For many people, both young and old, a trip to the pantomime is as much a part of the festive merriment as Father Christmas, roast turkey and presents under the tree.
It’s the job of people like costume and set designer Judith Croft to ensure they conjure up a little dash of Yuletide magic for audiences.
Judith has been involved with the rock ‘n’ roll pantomimes, which recently opened at Leeds City Varieties, for more than 20 years.
She started out working at The Gateway Theatre, in Chester, before becoming working at the Varieties, where she’s been involved for the past four years.
Croft draws inspiration from different places, which requires a lot of research. “For Cinderella in 2018 I was influenced by traditional Fifties Rock ‘n’ Roll, whilst this year’s inspiration is a Bavarian Christmas market - imagine a lovely snowy alpine landscape and a cosy window-lit village. I researched so many Christmas markets to design the set, and similarly the costumes which reflect traditional Bavarian dress,” she says.
Chuckle Brother Paul Elliott on his life in show business and coping with the loss of his brother, Barry
The Rock ’n’ Roll Pantomimes (this year it’s Red Riding Hood) follow a different format to the traditional festive panto in that there’s a jukebox full of classic rock anthems and chart-toppers performed live on stage.
Croft studied Theatre Design at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and has worked extensively in the North West, and has created countless sets and costumes over the years.
“I think I’ve done them all! I’ve probably designed Aladdin more times that any normal human being should; But they’ve all got something great about them.
For a completely different reason, I really enjoyed working on Beauty and the Beast because the setlist contained the Nilsson song Without You which I loved when I was young.”
There are other highlights from her impressive back catalogue. “I’m particularly proud of two things: firstly, when I was at the Library Theatre in Manchester, we did a site-specific production of Dickens’ Hard Times in a disused mill; it was a massive project, involving lots of people.
See the Yorkshire filming locations for Peaky Blinders ahead of series five premiere
“The space itself was huge, spread over two floors, I designed a number of sets within it and some fabulous costumes that swept through the space. It was a totally immersive and stunning production.”
The other was designing the set for Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a Neil Simon play in the west end starring Gene Wilder. “It was great fun having a show on Shaftesbury Avenue and feeling in the centre of everything,” she says.
“With every new job I do I research and delve into new worlds and discover new designers. For every new show it can be somebody completely different, from James Turrel’s lighting designs to Bob Crowley, Caravaggio or Van Gogh. You root and rummage through your memory and the visual references available to you.”
It’s a job, she says, that requires, skill and tenacity. “It’s not a job for people who are easily disheartened. In all aspects of theatre there is rejection, and this is no different for designers, largely due to the lack of opportunity. “Because there’s very little work, you must be able to prove your experience when starting out. I gained mine by building a portfolio of student
The costumes and sets inside the Scarborough and Beverley units home to the biggest panto production company in the world
productions when I was at college, but I didn’t just design at my own college, I had friends at other colleges, and I designed for them too.
“Always say ‘yes’. Make costumes for nothing, build sets for free. If you don’t have a total passion or can’t give it your all, it’s not the job for you. It’s a fantastic job but there’s very little of it around so you really must stand out as willing.”
Red Riding Hood The Rock ’n’ Roll Pantomime is at City Varieties Music Hall until January 12.