You know your lines. You know your marks. You’ve practised with your props. Your costume fits like a glove. You’ve got this, right? Well…
“It involved lots of very complicated flying routines – back flips, front flips, landing on various scenery, even landing on Captain Hook’s shoulders at one point while sword fighting. As you can imagine with the flying comes a lot of potential for dangers. The rehearsals were worse for accidents, but there was a few occasions during the show that the flying had a mind of its own. I’ve crashed into numerous pieces of set – fireplaces, window frames, beds, pirate ships and mermaid lagoons.
“I remember at the end of one show when I had to fly on to the ship to fight Captain Hook and I got my foot caught in some pirate ship rigging as I was meant to be flying down to land on board the deck. Of course, my foot, legs and the bottom half of my body stayed up in the rigging as the lower half of my body started to descend to the ground.
“I had Captain Hook standing in front of me looking down at me as I face-planted into the stage. ‘Whats the matter Peter?” he asked. ‘Ran out of happy thoughts?’ Very embarrassing. I shouted out ‘I do believe in fairies’ and tried to jump back on my feet. I ended up doing a weird aerial press-up type thing as I couldn’t get me feet back. The people operating the fly-rigging eventually worked out what was what and started to lower my legs, which took far too long, I even asked Captain Hook for a hand – after all he only has one. I finally managed to get back up on my feet, I don’t think anyone noticed.”
During a production of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, Stewart, who plays the Prince in Rapunzel, managed to break two large Scottish basket-hilt broadswords in the middle of a massive stage fight routine.
“Of course I managed to do that the night we had press, producers, the director, the fight choreographers and the man who actually owned the swords in the audience. That was one of those moments where you have to think on your feet very fast. Unfortunately for me, my opponent thought about it quicker and the fight ended by him grabbing me and throwing me from one end of the stage to the other. He was a large man, this was very easy for him.
“Previous productions have seen me falling through props, putting my foot through tables, cutting my legs open, busting my knuckles, spraining ankles, receiving black eyes and swollen lips all on stage – and most of that wasn’t even when I was doing any stage combat. Just general suffering for my art. And people think it’s a glamorous life. I never really thought of myself as accident prone, but reading this back makes me a little nervous.”
“I had to start act II being in the middle of a ‘first date’. There was lots of atmospheric music and I had to wander through the forest trying to look cool, sophisticated and charming – not trades that I, or Faust really have. As I walked around the last tree in this sequence I fell off the back of the stage. Luckily it wasn’t a long drop and I didn’t hurt myself, but I did have to endure sniggers for the rest of the show from my friends who were in the audience that night.”
My First Panto: Little Red Riding Hood actor Rob Gathercole was in Dreamboats and Petticoats a few years ago and had a scene where he and another guy were dressed up as rock ‘n’ roll cupids, pushing around motorised carriages in the Tunnel of Love.
“As I’m sure you can imagine, motorised vehicles break down every now and then so we had practiced switching them into manual to override the brakes so that we could push them off stage,” recalls Rob, who plays the Wolf and Mother Hood in Little Red Riding Hood.
Jennifer Hague, who plays Red in My First Panto: Little Red Riding Hood, got her first experience of performing in panto at her local am-dram society.
“At the grand old age of 14 I was promoted to principal boy but hadn’t yet experienced the final show tradition of the stage crew playing tricks on the cast. My character was the Prince in Sleeping Beauty and I had a horse companion whom whenever we would go on stage I would have to tap coconuts together in a Monty Python-esque fashion.
“These coconuts were on a string which I hung round my neck. So on this final show I walked on stage to have had my coconut’s string adjusted so the coconuts sat directly on my chest. Baring in mind this was my first stage experience and also I was 14 you can imagine my reaction.”
My First Panto: Rapunzel runs here until 12 January. My First Panto: Little Red Riding Hood runs at our sister venue The Workshop in King’s Lynn 16-29 December. Both are co-produced with All-In Productions.