Sheffield pantomime Dame Robert Spink is really taking the showbiz adage of “the show must go on” to heart.
The former teaching assistant, who lives in Ecclesall, has blood cell cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has to have some kidney scans done in hospital straight after the pantomime run.
He says the condition is slow moving and adds: “You just get tired and pick viruses up.” During rehearsals he was fighting off a bug.
You’d never know Robert was anything less than fighting fit from watching him keeping audiences well entertained in the larger than life role of Nurse Nora Virus in Snow White at Sheffield City Hall.
This is his fourth time playing the Dame for celebrated city amateur company Manor Operatic.
He said: “I started off as a broker’s man (a comedy character) and I’ve been lucky enough to play the Dame. I’ve been an Ugly Sister before.”
Robert says he really enjoys Manor’s set pieces, like the bucket game, where children from the audience come up on stage and play a game like musical chairs, but with buckets.
He added: “I love the bucket game, not knowing what’s going to happen. The pressure’s on and I like to think I thrive in that environment.”
He really means it when he says anything can happen. “One kid said he wanted to go to the toilet. The next thing we knew he was tiddling in a bucket! He got to take the bucket with him…
“Kids are fantastic, especially the ones that have made the effort and dressed up.”
Robert adds: “You’ve got to think on your feet. If something goes wrong you want to bring the audience in on it.”
He says he knows the script backwards, so that he can then ad lib: “Something might happen, like the sacking of a prime minister or a scandal. You have a little bit of banter about Nigella Lawson.”
Simon Hance, who plays court jester Muddles, remembers another funny story. He said: “When we did Mother Goose, Rupert Smith was wearing a 10 to 12-foot high goose costume. All of a sudden all the audience were laughing.
“We turned round and you could just see two flippers sticking up from the orchestra pit. He’d fallen as he’d just lost complete track of the edge of the stage.”
Robert has had an elaborate headdress fall off before. He said: “You just play along with it.
“As long as the audience is brought in, it’s fine.”
He has to do 12 costume changes for Snow White and has two dressers to help him. He said: “You have to switch quick. There’s no secrets behind the stage. They get to see everything.”
Some of the costumes have heavy and massive headpieces and they are uncomfortable to wear, but worth it when they get a laugh like the one that greets his Little Britain Vicky Pollard-style jogging suit with visible thong at the back.
There’s no question of flouncing around, though. “It’s a bloke thing. You’ve lost the Dame if you start to play it effeminately.”
Robert says he wouldn’t miss the chance to play the role. “It’s hard work and you lose your Christmas and New Year. Everybody works hard.
“If you don’t enjoy it, that’s the day to pack it up. You’ve got to be really keen.”
Simon, a food safety officer, loves playing a role where he has to get the children on his side. He said: “There’s lots of audience participation.
“The last few years I’ve played the baddie.
“It’s nice to have a change and be nice to children, instead of taking their ice creams off them!”
This is his 20th panto for Manor and he has also played the Dame and Ugly Sister, as well as comic characters.
Simon’s daughter Ellie is a dancer in the show and his wife Joanne helps out backstage. Even their dog, Bella, has appeared before, as Toto in The Wizard of Oz.
He said: “It’s in my blood. I can’t explain it. I love the business of it and the feeling you get and the delight it gives people.
“You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy it. We’re amateurs, we don’t have to do it.
“People have been talking about our pantos in Sheffield for years. People are coming along that used to come when they first knew me. Now they’re bringing their chidren.
“It’s not easy to get to that tradition. It takes a lot of hard work and effort.”
Snow White is at the City Hall until Sunday. To book tickets, call 01709 365108 or visit www.manoroperatic.com
Manor traditions take centre stage - review , P30