The shopping is nearly finished, the lights are hung, the tree is decorated yes it’s official - Panto season is here, oh YES it is!
This year Cinderella, featuring the X Factor talents of Eoghan Quigg, James Lecky, Gerard McCabe and William Caulfield graces the stage of the Millennium Forum.
The young Quigg is joined by some powerhouses of Northern Irish theatre. McCabe and Lecky don frocks and make up to play Brittany and Kylie Hardup. The Ugly Sisters, both readily admit to “enjoying scaring Quiggy as often as possible.”
The beautiful boys, in the unlikely roles of the ugly sisters is a casting move which steals the show as the ‘girls’ have audience after audience in stitches.
The ‘girls’ are as funny as their dresses are loud. The audiences keep coming, already the Forum has declared sales for this year’s pantomime their best ever. With this star studded cast and high octane script, it is little wonder.
Having worked on previous pantos, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Show White and Sleeping Beauty these sisters are close, having shared a stage before.
The routines are well polished and said James Lecky; “Jonathan Burgess trusted us to bring some of our own sayings to the performance, so we’ve been enjoying that. It isn’t a panto unless the cast are afraid of the Ugly Sisters.
“We are forever nipping Cinderella, we held back in rehearsals with perfect stage punches but during the run we want the reactions to be real. She never knows which one of us will get her next,” laughs Gerard.
“It’s the perfect application of Stanislavsky to pantomime,” laughs James.
Considering the marathon run, totalling 40 shows in 31 days, poor Cinderella.
Gerard said: “It is a big run. We need a lot of stamina and everything has to be planned out well in advance.
“The weekends are killers with two shows on Friday, Saturday and Sundays.”
“It’s not that bad,” argues James. “We’re not on stage every minute. It is five minute bursts of activity. That said I’ve lost a lot of weight since I started running around as an ugly sister.”
The boys have to wear two costumes for the quick changes, as well as “big stitched in pants” laughs Gerard.
“We had to let everything out when the dresses arrived.
“But it’s ok since we got our Bridget Jones knickers delivered.
“But we’re not as bad as Quiggy,” laughs James. “He likes to strut his stuff back stage. He is a very confident young man.”
At that the sisters crack up. Certainly their commitment to character can not be faulted.
They are loving their role and the pantomime. “I think it is really funny and we’re constanty getting to wind the other cast members up. If it is still funny for all of us at the end of the run then it’ll still be funny and fresh for the audience,” said Gerard.
James Lecky admits to “A love for panto.
“It is just good clean fun. I think it is like the last blast of the old variety hall musicals, with a little bit of singing, dancing and acting all thrown in for good measure. Just pretty good fun for all the family. It’s also a good excuse to put on a dress and far too much make up.”
Gerard chimes in with: “The wife and kids wont let me wear make up around the house anymore.”
Both of these seasoned actors have had to take specialist lessons for the roles however.
“My wife had to show me how to put on tights and make up. I ruined lots of tights by putting my thumbs through them,” confesses Gerard, adding; “putting on make up is a real nightmare. No matter what I do or where I go I’m covered in red lipstick so taking it off is even harder.”
“I needed lessons from my wife to walk in high heels,” admits James. “I still don’t know how women do it. Dancing in size ten high heels was just not taught in drama school.”
“Them size tens heels are so big we had to get them from Harland and Wolff,” laughs Gerard.
The ‘Sisters’ are agreed about their favourite aspect of the panto?
“The fear in wee Quiggy’s eyes,” laughs Gerard, “when we stare at him as if it’s his line. We prompt him when he shouldn’t be saying anything and he freaks out, thinking, ‘Have I forgotten my line.’ He hasn’t, yet. To be fair Eoghan has the acting down but he just has to stop laughing now.”
James, who was also laughing all the while, adds: “There’s two things you shouldn’t look into, one is the mouth of hell and the other is Gerard McCabe’s eyes when he is dressed as an ugly sister.”
James continues: “Generating a wee bit of terror is important when you’re playing the bad guy. It is fun scaring the children, sure that is what you’re there for.”
As well as kicks and punches, the boys certainly push the boat out with their ad libs and double entendres but then these girls have been around the block once or twice before.
“Wasn’t it part of the Good Friday Agreement that Jim Lecky has to be in every play in Derry?” asks McCabe.
“I think I’m more infamous than famous,” adds Jim.
“I suppose I never say no to anything, as an actor of course.”
The girls will be appearing in Cinderella alongside a star studded cast, with William Caulfield as ‘Buttons’ and Eoghan Quigg as Prince Charming, this Christmas treat runs at the Millennium Forum until Saturday January 7.
For tickets contact the Box Office on +44 (0)28 7126 4455 or book online at www.millenniumforum.co.uk