Behind the scenes at Lancaster Grand’s pantomime

Cinderella at Lancaster Grand Theatre. Picture by Mike Hardy.
Cinderella at Lancaster Grand Theatre. Picture by Mike Hardy.
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Reporter Gemma Sherlock takes a sneak peek backstage during a rehearsal for the Christmas pantomime Cinderella at the Lancaster Grand Theatre.

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at your Christmas pantomime? Oh yes you have!

Mark and John as the Cinderella ugly step-sisters.

Mark and John as the Cinderella ugly step-sisters.

How about a 74-year-old who loves blowing things up, two dads getting to grips with wearing bras and three family generations who love the theatre.

These are just some of the quirky characters who are among the Cinderella cast at the Lancaster Grand Theatre.

Presented by the Lancaster Footlights group the traditional pantomime running this month has a cast of 46 ranging from 10 to 50-years-old.

“This is the first time I’ve ever wore a bra,” said John Gill who is playing one of the ugly step-sisters.

Phoebe Highman, 15, who plays Cinderella with Dylan Bell, 16, who plays Buttons.

Phoebe Highman, 15, who plays Cinderella with Dylan Bell, 16, who plays Buttons.

“I’ve never been on a stage in my life, my role is in head of commercials and at night I am apparently a lady!”

John from Lancaster shares his ugly step-sister role with teacher and pastor Mark Blundell.

Mark is a familiar face with Grand audiences as Cinderella marks his ninth year in panto.

But one thing he isn’t familiar with is wearing a dress.

Director Jean Hardy of Cinderella at Lancaster Grand Theatre.

Director Jean Hardy of Cinderella at Lancaster Grand Theatre.

“This is my first role as a female, I still can’t do a bra strap,” said Mark.

“For me it was a destiny to be a dame in a big show, the way my volunteering roles were going.”

The pair have been practicing their lines whenever they can – for John it’s during walking his dogs whilst Mark prepares in the car on the way to work.

Mark first came across the Footlights group when his son auditioned for a show at the Grand.

Kevin Harwood, pyrotechnics at Lancaster Footlights. Picture by Gemma Sherlock

Kevin Harwood, pyrotechnics at Lancaster Footlights. Picture by Gemma Sherlock

Nine years later the dad found himself appearing in all sorts of productions and has become close to his stage sister, John.

“I love it, I’ve met some great people and this is a professional show, people are paying to come and see us which is exciting,” said Mark.

“I never expected we would be doing this, it’s a big commitment but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said John.

Running until December 29 the pantomime is close to all the casts’s hearts including Cinderella actress, Phoebe Highham.

The 15-year-old, who goes to Ripley St Thomas CE Academy, is over the moon to be playing Cinderella.

“I was extremely excited, my mum and dad started crying, it’s great to play someone who is so positive and bubbly,” she said.

Mike Hardy, set designer for Lancaster Footlights group.

Mike Hardy, set designer for Lancaster Footlights group.

Phoebe has wanted to be on stage since she was four-years-old and has already been involved in 40 pantomimes over the years.

The budding actress fell in love with theatre when her parents took her to an opera in London.

“Being on stage is like being at home, I feel like I don’t need to be anyone else, I can just be me,” she said.

“Cinderella is just very honest, very kind, I feel like she is a very genuine person, it is a great opportunity for me.”

As well as performing every night Phoebe is also preparing for her GCSEs.

She said: “I think about my lines all the time, when I am in bed too, about different things I can do with my character.

“There is a lot of stress, I don’t stop, studying and rehearsing after school.”

The man behind Cinderella’ flashes and bangs – the pyrotechnics is Kevin Harwood. The 74-year-old from Lancaster has been part of Footlights for 12 years.

Since he began his theatre volunteer work Kevin has become hard of hearing but doesn’t let that stop him having fun.

He said: “I love doing it, it is a hobby which keeps me active.

“The first thing I did was climb the top of the flight tower at 40ft.”

Kevin has to be on the ball all the time to make sure stage performers are in the safety zones during a pyrotechnic scene.

“Anybody can be at risk,” said Kevin.

“We make a safety zone where we don’t fire one but they could just step back a millimetre, so you have to concentrate.”

For director Jean Hardy Cinderella is very much a family affair.

“I absolutely love panto,” said the 69-year-old.

Jean’s daughter, Cheryl auditioned as Wendy for the Grand’s Peter Pan production more than 30 years ago, and ever since Jean has never left.

Chief costumer maker and now a director Jean has took volunteering in her stride – her dining room often being lost to sewing materials.

But the mum wouldn’t have it any other way and is thrilled her husband, Mike and daughter have followed in her footsteps.

Paul Taylor has been a volunteer sound technician at the Lancaster Grand for 30 years.

The 60-year-old from Slyne provides all the jingles for the Cinderella production.

He said: “If it wasn’t for the Footlights, who came to the theatre in 1952, it would have been a car park now, if people didn’t volunteer the theatre wouldn’t be safe.”

Paul will use 36 different sounds during Cinderella as well as a host of music.

Mike Hardy, Jean’s husband, is responsible for the set design and the hiring of the stage cloths.

It took Mike three weeks to design the special pumpkin carriage made of plywood and decorated with luminous fairy lights.

He said: “I joined Footlights 22 years ago, funding is important as we have to make everything ourselves.

“We have special clock that propells in time with the scene, there’s lots of interaction.”

Cheryl, is the choreographer for Cinderella and is also Mike and Jean’s daughter.

She said: “I love this theatre, it is beautiful and has got a fantastic atmosphere.

“The group is like a big family, we have got a fanatic mix of ages, everybody has got on well.”

Demand is high for Cinderella and some shows are beginning to sell out.

“It is going really well,” said Ellie Singleton, 
Lancaster Grand theatre manager.

“I didn’t think we could beat last year’s record since it was so high, but we have with Cinderella.

“Everybody works so hard and it is lovely to close the year with a successful run yet again.”

Cinderella’s evening shows commence at 7.30pm and weekend shows commence at 2.30pm.

Tickets cost, £9/£8 concessions, family tickets £31, boxing day £10/£9 on 01524 64695 (no family tickets available Christmas Eve or Boxing Day). Christmas Eve has sold out.

For ticket details and to book call 01524 64695.

All adult pantomimes for this year and next at the Grand are now sold out.

Paul Taylor, sound technician at Lancaster Grand Theatre.

Paul Taylor, sound technician at Lancaster Grand Theatre.