YORK Theatre Royal pantomime choreographer Hayley Del Harrison was determined to employ dancers from the north when casting for Cinderella.
She succeeded in her aim: five of the six-strong team of dancers are from Yorkshire, two of them from York.
“There’s a lot of talk about supporting regional artists in theatres across the country but it’s rarely implemented,” says York-born Hayley, who danced professionally in the West End and Europe as well as teaching dance and choreographing for 30 years.
“There was no way we were going to do a London audition before we put out a casting call in Yorkshire. Dancers from the north spend a fortune travelling to London for auditions, ironically and far too often, for jobs in the north.
“As it happened, we didn’t even need to do a London audition because we found exactly what we were looking for on home grown soil. And they’re absolutely fantastic.”
Hayley trained at the Northern Ballet School in Manchester, where two of the ensemble, Tom Yeomans, from York, and Lauren Richardson, from Helmsley, also trained. Cinderella marks the professional debut of both performers.
Tom appeared in youth roles with amateur companies York Light Opera Company and York Stage while taking lessons at the Patricia Veale School of Dancing, in Holgate.
At Northern Ballet School, he studied all forms of dance, not only ballet and although he wants a career in musical theatre, he was thankful for such a broad training “because I got such a strong classical technique, which means we’re versatile in everything we do”.
“I’m loving doing pantomime,” says Tom. “It’s such a fun thing and good experience – and I get to stay at home with my family at Christmas too.”
Lauren is relishing the opportunity too, having graduated in July. “I’m fed up with Zoom and dancing in my own bedroom. That’s not the best but we had to do it,” she says.
As a youngster, she danced in pantomimes as an amateur. Cinderella marks her first professional contract. “I used to watch pantomime when I was a little girl and think, ‘I’d like to be one of those dancers’. My passion just grew and grew,” she said.
“I’m more musical theatre than ballet but I wouldn’t be the dancer I am without learning ballet technique. Ballet is amazing but I prefer the more glitzy, showbiz sort of dance.”
Another making her professional bow is the second debutant from York, Ella Guest. She began dancing as a child, going on to study performing arts at CAPA College, Wakefield, and Bird College Conservatoire of Dance and Musical Theatre, London.
“I started when I was young and absolutely loved dancing and singing and acting,” she says. “Acting gives you a chance to express yourself and have fun,” she says.
Ella has seen pantomimes at both York Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House, and she has even appeared in one: Cinderella at York Barbican a decade ago.
“It’s such a change of lifestyle after graduating, and Cinderella at the Theatre Royal fitted perfectly,” she says. “It’s really nice to have a job and to be at home to spend time with my family.”
Making her professional debut is Hull-born Amy Hammond, who grew up in Driffield. She graduated this year from SLP College, in Leeds, where her credits during training included the role of Nikki Wade in the Bad Girls musical and ensemble work in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Don’t Stop Me Now. She was also in dance shows featuring routines from big musicals such as Cats, 42nd Street and Fosse.
“My goal is to go into West End musicals, touring shows and things like that,” says Amy. “I’ve been dancing since I was very young and just love performing. “I saw pantos when I was younger and it’s really nice to see pantos move with the times, keeping up to date and adding modern touches as well as the more traditional things.”
Christian Mortimer is back in the city where he studied singing, acting and dancing for four years at York College – and back living at home with his parents in Harrogate.
Although he has been “singing all my life”, he does not know where the performing bug came from. “As I went into the sixth form, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he says. “I was doing science, sport and music for A-levels. Then I came across a musical theatre course at York College. I saw shows like Les Miserables and Billy Elliot and thought, ‘I’d love to do that’. It seemed more thrilling than going into the music industry.”
His first professional job was in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the Isle of Man, while his further theatre credits include playing Issachar in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The sixth – and only non-Yorkshire – member of the ensemble, Luke Lucas, trained at Liverpool Theatre School in his home city. York Theatre Royal is not his first panto as his credits include the ensemble for Cinderella at Norwich Theatre Royal.
“I love panto and used to go to see it with my family. It was something to look forward to all year. I have four older brothers so you can imagine trips to the panto with five boys and my poor mother,” he says.
“I come from a family of movie fanatics and wanted to be an actor until I fell in love with dance. Since graduating, Luke has worked as a professional dancer, including the European tour of The Andrew Lloyd Webber Gala, and on cruise ships in the Mediterranean and Caribbean., as well as playing Abram in Romeo & Juliet and Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Liverpool Epstein Theatre.
Choreographer Hayley spent loads of time with the dancers at the Cinderella auditions. “We ran quite a comprehensive casting process, exploring their skills by throwing an array of dance styles into the day, as well as their vocal abilities, acting experience, how they work with a script, how they interact as a group and their individual personalities,” she says.
“Auditions for dancers are often rushed and somewhat impersonal but it’s worth putting in the time to get the best out of people. We were absolutely spoilt for choice with so much talent in the room. They are really strong, playful performers, with a youthful energy and a fantastic work ethic.
“Plus they have funny bones, which is a joy and just up my street as I really don’t like to see a dance ensemble used as attractive decorations on the stage. They are an integral part of the show, establishing their characters, furthering the plot and intensifying the mood and style of the show.”
Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
By Steve Pratt