Jane Milligan stars in Queen's Theatre panto

PUBLISHED: 15:42 09 December 2009 | UPDATED: 13:11 11 August 2010

Jane Milligan plays the evil fairy

Jane Milligan plays the evil fairy

THERE ARE NAMES in the theatrical world that are sometimes difficult to remember but no one needs to be asked twice about Milligan . Spike Milligan, the man behind the Goon Show and a million other things has left a legacy to the theatre and in particula

THERE ARE NAMES in the theatrical world that are sometimes difficult to remember but no one needs to be asked twice about 'Milligan'.

Spike Milligan, the man behind the Goon Show and a million other things has left a legacy to the theatre and in particular to the Queen's in Hornchurch, with his daughter Jane.

"The funny thing is people think they know me because of dad," said Jane this week as she prepared for the forthcoming Pantomime.

"You could say having a famous father would be a burden, particularly as I was only interested in sound, but my destiny was always going to end up acting and singing."

Her early life was filled with appearances with Spike from walk-on parts on television to presenting the Queen with a posy.

"I have always been musical and spent my early time in the theatre on the sound desks. Acting came later."

Her list of jobs in the industry is like a catalogue of theatre, selling tickets at the Duke of York's in London, dresser and a 'gofor' for the well known impresario Cameron Mackintosh, where she came across and worked with all the famous faces of the day.

A spell as an assistant stage manager (asm) in Southampton brought her back behind the curtain, but it was sound that attracted her and led to the top sound job in London's theatreland.

"I was the youngest number one sound 'techie' in the west end," she said. "At 21 I was running the sound desk on Phantom of the Opera.

"Even then I still was not following the destiny path. I did not even go on stage as an asm, being a 'techie' was my thing."

The curtain soon fell on a potential career change as an aroma therapist in Hampstead, and Jane returned to the sound desk, this time on Miss Saigon.

"It was a great show with Jonathan Pryce and we were all keyed up with the annual Olivier theatre awards came round. Miss Saigon was one of the favourites, and then on the night we were beaten by something called Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Cambridge Theatre."

The year was 1989 and Planet went on to win again the following year.

Shock is a mild term at the result but Bob Carlton's ground breaking musical adaptation of the old Hollywood B movie was the catalyst for putting Jane Milligan on stage as an actress.

By her own admission Jane should have been a singer, but the early influence of her mother, Paddy, was sadly cut short with her death when Jane was 11.

"It was a terrible shock particularly for an 11-year-old. Mum was a superb singer and actress.

"Her professional name was Paddy Ridgeway and her influence on me was total. I always wanted to be like her."

The tragedy could have robbed the profession of Jane as we know her today, but as mentioned earlier, along came Bob Carlton.

"It was strange really," she said. "I took the number one sound job at 'Planet' and the oddest thing was this man sitting next to me in his Mack and smoking roll-ups with some very definite ideas.

"The first was thing he said was he wanted the sound level so high it would pin the audience to the back wall. Wow, I had never had instructions like that before."

Her expertise with the sound desk was such that many audiences remained pinned to the wall for the west end run and the national tour.

"We spent a year and a half on the road with Planet, and then one day something typical of theatre happened."

Illness and opportunities go hand in hand, and the leading lady dropping out for a couple of days left the youngest number one sound technician with a dilemma.

"Bob asked if I could step in and do the Science Officer while she was off.

"It was surprising because 'techies' do not cross over to the front of the stage, but the alternative was to shut the show for a couple of days."

Jane donned the bright uniform and filled the house for the next couple of days and pinned the audience to the wall while the other 'Science Officer' recovered.

"I have always played a lot of instruments," she said. "Keyboard, base, flute and saxophone and when he later offered me the cover for the lead as well as the sound desk, I thought why not.

"Bob creates such a wonderful environment with his love of actor/musicians and it was not really a choice I had to make."

Jane's next steps were at the Queen's when she joined the newly formed Cut to the Chase Company at the Billet Lane theatre after Bob took over as Artistic Director a decade ago.

The stage first saw her as principal boy in Cinderella in 2000 and she has become a regular feature ever since.

"The Queen's is probably the last example of the old rep theatres'. It has a family atmosphere and a community identity that is second to none, that is why we all love it.

"It has so many different things that are great to be involved in; the youth group, writers group and community players."

Celebrating almost a decade at Billet Lane, Jane's role in this year's pantomime of Sleeping Beauty is complete change from the goody two shoes fairy and thigh slapping principal boy.

"I have played a wide variety of roles, but in this one, I am the Evil Fairy," she said.

"It's certainly different."

Directed by Matt Devitt and featuring many favourites from the professional company, the show runs from December 3 to January 16 with tickets available from the box office on 01708 443333.

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