From Russia with laughs
Stephen Notman may have “large brassiers” to fill, but he is confident he can manage in his role as the new dame in this year's Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society (BMDS) Christmas pantomime, 'Firebird'.
Written by Carol Birch with original musical score by James Burn, 'Firebird' is a traditional pantomime, but is based on a Russian folktale about a beautiful bird with magical feathers. Mr Notman plays Ka-Tissue, having taken over from veteran dame, Kelvin Hastings-Smith.
The dame, often a favourite character in a traditional pantomime, is always a man in over-the-top drag. Helping him literally
fill out the role is Jenny Burrell, who has made costumes for the pantomime this year for the first time.
“I grew up watching Gavin Wilson play the dame and later Kelvin Hastings-Smith,” said Mr Notman. “They both had me in hysterics. They both played it differently but beautifully.
“I have very large brassiers to fill.The first step was trying to break out of that and not imitate their past performances.
“They have the model down on how to play the dame, so there are elements of similarity, but I had to get comfortable saying the lines my way.”
Mr Notman is by no means new to the local stage.
He has performed in 'Frozen', and Christmas pantomimes 'Scrooge' and 'Ali Baba and the 14 Thieves'.
At 31 years old, he felt he brought youth and vigour to the role.
“I am just a bit younger. Something that I have in common with someone like Gavin is I am very comfortable ad-libbing. I am also very comfortable in women's clothes,” he joked.
“My physicality is different. I am told that the English dame is often the biggest person on stage.
“The villain is pretty big so I need to have a tall wig. The comedy is very broad, but as the dame you always have to be bigger and have more energy than everyone else.”
He has already tried on the dame's high heels and said that they will definitely “elevate” his performance as long as he doesn't first fall into the orchestra pit during a chase sequence.
He's also comfortable wearing a wig. Like his predecessor Mr Hastings-Smith, Mr Notman is a lawyer he swore it was not a prerequisite for being a Christmas pantomime dame.
“We litigators have to vent somehow,” Mr Notman said. “We are very staid in our property rights and laws.”
Ms Burrell said adults and children alike will be pleasantly surprised by the new dame. This year, Ka-Tissue will be a huge part of the show, which presented a special challenge to Ms Burrell as costumer.
“The dame is rarely off stage,” she said. “That has been a challenge. In some places in the script, I was thinking it would be nice to put a new costume on her, but she is right back on stage after one line.
“The good thing about the traditional dame is that she is usually in a different costume every other scene. The dame this year is really a diva.
“Stephen really became Ka-Tissue once the make-up and dress was on. It is amazing what a dress and a bit of make-up can do for a man. He really went for it.”
Ms Burrell frequently acts in productions but decided not to audition for this year's pantomime because she needed a break.
“This is my first time doing costumes,” said Ms Burrell. “After being in 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas', I was talking to Carol Birch in the bar at the Daylesford Theatre, and she said she had everything lined up for the pantomime but costumes, so I took that. It has been quite fun.
“I have tried to utilise the BMDS wardrobe. They have so many outfits going back years. I also had to order costumes from abroad, including some traditional costumes from Russia.
“I am very proud to 'buy Bermuda', and that has been hard. You might find one thing here, but you need ten, so unfortunately I have had to buy a lot abroad.
“Most of the things I have needed I found online. Once you know what you want it is easy to find it. You have an idea of the styles you want.
“The internet is amazing. The firebird's beautiful headdress is being made locally by Shelby Williams . The biggest headache is always the dame, because she is always so loud and over the top.
“The dame has to parody the firebird. Barbara Jones previously did the costumes. I have huge shoes to fill. The costumes are really bright and everything is going to pop.”
But as much as Ms Burrell has enjoyed doing costumes this year, she said she did miss performing.
“You see a role and think 'I so could have done that role'. Carol writes good characters. I would have loved to have been Micha.
“But it has been nice having my evenings free. I am busy with the costumes more in the daytime.”
Alexis Richens is the firebird in this year's pantomime; Melanie Henderson is Natalia, George Spurling is Ivan, Jenn Osmond is Baba Yaga, Geoff Yeomans is Koshei, Kathy Kawaley is Micha, Owain Johnston-Barnes is Boris, Leo Mills is Tzar, Adrian Kawaley-Lathan is Bruno, Connie Dey is the tour guide, Howard Williams is Lennie, and Deborah Pharoah-Williams is Laverne.
'Firebird' is on at City Hall Theatre from December 9 to 18 at 7.30pm. Matinees are planned for December 11, 12 and 18 at 3pm.
There will be no evening performance on December 12. Tickets, $35, are available online at www.boxoffice.bm.
For more information telephone the Daylesford Box office, 292-0848, or the City Hall Box Office, 292-2313. The City Hall Box Office is also open one hour before each performance.