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Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Bob Stott

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 3rd Dec 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

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She’s the heart and soul of the Customs House pantomime and one of the most-loved characters of all. She’s the mother of Cooksonville’s resident village idiot, Tommy, often the ship’s chief cook and bottle-washer or the proprietor of a Chinese laundry. Sometimes she’s a skint circus owner or a put-upon nursemaid. She’s often unlucky in love and desperate for a man to take care of her but, one thing is for certain, pantoland is going to be a lot less comedic and colourful without good old Dame Dotty.

This year’s production of Dick Whittington marks the end of an era at the South Tyneside venue, as it will be the final pantomime in which Dame Dotty struts her stuff. Her alter-ego, Bob Stott, has decided that, after an amazing 37 years in panto, it’s time to dispense with the dresses, wave goodbye to the wigs and give Dotty a send-off with style.

“I feel the time is right to move on,” says Bob, 66, who lives in Washington. “Not only right for me, but right for the Customs House, too. Everything changes in life and if you don’t change with it you get sucked into the dinosaur trap.”

But Bob is in no doubt that ‘the little panto with the big heart’ will continue to flourish and grow – even without the hilarious and loveable Dame Dotty.

“Ray Spencer is brilliant at producing pantomime and he is perfectly capable of putting a cast in place that will see the Customs House pantomimes continue to endure for many years to come. It is such a big part of Christmas in South Tyneside. The way Ray crafts a pantomime is amazing and he is also a very generous and giving performer.”

Ray and Bob’s comedy partnership has spanned four decades and delighted tens of thousands of theatre-goers, bringing them back year after year and smashing box office records in the process. Last year’s production of Aladdin brought in almost 27,000 people and this year’s show looks set to hit new heights. Such is the audience demand to see Dame Dotty take her final bow that Dick Whittington will be the venues longest run to date.

“I don’t say this lightly”, says Bob, “but what’s brilliant about the panto is that we’re all a big family and the audience becomes part of that as we all celebrate Christmas together.”

And despite the gruelling schedule that goes alongside performing in up to three shows a day for almost six weeks, Bob has always maintained that there is nothing like a dame.

 “Being part of the panto is always fun, but it’s a lot of hard work as well, and this year we’re doing 78 shows. For that whole time you have to be completely dedicated to your character and believe that you are them.”

Bob has very clear ideas about who and what Dame Dotty is, too.

“As a Dame, you have to be everybody’s mother, mother-in-law, auntie, friend and next door neighbour. I, personally, see Dotty as the archetypal Geordie wife: she likes a bet; she likes a tipple; she dotes on one son and despairs of the other, but she loves them both and worries about them. She’s also always looking for Mr Right to come along and she has a heart of gold.”

So, who does Bob consider to be the quintessential pantomime dame?

“Arthur Askey, Les Dawson and Terry Scott were all great Dames. Funnily enough, a lot of people say I remind them of Arthur Lucan as Old Mother Reilly.”

Obviously, throughout a career which has lasted 37 years, Bob has many fond memories to reflect upon.

“You really couldn’t print some of the funny stories that have happened over the years, not to mention the jokes Ray and I share in the dressing room. We have such fun together and I am proud to say we’ve never had a row.”

Bob, a grandfather of four and a great grandfather of two, can also recall the productions he has most and least enjoyed.

“My favourite pantomime was Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it was absolutely magical. I still have the soundtrack and play it in the car quite often,” he says.

“The panto I least enjoyed was Mother Goose because the dame is a sad dame. She wants to be beautiful and gives the goose away to achieve her wish. When I did my first pantomime, at the Westovians, it was Mother Goose and I realised how powerful the role of Dame is after I sent the goose away. This little girl came to the front of the stage, crying her eyes out, and said: ‘Please don’t send Priscilla away’. Well, I was devastated and ended up spending five minutes consoling the girl and a further ten consoling myself.”

The stagecraft associated with performing in a traditional slapstick pantomime is extremely physical and, in his time as Dame Dotty, Bob has sustained more than his fair share of injuries.

“Last year I had to perform with damaged ligaments for three weeks. I’ve also performed, in the past, with a broken rib and I no longer wear high-heeled shoes because I always end up breaking my toes,” he says.

“Luckily, I’ve never lost my voice but I have come very close to that frustrating point where you can’t give everything you want to give. That is absolute torture for me because I hate to think I’d be short-changing the audience.”

It’s very evident that the audience is extremely important to Bob and both he and his sidekick, Ray Spencer, always ensure they have a great time.

“It’s all about understanding your character and perfecting comedy timing. Ray and I are renowned for our ad-libbing and people often say: ‘Oh, I love it when you forget your lines’. But, of course, we know the script inside out – we have to because you can’t go back to something you don’t know.”

And, despite the fact that he will be taking his final curtain call in this year’s panto, he is already excited about next year’s show.

“I’m going to miss Dotty, all the gang and most of all our wonderful audience,” he admits. “But this time next year I can sit amongst them and enjoy the show from a whole new perspective.”

Dick Whittington is at the Customs House, South Shields, until Sunday January 6, 2013. Tickets are priced from £8 to £17, with concessions available. To book call 0191 454 1234 or log on to www.customshouse.co.uk
 

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