Birmingham Stage Company have been touring my adaptation of Roald Dahl’s GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE for more than a year. Phil Clark’s inventive production plays the Bloomsbury Theatre, London for a Christmas season before setting off round the UK again till June 2011.
To help promote its recent week at the splendidly refurbished Palace Theatre, Watford, I was asked to give a talk there about Roald Dahl’s children’s stories.
As I stepped on stage and saw once again the pretty chocolate-box auditorium, memories flooded back to Christmas 1967, when I had a ball there giving my Wishee Washee in ALADDIN. It was one of my first professional acting jobs.
I had been happily touring schools with the Watford TIE team, one of the companies inspired by the pioneering work of the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, when artistic director of the Palace, Giles Havergal, invited me to work on the main stage – in those days a rare promotion for a TIE actor.
The pantomime coincided with the production of my very first play for children, THE TINDERBOX at the Swan Theatre, Worcester, which, despite the fact that I never saw it (I was Wishee Washee-ing in Watford), led to me writing seventy more. Aladdin was rather special.
It was written by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, pre-Monty Python, with music by John Gould, my cabaret/revue partner, with whom I was to found the children’s touring company, Whirligig Theatre, in 1979. Philip Prowse was the classy designer.
The Genie of the Ring was played with infectious eccentricity – on a pogo-stick – by Maureen Lipman, who, fourteen years later, brilliantly created for me the role of Meg, the daffy witch, in my adaptation (for Unicorn Theatre) of the MEG AND MOG books by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski.
By coincidence, Meg was also played, a couple of years later, by our Aladdin – the delicious Amanda Barrie, whose husband, Players Theatre stalwart Robin Hunter, gave his Abanazar. Lovely Gay Soper, with whom I later toured in revue, played the Princess, and one of the comedy policemen was John ‘Ginger’ Halstead, who, in years to come, played a great Dame in many of the pantos I wrote for the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.
As Wishee I got to lead much of the audience participation, including the Songsheet, which I absolutely loved doing. Looking back, it taught me a tremendous amount about the reactions of children en masse and how to keep their attention – things that have proved invaluable in my children’s playwriting and directing ever since. Sadly, fate decreed that I would never act in another pantomime. In fact, although I have directed many Christmas productions of my plays, I have never since played another Christmas season as a performer …… Until now!
From December 7th 2010 I am excited to be appearing at the beautiful Rose Theatre, Kingston in DAVID WOOD’S STORYTIME, a one-man show featuring my own stories, including my version of THE GINGERBREAD MAN, magic, music and, of course, audience participation. Back to my roots, really. After forty-three years. Can’t wait.
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