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Musical director Greg Arrowsmith puts music magic into panto

When it comes to pantomimes, music is an integral part of the performance. Sam Wonfor talks to musical director Greg Arrowsmith

Greg Arrowsmith loves writing the soundtrack for pantomime veterans Clive Webb, left, and Danny Adams
Greg Arrowsmith loves writing the soundtrack for pantomime veterans Clive Webb, left, and Danny Adams

I used to love the sweary Nan in Catherine Tate’s comedy show, hence was looking forward to a mash-up sketch featuring her and the cast of Holby City (another old guilty pleasure) during the Children in Need telethon a week-or-so ago.

A couple of minutes into it though, I wondered why I wasn’t laughing. True, the swearing had been suitably toned down for its audience, but that wasn’t it. And then it dawned.

The laughter track which had been present, correct and chuckling appropriately throughout the TV series had been left off... and didn’t it make a difference.

I was reminded of this observation during an interview with accomplished musical director, Greg Arrowsmith, who has MD credits for the London Palladium production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and a UK tour of Chess... and who has written every last bit of music (that’s 50 bits of varying sizes) for this year’s pantomime offering at Newcastle Theatre Royal.

As the thousands who have bought tickets in record numbers will already know, it is the story of Jack and the Beanstalk which is being told by the theatre’s pretty-much resident panto team, including Newcastle-born writer Michael Harrison and Greg behind the scenes, and father-and-son comedy duo Clive Webb and Danny Adams, Dame Chris Hayward and dastardly Steve Arnott on stage.

“We also have the same drummer every year too, and of course the drummer is integral to the comedy,” says Greg, who clocks up his fifth stint working on the pantomime soundtrack this year, although his first in terms of writing all the music and lyrics.

“It was partly an ambition, partly a natural career progression, but also came from knowing the cast so well,” he says of his new role.

“If you know who you’re writing for, you’re able to be much more specific about what is required and within that quartet there is such a big diversity of talent.

“You can write Steve these wonderfully rich, deep villain songs, then there’s Chris who can deliver the traditional pantomime numbers and of course Danny and Clive can just do anything,” he adds.

“They have such a great relationship with the audience and they are fantastic to write for because they have such a clear picture of what is going to work. They’ve been doing it for so long that they can pinpoint exactly what is needed get the reaction they want.”

Having started working on ideas back in March with longtime collaborator Michael, Greg says by the time it comes to the first day rehearsals, he’s very excited to hear his songs being sung by the people they’ve been written for.

“It’s so lovely. So much of it lives in your head before you get to the first day of rehearsals. And it’s not only hearing it. Seeing what the choreographer has done... suddenly it comes out of your head and it’s there.”

As is always the form - and rightly so - Greg is unwilling to give too much of anything away when it comes to the show. We already know there will be a third dimension involved in the form of a 3D enchanted forest and associated journey through the giant’s castle. We have also been promised more comedy than you can shake a bag of magic beans at from Danny (Jack), Clive (Farmer Trot), Chris (Dame Rita) and the rest of the cast as well as a mean giant who resides at the top of what one assumes is a big beanstalk?

“It is pretty impressive... epic,” laughs Greg. “That will certainly be worth looking out for.” As will the finale to act one.

“It’s really terrific - and not just because of the music! All the effects and the point at which it comes in the story. It’s very special.”

Anything else? Go on, just one more highlight hint. “OK,” he says. “The Dame’s number in act one is also worth paying attention to. The clue is there’s a lot of animals in it.”

And that’s our lot.

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