A workshop is buzzing with sewing machines and excitement as it creates colourful costumes for a Norfolk pantomime.
The task of dressing Jack and the Beanstalk’s hero, his madcap mum, brainy girlfriend and family cow is in the safe hands and nimble fingers of a Norfolk performer who has panto running through his veins.
Mark Hudson, from Aylsham, has a feather-festooned workshop on the outskirts of Norwich which is home to hundreds of costumes heading to pantos across the nation.
The professional dancer, dance school owner, and actor who has played panto dame for more than twenty years, is now working on the outrageous outfits which will entertain families during the festive season at Sheringham Little Theatre and St George’s Theatre at Great Yarmouth.
Mark, fifty-one, says he loves the creative side of designing the costumes in liaison with the panto writer and wardrobe team.
“It starts with writer and director sending me his ideas – which are for a fresh, “cool” feel this year – which follows the recent trend for pantos to take traditional entertainment and make it fit the modern day. I love choosing and sourcing the materials, designing costumes to fit the script, and thinking out of the box – including putting colours together that you would not necessarily expect to work.” He comments.
Without spoiling any surprises he said Jack will be wearing bright retro “urban” clothes, Jill some colourful business attire, Dame Tiktok four big colourful outfits including a superhero’s, and a custom-built animal suit for Colin the cow.
Wardrobe mistresses Libby Henshaw and Jenni Randall visited Mark to see how things are progressing. Libby, who is a neighbour of Mark and set up the link with the Sheringham and St George’s panto, said: “It is great to be working with Mark and forming a link with local talent to produce costumes that are totally bespoke and which people will not have seen before.”
Mark has danced since he was five, learning at the Barbara Sutton School of Dance in Aylsham, then went on to teach dance and opened his own school in Stalham in 1987. Thirty one years ago, he took over the Anglia Academy of Performing Arts, now based at Meteor Close near Norwich airport. It also houses his Syldon Costumes venture in a string of rainbow bright rooms, sparkling with glitter, multi-coloured boas, and lines of extravagant wigs.
When he was a professional dancer he was dance captain at Norwich panto in 1993 for the recently deceased Lionel Blair. He was also understudy for comic actor Dora Bryan who was playing dame in Dick Whittington, and had to stand in when she fell ill.
It went well and he was called back for further dame roles in Cinderella and Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, before also doing three years at Gorleston Pavilion’s panto, working with Helen McDermott and Little Theatre patron Des Barrit.
“We made our own costumes. They got noticed and it grew to us making costumes for shows across the UK and Scotland. This year we are really busy doing 10 complete shows – and some of them need three sets of costumes because of Covid misting.”
A five strong team, including his mum Sylvia, makes the costumes which put the cast in stitches as well as the audiences. They buy hundreds of meters of materials from major London warehouses, and source some of the more exotic trimmings from India and China.
Later this month the cast will arrive for rehearsals to the meet their costumes for the first time.
Audiences will be able to see them at the show at St Georges – December 11-19 (1pm and 5pm) and Little Theatre December 21-23 (1pm and 5pm, with shows on Christmas Eve at 10am and 1pm, and back to 1pm and 5pm for December 26-31).
Schools can sign up to see a streamed version of the show in their classrooms via the Norfolk Music Hub at www.norfolkmusichub.org.uk.