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Doreen Tipton and Andrew Ryan talk about their return to pantomime at Birmingham Hippodrome.

There is surely no-one better to play a pantomime cow than Doreen Tipton, allegedly the first person in the world to be diagnosed a decade ago with Lazy Cow Syndrome (and dyslexia in one eye).

She agrees she was born for the role in Jack and the Beanstalk at Birmingham Hippodrome, saying: “I feel like this part was specially written me, the original Lazy Cow. I’ve been training for it all year, being a very lazy cow indeed.”

Doreen, aka actress Gill Jordan, is the comedy character returning for her seventh panto and fourth at the Hippodrome. And the costume department have outdone themselves. Last year she looked brilliant as Dick Whittington’s cat, but now she is hilarious with a long tail, large round tummy and big fluffy ears. There’s just one problem, though.

“It’s really hard to walk,” she reveals. That will certainly be a problem for the show’s traditional slapstick, where Doreen, Matt Slack and dame Andrew Ryan – who she calls ‘my Hippodrome family’ – perform a very physical routine which gets progressively more frenetic and funny.

“I don’t know how it’s going to work, it’ll be a challenge,” confesses Doreen. “They’ll have to work round me or roll me around. 

“I’m going to take the costume home so I can practice walking around the sofa. And I’ll keep it on this winter as it will help with the heating bills. I think the government should give cow suits to everyone, especially the elderly. It’ll keep them warm and they don’t walk very fast, do they? 

“I’m going to do some more research by visiting a sanctuary with rescued cows. I love them. I was in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton where I played Dame Trot’s neighbour, and I got to milk the cow. Now I am her – ayn it lovely?”

Doreen’s strong ‘yam yam’ accent is part of the reason she’s become the self-titled Queen of the Black Country. Perhaps there might be a touch of competition as two great regions collide onstage, with Alison Hammond, the Queen of Birmingham, also starring.

“No, there’s no rivalry, not with Alison,” says Doreen. “Two Queens together is lovely and she’s a hoot. If she starts loffing, we’ll all be loffing.”

Gill trained at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama and set up her own theatre company, playing historical characters. But she’s had the most success as Doreen, a comedy creation who went viral on YouTube with more than a million views. At one point she threatened to run for Prime Minister on the promise of building a wall around the Black Country. She’s had six sell-out theatre tours, hosted a radio show, written an autobiography and even a Doreen Movie with cameos from rock star Robert Plant and football legend Steve Bull. 

Andrew Ryan is playing Jack’s mother, Dame Trot. This is his seventh Hippodrome pantomime and he’s looking forward to working with Matt and Doreen again.

“We have a familiarity which is good for the audience,” he says. “They can relax when we’re on stage and think ‘oh, it’s all right’. The wheels are on the bus.”

Andrew has decades of experience in panto, as this is his 37th  and his 33rd as Dame. 

He remembers: “My first job in panto was as an assistant stage manager. Then my first appearance was as the Wicked Queen’s henchman in Snow White. I had no lines but I was so outrageous that they cast me in the comedy role next year, Simple Simon in Puss in Boots, then the Captain in Dick Whittington. I was King of Gooseland in Mother Goose and Wishee Washee in Aladdin before my first Dame in Dick Whittington. That came when someone dropped out fairly late on, and I’ve never looked back since. 

“But my style has changed since then. A friend who came to see that first show said I never stopped touching my boobs, in an exaggerated Les Dawson way. I was heavily influenced by other actors and it took me a while to settle into the role and be myself, or at least a version of me that I’ve created. 

“My make-up, which I do myself, has changed over the years. Early make-up was horrific, with blacked out teeth and painted on wrinkles. I was never that bad but I used to wear a lot, and it’s been stripped back. I am nearer to the surface now. 

“I am the oldest in the cast this year but I can remember when I was the youngest. It’s important to know the history of panto and its traditions. It’s right that pantomime evolves as an art form but you need to know how it started.”

The Hippodrome’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk uses the stunning sets and costumes from last year’s show at the London Palladium, with tweaks for the Birmingham cast. Andrew knows how dazzling it’s going to be, especially when it comes to a very special beanstalk. 

“This year I have about 12 or 13 costumes, six of which I’ve designed myself. I’ll have a couple of outfits that were created for Julian Clary last year. They are big, outrageous, ridiculous things, like the Marmite jar I wore once here. There is food involved, as well as botanical and aviation themes. 

“The whole show is  extraordinary and very impressive, the biggest thing you ever did see!”

by Roz Laws