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Celebrating 100 years of Grand's golden panto moments

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: November 30, 2012

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DO I love a panto? Oh yes I do! When I was a child, we would go to at least one pantomime a year, often two.

Our local theatre would put on a very shouty panto, with every child in the audience dragged up on stage (in my case, screaming and kicking) and forced to join in a rollicking sing-song, the words of which would be written on a large parchment that would unscroll from the ceiling.

Sometimes, we would also get on the train and go to a more slick and starry pantomime elsewhere.

The shows were always a hoot despite the sometimes naff singing and dancing, which, as a child, I always found got in the way of the plot.

And I know I am not the only one.

So much so, that Swansea's Grand Theatre is now getting ready to raise a glass to its panto tradition with an eye-catching and nostalgic exhibition.

The show, called 100 Pantomimes, opens its doors on December 11 in the Grand Theatre's Arts Wing.

The Grand is the first theatre in the UK to have notched up 100 pantomimes and it is marking the proud milestone with a colourful collection of costumes, photographs, posters and interviews as well as rarities and oddities.

One of its most prized pieces is a complete recording of Swansea panto favourite Ryan Davies's last ever panto, Babes In The Wood, just three weeks before he died suddenly.

Swansea Grand Theatre expert Ian Parsons is behind the exhibition and he says that recording was a real find.

"It was recorded on a reel to reel tape machine and kept in Barry Hopkins' loft for years. "He was a pop star of the day who was also in the panto, playing Robin Hood, and the recording was put away and forgotten about for years."

The dusty copy was unearthed again and sent to the Grand last year, so now a digitised version takes pride of place in the show. Also featured are video clips from Ian with a host of panto stars throughout the years, including Ruth Madoc and comic Joe Pasquale.

Ian saw his first panto at the city venue in the early 1970s at the age of 8, with the comedy pairing of Ryan and Ronnie starring.

Those two helped to create a boom time for panto in Swansea with each of their performances in the 1970s breaking box office records.

The festive season, of course, is a time of year when everyone comes together to let their hair down and to make the most of the theatre itself, which is a cultural heart and soul of Swansea.

Missing is Swansea's Catherine Zeta Jones who, while treading the boards as a young actress at the Grand, never appeared in a panto chorus line-up.

"We are very lucky to have the Grand Theatre, says Ian.

"I know performers love coming to the venue because it is such a beautiful theatre and because the staff, many of who have 30-plus years experience, are so professional."

This year's production of Cinderella featuring Chico, Mike Doyle and Kevin Johns, begins on Friday, December 14, running until Sunday, January 13.

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