NEILSON’S COLUMN (July 10, 2014): I prefer the audience sees the man behind the makeup

Last month I went to the inaugural meeting of the West End Wendys in London.

Maybe you’re not familiar with the term West End Wendy, but it is the nickname given to performers who have worked regularly in London’s West End.

You’re a Wendy whether you are male or female.

Among the Wendys was Richard Mawbey, the chief theatrical wig maker in the country.

He was make-up artist and wig designer for Danny La Rue, as well as just about every West End show you can think of.

He’s currently working on the new series of Mister Selfridge and has designed the wigs for Sheridan Smith who stars in the new ITV drama Cilla.

I worked with Richard when I played the Dame in Santa Claus and the Return of Jack Frost at The Mayflower theatre in Southampton. It was a lavish production starring Olympic ice skating champion Robin Cousins, Stephen Mulhern from ITV’s Catchphrase and Les Dawson’s comedy partner Roy Barraclough.

The production values were extremely high and Richard was, of course, called in to create the wigs and make up.

He created my look as the Dame, giving me a La Rue style glamour, instead of the usual motherly looking Dame that you see in most pantos. This look worked well with my style of Dame, which is very much a “bloke in a frock” and not female impersonation.

I prefer that the audience sees the man behind the makeup.

Having said that, the most extraordinary thing happened when I looked in the mirror after Richard had finished his work – I saw my mother looking back at me! Not that my mother looked like some butch over painted female, she was actually very attractive and competed in beauty pageants; it was Richard’s skill at makeup and wigs that had transformed me into a female version of myself.

This look freed me to make my Dame as masculine as I wanted, letting any trace of femininity slip away when necessary for comedic value.

But I digress. The Wendys reunion was laughter from start to finish. Obviously, if you put a bunch of actors in a room, you’re not going to be short of conversation are you? The guest list included original cast members from Cats, La Cage au Folles, Metropolis, The Hot Mikado, Starlight Express, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and more.

We do it all again next year.