Sheffield panto dame reveals life behind the stage doors

It’s a funny job but someone has to do it and Damian Williams, the dame in the Sheffield Lyceum pantomime, is one of the best in the business.

By Julia Armstrong
Monday, 28th December 2015, 6:00 am
Damian Williams preparing to go on stage, Damian tries on one of his dazzling array of wigs
Damian Williams preparing to go on stage, Damian tries on one of his dazzling array of wigs

He’s playing laundry owner Widow Twankey this year in Aladdin, which he says is one of his favourites.

“I really like Twankey and the traditional ones like Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk and Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington.”

Damian Williams preparing to go on stage, just one of his ten costume changes

He has 10 costume changes this time, three in act one and the rest in act two. Two of his favourite outfits this year are the Manish/Vanish one that the audience see first and one where he’s dressed as a Chinese noodle box.

Then there’s a tube dress ‘with enormous boobs and a false bottom’ for added comedy value. The ‘boobs’ are two outsized tennis balls that Damian says are made as dog toys.

Damian described his typical day during the pantomime season.

“I drink coffee by the gallon, so I have coffee and breakfast somewhere in town. Bill’s and Tamper are my favourites at the moment.

“I get into the Lyceum at about 1pm or just before. There is a vocal warm-up for the cast on stage.

“I get in my dressing room on the half – 35 minutes before the show starts – and start getting myself together, making sure I’ve got everything I need.

“Then I start putting my face on, which takes 10 minutes. I’ve got a dresser who comes in and she starts helping to put my costume on. I don’t want to put it on too early.

“Then we’re off and running! My dresser, Sam, hangs around to make sure I change into the right costume.

“Then we go through the first show and I take a break for dinner before the second show.

“I come back after that and start getting ready for the second show. It’s longer usually in the evening.

“Then we all go over to the Crucible Corner for a drink and the next day we get to go back and start again!”

Sometimes there are three shows a day. Damian said: “Morning shows are the hardest. I’ll be in for 9am, which is tough if you’ve done an evening show the night before.

“We’ll always do two a day, so on a three-show day, you’re here the whole time.”

Damian’s dressing room is full of his props, including huge Doc Martens and baseball boots. He takes a size 12 but they are a 13 so he can get them on more easily.

The room is full of presents from fans. One very special gift is a small version of a statue of hero Eric Morecambe, left at the stage door for Damian by its creator, Barnsley-born sculptor Graham Ibbeson.

Damian spends a lot of time away from his family, so his wife makes a special picture advent calendar every year that goes on a life-sized poster of a Christmas tree.

Last year’s were family pictures that adorn the walls and this year’s has one from every panto he’s appeared in.

Actor friends also drop in to visit, including best mate Ben Richards, who was Bill Sykes in Oliver! last year at the Crucible

Of course, it’s tough to be away from home. However, Damian wouldn’t change it for the world. “I love it. It’s part of my Christmas as well as everyone else’s Christmas.

“People stop me in the street and say, ‘We can’t start Christmas until we see you’. There is a nice buzz around the city from everyone.”

He isn’t going anywhere soon, either. Tickets are already selling well for Snow White next year and Evolution Pantomimes have already signed him up for the next three years in Sheffield. Oh, yes they have!