Sleeping Beauty at North West Theatre Arts Company

Don’t know about you but I’ve had withdrawal symptoms since ‘…Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ finished.

It’s panto season though and where better to go in this wet and windy weather but our very own local theatre on Lightbowne Road, Moston.

North West Theatre Arts Company (NWTAC) don’t do anything by halves, they put their hearts and souls into making your theatre experience one to remember. Last year’s panto was brilliant but does this year’s measure up?

Here’s what to expect.

Pantomime, notwithstanding adult ‘double entendres’, is essentially for children, so the bar sells non-alcoholic and hot drinks plus a range of savouries and sweets. There’s also a variety of souvenir toys on offer. I was tempted to buy one but passed on a psychedelic flashing wand and settled instead for a hot chocolate.

As we filtered in and took up our seats you could sense the excitement of the children. It was infectious and added to the air of expectation.

Curtain up and, in turn, each of the main characters bounced onto the stage and introduced themselves. Straight off Maleficent was magnificent; as scary as the evil witch from Walt Disney’s Snow White (and she scares the wits out of me). Everything about her was awesome from the spooky, gravelly voice to her dark swirling gown and black horns.

Prab Singh, at least they said it was Prab but I’m sure he sported a beard the last time I saw him, played the bauble bedecked Dame, just as funny as. Fairies always have wonderful dresses too. The Lilac Fairy’s was no exception. She delivered her pretty musical prose in feather light tones and in perfect contrast to Maleficent’s raucous groans.

The Dame’s supporting, and may I say dextrous, comedy trio consisted of Trumpy, Pumpy and Silly Billy and had us rolling about in our seats.

At the interval I picked up a conversation between two mums on the row behind that started “I haven’t laughed this much since….”. Unfortunately, I missed the end bit as the usherette came by and I never pass up the chance of an ice-cream.

The courtiers danced their hearts out while Sleeping Beauty and her charming prince sang beautifully. They brought gasps of delight from the little ones in the audience. It warmed my heart and I loved it.

NWTAC’s talent extends to include stunningly bright lavish costumes together with quality props and sets to enhance the visual story telling. Panto is the perfect opportunity for the script writers to bring their own adaptations into the mix and opportunities for audience participation don’t get missed. I won’t spoil the surprises; ad-libs mean every performance is different anyway.

I left feeling happy inside and in the right mood for Christmas. Suffice to say the gap in my life, now that ‘celebrity jungle’ has ended, has been well and truly filled.

Does this year’s panto measure up? Don’t ask me. Buy a ticket and see for yourself.

The show continues on Friday 20th December and twice a day Saturday 21st, Monday 23rd and Tuesday 24th. Tickets are available through Groupon or by calling the box office on 0161 207 1617.

For full details of this and future shows click here for NWTAC’s website or follow them on Facebook.

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Street Life: Holly, Handel and QC Port

For me, Advent meant nativity plays, Father Christmas in his grotto, a church fair and the school Christmas party. But it also had its low points.

When choosing Christmas cards, mum read every single one to find the verse exactly suited to each recipient. I consider the amount of time spent standing at the card counter in Woolworth’s basement was borderline child abuse.

The place to be at Christmas was Lewis’s. In the fifties, the sales floors surrounded an atrium known as the dome. Throughout December it was strung with fabulous decorations that twinkled and swirled above the shoppers. Gazing up, enveloped in the scent from the Bromley lemon soaps, made it seem like wonderland.Queuing for Father Christmas was an annual ritual, but the cardboard and cotton wool grotto was something of a let down after that amazing dome. However, the ‘gift’ of a toy sweet shop, post office, or bus conductor’s set, was some consolation for that interminable wait.

Our girls school was small, but the nativity play we put on was not the usual tea-towel headgear and shaky rendering of Silent Night on the recorder. We pulled out all the stops – three performances on a proper stage, with girls playing male characters transformed by real wigs and beards. My debut role was as a page, but I gave up ‘the’ stage’ in favour of music when I was twelve.

The orchestra’s chief function was to accompany the choir; however the musicians were allowed their own moments of glory. I still recall the thrill of playing The March from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, as the 3 kings and their extensive entourage processed down the centre aisle.At home, twisted streamers, paper chains (homemade) and a few balloons constituted our decorations. For the ‘Christmas tree’, picture a piece of dowel stuck into a 6-inch diameter block of wood, painted red. Then imagine stiff, dark green bottle brush ‘branches’ in a shape something like a fir tree. The bare wire ends of the branches were once tipped with artificial berries, but they had long since disappeared. My job was to roll red plasticine into little balls and stick them onto the wire, to avoid anyone’s eye getting poked out.

The notoriously unreliable lights went on first, followed by tinsel, glass globes, chocolate decorations and candles in clip-on holders. My wish for a real Christmas tree came true when I got married, but I still have fond memories of that old bottle brush relic.

My sister and I raced to the doormat to collect the 4 or 5 deliveries of Christmas post per day. Mum’s rule was, cards could be opened and read but our totally uninterested father must be allowed to see them before they were put up on the picture rail. When the last card went up on Christmas Eve, the halls were deemed well and truly decked.

Certain food stuffs only appeared at Christmas. Nuts in their shells, russet apples and tangerines were displayed in the best fruit bowl. A small weekly amount paid into the grocer’s Christmas club provided luxuries such as a large tin of assorted biscuits, crystallised fruits and Roses lime juice. And in case of unexpected visitors, there was a tin of Old Oak ham on stand-by.Alcohol wasn’t routinely found in most homes, but at Christmas we pushed the boat out with a bottle of QC port and a sherry. By the end of the decade, Babycham had made an appearance, and one year we even had advocaat (ugh).

I recall our delight when the Co-op divi stretched to a beautiful, Christmassy country cottage. When the cotton wool snow-covered roof was lifted off, there were small presents and paper hats inside. Possibly it replaced the crackers which, along with festive paper serviettes, were all that distinguished the Christmas table from every other meal time.

With turkey now relatively cheap and plentiful, it’s difficult to imagine that in the fifties, there were families who had never tasted it. Generally our bird was a large capon with plenty of stuffing to make it last out the two day holiday. Fresh cream was unheard of, so pudding was served with hot custard.

Mince pies were baked at home, but the iced Christmas cake came from the local bakery.

On Christmas afternoon, the family gathered for cold meat tea at the grandparents. This was followed by games, with our perennial favourite being roulette. For ‘gaming chips’ we used the pennies and ha’pennies set aside for the gas meter or bus fares. Croupier granddad made sure nobody ever lost more than a few coppers before we were sent off to bed.

The country’s war debts had resulted in an export drive that kept goods in short supply on the home front. It wasn’t until the mid fifties that ‘luxury’ and consumer items began to appear in the shops again.

Thankfully you don’t miss what you’ve never had, so we youngsters were blissfully unaware there was any other way to celebrate Christmas than the one we knew.

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When I’m Sixty-four…commercial TV, that is.

Television is almost as old as radio, experiments beginning in the early 1900s. From September 1929, the BBC issued test transmissions “by the Baird process” daily at 11am and on 14 July 1930 sent out the first trial of a scripted play.Regular TV broadcasts in the London area began in 1936, only ceasing when war broke out, as it was feared the signal might act as a beacon for enemy aircraft. Normal service, to quote a common phrase, was resumed in 1946 with broadcasts now relayed across the nation. Of course, news and entertainment could always be had from the well-established wireless (radio) programmes.Before telly – Dad tunes in the trusty wireless in December 1939, wondering if the war will be over soon

The real boost to domestic TV came in 1953 when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II became the first such occasion to be televised live. My parents were among those who rented a 12-inch set, mounted in a nice walnut-veneer cabinet. This would typically cost around 13s (65p) a week to rent, or about £65 to buy (over 2 months pay for many people). Most chose to rent, being cautious about the reliability of these early sets, not to mention their relatively high cost. By 1960, the same £65 would buy you a 21-inch set, complete with a set of legs.

Independent Television (ITV) made its debut in November 1955 in London and the Midlands, giving viewers two novel experiences – a choice of channels (wow) and TV advertising. The existing BBC programmes used a pair of frequencies, one for the video signal and one for audio, together known as Channel 2. Now, with a new set or by plugging in a ‘channel adaptor’, we had Channel 9 as well.

The new network consisted of four regional franchises, co-ordinated by Associated Rediffusion, who oversaw the relaying of programmes from one area to another. All the broadcasts, of either channel, were in monochrome only, using a 405-line screen scanning resolution (low definition by modern standards but actually quite good quality).

Manchester had to wait until Thursday, 3 May 1956 when Granada TV put out its first broadcast from the brand-new studios on Quay Street, via a regional transmitter at Winter Hill. This prompted another rush to acquire TV sets. My family had recently moved to New Moston from Salford so it gave them the excuse to upgrade to a 17-inch set, with a channel knob!Lying face down in front of the fire, chin on hands, I goggled up at the new set. To be honest, I can’t personally remember what was on, but newspaper reports said it was an introductory live show hosted by American presenter, Quentin Reynolds, who (it turned out) was blind drunk; only some timely ad-libbing by guest Arthur Askey saved the show. Fifteen minutes in brought the first advert (for chocolate) and a quip from Arthur, “don’t worry – it’s not all as bad as this!”

The new channel soon settled into a routine and, as well as a crop of H-shaped VHF aerials, spawned another magazine, the TV Times, launched in 1956 and quite separate from the Radio Times (founded in 1923). They cost 4d and 3d respectively.Covers of Radio Times and TV Times, both from 1956

Programmes on either channel were still very sparse, as a typical listing for Monday, 6 May 1956, shows:-

BBC

3:00pm Countrywise; 3:45pm Watch With Mother; 4:00pm Close Down; 5:00pm Childrens Programmes; 7:00pm News & Weather, with Newsreel and Highlight; 7:30pm Adventures of the Big Man; 8:00pm What’s My Line?; 8:30pm Panorama; 9:15pm Festival of British Popular Songs; 10:00pm News & Weather; 10:15pm Soviet Visit; 10:30pm Close Down

Granada

4:00pm Travelling Eye; 5:00pm Monday Club (Roy Rogers, Space Club and Sportspot); 5:55pm News; 6:00pm Close Down; 7:00pm News, then Count of Monte Cristo; 7:30pm I’ve Got a Secret; 8:00pm Seagulls Over Sorrento (play); 9:30pm Cross Current; 10:00pm Weather, then Liberace; 10:30pm Pub Corner; 10:45pm News; 11:00pm Close Down

“Watch With Mother” was my personal pre-school favourite. This 15-minute afternoon slot had a different theme each weekday. Monday was Picture Book, Tuesday Andy Pandy, Wednesday Bill and Ben, Thursday Rag, Tag and Bobtail, with The Woodentops on Friday. Who remembers Looby Loo, Little Weed and Spotty Dog? Ah, such innocence…Living room TV, 1960s style (photo by Steve Wilson)

In the mornings just a test card would be shown. After the last evening programme, the screen would gradually shrink to a small white dot, followed by blackness and an irritating whine, to remind viewers who may have nodded off to turn off their sets!

Now, we have 24-hour, high-definition colour and over 480 channels. Back on Christmas Day 1953, the first of the Queen’s afternoon speeches went on air. It is perhaps pertinent to reflect on this continued tradition and the huge changes in media technology that have come about during the reign of one monarch.