IF you’re a regular visitor to community theatre in South Yorkshire, you’ll be very familiar with the work of Pat Bunting…even if you don’t know her name or face.
Pat is the undisputed Queen of stage makeup in theatres across the region, working with most of the biggest non professional companies on some of the country’s best loved musicals.
From West Side Story to White Christmas, The King and I to Anything Goes, White Christmas to Hello Dolly, Pat’s special touch has brought a whole world of musical theatre to fresh life.
And even though she is now quite happy to admit she is 81 years old, her 30 year reign shows no sign of coming to an end any time soon.
Earlier this year she used her special skills to create the acclaimed facial characteristics of the much loved feline characters in Croft House Theatre Company’s regional premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre.
She’ll be back at the Lyceum in November for what could be her greatest challenge to date, working on the cosmetic special effects that will bring STOS Theatre Company’s amateur premiere of Shrek the Musical – the stage version of the animated Hollywood family favourite – to life.
“This is a very different show from anything I’ve ever done before but that’s what makes this job so interesting and such a challenge,” Pat admits.
In fact, Pat – who lives in Mosborough – didn’t begin her theatre life in the makeup room but on stage as a dancer.
Like many other children, she attending dancing school as a youngster but didn’t make her theatre debut as an adult performer until she joined the lineup for the Phoenix Operatic Society production of The Desert Song at Sheffield’s Granville College in 1965.
Over the years that followed she appeared in many popular shows but it was in 1989 that she was asked to assist on makeup for a production of Showboat for Phoenix – and her theatre life set off in an entirely new direction.
And when, in 1990 she was asked to take on the makeup job for the Teachers’ Operatic Society production of Dickens classic Oliver at Sheffield City Hall, her place as South Yorkshire’s premiere stage makeup expert was assured.
“I really learnt on the job,” she says. “I’ve done some courses over the years and workshops with the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, but really I’ve developed as I’ve gone along and I’m still learning, which is where the pleasure of it is really because there are always new techniques you can bring to a show, especially as the productions become increasingly elaborate.”
Today Pat works with Sheffield and South Yorkshire’s finest – STOS Theatre Company, Manor Operatic Society, Croft House Theatre Company, Handsworth and Hallam Theatre Company, Woodseats Musical Theatre Company, Endellion Theatre Company, Wales Community Theatre Players, Splinters Theatre Company, Southey Musical Theatre Company, Rotherham Teachers Student Academy, Rotherham Musical Theatre Company and Wickersley Musical Theatre Company.
And in recognition of her work on Cats, Pat was this year awarded Croft’s prestigious Brian Revitt Award, presented annually to the group member who has achieved something over and above expectations.
It followed the award she received from Sheffield College for her outstanding work in encouraging and supporting stage makeup work experience opportunities, enabling students to realise their career aims.
“I did once try to count all the productions I have been involved in but I lost count after the first hundred,” Pat laughs.
“It’s been so many of the classics and all of them so different but I have a great team working with me on the bigger shows to make sure we reach the sort of professional level that audiences today demand.
“I’m not sure I have a favourite as such but I did love Man of La Mancha, which I worked on for Endellion Theatre Company at Leeds City Varieties last year – but every show is special to me and I enjoy them all.
“There’s a real feeling of camaraderie back stage in a theatre that I have always really enjoyed and continue to enjoy after all these years.”
Although productions like Cats – which she is about to do again this September in Rotherham – and Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, which she has overseen in major revivals at both the Lyceum and City Hall, present many great challenges, though, she does feel that Shrek the Musical for STOS could be in a league of its own when it comes to using theatre magic to create a show stopping effect.
“I’m really look forward to getting to work on Shrek because there are so many special things, including lots of prosthetics,” she says.
“People have seen the films and know what they want to see and it’s down to me and the team to make sure they are not disappointed.
“How do we make our leading man and leading lady green? That would be telling – but you’re not going to be disappointed.”
Shrek The Musical is at the Lyceum from November 12 to 16. For tickets call 0114 249 6000 or visit sheffieldtheatres.co.uk