What's this year's Harrogate Theatre panto going to be like?
The cast are in their final rehearsals for one of the biggest events of the festive season which starts next week.
“We live and breathe panto,” says the director of Harrogate Theatre’s family panto - and, luckily, so do audiences across the district.
Not that luck plays much part in this annual event’s huge popularity.
The team behind Dick Whittington, this year’s family panto at Harrogate Theatre started preparing for next week’s launch date as soon as llast year’s finished.
Director and co-writer Phil Lowe said: “It’s a year-long process creating the panto each time. A lot of the work takes place in the heat of summer. But some people have been coming to Harrogate Theatre every year to see it for the last 50 yearsso we have a lot to live up to.”
Co-written with the theatre’s artistically-minded chief-executive Davis Bown, one of the challenges of Dick Whittington is its lack of a “reveal” at the end or spectacular props such as a giant beanstalk.
But, as audiences will see at the panto’s launch next Wednesday, November 30, the new show is blessed with stunning sets reflecting Harrogate Theatre’s nationally-recognised expertise in this field.
Phil said: “Dick Whittington is very much story-driven, which suits us because our panto is always geared towards a family audience .
“But the new show has all the expected humour, dancing, singing and pyrotechnics.
“Plus we’ve got an ace up our sleeve - our own panto legend Tim Stedman.”
Tim, who will play Idle Jack, is returning to Harrogate Theatre for the 17th year.
In fact, between himself and Phil, this double act have 27 years’ experience of creating Harrogate Theatre’s wonderful panto which has become an essential part of the Christmas season, as well as contributing hugely to the financial success of Harrogate Theatre.
Tim said: “I love that pause before the crowd reacts at the panto. There’s not many better things in life than standing in the middle of a beautiful chocolate box set, making 500 people happy.
“For the cast it’s like being in a fairytale or taking part in a giant party. It’s a magic feeling.”
Other familiar faces in the cast of panto specialists returning to Harrogate Theatre Dick Whittington include Howard Chadwick, a veteran of eight previous pantos, Katy Dean, who is on five, and Chris Chilton who is back for the first time in 17 years!
New faces injecting some extra vigour into characters such as Sarah the Cook, Queen of Rats, Fairy Bow and Dick Whittington himself include two Harriets - Harper and Hare - and Harrogate’s very own Alice Barrott who is an understudy.
Devoid of celebrities, gimmicks or ‘adult humour’, such is the reputation of Harrogate Theatre’s traditional panto outside of Harrogate itself, no less than Sir Ian McKellan has raved about it.
The Harrogate panto is clearly a huge team effort.
Still, it’s hard to imagine it being half as good without the presence of ever-popular actor Tim Stedman whose appeal spans the ages - from local schoolchildren to their parents and grandparents.
Tim said: “Everyone at rehearsals chips in with ideas and jokes. It’s all very open and creative - until ‘policeman’ Phil steps in and then that’s the decision made.
“It’s all a lot of fun but we are very aware each year that we’ve got to meet people’s high expectations of the panto.”
Dick Whittingtons runs at Harrogate Theatre from Noveber 30 to January 15, 2017.