Record-breaking pantomime still going strong after 40 years on stage

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VETERAN theatre impresario Aubrey Phillips, who has been involved in the production of the panto Snow White and Seven Dwarfs  for the past 40 years is preparing to hand over the baton.

Aubrey, now in his 80’s, from Bagillt, in Flintshire, has just overseen the 40th year of the show but is looking to hand over to a new producer as he can’t bear the thought of the show coming to an end.

He launched the show back in the Sixties, took it round the UK’s major theatres before settling at Rhyl where it has been running for a record-breaking 40 consecutive summer seasons.

He said: “A man called Stewart Suthurst and myself started the production at the old Victoria Theatre, Salford, and did it not as a pantomime but as a children’s musical.

“This was for the Easter weeks in 1967. It was very successful but the regulars kept saying they had expected a panto version.

“We did have a terrific reputation for Christmas seasons with the runs being up to eight or nine weeks, with professional and juvenile dancers and a full pit orchestra.

“With this in mind next time we had a blank week in our attractions, about six weeks later, we advertised the production as a panto changing the format and the result was packed houses with three shows on the Saturday at two o’clock, five o’clock and eight o’clock.”

He added: “The following week we had a phone call from the general manager of the King’s Theatre down at Southsea inviting us to play there in four weeks time and the show returned to that theatre no less than 11 times, each for a full week.”

Word travels fast in showbusiness and soon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was on the road on ten-week tours to some of the UK’s major theatres.

“The list is endless,” said Aubrey who then began taking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on a run of summer seasons and Christmas performances.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also played a season at Morecambe as well as Skegness, Blackpool, New Brighton, Scarborough and even London’s West End at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

The one constant has been Aubrey Phillips who wrote the basic storyline, with Joseph Holroyd, of the Little Theatre, Rhyl, and he said: “I introduced all the extra comedy business.

“For the first few years we had the original music, written by Alan Martin, but this has long been given up by the introduction each year of up-to-date music which keeps the youngsters more interested.

“The first half used to terminate in a Toyland ballet, but with touring going from full weeks down to one and two day stands it proved too difficult to arrange dance routines with local children.

“This was then replaced with a speciality puppet act, the most frequently used being The Star International Black Theatre presented by Chris Covington. The original choreographer was the renowned Johnny Worthy.”

Aubrey says that over its record-breaking run he has seen many outstanding Snow Whites.

He said: “Over the years dozens of young ladies have played the title role. But without exception the artist who did it the longest, about 12 years, was Birmingham actress Debbie Young.”

She certainly caused a stir when the show arrived at the Bristol Hippodrome, Aubrey recalled: “None of the cast could understand why the Press were so interested in Debbie until we saw the adverts in the local papers – she had inadvertently been billed as Debbie Reynolds.”

Debbie Reynolds may not have made it on to the cast list but other major celebrities have, according to Aubrey.

He said: “We did have Jim Bowen of Bullseye fame who joined the production for a two-week run at Coventry Theatre and the Tameside Hippodrome.

“We also had Mark Lester who had played the lead role in the film Oliver. However, he only lasted three days at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.

“Unfortunately he sang out of key and sadly for him the first song was Can’t Sing Can’t Dance, Can’t Do Anything – the reviews weren’t great.”

They weren’t enough to stop the show though and it’s still going strong.

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