Lincoln: Beauty & the Beast press launch at the NTR Lincoln

Press event

This week I was invited to the press launch of the Beauty and the Beast pantomime which runs from the 10th December to the 9th January at the New Theatre Royal in Lincoln. 

We were introduced to the cast and their characters, all who were in full costume and looked amazing, before getting the chance to sit down and chat to them about the panto. You could feel how excited everyone was for panto to be back after the past 18 months. There was a real buzz in the air and it was a lovely event to be part of - everyone in the theatre from cast to the crew were so friendly and you can tell they all get along really well.

I spoke to seven of the cast members including the very popular Jake Quickenden, NTR regular, Chris Johnson, Camilia O'Grady, Vanessa Dumatey, Laura Wenton, Georgia Hayes-Cowley and Paul Aitchison. All of them were an absolute delight to talk to and made me even more keen to see the show. Here's what we spoke about;

Tell me about your character and what part you play in the panto

Jake: I play Flash Hugo, who if you're going by Beauty & the Beast, is basically Gaston. He's very self-loving and thinks everyone else loves him too - the perfect character for me! This is often the impression people have of me before they know me so it's quite an easy role to play. It's great fun being Flash.

Chris: I play Ivar Brainstorm who is Belle's Father, and I've just realised it means that Belle's name is Belle Brainstorm. What a great name! He's a crackpot inventor, he's a doting father and a bit of a fool. He gets strung along quite bit by our nasty villain, but it's panto so everything works out in the end!

Camilia: I play the Enchantress at the start of the show, Serenity Rose and also Gigi Vavavoom which is such a fabulous name.

Vanessa, Laura and Georgia: We play the Singit sisters - Cindy Singit, Lindy Singit and Mindy Singit. We're basically Flash Hugo's very energetic and sassy entourage so we go wherever he goes and are always fawning over him - his biggest fans. 

Paul: Well I don't play anything as obviously I 'am' Mary Muffintop! A very glamorous cake. Lots of cakes come in multipacks but this particular cake is single so if you know anyone who might be interested...single gentlemen - get down to the theatre and ask for Miss Muffintop.

What made you want to star in Beauty and the Beast?

Jake: I hosted a show two years ago, just before lockdown called Dance to the Music which starred Kristina Rhianoff at the New Theatre Royal. Whilst doing the show I met Natalie (who is Beauty & the Beast's Producer, Writer, and Director) and she said she'd love to have me star in a panto. The original plan was to do it last year but obviously everything shut down so it's been two years in the making. Natalie is so talented which is clear to see just by looking at the costumes. This is just the press day and there's such a buzz here.

Also, Lincoln is close to home for me as I'm from Scunthorpe so it'll be nice to be able to pop to my Mum's for some dinner! 

Chris: For me, it's the opportunity to work with the team at the New Theatre Royal again. This is my seventh consecutive panto with them and they're a delight. Whenever they call I'll always make it work. I'm not actually from Lincoln (although it probably feels like it as my face is on posters at every Christmas market!) but I started working with the guys here in 2016 and seven pantos later, I still love it!

Camilia: It's just amazing. It's magical in every single way from cupcakes and glitter to the lights and the show has the most fantastic characters. Everyone who works here is just so lovely and we get on so well - it's such a wonderful cast and crew. I'm having a great time.

Vanessa, Laura and Georgia: There's such a lovely family atmosphere at the NTR, and Beauty & the Beast is one of our favourite films. We also loved the idea of the sisters - we won't give away too much but they do a lot of singing (as you can tell by the name!) and have great fun.

Paul: I love that you've used the word 'star' as it's called Beauty and the Beast and I am the Beauty. There's a girl called Belle, but we humour her. I think she can tell that it's really Mary Muffintop's show.

What do you love most about pantomime? 

Chris: The fact that it's a gateway to theatre for a lot of children. I think it is most people's first experience of theatre and it opens you up to a world of working in the industry; the lights, costumes, technical side, the set, the music - I could go on! It's the spark for a lot of people in figuring out what they want to do when they grow up.

Camilia: The magic of it and the Christmas spirit. This year more than ever people are so ready for it.

Paul: I love the silliness and in a normal show you have to stick to the script whereas pantomime can be absolute chaos and the way the audience responds completely informs the show. It's so much fun to have such a live and energetic audience.

Because panto is all about Christmas - what do you love most about the festive time of year?

Jake: Presents! I love buying presents. I've got everything I need in my life now, so it's great to spoil other people. As a kid, I'd never have imagined that'd I'd prefer giving presents but I really do. It's also the first year with my little boy so that's going to be magical.

Chris: My official answer is togetherness, family and the spirit of goodwill, but off the record it's pigs in blankets.

Camilia: The build-up and the countdown, and obviously the pantos!

Vanessa, Laura and Georgia: It's a great time for family to come together and this year more than ever, people are so excited for it. You can't beat the Christmas countdown.

Paul: The pigs in the blankets - what we call the in-laws when they come and sleep on the sofa!

Lastly why should people come and see Beauty & the Beast?

Jake: Because they get to stare at me for two hours...only joking! Being serious, the show is going to be amazing, the costumes are incredible and it's been a tough two years. Let's have some fun, enjoy ourselves over Christmas with friends and family, and do all of the things we've missed out on.

Chris: It's going to be a wonderful time at the New Theatre Royal with Christmas spirit and panto magic. And I'm baking hot in my costume so make it worth it, buy a ticket!

Camilia: After the year we've all had, we all deserve to have a magical, fun and amazing night and you'll find it at this show.

Vanessa, Laura and Georgia: There's going to be lots of songs, lots of dancing and amazing costumes. It's a show for everyone, not just for the young but for adults too - it really brings family together and will make Christmas extra special!

Paul: You'll have a lovely time - lots of laughs and jokes and some great songs. And obviously, you've got me as a cake. And if you want more than that for your Christmas present I don't know what's wrong with you!

You can book tickets to Beauty & the Beast by calling the Box Office on 01522 519999 or online here

Baby: My Positive Birth Story with my second baby

It's been six months since we had our beautiful Millie and I'm finally getting around to sharing her birth story. I wanted to make sure I had it written down so I could look back on it, and I loved reading positive birth stories when I was pregnant so hopefully it will be helpful for some of you! I did the Positive Birth Company course with Florence, and so bought it again so I could refresh my memory. Hypnobirthing has been amazing for me - you can read more in this post.

I went into labour four days early with Florence; you can read her birth story here but in summary, labour was really positive but was 36 hours from the very first contraction so quite lengthy. I was fully expecting Millie to be the same so it was a surprise when my due date came and went - and I didn't enjoy the constant questions asking if I'd had any twinges! I had a sweep at 40+6 which wasn't successful as she was so low so the midwife couldn't reach my cervix. She gave me some clary sage oil to massage in a couple of times a day as that can sometimes help bring on labour.

I was booked in for an induction on the Sunday, however on the Thursday morning I woke up early at 5.30 with a few contractions about 10 minutes apart. I then had one at 6.30 which ended with a big pop - my waters had gone! This was another surprise as my waters only went at the end of labour with Florence. I was laying in bed at this point and suspected what had happened so waddled to the bathroom and sure enough - they had very much gone. At this point my contractions started coming even more regularly and I just had a feeling that it was going to be quicker than with Flo bear.

I called the labour ward told us to come in to be checked (as my waters had gone) so I rushed around finishing my hospital bag and getting Florence ready to go to my parents. I was breathing through contractions and they were very manageable, coming every 5-8 minutes. 

We dropped Florence off and got to the hospital at 8.30 in the morning. It wasn't busy on the ward so we were taken to a room and told to get settled - I didn't know whether Chris could come in with me at this stage (Covid reasons) but luckily he was. I had two wonderful midwives (my main midwife was a student) and both were so lovely and I immediately felt at ease. They said they wouldn't do any checks for a while as wanted us to be relaxed and to get the oxytocin flowing. We were brought tea and toast for breakfast, and the room overlooked Lincoln Cathedral so it was just very lovely at this stage with a chilled atmosphere. Very different to when I arrived in labour with Florence when I was pretty out of it and couldn't eat anything! I bounced on my ball and the midwives set up an aromatherapy diffuser and gave us some Clary sage oil for Chris to massage in to my back when I had a contraction.

At this point the midwives weren't sure if my waters had actually broken, so were going to have to do an internal check and said they could then examine me and give me another sweep if I needed it. However literally as I was getting onto the bed my waters started leaking even more and it was very clear they had gone! 

Everything was very manageable until around 10.30 when the contractions massively ramped up - my student midwife had told me to do figures of 8 on the exercise ball which really seemed to get them going. The midwives couldn't believe the change as they left me happily chatting and bouncing on the ball and came back to me mostly stripped off with Chris holding a fan in my face. I put the tens machine on but it didn't do much at this point and the wires were irritating me. I was given some gas and air which was a good distraction. The midwives realised that things were moving fast and so rushed to get the birth pool filled which was in the next room. At this point I couldn't care less where I delivered but they knew I wanted a pool birth and that the water helped me last time.

Less than an hour later I could feel my body starting to push (just after saying that I couldn't do it and was too tired, hello transition!) and luckily the pool was ready so I could get in. I pushed for about 45 minutes with Chris guiding me. The only time the midwives got involved was when birthing the head - I had to slow my pushing and do little breaths. When pushing the body the midwives quickly realised that her hand was by her face so helped me onto my back (I was on all fours) so that they could help manoeuvre her out. And then she was here at 12.28pm, born in the water! We checked to see what she was (another girl - of course!) and had some cuddles in the pool before I was given the injection and delivered the placenta. 

I was never actually examined internally so it was hard to know exact times, but labour was recorded as 6 hours with 1 hour 45 minutes of established labour - a lot quicker than with Florence! They thought her hand might have caused a tear but it was just a graze so I was very lucky.

We had lots of skin to skin and were able to go home the same day - the hours following both births have been my favourite life moments ever. I loved telling our family the news, and even though I was sore and tired, the high was unbeatable.  I feel so lucky to have had such a positive birth - the midwives were just amazing and didn't do one internal exam as could see everything was progressing (was pleased as I found the examinations really hard with Florence) and they mostly left Chris and I to it. Hypnobirthing definitely helped keep me in a calm space even when things got intense so I really do recommend it.