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Dame Dotty (aka Tread the Boards artistic director John-Robert Partridge) reveals her secrets ahead of Beauty and the Beast opening at the Cidermill Theatre, Chipping Campden





Artistic director John-Robert Partridge is reviving his dame for Tread the Boards’ panto, Beauty and the Beast. It will be the first professional production of the newly-opened Cidermill Theatre. Here he tells Gill Sutherland about his transformation and the secrets of being a great dame.

Tell us about your dame, who she is, where’s she from and what she’s up to.

So my Dame is called Dame Dotty. She’s a single mother from (in this pantomime) the quaint village of Petit Pois. And she is the housekeeper for Professor Crackpot which is a 24-hour-a-day job, working nine to five.

When did you first tread the boards as a dame?

Ten years ago in our production of Jack and the Beanstalk, and when Dame Dotty was born. I had actually cast someone else as the dame but at short notice they were unable to play the role so I stepped in to cover and I instantly fell in love with Dame Dotty and the art of being a dame. Since then, I have performed as a dame every year more or less. I have also been the dame for The Swan Theatre pantomime in Worcester for two years as well.

John-Robert Partridge plays Dame Dotty alongside Abigail Drennan as Belle and Jonathan Houlston.Jean-Claude Van Dumb in the Tread the Boards panto Beauty and the Beast which opens at the Cidermill.Theatre in Chipping Campden on 20th December. Photo: Mark Williamson. (60688357)
John-Robert Partridge plays Dame Dotty alongside Abigail Drennan as Belle and Jonathan Houlston.Jean-Claude Van Dumb in the Tread the Boards panto Beauty and the Beast which opens at the Cidermill.Theatre in Chipping Campden on 20th December. Photo: Mark Williamson. (60688357)

As an actor, what steps do you have to take to transform into the dame?

First it’s finding out what kind of dame you want to be. Every dame is different. It’s finding your sense of humour in her and exaggerating it. In order to transform you practically need a loyalty card from Boots for the amount of make-up you will buy over the course of a pantomime season.

I have learnt more, and appreciate the amount of time and effort it takes people to put on their make-up day to day: blusher, foundation to blend, eye-shadow, eye liner, eyebrow pencil – the list is endless!

Having the right shoes is essential. Like in any show, I always try to wear the shoes my character would wear to try to understand their physicality. For the dame I have several pairs of size ten high-heel shoes. When performing at Worcester they infamously create a medley of songs and dances at the pantomime lasting around 15 minutes. Dancing to an Abba medley for 15 minutes in high heels is certainly ‘character building’ – and foot destroying.

And then there is of course the dresses, my wife Catherine often jokes that I have more dresses than she does, but it’s true, I probably have around 30 dame dresses.

And what is key to being a successful dame?

It’s knowing where the acceptable line of the double entendre is and walking that line. When I came out of drama school I played the comedy sidekick: Simple Simon, Wishee Washee, Idle Jack, Buttons, Muddles – that character traditionally is for the kids to enjoy lots of silly slapstick humour. Whereas the dame is definitely for the adults.

In a lot of pantomimes the director often plays the dame and I can understand why. The dame appears in all the set pieces of the show: The Slosh Scene (normally resulting in a mess being made on stage); The Ghost Gag – which gets huge audience participation, and various other routines in the show.



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