Cinderella

Audiences should expect a ”brand-new pantomime for everyone with the promise of a truly epic spectacle and heaps of hilarity”, directed by Forster, who was at the helm of both the Travelling Pantomime’s tour of community venues and this summer’s Around The World The World In 80 Days, her circus-themed adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel that visited four York school playing fields in 16 days before a Theatre Royal finale last week.

Chief executive Tom Bird says: “We’re over the moon to be creating a spectacular new pantomime for the people of York – one that’s tailor-made for the whole family, while honouring the pantomime traditions that our audiences love so much.

“The phenomenal team will give the York Theatre Royal pantomime a new lease of life with a fresh, family friendly, fun-filled approach to the story of Cinderella, set with pride in our amazing city.”

York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and chief executive Tom Bird with Evolution Productions producer and writer Paul Hendy

Evolution Productions, started by Emily Wood and Hendy in 2005, have built a reputation for superior, bespoke pantomimes with the emphasis on high-quality production values, strong casting and highly humorous scripts. Two-time winners of Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards, they are the team behind Sheffield Theatres’ “extraordinarily successful” panto at the Lyceum Theatre.

Hendy says: “Emily and I are absolutely thrilled to be working with York Theatre Royal on Cinderella. We’re huge fans of the theatre and we’re looking forward to collaborating with Tom and his brilliant team to produce a wonderful, family-friendly pantomime with spectacular production values, a superbly talented cast and a genuinely funny script.”

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

CBeebies faves Twirlywoos are on their way to York Theatre Royal in the Big Red Boat

Twirlywoos Live!: Expect mischief, music and surprises aplenty at York Theatre Royal

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York next week on board the Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

These CBeebies TV favourites will be brought to life with inventive puppetry on stage from June 11 to 13 when mischief, music and plenty of surprises are in store for “little ones”.

For the uninitiated, the Twirlywoos are “four small, bird-like characters who are inquisitive, enthusiastic and always looking to learn something new about the world. Ever curious, they seek adventure and fun wherever they go. Whether in the real world or on their big red boat, they love to hide, imitate and be surprised as they discover fresh things”.

Twirlywoos was first broadcast on CBeebies in 2015 and celebrated its 100th episode in 2017. The series was co-created by Teletubbies devisor Anne Wood, and Steve Roberts, Wood’s co-creator of the BAFTA-winning CBeebies series Dipdap.

Inquisitive, enthusiastic and always looking to learn something new: the world of the Twirlywoos

Twirlywoos Live! is brought to the stage by MEI Theatrical, the producers behind  CBeebies favourite Sarah And Duck Live On Stage and the smash hit The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show

Written by by Zoe Bourn, whose stage-transfer credits include Thomas And Friends and Fireman Sam Live!, Twirlywoos Live! is recommended for ages 1+. Babes in arms are welcome.

Performances will be at 1.30pm and 4pm on June 11, then 10am and 2pm, June 12 and 13, with a running time of 55 minutes and no interval. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Move over football stickers! York illustrator MarcoLooks launches Print Swap for fellow artists with exhibition finale at Rural Arts

York artist Marc Godfrey-Murphy: Launching MarcoLooks Print Swap for artists on Friday

YORK illustrator, printmaker and erstwhile CBeebies animator Marc Godfrey-Murphy, alias MarcoLooks, is launching a Print Swap from Friday to bring together artists across Yorkshire and beyond.

Marc is inviting peers and fellow illustrators and artists who sell their work online – “even if it’s just an Etsy shop with two or three listings,” he says – to take part in the MarcoLooks Print Swap to share and support each other’s work.

Applications to join the Print Swap will be open from April to June. Artists involved should send Marc a batch of their prints, then in return, they will receive a selection of new prints from the other artists taking part.

To celebrate, at the end of summer, when the swap finishes, the Courthouse at Rural Arts, North Yorkshire’s only professionally run cross-discipline arts centre, in Thirsk, will be home to an exhibition of all the prints in the Print Swap. 

Marc has been selling his prints, cards and stationery items in York since 2018. Now, sensing there sometimes can be a turf war among artists who might create similar work, he felt inspired to set up the print swap to encourage and strengthen the sense of community over competition. 

“The lack of events over the past year has driven me to create something community focused for indie artists to get involved with,” he says. “It’s also my 40th birthday this week, so what better way to celebrate than all coming together to share our work with each other, and what better way to finish the swap than by showing all the prints that have taken part at the beautiful Rural Arts in Thirsk?

“I’ll be co-ordinating the print swap, so everyone taking part receives a portfolio of prints from the other artists taking part. They can hang them in their studio and hopefully be inspired by them and connect with the other artists whose work they might be unfamiliar with.”

The Print Swap is launching on April 16. Any artist can take part in the print swap, providing they sell their work either on their own website, at events, or through a platform such as Etsy or Folksy. For more information, visit Marc’s website at marcolooks.com and click on “Print Swap” from the top menu.

Here CharlesHutchPress learns more from MarcoLooks about his Print Swap.

How widely will you be spreading the reach of Print Swap?

“The MarcoLooks Print Swap is really aimed at indie artists based in the UK. That being said, I belong to a couple of international art groups, and I know that some of my artist friends from across the world would be keen to get involved.

“Leaving them out feels against the spirit of the connection and collaboration I’m trying to create. So, it will be open for anyone wishing to get involved regardless of location. I’m hoping, though, that I’ll be seeing a lot of my York-based artist friends getting involved to help represent one of the best cities in the world!”

What made you choose this model for the Print Swap: straight swaps, as with football stickers, rather than any financial exchange?

“I often swap my work with other artists. It creates a heavier sense of value on the work somehow, like it’s become more of a gift exchange, than anything to do with money. It feels more special.

“Having taken part in similar exchanges before, it’s really exciting when you look through the prints you’ve been sent and the thrill of falling in love with an artist’s work who you’ve never heard of before. It’s like a Secret Santa for art prints.

“There will be a small admin fee to take part, which largely covers return postage costs. In the past, I’ve taken part in exchanges which have charged up to £20 to get involved, but I wanted to make it as accessible as possible.

“Being a small business, I know that every expense counts so I didn’t want to create any financial barriers to stop other artists – with their own indie businesses – from getting involved too.” 

Marc Godfrey-Murphy at a York Printmakers show

On which date is your birthday? 

“I’ll be turning 40 on Thursday 15th. Eeek! I really wanted to do something special to mark the occasion, so this is it! Age is just a mindset though, right?”

What exhibitions do you have coming up this year?

“Right now, my focus is on getting back to art markets and making a success of the MarcoLooks Print Swap. I always update my Instagram with any shows that I’ll be taking part in, so be sure to follow me over there (@marcolooks) for all the latest updates from me.”

Will you be taking part in York Open Studios again in July?

“Sadly, I didn’t get accepted into Open Studios this year. The pieces I submitted ‘for the judging panel’ were from an ongoing set of monotone, abstract line illustrations based around the themes of body image and eating disorders among men in the LGBTQ+ community.

“They told me the idea didn’t feel developed enough. That feedback stung a bit, to be honest, especially considering the issue is seldom brought to the table, but hey.

“So here I am now, creating more art-based opportunities, for more artists, with no auditions. Everyone can get involved, the only prerequisite is that you are a professional artist, which, for these purposes I’m defining as you sell your work, either in an Etsy shop, somewhere else online, or at live markets.” 

What MarcoLooks works will you be looking to swap?

“Ah ha! I haven’t created it yet. I know what it’s going to be, though. The Print Swap is open until the end of June, so there’s plenty of time to get creative. Each artist will send me six copies of the same print. Five will be distributed to the other artists, with the sixth featuring in the show at the end of summer/in the autumn.”

Will works be for sale at the Thirsk exhibition?

“Yes. I’m keen to support our community of artists wherever I can, so all artists taking part will have the opportunity to sell their print. They will have their details available for anyone looking to buy more work by an artist who caught their eye. It’s going to be great!

“The exact exhibition dates are yet to be announced.”

The logo for MarcoLooks Print Swap

This is how MarcoLooks Print Swap will work: 

WHAT: The Print Swap is open to all artists within the UK. The only caveat is you must be selling your work somewhere online, either Etsy, Folksy, your own website or at markets.

ACCEPTED MEDIA: Art print. Any paper is fine. There is no theme. Your name and social media handle should be on the back of each print, so your recipient will know where to find you.

PAPER: A5 (210 by 148 mm). Printed image size is up to you. You must provide six prints. If you want to submit part of a limited edition, that is completely up to you.

THE SWAP: A portfolio of five randomly selected prints will be mailed to each participant at the end of Summer 2021 (exact dates TBC). MarcoLooks will keep one print from each participant submitted to the exchange for exhibition and promotional purposes. Participants will be notified when all print swaps have been shipped.

PARTICIPATION FEE: £6 to be paid at  https://www.marcolooks.com/pages/marcolooks-print-swap

DEADLINE: Prints and all participation fees must be received by Wednesday, June 30 2021.

EXHIBITIONS: All submitted prints will be exhibited, in the autumn, in the Courthouse at Rural Arts, in Thirsk. Additional venues and exhibitions may be added along the way…watch this space!

REPRODUCTION: All participating prints will be put in a web gallery and may be reproduced digitally to promote additional exhibitions or future exchanges. Proper credit will be given to the artist on reproduction; no monetary value will be associated with reproduction.

​IMPORTANT: All prints must conform to the guidelines. Any prints that do not fit the guidelines will be returned to the artist. *£6 GBP participation fee is not refundable.

SHIPPING: Your complete edition of six prints should be posted in a hard-backed envelope. Prints should be mailed to MarcoLooks, Blake House, 18 Blake Street, York, Yo1 8QG, along with your order number and legible entry form. Prints will not be accepted without £6 payment. Payment is due no later than June 30.

SOCIAL MEDIA: As prints arrive, Marc will be uploading images to the MarcoLooks Instagram, showcasing the variety of work and artists joining the exchange. Follow the exchange on social media: Instagram @Marcolooks. Social media savvy? Hashtag your works in progress or completed works using the hashtag #MLPrintSwap.

Romeo and Juliet Forster as York Theatre Royal creative director makes Shakespeare show with Justin Fletcher for CBeebies

From Mr Tumble to…Peter the Clown in Romeo And Juliet: Justin Fletcher does Shakespeare for CBeebies. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

JULIET Forster has cut it as a director of Romeo And Juliet many times. Now she has sliced Shakespeare’s “two the two hours’ traffic of our stage” to 45 minutes, maybe 50, for CBeebies’ show tomorrow morning.

“I did joke about that at rehearsals because my previous production, at Blenheim Palace, ran to three hours and 15 minutes,” says Juliet, York Theatre Royal’s creative director.

She had been lined up for the children’s television production as long ago as December 2019. “Anna Perowne, who has produced the performance, had newly taken over BBC Shakespeare, having worked previously for the Royal Shakespeare Company,” says Juliet.

“It was partly that thing of a new producer looking at it in a new way, wanting to work with a director who would allow more input from the actors.

Evie Pickerill as Juliet in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet, Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

“She’d found the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre production of Romeo And Juliet I’d just done at Blenheim that summer, and when we met, we got on immediately. Then, put that together with the fact I’ve done a lot of children’s theatre and plenty of Shakespeare.”

The list runs deep for Romeo And Juliet alone. “In 2005, I did a Family Day at the RSC with children and parents taking part in a Shakespeare workshop,” says Juliet. “I’ve done an interactive version of Romeo And Juliet with some very young children and a youth theatre version at York Theatre Royal.

“I’ve adapted it for five to seven year olds in a way for them to tell the story; I adapted it for a Pilot Theatre production and I’ve directed it with a teenage cast in a play-in-a-week school project I ran with my old company years and years ago in the Midlands.”

Who better, then, to direct yet another variation on Shakespeare’s tragic story of young love and feuding families than Juliet? “We were supposed to record it last May, but the pandemic delayed it until we could kick off working on it again in December,” she says.

Zach Wyatt as Romeo in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet combines Shakespeare’s characters with the additional roles of William Shakespeare himself and a librarian. “What the producer wanted was a good cohort of recognised CBeebies faces and actors, so I watched the other two CBeebies’ Shakespeare shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, to see how they were done,” says Juliet.

“We talked about ‘why do a complicated play for such little ones?’, but then we talked about the positive messages in there: the families putting an end to their feud and the importance of not giving in to bad things too easily, instead looking to live in peace and to put a stop to the fighting.

“That made it a show very much for the CBeebies audience, in this case for two to seven year olds…though lots of older children watch it too; they just don’t admit it!”

Juliet worked with Nathan Cockerill on the script, calling on her past experiences of adapting the text. “I looked back at what I’d left in and taken out for the five to seven-year-olds’ script I wrote and fleshed it out from there, also looking at my Pilot Theatre script to see how I’d edited it down for that show,” she says.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal creative director and director of CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

“Nathan was someone who’d worked with CBeebies before, and we worked on a script knowing that Shakespeare and a companion or companions always feature in a CBeebies Shakespeare show. This time Shakespeare is much more involved.”

Juliet has directed a cast of 15, featuring such CBeebies names as Andy Day, Chris Jarvis, Jennie Dale, Gemma Hunt, Rebecca Keatley and Justin Fletcher, of Mr Tumble fame, as Peter the Clown. Zach Wyatt, from Shakespeare’s Globe, will play Romeo; Evie Pickerill, Juliet.

“We rehearsed it and filmed it at Leeds Playhouse, all done and dusted two weeks ago, with just one day of filming with three runs of the show, making it like a piece of live theatre, though we couldn’t have an audience, of course,” says Juliet.

Joining Forster in the production team were designer Rhys Jarman, renewing their creative partnership from A View From The Bridge and The Machine Stops at York Theatre Royal, choreographer Hayley Del Harrison, lighting designer Will Evans and costume designer Mary Lamb.

The Librarian and William Shakespeare in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

“We then rehearsed from March 9, five days, then four days of tech and rehearsals, then filming,” says Juliet. “It was absolutely joyful because we were always keeping the young television audience in mind, how to carry them through such a tricky story.

“To have those experienced CBeebies performers and Shakespeare actors was invaluable. They set the tone. That was part of what was interesting for me as I’ve never made anything specifically for the telly before, but at the same time thinking about making something for a live audience, though that wasn’t the case!

“What we had to do was to get the best ‘blocking’ [the cast’s positions on stage], trying to make it as right as possible for the camera, but still making it very theatrical as Shakespeare is theatre.”

CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet will be shown on CBeebies tomorrow (2/4/2021) at 9.30am and soon after on BBC iPlayer.

Copyright of The Press, York

Jennie Dale as the Nurse in CBeebies’ Romeo And Juliet. Picture: CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet

Exit the panto dame, enter Chris Hannon’s clown on a park bench in Rowntree Park

One hat, one coat, one monologue: Chris Hannon rehearsing Samuel Beckett’s First Love for the Park Bench Theatre season at Rowntree Park, York. Pictures: Northedge Photography

CHRIS Hannon’s diary for 2020 had all the makings of being a dream year for the Lunch Monkeys and Topsy And Tim actor.

It promised a TV series, a summer of open-air theatre and a winter of writing the Theatre Royal, Wakefield pantomime and playing the dame there, as he has done for the past decade.

Then the world stopped, sent into lockdown by the Coronavirus pandemic. The TV job never happened, Chris’s pencil had to cross out the summer of theatre work, and the fate of the Wakefield panto, like so many across the country, hangs in the balance.

From today, however, Chris can be found sitting on a bench every evening in the Friends Garden at Rowntree Park in York and, glory be, he will be working – performing Samuel Beckett’s monologue First Love to a socially distanced audience as part of the Park Bench Theatre triple bill  that runs until September 5.

First Love director Matt Aston working in rehearsal with actor Chris Hannon

Written in 1946 and published in French in 1970 and in English in 1973, the rarely performed First Love is a 45-minute short story of a man, a woman, a recollection, told with Irish playwright Beckett’s trademark balancing act of comedy and tragedy

The first time Chris encountered Beckett’s work was through a production of his more famous 1958 monologue Krapp’s Last Tape and he has also taken part too in a rehearsed reading of Beckett’s magnus opus, Waiting For Godot.

First Love, he suggests, feels like a young man’s version of Krapp’s Last Tape, whose elderly character is described as “slightly clownish with red nose and white cheeks”. “That’s a big part of the way Beckett writes characters: people looking back on their lives and realising that the life they lived had a comical absurdity, where they end up as sad clowns. It’s quite accessible for audiences,” says Chris.

He finds the prospect of holding the attention of an audience on his own both “exciting and absolutely terrifying”. “It’s just you on your own for an hour, which is quite daunting. On a technical level, there’s a lot of words to learn. I’ve never done a one-man show and am excited to do it.

“It’s a universal, relatable story,” says Chris Hannon of Beckett’s First Love. “The story of a young man coming of age”

“I found the text intimidating at first but as I started to pick it apart, I quickly realised that it’s a universal, relatable story. The story of a young man coming of age.”

Chris is delighted to be acting again after an enforced six-month absence and believes audiences share that feeling. “People are ready to see something live and have a shared experience,” he says.

First Love will be one of the three solo shows presented by Engine House Theatre, whose artistic director Matt Aston responded to his daily exercise around Rowntree Park by putting together the outdoor season, once the easing of Covid-19 restrictions enabled live performances in the open air.

Chris had first worked with First Love director Matt in his debut year in the Wakefield pantomime. Matt was directing, a task undertaken in recent years by Chris’s wife, Rhiannon, the head of learning and participation at the West Yorkshire theatre.

Going bananas: Chris Hannon in discussion with director Matt Aston in rehearsal for First Love

Chris had always wanted to play panto dame but imagined he was too young. “I thought you had to be a theatrical veteran to do it. I just loved it when I did it,” he says.

Now 39, the Runcorn actor does not recall seeing many pantomimes when growing up. “I have a memory of going to one panto as a child:  Peter Pan. All I can remember is the spectacle. Then, as an actor in my 20s, I saw some of the panto greats. I thought ‘that looks so much fun’ – and it is.”

He had written the first draft for this winter’s Beauty And The Beast when the pandemic took up its unremitting residence. “I write the script for the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds as well as for Wakefield. I start writing the scripts in February. It’s first draft, second draft, the rehearsal process and sorting out the music. It’s the rhythm of my year,” says Chris.

“I love panto and playing the dame. It’s become a really big part of my life. Ours is a proper traditional family pantomime. We put so much care into it.”

Dame for a laugh: Chris Hannon as Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield

If making his one-man show debut is a challenge, so too is working with children, as he did when playing Dad in the BAFTA-winning CBeebies series Topsy And Tim for 34 episodes from 2013 to 2015.  

“They wanted to get very spontaneous performances from the kids, so you would never do take after take after take. The adults would work on set with crew, then the kids would come on set – and what happened, happened,” recalls Chris, who has a three-year-old son, Ben, by the way.

“If they dropped a line, the adults had to pick it up. You had to know their lines and your lines. Scenes were never played as written on the page. You just had to keep it going. A huge amount of improvisation was involved.”

That series still brings him recognition, with parents demanding he poses for a picture with their children. “The kids are mortified by this. They don’t want a picture taken with me, so there are lots of pictures of me with unhappy-looking kids,” says Chris.

No children will be present at First Love, however. Beckett’s monologue comes with a Very Strong Language warning!

Chris Hannon performs Samuel Beckett’s First Love, August 12 to 22, at 7pm, and August 15, 4pm, as part of Engine House Theatre’s Covid-secure Park Bench Theatre season in the Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York. Tickets must be bought in advance at parkbenchtheatre.com.