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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.”
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.
Luke had been playing Tootles in OVO and Maltings Theatre’s Peter Pan – the play, not the pantomime – at the Alban Arena, St Albans, when Hertfordshire’s move into Tier 3 status put paid to that show on December 19 after eight out of 38 performances.
A London production of the award-winning Oh No It Isn’t! had to be called off too. “It was going to have a short run at The Library Theatre in Crystal Palace, a new venue that my friend Joe [co-producer Joseph Lindoe] and I have instigated at the Upper Norwood Library Hub,” says Luke.
“We were supposed to launch the venue in March last year but… well, you know, we’re hopeful to get a full theatre programme up and running there as soon as Covid allows.
“But with the Oh No It Isn’t! run cut off by Covid, we worked our little Christmas socks off to live-stream the piece to YouTube instead.”
Luke’s prior commitment to playing Tootles in St Albans had necessitated employing John Gregor and Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare’s Robbie Capaldi – Luke’s co-star in performances at York Theatre Royal Studio in April 2019 – for the Crystal Palace show.
“I directed the live-stream performance, which we shot there using the library’s live-streaming capability and some equipment hired in at great personal expense,” he says.
Based in London since his drama-school days at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in Wandsworth, Selby-born Luke had returned north to play villainous David Leonard’s daft sidekick Useless Eustace in York Theatre Royal’s Jack And The Beanstalk in 2017/2018: a performance that brought him a Great British Pantomime Award nomination no less.
Earlier, he had first appeared in Dame Berwick Kaler’s Theatre Royal pantomimes as a bairn during his Selby childhood, as well as in amateur pantos in Thorpe Willoughby.
Luke drew on those panto experiences, on stage and backstage, to write Oh No It Isn’t!, his humorous and moving account of “the best of [Ugly] sisters on stage but the worst of friends off it”.
“The play is set at the final performance of Cinderella in a moth-eaten regional theatre, where backstage tensions threaten to boil over on stage,” he says. “Will the egotism, one-upmanship and sexual politics remain confined to the dressing room?
“Will the ugly sisters keep the professional professional and the personal personal? Will we ever find out what happened during Babes In The Wood?”
Oh No It Isn’t! explores the highs and lows of life in the theatre. “Using real anecdotes and stories, it’s an impassioned yet tender love letter to the world of performance,” says Luke.
“It’s something that had been in my head for a while: writing a play set on and off stage, with the dynamic of the calm, graceful swan on stage and the feet paddling frantically off stage to keep everything afloat.
“I wanted to show the effect of the trials and tribulations that go into creating a show. Within three weeks, I wrote it, we rehearsed it and put it on stage, and we ended up getting five-star reviews.”
Oh No It Isn’t! is complemented by three shorter films so far: Five Minutes With Fanny (in reality 15 minutes!); Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge (15 minutes) and Radio Lifebuoy FM (30 minutes).
“I did them pretty much single-handedly,” says Luke. “Having done a diploma in media production at Selby College, I had all the required technical abilities. I’ve been writing scripts since 2010 and acting since, well, forever! So, it was just a case of putting it all together.
“I used my girlfriend’s Canon DSLR to shoot the video; a Zoom H1N recording device to record the audio, and edited it all together on Final Cut Pro. So far, I’ve shot most of them in or around my flat due to lockdown but did manage to shoot Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge on Waterloo Bridge one night before Christmas.”
Luke was able to call on assistance from friends. “Joe was my cameraman and security on Waterloo Bridge and I’ve used music written by my friend and actor Dan Bottomley,” he says. “I’ve also featured small performances from other friends, such as Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter [York musical double act Fladam] in Radio Lifebuoy FM.”
Five Minutes With Fanny introduces the unsuspecting world to Fanny Wood and her world of Wetherspoons, gender politics and Only Fans. “You discover how she came to be, in this adults-only piece inspired by stories from real Only Fans models,” says Luke, who plays Fanny.
“This 15-minute monologue inspired by Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads gives you a funny, sometimes dark peek into the life of a very unique person.”
In Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge, high-flying city boy Lee takes up his annual vigil on Waterloo Bridge on Christmas Eve, having escaped the office Christmas party.
“Overlooking the late-night lights of London, he ruminates on the emptiness of his success and wonders when it was that Christmas lost its sparkle,” says Luke.
Radio Lifebuoy FM charts how a local radio DJ’s Christmas goes from bad to worse after his wife kicks him out and he is forced to host the station’s amateur singer call-in competition, We’ve Got The X(Mas) Factor. Will he manage to keep it together until he is off air?
“Inspired by shock-jock Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio and featuring a host of my talented friends and a sprinkling of favourite festive songs, this is guaranteed to put a smile on your face,” promises Luke.
Explaining how he created his film characters and revealing whether they were based on people he knew, Luke says: “In a way they’re all versions of me, but with licence to be more outrageous, more hilarious, more dark than I would be as myself.
“Fanny, in Five Minutes With Fanny, is a character I’ve been developing for a while. I remember Paul O’Grady once saying he felt much more confident and brave as Lily Savage than he ever did as himself, and that stuck with me, so I was developing Fanny with the plan of taking her on the stand-up circuit but…well, you know.”
Luke continues: “The styles of the pieces vary and are inspired by people I’ve long admired: Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett, (Steve Coogan’s) Alan Partridge, Joe Orton and Harold Pinter.
“I suppose there may be aspects of other people. I’ve always been quite observant and perceptive and I love to poke fun at very human foibles, inspired I suppose by the comedies of Anton Chekhov.”
In one of the pandemic’s more contentious statements, Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested those working in the arts should look at pursuing alternative careers, but are there ways to diversify within the profession? Like Luke making films, for example?
“I think most jobbing actors have a massively diverse set of skills already, so it isn’t a case of having to restart and diversifying, it’s more refocussing your energies,” he suggests.
“Whereas before I would be writing most days, skimming through the Spotlight Jobs board or Backstage looking for opportunities, I’m now focussing on things that were small-time earners for me in the past: showreel editing (and script/scene writing for them); graphic design (show posters, programmes, flyers, etc); and acting or directing tuition.
“I created Luke Adamson TV as I started creating video content in the first lockdown and people were enjoying it and I thought, ‘well, this is what I’m trained to do and I’ve spent all my life honing this craft; why don’t I try and earn from it while the theatres are closed?’
“So, I upped the production values: writing proper scripts; spending money on new equipment; no more ‘one-take, it’ll do’ improvised stuff. And if only ten people subscribe, that’s £50 a month and it goes towards my food bill at least.”
New year, same Covid stranglehold, how is Luke approaching 2021 after the draining year that has gone before? “Semi-full of gin, my eyes closed, my arms outstretched and my fingers crossed,” he says.
As for his hopes for the year ahead: “To avoid bankruptcy without having to leave the industry.” A sobering final thought indeed.
Should you be wondering, “Who is Tootles”, Luke Adamson’s role in Peter Pan?
“Tootles is the humblest of the Lost Boys!” says Luke. “Often described as Peter’s favourite, he’s the one that shoots Wendy with the arrow; defends her when she decides to leave Neverland and return home; becomes the boatswain when Peter takes over the Jolly Roger, and ultimately marries Wendy when they all go back to London and grow up. He’s the most important character, in my opinion.”