The Regent Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent, June 2006.
My dad made the casual suggestion of going to the stage door after the show, and even though there was only one person who we recognised from their headshot, we had an amazing night of laughs and wonder and we fell in love with the world of stage door. So we did what anyone would do: baked scones for our favourite cast members and delivered them to stage door before taking in another show or two...
I said; oh my, what a marvellous tune, it was the best night, never would forget how we moved. The whole place was dressed to the nines and we were dancing, dancing. Like we're made of starlight starlight, like we dream impossible dreams. Don't you see the starlight starlight? Don't you dream impossible things?
I do have some slightly less vague memories of that first stage door though, although the overriding thing I remember is not having a clue what we were doing! The trickiest part of starting your stage dooring career with a production of Cats? You don't get to see what the people in the show actually look like and - as Liz and I discovered - people don't always look like the headshot provided in the programme! This meant that when we hurried round to stage door after seeing Cats at the Regent together for the first time, we were totally and utterly lost and confused.
From what I recall, we actually spoke to a lot of the cast and got their autographs, but for the most part we hadn't a clue who it was we were talking to. I had a conversation with the lovely Lorraine Graham (Jennyanydots) about my bracelet breaking from me clapping so much, spoke to Trevor Schoonraad (Quaxo/Mistoffelees) about my love of the show, the video production and the impression he made on me in Llandudno (Mistoffelees has always been one of my favourite characters) and I had a similar conversation with the charming Gary Watson (Rum Tum Tugger.) I can't remember much of what we talked about with John McManus (Skimbleshanks) that first night, other than our obvious enthusiasm for the show, but I do know we didn't realise until after he'd left that he was Skimbleshanks aka Liz's favourite character! Much hilarity ensued after that discovery. As for my own favourite character and cast member? Kevin McGuire played Carbucketty and he started out the same way he finished up; the last person out of the door! He was so sweet to me, probably just because he was happy I knew who Carbucketty even was, and he assured me that I hadn't imagined the fact that he was smiling at me in The Ad-Dressing Of Cats - much to my glee, of course!
Liz and I had already written fan letters to the cast - which I had delivered to stage door when I went to the box office, getting a hug from Carbucketty in the process, although he was the only one who got his letter in person and he put the others on the noticeboard for me - but we didn't stop there. Liz was good at drawing and I played about with it a bit, so we drew pictures of our two favourites and took them with us to give to them at stage door.
I cannot recommend pre-show stage dooring enough - because when they know you're there, they make a lot of extra effort for you! On the second time we went back, we only saw Kevin McGuire before the show, but he asked where we were sitting and as a result, all through the show he was smiling at us and coming our way and it was so nice to know we'd made him feel appreciated and in turn he was making us feel appreciated too.
Not wanting to take scones into the theatre with us, we once more went around to stage door before the show. And in a strange twist of good luck, our two favourites were both already there! John was leaning out of a window, already in his Skimbleshanks get-up, whilst Kevin was standing outside side door, talking with some friends, with only his make-up done (the contrast between our two favourites was another long-term joke for us!)
At seeing John leaning out of the window, Liz had gone into meltdown, muttering 'Skimbleskimbleskimble!' under her breath, not really knowing what to do. The strange thing is, everywhere else we ever went, she was the bold, brave one and I was crazy-shy, but at stage door it was a total role reversal. So, I took matters into my own hands. John spotted us and called down 'Hello girls! Back again?!' and I replied 'We've got a present for you!', holding up the package of scones we'd made for him. 'Do you want me to come down?' he asked and we nodded enthusiastically and - in super-fast time - he made it downstairs to us to come and chat. He invited Liz just inside stage door, as he didn't want to stand out in the street in his cat get-up ('I feel like and idiot [turns to random passers-by] Yes, I am half-cat!'), so I took that chance to go over to Kevin and give him his share of the scones. His friends were all 'Aw, you have a fan!' and then he asked where we were sitting that night and once more promised to look out for us. Word must have spread after that because sure enough, during the show, we get a fair bit of fuss. John - as Skimbleshanks - ruffled my hair at the opening of Act Two and several of the others patted us on the head.
Going back to stage door that night we did nothing but gush and squeal and I have no idea what the cast must have made of us! Most of them remembered us from the other night we'd been, especially Dean, who I seem to remember teased us a fair bit for being back already, a tradition which continues to this day!
And so, little did we realise it, but an adventure had begun. We had a lot to learn about the ins and outs of stage door, and about the tour; we picked up a lot of tips along the way and we definitely had a way to go before we got stage dooring down to the fine art I like to think I practice today! But we had no idea about that, or about cast changes or future shows. In fact, we thought we would only meet that cast one more time in a pre-planned trip to Sunderland. But it turned out we couldn't have been more wrong: we would soon be spending an awful lot more time at the Cats stage door, officially bitten by the theatre bug and in love with the world of the tour!
Sadly I remember so little of the actual show we saw that started it all. We didn't write everything down in the beginning - we didn't really realise how important it was going to become to us! I remember being completely awed by how much background action was going on, and just how good that cast were at it; I do remember that Carbucketty was playing with Coricopat's tail in Bustopher Jones whilst Skimbleshanks stroked Bill Bailey's head, for example. One thing that always impressed me about the 2006 cast's take on the show was just how good they were at the comedy. Dean Maynard as Munkustrap orchestrated the comedy of The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles perfectly every show and the rest of them played the chaos breaking out around his exasperation just right. It was madness; Skimbleshanks taking out the Pekes in a different way every show (threatening to hang them, shoot them, shoot them with arrows...and many more!), Admetus and Asparagus nearly knocking Munkustrap over as they came in late for their cue, Tugger getting bolder and bolder in his mocking of Munkustrap, Demeter trying to march with the Pollicles then making a grope for Munkustrap (Not kidding, that actually happened!) and then Peter Tyler's eccentrically incompetent Alonzo/Rumpus Cat playing off Dean's frustrated Munkustrap was pure comedy gold every time.
The person we talked to the most on our first night at stage door was Dean Maynard. Yes, you will notice his name crops up a lot! Dean made an impression on us from night one - he was just so friendly and easy to talk to. And the best part? We knew he was Munkustrap because, unlike almost all of his fellow castmates, he was kind enough to have a headshot that actually looked like him. We talked to him for a long time and employed him to help us recognise other Jellicles in the crowd and get more autographs for our programmes. He was a firm favourite immediately, both on and off the stage. We couldn't stop talking about Dean, or about any of the people we'd met, as we walked away. The whole way back to my house and most of that night we went over and over everything and did a lot of cringing at some of the stupid things we did and said to them.
In the days that followed we talked about it more and more, wishing we had tickets to more shows and an excuse to go back to stage door. Liz got more and more into Cats itself and the two of us wrote stories and drew pictures of the show and generally drove everyone in our lives mad for the next few days until I finally persuaded my father - with the help of one of my uncles when he got slightly tipsy at a family BBQ - to take Liz and me back to two more shows. My dad and me go to the box office together - in the foyer of The Regent - when there's a show just started, and as the tickets are being booked, Bill Bailey rushes past with his light-up-eyes on, ready for the Overture. I took this as a good sign and then invited Liz to come round to my house to prepare for what was ahead. And this time when we went to stage door, we went before the show as well, and we came with gifts!
We returned on the following night - the last night that the tour was in Stoke. Yet again, we came bearing gifts as we decided to put our Home Ec. lessons to use and had baked scones for Kevin and John McManus. It sounds ridiculous looking back, but we just had so much gratitude and admiration for these people and we wanted to show it in whatever way we could.
Because it was their last night in Stoke, a lot of them had reasons to be rushing off - wanting to get home, catch trains and buses and so on. But we still got the chance to talk to Dean, who I gave a picture to and he complimented me on the fact I'd drawn the shoulder-fluff on his costume. We also told him how Liz had screamed 'Woo, Skimble!' at the end of Skimbleshanks that night and he laughed and went 'Well, did he hear you?' Such a very Dean Maynard response that was!
Someone else who wasn't in a rush? You guessed it, Kevin McGuire. Always last out, never in a hurry. I gave him a little good luck bear and he hugged me and thanked me, signed a copy of the picture I'd drawn for him and then gave me one more hug goodbye before heading off into the night.