You know summer’s over when…

 First day back at work after my summer holiday (which was a bit of a washout, truth be told) and what greets me on my way to the station?

Paul Laidlaw (far left) is at it again. The man must live in Pantoland all year round. He writes, directs and stars as the Dame at the Gordon Craig every year.

And he is good. He looks very much as home on stage wearing pans for a bra and flirting with the dads in the front row.

Be sure to book your tickets early so that isn’t you (if you’re a dad)!

Christmas in January.

Just how long can you drag Christmas out for? Our tree was out in the garden before the year was out – but it was dead on its feet, drooping alarmingly.

Not so at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage; Christmas is still in full swing. Their version of Snow White is running until January 23. Now I’ve been to see it and I heartily recommend it, so the good news is you’ve stll got time to get along and see the show. It stars Sue Holderness out of Boycie and Marlene out of ‘Green Green Grass’ out of ‘Only Fools and Horses’.

Katie Rowley Jones needs directions for the West End, apparently.

Anyway, it’s not unusual to have a panto run to the end of Jan. However, in the run-up to the show, the theatre played Christmas tunes in the adjoining walkway that leads to the station to get everyone in the mood and hopefully flog a few more tickets. So here’s the thing: they’re still playing these tunes now and it’s January 19.

" the lane, snow is glistenin'..."

It just seems like someone needs to say, “We’re halfway to Valentines Day now, let it go. Christmas will come round again next year (or later this year).”

I read somewhere they had to rename the dwarves (Dopey to Dippy, etc.) to avoid failing foul of Disney’s legal eagles. Boooo!

I always enjoy reading the programme to see what else the actors have been in. What did I learn? That you have to be a pretty rubbish dwarf not to have worked on Star Wars or Harry Potter. They’ve all done ’em. The theatre must have to decide on Snow White very early to make sure they can book all 7 dwarves – there must be a run on them at Christmas. No good getting 5 and making up the numbers with fully-grown Lanky and Lofty.

Saw a couple of ’em in Tesco the other day. Easy to spot if you’re near enough.

Panto time.

I went to the Panto the other day (Oh yes I did!).

It was my wife’s idea to go – and what a good idea it was. We kept it secret from the kids until we were actually in the theatre foyer. You should have seen their faces (they were happy).

I walk past Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre twice every day (not out of habit, out of necessity). They’ve got a whacking great banner and a window display advertising this year’s panto, Aladdin, starring me old mate John Altman (nasty Nick in EastEnders) – see My Celebrity Whirl Panto Edition for the backstory.

Paul Laidlaw: writer, director, Twanky.

After seeing it advertised for so many weeks, I was intrigued to see the show – and the inside of the Gordon Craig theatre itself. I wasn’t disappointed.

I have it on good authority that Widow Twanky (or the guy that plays him) writes and directs the show. Well that’s not a secret, but the word is as soon as he’s finished this year’s run, he’s straight on the next one. This is a man who spends his entire working life in Pantoland – like that bloke who used to celebrate Christmas every day until he ran out of money.

He must spend the year sourcing giant golden lamps, auditioning dwarves and collecting all the cracker jokes he can find.

To be fair, it was very entertaining. Wishy Washy stood out for me – a real tour de force, as those West End reviewers might say.

To top it off, my wife and I even caught the marshmallows they threw into the audience – and we were in Row L!

The view from Row L.

Their run comes to an end on January 24 – that’s nearly 2 months – with matinees too. That’s a lot of “he’s-behind-you”s. Add in rehearsals and the cast and crew have spent a quarter of the year in Panto.

They must have difficulty adjusting to society afterwards; constantly wary of custard pies or saying “Hello boys and girls” every time they walk into a room.

Can’t wait for next year’s extravaganza. Good show chaps, I’ll be back next year.

My Celebrity Whirl – Panto Edition.

It never rains, it pours.

Next up in my pantheon of stardom is John Altman, best-known as Nasty Nick Cotton from out of off of off of EastEnders.

Where are the brussel sprouts? Behind you!!!

I’d been meaning to mention the panto at Stevenage and John has forced my hand. So there I am in Tesco getting some bits for my son’s birthday party and who’s that inspecting the lettuce – my new best pal John. He’s playing the lead in Aladdin at the Gordon Craig Theatre, cultural beacon of Stevenage and the one landmark you could pick out from the train if you were just passing through.

Must be opening night soon. So are they putting John up in a swanky hotel somewhere nearby (the Ibis is perilously close) or have they found him a nice place to rent for a month? My money’s on the latter.

Checking a YouTube interview, John says he’s staying up in Henlow – that’s about 20 minutes away. Still reckon it’s a house.

In the meantime, you can keep up with rehearsals with this fascinating behind-the-wall, fly-on-the-scenes video-blog!

Panto season.



On a Christmassy tip, this is the poster for Stevenage panto (at the Gordon Craig theatre, which adjoins the station’s car parks). This year it’s Jack & The Beanstalk ‘starring’ David Spinx out of Eastenders. Good to see Dave’s keen to stretch himself, exploring a whole new character and avoiding the trap of type-casting: one character a frightful, lumbering monster and the other, the giant from Jack & The Beanstalk. Does that work? Kind of. But not as well as I was hoping. Anyway, my wife took our daughter to see it and it got two thumbs up. The free sweets and the sing-song at the end were a ‘true tour de force’ according to my 4-year-old.

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