WORK EXPERIENCE: He’s behind you! Reporter turns Newport panto star

South Wales Argus: Argus Reporter Paul Carey spends a days work experience at the Riverside Theatre, with the Cast and Crew of the Panto Beauty and the Beast. Paul ready to play his part in rehearsals. (2716999) Argus Reporter Paul Carey spends a days work experience at the Riverside Theatre, with the Cast and Crew of the Panto Beauty and the Beast. Paul ready to play his part in rehearsals. (2716999)

EVER wondered what it would be like to work on a pantomime? PAUL CAREY finds out...and, Paul, they're behind you!

FOR SOMEONE of my age I get far too excited when December comes and pantomime season is upon us.

The annual tradition of taking my little cousins to see that years offering is normally a smokescreen to allow me to attend as what else gets you in the Christmas spirit as much as a pantomime?

The problem is that I tend to sit as far away as possible to avoid being picked out so I’m normally tucked away at the back of the theatre protected by the mass of people in front of me.

Therefore it was with excitement but trepidation that I made my way towards the Riverfront Theatre in Newport to get involved with all aspects of the production of Beauty and the Beast.

I was looking forward to finding out what went on behind the scenes as well as picking up a few tips from the stars of the show and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Before I met the cast, I was summoned to a crash course in everything – and there’s a lot – that goes on behind the scene to create the magical land that children (and I) love.

It was there that I was introduced to Bob Condick, assistant production manager, who is given the job of getting everything ready for the premiere.

It looked like hard work when I first wandered in, but it was time to roll up my sleeves and get involved.

The first task I had was to help move a £90,000 piano by tilting it on its side and sliding it off stage.

If that wasn’t enough to frighten me into thinking I was going to break it, I was then handed a hammer to help get it ready.

As I nervously hit away at the piano I was encouraged to “give it a good whack” which relaxed me a little though I did envisage my hammer going straight through the woodwork.

After the piano was sorted it was then on to my next task, getting to grips with the ropes on the side of the stage in what is deemed as “flying”.

When I was first asked if I wanted to do some “flying” I had visions of me being up in the air on a half-completed stage holding on by a skinny rope like a scene out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

As someone who isn’t the most comfortable with heights it was with great relief that I was informed “flying” involved the action of swiftly bringing the rope down to introduce different scenes.

I was told that the rope would need to be brought down in two seconds flat in a performance which I didn’t really take in until I took the ropes – literally – and looked up at just how big they were.

“You’ve got to pull outwards on the rope,” explained Mr Condick. “Therefore if it goes wrong the cloth flies away instead of towards the crowd.

“Use your arms instead of your back to get it down and be careful as the rope is technically alive.

“It’s important to wear gloves as you’ll get loads of splinters otherwise and you’ve got to be prepared as the rope can jar back at any point.”

This was meant to be the easy bit before I took centre stage in the cast’s rehearsal but I suddenly felt very nervous.

“You’ve got to be ready when the lights go down,” he added. “It’s got to be done in two seconds flat.

“If the lights come on and the cloth is still coming down then it won’t work.

“It’s about creating the illusion which is what pantomime is all about.”

As I pulled the rope down there was no way it could be classed as completed two seconds but as it never came crashing down, Mr Condick and I took it as a success and we moved on to explore other parts of the set.

I was given a tour of everything from working the beam light to the sound to climbing numerous amount of stairs to once again tackle my slight phobia of heights.

After getting to the top and installing small weights onto the ropes that I’d been pulling down below moments previous, it was time to go to the makeup room.

As I entered the room, two women started laughing which instantly gave me an idea of what they had in store for me.

As I was handed a costume that had been specifically put together for me to make me “stand out”, I started wondering how I’d let myself in for this.

Becky Ryan, Wardrobe mistress for the show, applied make up and despite my best intentions of delaying it, it was time for me to go and meet the cast.

As nerves started to get the better of me, it was only then – after I was fully dressed and in makeup – that I was told it wasn’t a dress rehearsal the cast were having and I’d been dressed up to help me stand out in my pantomime debut.

I got into the room to be told that I’d be starring in a rehearsal of the classic upbeat song ‘Rocking All Over The World’ by Status Quo.

Who said anything about dancing?

I don’t actually mind a dance when out with friends but this was a different proposition as I stood there watching them perform a flawless routine.

I was meant to be taking notes of the dance to help me slide effortlessly in to their routine but all I could think about was not tripping over.

As the music stopped, the agony was prolonged as the group took a short break before running through it again – with me as the lead.

It felt like two hours but in reality it was less than two minutes.

It was time for some last minute tips and who better than Elin Llwyd, who will be playing Beauty in the Riverside Theatre’s pantomime.

“You have to be able to keep a straight face,” she said. “Although i’m not very good at that, I’m known for cracking up.

“If you get it wrong then just make it up. Just have fun and turn it into a joke if you do. That’s want pantomime is all about.

“Just have fun and make sure that if you ever do pantomime in front of kids you get them onside as they’ll always be your most honest critic.”

Luckily I didn’t have to worry about my lack of rhythm, movement and timing being laughed at by children but the words of advice did calm me a little.

So as they say in the theatre, it was show time and I took my place in the middle of Beauty and the Beast’s cast, to perform one of this year’s songs.

The cast put in a powerful, timed performance full of energy and set routines whereas I caught on to stuff three seconds late and became overly enthusiastic for the air guitar solo.

Towards the end I became more comfortable than I imagined but the rehearsal was in front of three people instead of the 493 that the Riverfront Theatre holds.

I couldn’t quite comprehend dancing, talking and singing in front of that many people so thank fully it wasn’t possible.

But the energy, enthusiasm and sense of enjoyment that I gained from my brief spell with the cast was enough to remind me why I love pantomime.

Add in the behind the scenes view that I had and I certainly won’t be taking the stage, setting, costumes or lights for granted this Christmas.

However, I may be a bit more critical of an actor’s performance. On second thoughts, who am I kidding?

Beauty and the Beast started on Tuesday, December 3 and will finish on Sunday, January 5 2014.

To buy tickets visit The Riverfront’s website, www.newport.gov.uk/riverfrontarts, call 01633 656757 or visit the theatre in person.

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