Deck the halls

Panto, presents and plenty to do for the fast-approaching festive season

A Dickens of a celebration

Richard Emmitt, Grassington Dickensian Festival

On three Saturdays before Christmas (December 3, 10 and 17), the village of Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales really goes to town and back in time for its famous Dickensian Festival, now in its 30th year.

Leading the entertainment is Richard Emmitt and his Penny Plain touring Theatre Company with an ages-old mummers play as the whole village and visitors from around the UK – dress in authentic garb and tuck into traditional food and drink.

A huge amount of thought goes into each year’s festival which attracts some 20,000 tourists to the area. “It would be very easy to fill the place with, shall we say, ‘tat’ and try to turn it into some sort of Covent Garden but these are authentic stalls selling authentic goods and food,” says Emmitt.

He has been involved in the theatre most of his adult life but swore he’d scale it down when the family moved to the Dales.

Unfortunately for Emmitt, news about his theatre career leaked out and the Penny Plain players now tour the country.

“Among our number is an international opera singer and a lady you’ll know from the BBC. But deep down, we’re just a group of old actors spreading a little cheer.”


Nothing like a dame

Kenneth Alan Taylor is leaving the high heels at home for his 28th panto production

Writer, director and veteran panto dame Kenneth Alan Taylor has become one of the best known names on the festive theatrical circuit. An accomplished West End performer, the grandfather of five has directed Nottingham Playhouse’s seasonal offering for the best part of three decades. His 28th panto, Cinderella, opens on Friday, November 25.

The dame this year is an oddly topical aristocrat. “I’ve made the stepmother a Dowager Duchess,” he says. “Everyone will think that’s a Downton Abbey reference but I write the scripts two summers beforehand – Julian Fellowes must have sneaked a peek.”

Although he won’t be donning high heels and hairpieces this time around, having allegedly “retired” from damehood in 2009, he plans to be back in the big frocks for 2012. “It’s the dame or nothing at all. That’s the diva in me,” says the 74-year-old.

With up to 14 changes a show – “I’m a seasoned speed stripper” – Taylor has worn everything from a 12ft train dress to one made completely of rubber ducks that was so heavy he ended up at the physiotherapist.

But there are benefits to dressing up in women’s clothing. “Walking in heels eases my back pain,” he says. “I always insist they’re a worn-in pair. Breaking-in new shoes is torture.”

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 Bear necessities

Cornwall Christmas Bear Fair

Teddy bears are doing a roaring trade at present and fans of all ages will flock to the Cornwall Christmas Bear Fair in Lostwithiel (November 27) to find out what’s new and, hopefully, discover what’s old and valuable.

The event includes valuations and restoration advice, a bear hospital which aims to have childhood favourites looking their best again, bear-making patterns and kits and, of course, a wide selection of designer and antique bears.

“All sorts of people come and all sorts of exhibitors are on hand to help them,” says Tricia Butler who runs Teddies of Trenode with her husband, Richard. “Artists come with very collectable new limited editions, and then there are the antique teddies we have been dealing in for ten years.”

Butler has some advice for people looking to collect the older examples: “First, you really have to like the bear and, secondly, you shouldn’t give it to a young child; bears can be too rare and valuable to be ripped apart. The really high prices are paid for ones in good condition. In 1994, a teddy made £110,000 at auction.”

People who make their own bears also come to seek out the right fabric, eyes or joints. “Bears are quite complex things to create,” Butler says.


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