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Cilla in Liverpool panto rehearsals storm

by Elissa Corrigan. Published Tue 25 Nov 2008 16:12, last updated: 26/11/08
Cilla... as the Fairy Goodmother
Cilla... as the Fairy Goodmother

Panto queen Cilla Black is at the centre of controversy over long distance rehearsals for her Christmas show in Liverpool.

Cilla will top the bill at the Liverpool Empire as Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, but panto rehearsals are being held at the Old Vic in London.

And that means other cast members who are from Liverpool are being forced to commute hundreds of miles each day.... or practice their lines without the main stars.

The cast includes Liverpudlians Les Dennis and Jennifer Ellison along with Hollyoaks star Nick Pickard who are rehearsing in London.

Other roles are being played by north west based radio presenters Peter Price and Ted Robbins and comic Roy Brandon and it is understood they cannot get down to London.

Two weeks of rehearsals began at London's Old Vic Theatre on Monday and the lid had been kept on simmering backstage discontent.

But now former Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson has waded-in and vented his anger over the long-distance rehearsals in an interview on GMTV.

Speaking to Lorraine Kelly, Ricky said that never before has a Liverpool panto been rehearsed in another city and demanded to know what was going on.

Ricky said:"I'm a bit disappointed in where the pantomime is being held this year.

"I want to know why the cast of the pantomime, which is taking place in Liverpool are going down to rehearse in London. I don't understand it.

"I'll be on Roger Phillip's Radio Merseyside show tomorrow wanting to know why they're down in London when we could do it in Liverpool.

"We could do with the money, so why aren't we rehearsing in Liverpool?

"We've got wonderful rehearsal studios there.

"The town's buzzing. The waterfront's alive and there's been fantastic performances, it's been great.

"And I want to know why they're down in London rehearsing there.

"I imagine 80-90 per cent of the cast are Scousers.

"I want to find out."

And show insiders confirmed there are fears the show is going to be a shambles because of lack of rehearsal on the Liverpool stage which is almost double the size the Old Vic's.

A Liverpool Empire insider said: "Everyone in the show is well aware that the real reason the rehearsals are in London is that Cilla Black played the prima donna.

"We were told that she laid-down the law and said she was not spending two weeks rehearsing in Liverpool.

"It was a condition of her doing the show that the rehearsals were in London and so it has all been set-up at the Old Vic.

"It's a logistical nightmare because there are only going to be three days proper rehearsals at the Empire before we open.

"There have been ructions among some of the second string stars who have other commitments in the North West.

"Cilla is not popular because it has meant people have had to put their lives on hold to fit in with her.

"Some of the cast literally can't get down to London for the rehearsals and are having to go through their paces separately up here in Liverpool.

"Everyone is worried that it is going to be a terrible shambles when they do all get together for the first time and there is going to be tears before the curtain goes up.

"The show calls for Cilla, as Fairy Godmother, to fly through the air and that is famously the kind of thing that can go badly wrong if it has not been properly rehearsed.

"The whole London rehearsal is a charade.

"It's costing an absolute fortune that has not been budgeted for and we have heard that there are worries that the show might even make a loss as a result."

But First Family Entertainment, producers of Cinderella at the Liverpool Empire, defended the decision to hold rehearsals in London.

First Family Entertainment Chief Executive Kevin Wood said: "We took the decision to rehearse in London because the whole production company is based there.

"It's not just because Cilla could not be bothered to get on a train.

"I really don't know why Ricky Tomlinson has decided to get on his high horse about this. It has nothing to do with him.

"We asked Ricky to be involved with the show in the very early stages and he declined, so I don't know why he is saying this.

"It's not unusual for us to rehearse in London. Four of our other large productions this year are being rehearsed there, where we can keep things ticking along.

"The Liverpool Empire is the biggest pantomime production in the country this year and the budget has been massive.

"We want to make sure it's a truly magnificent show and it would be crazy for us to try and produce a show that is 200 miles away. It just wouldn't work.

"It's far more cost-effective for us to bring a few actors down to London to practice rather than move the creative team, dancers and behind-the-scenes staff all the way to Liverpool for rehearsals.

"It might be breaking tradition but it is because this is the biggest pantomime there has ever been in the history of Liverpool.

"It is a big injection of money for the city and the local economy. The panto can only be positive for Liverpool."



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