PANTOMIMES are known for their double acts but the festive offering at Bolton’s Albert Halls has thrown up an unlikely pairing.
Jack and the Beanstalk, which runs until New Year’s Day, stars Maureen Nolan as Fairy Sunshine and Connie Hyde as Poison Ivy. On stage they represent good and evil with young audiences cheering for Maureen and her magic and booing the evil Connie, performing dastardly deeds on behalf of the Giant.
Off-stage the pair have clearly struck up a friendship in spite of the fact they only met during rehearsals. And both are very quick to stress how important the pantomime is for their fiercest critics - the youngsters who are attending in their coachloads.
“The main thing is that they enjoy it,” said Maureen, one of the famous Nolan sisters who have sold more than 30 million records worldwide. “It really is all about them.”
Connie - best known for her roles in The Bill and more recently in Coronation Street where she played Gina Seddon for two years - agreed. “They’ve been screaming their heads off which is brilliant,” she said. “At one point the Dame actually tells them you’re not in school, you’re not at home you can make as much noise as you want - and they do!”
For panto veteran Maureen - Jack and the Beanstalk will be her 26th seasonal show - to see packed houses is quite special.
“It’s surprisingly moving after everything we all went through with Covid,” she said. “It’s so lovely to see them having such a fantastic time.”
“They are also future audiences for our theatres.,” said Connie, “For many of them, this is their introduction to theatre so it is important that they have a good time or it could put them off for life.”
Compared to Maureen, Connie is a virtual pantomime novice.
“This is only my second panto,” she said, “and the first time that I’ve played a baddie and I love it. I much prefer being the baddie.”
“Actually so do I,” said Maureen. “I just swan on sparkling and smiling.”
“She also sings beautifully,” added Connie. “But it is surprising that it’s actually exhausting playing nice all the time.
“Having said that, I think for all of us the rehearsals are far easier than the rehearsals which are pretty gruelling as you have such a short space of time wo get everything ready.
“I think we had 10 days to pull together the two hour show. I’d usually get four weeks to rehearse a play.
“Rehearsals are long days,” said Maureen, “but they do give everyone a chance to bond and get to know each other. And by the time the show starts we have all got each others backs.”
One of the attractions of bringing pantomime to Bolton for both has been the fact it will allow them to enjoy a family Christmas.
Maureen, who lives in Blackpool, said: “I don’t want to be too far away from home at Christmas and face a five hour drive to get back on Christmas Eve. Christmas is my favourite time of the year; it was massive in our family when I was growing up and we have continued that tradition.”
Connie, who now lives in London grew up in East Lancashire and her dad and sister live in Whalley.
“It was one of the reasons I did this show is that the whole family can come up and be together at Christmas,” she said.
Bolton has a special place in Connie’s heart - she worked as an usher at the Octagon when she was in her teens which set her on a path to a career in the theatre.
“I also realised that I used to work on a stall on Bolton Market,” she said. “I helped out a friend of my dad’s on his stall when I was about 12 or 13 but couldn’t remember where. I went to the market the other week and just got this strange feeling about the place. When I asked my dad where I had worked he said it was Bolton which explains the feeling of deja vu - I worked on a stall selling towels and bedding.”
Connie studied at Accrington and Rossendale College on a course led by Martin Cosgrif, an inspirational drama teacher who died in 2020. Also in her class were Coronation Street and Broadchurch star Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mina Anwar, soon to be seen at the Octagon in Spring and Port Wine.
“Julie’s my oldest friend,” she said. “We both went to Lamda together after college. Martin was the most amazing teacher.”
Connie has been involved in setting up a bursary in his name to help fund young performers through drama school.
“Six of us went to drama school from our year and we all got grants from Lancashire County Council, Without that none of us would have gone,” she said. “Those grants are no longer available but hopefully the bursary will be able to give others the chance we had.”
Jack and the Beanstalk, Albert Halls, Bolton, until January 1. Details from www.alberthalls-bolton.co.uk