30 years after first appearing in Robinson Crusoe, Brian Conley still has passion for this revived tale. Roz Laws meets the crew promising maritime magic this winter.
IT may still be summer (just), but plenty of people are already looking forward to Christmas.
Birmingham Hippodrome has taken more than £1 million at the box office in advanced sales for this year’s pantomime, Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates.
It will be Brian Conley’s sixth Hippodrome panto, starring alongside Lesley Joseph, but he’s not the only experienced cast member.
This will be Andrew Ryan’s 27th pantomime and his 22nd year playing Dame. And he’s not just a performer, as he also turns his hand to writing scripts – there are eight of his pantos in production around the country this year.
Andrew, who is Robinson’s mum Mrs Crusoe, says: “If it’s done badly, panto can be the worst thing you have ever seen. But if it’s done well, it’s the most brilliant art form.
“People look down on it, saying ‘so-and-so is doing panto, it’s the end of their career’, which is really unfair. Panto entertains thousands of families every year.”
So what’s the secret of writing a good pantomime? “Well, I have to think mainly about the plot,” he confides. “The story has got to keep going, through the songs and comedy routines.
“You have to think about your big name and if they are on stage enough. If there hasn’t been a song for a while, you put one in. Then there are the finer points of who is off stage changing costumes, and what scenery we have to play with – things that don’t register when you are watching the show.
“It’s like putting a huge jigsaw together.”
Andrew has almost appeared in a Hippodrome panto with Brian Conley before – he featured in a photo shoot for Cinderella in 2006, but not the production. He was standing in for Peter Robbins, who couldn’t make the launch as one of the Ugly Sisters alongside Nigel Ellacott.
“So I’m in the photos but didn’t actually appear,” he says. “It’s nice to be on stage properly now.”
Another Hippodrome regular is local girl Kathryn Rooney. This is the Solihull actress’s third consecutive Birmingham panto and her second with Brian Conley, having played Cinderella last year.
Now playing Polly, Kathryn muses on how pantomime acting differs from other stagecraft: “You have to be quite heightened as it’s a big show, but the kids are not stupid so you have to be real and believable, too. Kids really do watch closely. I’ve had four-year-olds come out with the strangest things, like ‘You had a ring on at the beginning, then in the next scene you didn’t’.