AFTER PANTO SEASON: Planning For 2013
Just under a week ago I finished the gruelling schedule of being the pantomime Dame in Dick Whittington through dark mid-winter in the picture-postcard county town of Hereford in Herefordshire in the UK.
Today, however, I am sat on the terrace of a villa in Nerja, about 45 minutes' drive from Malaga on the southern coast of Spain. The sun is glaring down, the sky is a glorious blue and the memory of me in tights, that rather small ill-fitting jockstrap and being covered in glitter seems ages ago, when it was in fact just six sleeps past.
For the last 3 years after panto season is done and dusted and the fake boobs have been hung up to dry for another year, me and the wife head off to Spain - away from the cold, wet winter of the UK. It's a great time to recharge the showbiz batteries, have plenty of siestas, update the new 2013 diary, enjoy breakfasts on the terrace in the warm fresh Spanish morning air, and slowly focus on the creative year ahead.
This year is already proving to be very varied indeed. I'm about to direct the new UK tour of "Four Poofs and a Piano", am continuing directing the new comedy group "Vocalarity" and, from the end of February, am embarking on a new creative challenge, directing "A Little Night Music" at The University of Cumbria. Thus far I've never directed drama students before - it's a whole new experience and with six weeks of rehearsals seems a luxury, as normally you only have 3 weeks of rehearsals in professional theatre - and with Hereford panto, it's a mere 10 days!
Then I'm returning live to the airwaves on Friday February 1 with my radio show "The Curtain Up Show" live every Friday at 4pm on Resonance 104.4fm, a celebration of London's glowing theatre Scene. I have been told I have a great face for radio.
My life seems to have been a mad dash in the past few days. I finished panto late Sunday night and at the after-show party had two large glasses of wine that went straight to my head, having not drunk for nearly two weeks...that on top of the emotion of last night and also knowing you can relax as you don't have any more shows to be responsible for.
On Monday I got a slow train back to London stopping at every quaintly named town en route. I got back to my flat, unpacked, then packed rather different gear for Spain. I spent a couple of hours catching up on eight weeks of admin stuff - and even found time to hang up my new Olympian Tom Daley Calendar - I always ?nd time for Tom, as Mr McArthur has
his priorities. On Tuesday I finished programming the new cabaret season for LauderDale House, printed out scripts to learn while away; got euros from bank; collected new contact lenses in case it's sunny in Spain and I can wear sunglasses; spoke to agent; I had a meeting with my costume designer about my forthcoming show; and I met with manager over a lovely bowl of noodles. Then I watched an adult panto, and had to sit on front row and got picked on. Well, I do know some of the cast, so I was asking for trouble sitting there!
I got home to sleep for four and a half hours - I was like an overexcited little boy to be going to Spain! It's not all sun, siestas and sangria on the Costa del Sol, as I sit here staring at my ageing laptop. I have my own new comedy series to focus on. It's based around four completely original comedy characters, each with a very different voice, going from the tender to the frankly filthy. For nearly 10 years I've enjoyed much success with my almost saintly comedy character, Sister Mary McArthur, the tap-dancing, show-tune-singing, flapjack-baking nun who has been lucky enough to perform at The Comedy Store and on Graham Norton's show on BBC1, to enjoy various seasons in London and New York, and even to open a new theatre in Cape Town.
In contrast, last year I was thrilled to be cast as Sam Byck in "Assassins", by my favourite musical theatre writer Stephen Sondheim. The experience was overwhelming and as an actor, this was one of the most rewarding jobs I've done in a while. Sam has two major, harrowing monologues that he delivers on his own on stage. This experience got me thinking I could add some intense new faces to my own catalogue, but definitely on the comedy side. It's nervous stuff creating new characters that will hopefully be highly amusing but deeply engaging. I've been lucky enough to have been developing this crazy new cast with my friend, the experienced BBC producer Michelle Singer.
So, underneath this beautifully clear Spanish sky, I raise a glass of sherry or two, not just to
Michelle, but also to Peg, Antonio, Tamara and the Bitter Reindeer...Right, I'd better get into their skins! Hasta la vista at The Canal Café in London's gorgeous Little Venice this February...