A fairytale collaboration

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With Cinderella by Robin Bailes in rehearsals for performances next month, director Miranda Holmes looks back on her collaboration with the British writer.

In July 2014 I was minding my own business, enjoying a glass of wine and the view from the Surf, when the friend from Gabriola Players with whom I was sharing the wine said, “You do know you’re going to have to direct the panto this year?” I did a Robert DeNiro “you talkin’ to me?” doubletake, then realised, yes, it was down to me. I went home and started combing the numerous UK websites which specialise in panto scripts, looking for something interesting. At the end of one long alphabetical list I spotted Will Shakespeare the Panto by Robin Bailes.

Well, that did sound different. I ordered a copy of the script and loved it. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, it had only been published that month, so if the con­ver­sation with my friend had occurred a month earlier the play would not have been there.)

And so began what’s turned out to be a long, happy collaboration. The cleverly written show, with its nods towards Monty Python and Black Adder was a huge hit with audiences, garnering fulsome praise in a Sounder review. We’re very grateful to Robin who last year, when we were unable to perform a panto at the hall, gave us permission to make Will Shakespeare available to view online. It’s still there, in case you missed it.

Flash forward to April 2015. With no sign of anyone else stepping up with an offer to direct that year’s panto, I decided to see what else Robin Bailes had written. Two immediately caught my eye: Robin Hood and his Merry Men and The Return of Robin Hood. I ordered copies of both scripts. I actually preferred the sequel, but obviously that couldn’t be performed without doing the original first. So I went to the board and told them they were in luck: Not only was I prepared to direct the 2015 panto, but I was prepared to commit to 2016, too.

Robin Hood and his Merry Men proved an equally big hit with audiences.

Who can ever forget Will Scarlett’s air guitar in ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, the act one finale? I know I can’t. (In fact I’ve found a spot for Paul O’Sullivan to do some air guitar in every Bailes panto I’ve directed since.)

And then it was time for The Return of Robin Hood. Ten years later and how’s the happily-ever-after thing working out for Robin and Marian? Not so well, it turns out. Robin really needed to get the band back together for one last adventure.

Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition. (To be honest, not even Robin Bailes. I was the one who decided to add that.)

After three years in the panto director’s chair it was time for me to take a break and simply enjoy playing panto characters, which I did in May The Farce Be With You in 2017 and Pirates of Nursery Rhyme Island in 2018.

Maybe I’m just a bossy madam, but by 2019 I was ready for that chair again. Back to Robin. What else did he have up his sleeve? Oo, Ali Baba, that could be fun. And it was. Especially one scene that cracked me up at every rehearsal and which one audience member told me was the funniest thing he’d ever seen in 40 years of theatre going – Ray Appel doing his Elvis legs during one of Ali Baba’s songs. If you missed it or just want to laugh out loud again, click here.

And, yes, I did sneak the Spanish Inquisition in again.

And then there was Covid. Plans cancelled for a panto in 2020 and again in 2021. We needed to come back with a bang this year and fortunately Robin Bailes had one bang left. (After Will Shakespeare Robin moved on to other things. Unless I can persuade him to write another panto, this is the last we’ll be hearing from him.)

There will be some familiar faces in Cinderella (including BJ Godson, who’s appeared in every panto since 2007). I’m thrilled to say there will also be many new faces, including Katie MacLean as our wonderful Cinderella and Benjamin Sams as our very charming prince.

Rehearsals are well underway and I couldn’t be happier. The stepsisters (John Gooding and Neil Shilladay) keep getting funnier and funnier. The evil stepmother (Helen Shilladay) is getting more and more evil.

This is indeed going to be a happy ending to a fairy tale collaboration. I thank you, Robin, for all the laughter. So, too, I know does Gabriola.

Miranda Holmes

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