GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST – 5. Robin Hood

Time for the visit of Ghost No.5 in my series of GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST – and this time it’s the turn of ROBIN HOOD at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham – Christmas 1996.

This was my first full Christmas job – and indeed my first full Theatre contract of any kind – playing 2nd Keyboards.

It was an amazing introduction to working on a Christmas show – With book music & Lyrics by Gary Yershon – Musical direction and arrangements by Andrew Friesner, Musical Staging by Carol Ball, and Directed by Sheila Mander.

Personal highlights:

> Having my own “chair” on a theatre show for the first time.

> Working under the baton of the fabulous Andrew Friesner. I learnt much of what I know about being an M.D. from Andrew, and I remain eternally grateful.

> Working with the inimitable Craig Vear for the first time. We had such a great time in that pit – both musically and personally. We were quite naughty at times (I blame Craig) but the three of us had a lot of fun making music, and keeping each other on the right side of sanity. (Decide for yourselves which side that is!)

> Carol Ball’s between the shows Tap classes. Carol is a Hoofer extraordinaire – and was kind enough to run Tap classes between performances for anyone who wanted to join in. Believe it or not, I joined in, and had a great time. Much like my school P.E. report, I was “enthusiastic”!

> Working with a fantastic Cast and crew – a real joy both on, and off stage.

Favourite Theatrical Anecdote:

The vocal stylings of Maid Marian.

We were lucky enough to have the marvellous Julie Jupp playing Maid Marian. There was a moment in the show where Robin Hood had been poisoned – and Marian was cradling him in her arms, whilst giving him a potion to revive him. This was of course done in song – a song which had a vamp bar intro, whilst Marian gave Robin the potion. As well as being a talented and versatile actor, Julie is a wonderful vocal mimic, and would often deliver the first line or two of the song as a different performer each show. The song itself had a slight feel of “On my own” from Les Miserables – so Julie would often channel the vocal stylings of Frances Ruffelle. Our M.D. decided to get his own back one performance, and so instead of the usual vamp, we played the first part of the intro to “On my own”, before going into the usual vamp. Needless to say, it took Maid Marian a little longer to get her thoughts together before going into her song that night!

Anecdotes best told by someone else (or maybe best forgotten):

> The company “Murder” game Toy Shop shoot out

> Where’s Tuck?

> The Three Friesners

> Pro/Celebrity villagers (particularly Craig and Bruce)

> Orchestra pit baby suckling

Memories of those no longer with us:

Pip Hinton

Pip Hinton was the kind of actor you could learn so much from, and a perfect member of a Christmas Company. She had a wealth of experience in Music Theatre, as well as on TV, and was just the right sort of “Bonkers” to keep everyone entertained and in good spirits.

My first experience of Pip is when I played for the auditions for the show. She came into the room all smiles, and after a brief chat with the audition panel, swept across towards the piano. “Now then Darling, are you marvellous?” she said to me, and handed me a battered, barely decipherable piece of manuscript paper. “Just give me an arpeggio dear, and I’ll see you at the end” she announced. I played the arpeggio for her, and she launched into a hilariously filthy rendition of Sondheim’s “I never do anything twice”. Naturally, she got the job.

Her portrayal was equally memorable. Her main number started with a vamp bar, whilst she did a short dialogue scene with her sidekick Midge, played by Stephen Reynolds. The vamp bar seemed to go on for a little longer than usual one night, before we heard Pip sing “Sperm” on a long high note – before eventually carrying on into the song. After the show, the M.D. went to see her, but before he could speak, she simply said “Darling, I know! I completely dried, and sang the first thing that came into my head”. Who could argue with that?

She was a great performer – and fortunately, you can see her skills for yourself in this Youtube clip of CrackerJack, where she does a fantastic song and dance routine with a young Leslie Crowther:

I’m sure there are plenty of people who were involved with the show, or came to see it, who can add some memories of their own – either in the comments box below, or on my posts on Twitter and Facebook.

This is a very difficult time for those working in the Entertainment Industry, and for theatres, so if you are in a position where you can help out in any way, here are the links to the MU and Equity hardship funds:

Musicians Union Coronavirus Hardship Fund: https://musiciansunion.org.uk/Donate

Equity Benevolent Fund: https://www.equity.org.uk/about/benevolent-fund-subscriptions-solidarity/how-to-donate-to-the-benevolent-fund/

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