Andrew's made-up to be panto dame

Dressed in his jeans and a T-shirt Andrew Ryan could be mistaken for one of the backstage crew at the theatre – possibly the lighting engineer or the sound technician.

However, 30 minutes later and Andrew is strutting around the corridors backstage at the Birmingham Hippodrome dressed in high heels, an eye-catching pink dress, wig and full make-up.

The actor is now in his 22nd year playing a pantomime dame and he has become such an expert he has a large personal collection of costumes and can apply his own make-up. Underneath the costume there is a range of undergarments, including thick tights, bras with fake breasts, and a radio pack.

But, first thing to go on is the make-up.

“My inspiration is Molly Sugden, who played Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served?,” says Andrew as he puts on the lavish eye make-up.

“She had ridiculous hair and make-up and was the perfect pantomime dame. The trick to being a good pantomime dame is to be yourself – just the silly version of yourself.

“I’m not pretending to be a lady and I’m not disguising the fact that I am a man – at the end of the day I just want to make people laugh.”

Andrew, who was brought up in Bradford, was taught how to apply his own make-up, but says it is also something you tailor-make to suit yourself.

“In the same way that clowns copyright their own faces each panto dame has their own techniques and ways of doing things,” says Andrew, who has the role of Mrs Crusoe in the production.

“The long eye lashes I use are £9 a pot so I make sure I fix them securely as I don’t want to have to keep replacing them.

“It takes about half-an-hour to put the make-up on but only a couple of minutes to take it off at the end of the show.” Andrew doesn’t get much chance to rest during each performance as he has 12 costume changes to contend with.

He says he often has four people helping him get in and out of the extravagant outfits.

“My favourite costume for this panto is the fat suit with a bikini, you could spend half-an-hour on stage in it, there is so much mileage in a costume like that,” says Andrew as he pulls on his skin-coloured lycra bodysuit.

“For my quickest costume change I only have around 30 seconds to do it in.  It is the first change I do into a multi-coloured dress, so you just run off stage and then go as fast as you can.”

Andrew owns all his costumes, except the fat suit, and says he designs them all himself.

“You take your design to the costume makers, but it is still expensive – a full outfit with wig and shoes costs around £800,” he says.

“Altogether my costumes are worth a fortune and I store them at a theatre near where I live in London. I designed all the costumes apart from my finale outfit, which I bought in an auction of Danny La Rue’s costumes.”

Andrew isn’t only a performer but also a writer and in the last month there have been eight pantomimes using his scripts.

He has performed in numerous plays over the years and his TV credits include playing a teacher in My Parents are Aliens, and Prince Albert in a Doctor Who episode.

“Doing panto is good fun because it is a chance to be outrageous as the rest of the year I’m just an ordinary actor, playing very normal roles,” he says.

“It is great to spend a couple months of the year being funny, and you can also have a lot of input into what you say, there is no other time of year you get to be like this.

“Robinson Crusoe is amazing, there are special effects and amazing scenery – this show has everything, flying cars, sea monsters and a ship.

“Doing a panto in Birmingham is amazing, the audience are really up for it – it is the biggest and best and I’m having a lot of fun.”

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