What? Dame Battleaxe? No, sillies, the one in the panto in Eastbourne. Battleaxe and Philosopher went with Shaun, and really enjoyed the show. Meanwhile, Christmas is over…
The weather has been truly terrible… dark, dank, rainy, and yesterday, amazingly windy. We went over to Eastbourne with Shaun – his old friend Martyn Knight was playing the Dame in the Sleeping Beauty panto at the Devonshire Park Theatre. Honestly, Philosopher was just trying to pay for parking when some woman’s cash blew clean out of her handbag and disappeared down the seafront. Much shrieking as we all chased bank notes down the prom… It’s Behind You… no it isn’t, it’s down by the Lifeboat place…
Philosopher and Battleaxe were a bit Covid-anxious about the panto outing, but said to Shaun that we’d go to Eastbourne, see how crowded it all looked, and if we didn’t like any of it, we’d come home and leave him to it.
We met Martyn, and his old friend Win, in the Stage Door pub next to the theatre. (The place has not long been refurbished – perfectly OK, decent food). Battleaxe has never met a Dame before, so was quite intrigued. Shaun and Martyn go back a very, very long way – they actually made their stage debut together. Here they both are, aged 11, in something called the Gipsy Baron? What a long time ago – no, wash my mouth out – it was probably just recently… Then here they are again, just yesterday…
Martyn and his friend Tucker have been playing dame and comedy sidekick in the Eastbourne panto for years, and are clearly a much-loved local institution. Being a dame is very physically demanding – all those costume changes, heavy wigs and hats. Martyn had just been for a massage to soothe his aching muscles.
He also told us about the difficulties of keeping the show going during the current Covid situation – currently, they were left with only two backing singer/dancers out of six, and today they even had a new stand-in prince. It all sounded very hard… lack of rehearsal, lack of knowledge of cues, script etc, so few cast members left to do (literally) the heavy lifting on stage. But Shaun and Martyn, both being in ‘The Business’ firmly agreed that whatever happened, the show must go on… It gave me an insight into the hardship that lies behind the stories we see on the News night after night about shows being forced to close because of Covid, and theatres struggling to survive. I was intrigued by the ‘stand-in prince’. Obviously the company is too small to have an understudy in the cast, and it is surprising that there are enough competent young men out there right now who could jump into a leading role at a few hours notice (and what about getting costumes to fit…) This particular bloke had just been filling in for another lead at another theatre somewhere else – I forget the details
Martyn obviously loved doing what he did. He was clearly a very nice guy, and even said that us three could have the best ‘house seats’ instead of the ones further back in the stalls Shaun had booked for us.
While we were in the pub, Jacquie Frost, one of my WI Trustee ex-colleagues, tapped me on the shoulder. It was good to see her – she is one of the friendly ones! She was going to the panto with some of her large family – she told me she had been every year for 40 years! Now, she is here with her great-grandchildren.
The Devonshire Park is a lovely old Victorian theatre, just right for a traditional panto. Philosopher and I have only been to the theatre once before, back in 2014, funnily enough to see one of Shaun’s Peter James plays. Here is the post about it.
Anyway, our seats were excellent, and it didn’t appear that many other favoured guests or celebs were attending, so we had space around us, but the theatre filled up rapidly, with of course, many excited children… Philosopher and I still thought, well… let’s see. However, when the panto starts, Dame Nurse Nelly breezes onto the stage and shouts ‘Welcome to Shaun, Nick and Steph! Give me a wave so I can see where you are!’ So of course, then we settle down to enjoy the performance. And enjoy we did. It was a truly excellent show. All the main performers were cheerful, energetic, had good singing voices and great acting/ad-libbing skills. Needless to say Martyn and Tucker (Dame Nellie’s son, Chester the Jester) didn’t put a foot wrong. I could see what Martyn meant about costumes – he changed his clothes for virtually every scene, including a ‘strip ‘scene when he was supposed to be getting ready for his bath.
The two remaining girls in the Ensemble worked their legs off, making two look like six. Great glittery scenery – fabulous costumes – a great scary dragon. The stand-in prince had good stage presence, a strong high tenor singing voice, blond flying hair and lots of white teeth. His performance looked seamless – well, as seamless as panto ever looks! Total respect, he made a real fist of the job. Because we had been speaking to Martyn we could see a few tiny holes, but all in all, despite the reduced cast, it was a great show. Finally, a special mention to Carli Norris who played wicked fairy Carabosse – really excellent. By the end Battleaxe had forgotten there was anything bad in the world and was screaming ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Let’s do the Time Warp again…’ Up on her feet, hands in the air… along with around 1000 others. Let’s hope the Covid gods are kind to us. The show deserves maximum support – click on the link above for tickets – it runs until 9 January.
So, Christmas is over. We had a nice day on 25th, our friends Jan and Tom came round for a very, very long lunch. I had got a turkey crown/joint thing from Marks and we got out all the Christmas table fol-de-rols, even dusting the dead flies out of the bottoms of unused serving dishes, and a jolly time was had. Shaun came on Boxing Day, the weather was evil all the time he was here, we did manage one brief chilly outing..
We almost finished a jigsaw and watched lots of telly including the very good ‘A Very British Scandal’ about the Duchess of Argyle. Great performances from Claire Foy and Paul Bettany as the thoroughly unpleasant pair.
Massive amounts of food, too. Did I mention that we have been given two hampers this year? One from our neighbours as thanks for walking Bear the dog over the year, and another from Sarah Kowitz at Fairlight Hall, as thanks for the work I have done so far for the Conquest Friends. We were quite overwhelmed by people’s kindness, and of course, very pleased…. Sssh, my favourite present wasn’t actually a surprise…from Philosopher, a pair of fancy brogue shoes from newly discovered niche shoe company Embassy London. Well, I did choose them myself from their on-line selection but they are just gorgeous… but I got lots of nice surprise presents as well.
I’ll be writing again in a couple of days time because it will be the Hastings Battleaxe blog’s 10th birthday – yes, really.