HITS THE BIG SCREEN.........?
COVID-19 has hit the Theatrical Entertainment Industry hard and the Panto Season is in crisis.......well thanks to Peter Duncan and an amazing cast and crew.........if you can't go to the Panto, the Panto will come to you.......
Peter Duncan Interview
With more than 200 pantomimes cancelled across the UK, ‘Blue Peter’ legend Peter Duncan decided to film a lockdown version of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ with a cast and crew of 35 entirely over the summer on sets in his back garden. Designed to be an online treat to be downloaded by families to watch together over Christmas, the film, in which he stars as Dame Trott, has now impressed UK cinemas chains. It will now get a VIP red carpet London film premiere then roll out to all Everyman cinemas on December 5, followed by Showcase and Showcase Cinema De Luxe cinemas on December 11.
How did ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ come about?
When I realised there might not be any pantomimes at Christmas during the first lockdown I had an idea to create my own film on location in London back garden. I already owned costumes and scenery from my previous theatre productions so then it became a matter of finding a talented cast, crew and production team.
When did you first get the idea to bring panto online and into cinemas this Christmas?
I always thought the film would work by streaming it from our website pantoonline.co.uk but I never imagined it would have a cinema release. The cinema release came about because my sister, who played the front end of Buttercup the cow (with her husband reluctantly shoved in the back end in a covid-safe ‘cow bubble’) knew the wife of the Chief Executive of the wonderful Everyman cinemas. A meeting was arranged and I showed him the footage, which he liked and so it progressed from there.
How important is it for families to have access to a pantomime despite theatres being closed?
Some theatres are planning to put on smaller pop-up panto productions or panto alternatives and I wish them luck. It is important primarily because of laughter. There is nothing more joyous than watching a whole family or friends laugh together, sometimes at the same things, sometimes at grown-up jokes but more often for the giggles that children have when they think something is funny. Pantomime is a deep-seated tradition in our culture built up over a couple of hundred years. We all know how to interact with the actors, but we are often caught out by the sadness and pathos plus a good pantomime will always captivate with a good story well told.
Tell us about the process of filming the panto? What was that like?
First I had to write the screenplay which I adapted from my previous theatre productions. I also wrote the songs, some old, some new, and this was the hardest and most time consuming part of the process. I collaborated online with my wise musical director Colin Cattle, who lives in York and the award-winning director Ian Talbot, who used to run Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and is famous for his bottom! Shakespeare’s that is, in ‘A Midsummers Night Dream’. I suppose this is what the pantomime turned out to be. Once the production was cast and crew assembled the actual filming was exciting and hilarious partly because the freelancers who jobs were suddenly curtailed during lockdown were bursting with energy, if only because they had found work in a profession they love and were dedicated too. Being in your element it’s called.
And it was a family affair wasn’t it?! Everyone got involved!
Apart from my sister and my brother-in- law performing as Buttercup the silly old moo, my middle daughter Katie, who is a playwright played the piano in one scene and my eldest Lucy, a singer known as ‘Luki’ recorded the original song as the end credits roll. Georgia, my youngest daughter, lent her editing eye to the process and Arthur, my son ,was head of location catering as he is a chef. My wife Annie is the production co-ordinator, known as The Boss. Great nieces and other family members also feature in the big song numbers as well as a glamorous array of local extras.
‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ will be available to watch online but it’ll also be shown in Everyman and Showcase cinemas across the country. You must be really excited about that?
I am a little too over-excited about that and looking forward to the premiere at the beautiful Crystal Palace Everyman, which is close to where I grew up as a child. I’m also pleased for all the actors who’ll have a nice film credit to add to their CV. It is also great opportunity for my cameraman, Luke Roberts, who’s a drummer and once played Ringo Starr when he’s not a cinema photographer, and I’m especially happy my for co-producer Denise Silvey with whom I’ve collaborated on several productions. There is still something magical about a cinema release, it’s kind of romantic and a boost to all those behind the scenes, the editors, the marketing department, and all the charities we are making donations to.
It might not be panto as we traditionally know it, but does ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ still have all the classic elements of a traditional panto?
It does, especially the ability to ‘shout at the screen’ when you feel the need! It is also interactive and there is a song sheet, so you can sing your heart out, too. For schools that watch online we have produced a four-part video guide to show you how you to put on your own pantomime for classmate bubbles or family and friends as well as a live zoom call with Dame Trott for shout outs and birthdays. For the Scouts and Guides I’m doing a few Facebook live events, and a singalong video for care homes. We have even filmed a spoof ‘Blue Peter;’ episode where I show you how to make good slosh/gunge. I even wear my famous green and white suit!
What is your family background in theatre?
My father Alan Gale began his career doing ‘fit up’ shows on Redcar Sands, called ‘The Wavelets’ and when he met mother they produced and performed in pantomimes and summer seasons their whole lives. It’s in my DNA.
What was it like starting your acting career in Laurence Olivier’s company at the National Theatre?
It was amazing but I was too young to realise just how lucky I was. I used to watch him from the flies wailing as Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, I was convinced he could see me and kept ducking down. Sir Larry once asked me if I played the spoons, I had no idea what he was on about. He used to live in Brighton and would often perambulate along the promenade to see my parents’ Olde Tyme Music Hall on the West Pier. I like to think that was what inspired his character Archie Rice in playwright John Osborne’s ‘The Entertainer’ John Osborne also featured in the movie ‘Flash Gordon’ banging a stick in the scene I was about to be bitten by the stump monster. I was then stabbed though the heart by a future James Bond (Timothy Dalton). Although the current James Bond won’t be in cinemas this Christmas, I will be as Dame Trott. What goes around around, comes around.
You’ve starred in some really big musicals -which roles were your favourites?
My first big stage musical was ‘The Little Tramp’ playing Charlie Chaplin. On the first night many famous people were watching including Antony Newley who I had worked with in a film musical called ‘Quilp’ in the 1970’s based on Charles Dickens’ ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. He was telling me all about Chaplin’s strange life while my eldest was sobbing because she had been so immersed in the story because Charlie had died. Cameron Mackintosh came to see it at a later date and I eventually ending up playing Denry Machin in a remake of ‘The Card’ which was the first big musical he had ever produced with Jim Dale in the lead. I received an Olivier nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. Jim Dale created the role of Barnum in ‘Barnum’ in America and I got to play the part several times in the UK, once in a 2000-seat tent on Shepherd’s Bush Green. Unfortunately that one closed early as the Producers ran out of money and did a runner. I did however tour the UK a few years later as PJ Barnum and tightrope walking is still one of my hobbies. My third favourite is ‘Me and My Girl’ playing cockney Bill Snibson. Oi! Oi!
Where did your love of panto come from?
From standing in the wings and watching them as a child, my mother in fishnet tights playing the principal boy and kissing the princess to my father’s funny man ‘Miffins’ whose song sheet I would join every time I attended. “How come this little boy knows all the words and he’s funnier than the funny man”, the audience would say. It’s all about the practice. After filming ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ my home is just like my childhood home full of costumes, wigs, props and the smell of greasepaint. That’s the make-up which lingers on well after the last performance.
What is that you think makes pantomime such an important festive tradition?
It is one thing that makes us different from the rest of the world. It’s more important than half the things we get riled up about. You can’t export it or leave it and despite covid 19 it’s still here in one form or another. It is satirical and pokes fun at the pompous and inefficient in any age, it can make you laugh and sometimes cry. The baddies get crushed and the goodies win in the end and we forgive them. It can also be profound…here are the lyrics to our final song in Jack and the Beanstalk to reflect the age we are in.
I WILL CLIMB TO SAVE MY FAMILY FROM TYRANNY AND GREED
I WILL CLIMB TO MAKE THE ‘BEST-OF- ME’ FOR POVERTY AND NEED
FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE CREATURES WHO INHERIT ALL THE EARTH
I WILL BRING DOWN PURE ‘AIR-TO-BREATHE’ NATURES GREAT RE-BIRTH
I WILL CLIMB TO STOP ALL CRUELTY BRING SANITY TO MIND
I WILL CLIMB TO BRING EQUALITY TO WOMAN AND MANKIND
TO THE HISTORY AND THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET WE ARE BOUND
I WILL BRING BACK A ‘PRO-PHE-CY’ LIVE IT AS FROM NOW
You became a household name as a presenter on Blue Peter – how did that job come about? How big a deal was that? With only 3 TV channels, it had a massive audience. People still talk about you cleaning the clockface of Big Ben without a safety harness. Weren’t you terrified?
It was the best job any 27-year-old could have. I was a busy actor but I couldn’t resist the adventure of becoming a ‘Blue Peter’ action man. I could still pick up a ukulele and pretend to be George Formby or fight a sumo wrestler in Japan but also be a trainee journalist or a part-time fundraiser helping young people to discover that doing good things for other people is what life should be about. I would also be very happy to clean Big Ben’s clock face again - with a safety harness this time! - and perhaps I could give the Houses of Parliament a once over too. It needs it.
What do you consider the highlights of your career over the past 5 decades?
My three family travelogue documentaries which were broadcast on TV in many counties. The six of us spontaneously backpacked around the world, turning up in China and India and anywhere else that would let us in. This work led me to becoming Chief Scout of the UK in 2005 a volunteer job I am most proud of. It’s cool to be a Scout!
Are there any challenges ahead for you?
I have a holiday company called The Natural Adventure Company thenaturaladventure.com and after 10 years of building it up it almost stopped overnight as did the rest of the travel industry. I would be really happy if it could get going again and we can all prove to each other that we can explore the world without ruining it. I promise Greta.
Finally, why should people come and see Jack and the Beanstalk at their local Everyman or Showcase cinema?
Come for the spectacle of a pantomime in a new setting, and feel safe in socially distanced cinema. It’s a new genre in cinema and just perhaps the rest of the world might catch on to what makes us Brits laugh.
‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is available to download at www. pantoonline.co.uk
It will open at Everyman cinemas on December 5 and Showcase Cinemas De Luxe on December 11
PETER DUNCAN BIOG
Actor, presenter, theatre and film maker, former Chief Scout and two time ‘Blue Peter’ man Peter has a TV, film and theatre career that spans five decades. A self confessed adventurer he is never happier than when in the thick of it such as competing in BBC1’s acrobatic extravaganza ‘Tumble’ or writing and directing his own Pantomimes around the UK.
He began his acting career on stage joining Olivier’s National Theatre and spent the 70’s working exclusively as actor. After his ‘Blue Peter’ and ‘Duncan Dares’ days he began to appear in musical theatre roles such as ‘Barnum’, Bill Snibson in ‘Me and My Girl’ and as Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Little Tramp’.
In 1995 he was nominated for an Olivier award as Best Actor in a musical playing Denry Machin in ‘The Card’. Over the last few years he has played Charlie Peace at Nottingham Playhouse and Jack Firebrace in the national tour of ‘Birdsong’. He took on the roles of Macduff in ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park and recently played Wilbur in ‘Hairspray’ and Sam Phillips in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’.
In 2001, he directed and filmed a six-part documentary series called ‘Travel Bug’ for the BBC in which he, his partner Annie and their four children backpacked their way around the world. In the two follow up series their adventure travels took them to China and India. Other TV credits include the 26-part slapstick comedy series ‘Demolition Dad’, Channel 4’s ‘The Games’ and ‘Celebrity Total Wipeout’ in which he lost the final by one second.
His work as an actor on TV has included ‘The Childhood Friend’, ‘Sons and Lovers’, ‘Renoir My Father’, ‘Warship’, ‘Fathers and Families’, ‘Sam’, ‘Fallen Hero’, ‘Survivors’, ‘King Cinder’, ‘Oranges and Lemons’, ‘The Flockton Flyer’ and ‘Space 1999’.
His feature film credits include ‘Stardust’, ‘Quilp’, and a famous cameo in ‘Flash Gordon’ - currently back in cinemas in a 40th anniversary re-release - in which he was bitten by a tree monster and died.
He was awarded a Gold ‘Blue Peter’ badge for his volunteer work as Chief Scout the leader of the UK’s half a million scouts.
Peter’s website is heresoneimadeearlier.com