It’s only two weeks until the curtains go up on Jack and the Beanstalk – this year’s Harrogate Theatre pantomime. Reporter Victoria Prest caught up with the Chris Clarkson aka Dame Trott and Tim Stedman aka Simple Simon, in a break between rehearsals.
Performing in his thirteenth Harrogate pantomime, Tim Stedman returns to the town’s stage as something of a favourite.
“It’s lovely to come back. I wouldn’t keep coming if it wasn’t,” he said.
After more than a decade in the show Harrogate “has a lot of good memories”, he added, including 2005 when Tim’s wife Emily, a stage manager, worked alongside him on the show.
And this year will see Tim, Emily, and their daughter Molly celebrate Molly’s first birthday. She was born in Harrogate mid way through the run last year’s pantomime.
“Molly was born at 6.50am, at Harrogate Hospital, and I was due in the hospital at 9am to visit the children’s ward. It was perfect and the rest of the cast popped in to see Molly and Emily as well.
Only a few hours later the new father was back on stage performing the first of two shows that day. “The musical director, who’s amazing, played Good Golly Miss Molly as I came on for the first time, and played other songs about Molly, or babies, every time I came on.”
A week and a half into rehearsals Tim, the dame Chris Clarkson, and the rest of the cast have perfected act one and are moving on to act two, but the shows are already filling up.
Chris said: “Before rehearsals had even started they had already sold two-thirds of the tickets.
“I think it’s inspiring, and quite exciting.”
In some places there will always shows which are quieter, Chris added, and actors can find themselves playing to as few as 30 people, but knowing how popular the Harrogate’s pantomime is means that won’t be the case here.
“Not in Harrogate, darling,” Tim added.
The pair put the pantomime’s enduring popularity down to a formula that works, and one that audience and producers alike know.
Tim said: “I think Harrogate knows its pantomime, and Harrogate Theatre knows its audience. People want a good story.
“Harrogate is also very good at keeping it clean. There are a lot of grandparents who bring their families to the panto, and it’s their Christmas present. They want to give their grandchildren one of the highlights of their Chrismtas and something they can enjoy together, as a family.”
The show’s popularity adds extra pressure to the performers, and Tim admits knowing how many tickets have been sold early is “terrifying” in the run up to opening night, but the audience’s high expectations “raises the bar”.
“Booking their tickets early means people have expectations, and it raises the stakes. The audience want to enjoy themselves, and we want it to be the best.”
For Chris Clarkson, who steps into arguably the biggest – and certainly the most flamboyant – shoes in the show, this year is not a return but a first time.
Although Jack and the Beanstalk is not his pantomime debut, it is the first time he has come to Harrogate and the first time he has played the dame.
“The dame is a new beast. It’s a completely different role and coming to Harrogate I am learning how things are done here. Things are slowly falling into place in my head.
“Harrogate is a very very traditional pantomime. It’s not geared towards one particular character, which is just somebody famous playing a role.
“The sets and costumes here are fantastic. They are all bespoke, nothing’s out of a box. The only thing that comes out of a box is Tim, every year.”
The hard work will all have been worthwhile if the theatre’s most important audience members – the children – believe in it.
Chris said: “Panto is incredibly important to theatres because it is first time a lot of kids see a show, so we’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to make a good impression because children aren’t mugs.”