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Christopher Biggins cuts into the cake as he prepares to take on his 43rd panto as Widow Twankey, in Aladdin at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre.
Alongside the national treasure is young ventriloquist, Max Fulham (left), comedian, Rikki Jay (right) and panto newbie, Yazdan Qafouri (far right), who won a major role in the ‘Take That’ musical The Band by auditioning on Gary Barlow’s televised Saturday night reality show, Let It Shine.
There will be more from Biggins’ fellow cast members in our next issue.
Photo: Paul Johnson

By Paul Johnson

In our bumper 10-page special, we bring you a plethora of panto stories and advice from some of the biggest stars in the business.
Some are panto veterans (like Biggins here) while others are seasoned professionals still cutting their pantomime teeth (such as soprano, Leslie Garrett).

There’s lots more to come in our next issue, but for now…


Biggins: “We have a dinner Christmas Eve that I always manage to get back for, wherever I’m performing. On Christmas day the usual things; lots of presents, caviar and Champagne, a big Christmas lunch with all the trimmings and then we normally fall asleep either watching a movie or after the Queen. Then of course I go back as the biggest performance is always the Boxing Day show the very next day. There are only two years when I haven’t done a pantomime at Christmas, and it was very odd not having to rush back for Boxing Day.”
Brian Conley: “We enjoy the Hoe and the Barbican in Plymouth, but with two shows a day, I won’t be getting much time off. In fact, one of the reasons I love doing pantomime is because over the Christmas period, I can eat as much as I want and not put on any weight because I’m doing two shows every day. I can eat the biggest Christmas dinner ever and all the desserts. So all in all, I’ll be having a great time and I can’t wait.”


Biggins: “I live a charmed life and I suppose the biggest thing that’s happened to me recently is that last Christmas I turned seventy. I was depressed for an hour before realising that seventy is the new fifty, so I got on with it. And it’s been marvellous.”

Brendan Cole: “This is only my third pantomime. The thing is the Strictly judges only do Saturday nights, while the dancers do every day and every night, you’re working with your partner to get the dances right. During Strictly you cannot book anything up, not one bit of work, unless you get authority first. You just can’t do it.”

Bobby Davro: “I think it’s thirty-eight, but it might even be forty. I do two a year now, and I’ve done that for the last seven years. I started doing pantomime when I was about twenty years old, and I love this theatre in Woking; I can’t wait to get going. It’s funny, certain theatres are very good for comedy and this is one of them. Maybe it’s the design, the acoustics. This is my third panto here.”

Leslie Garrett: “Next year I celebrate forty years as a professional soprano, never out of work, so at this latter end of my career I thought it’s time I shook myself up a bit and tried some things I’ve never done before. My role in the comedy The Messiah a year ago was the start of that. This year I was thinking what could I do to top that, and then this wonderful opportunity to play Fairy Godmother came along. I have been asked to do pantomime before but I just didn’t think the time is quite right. Now, it is. I think I’m probably mature enough to take on the gravitas of the role of Fairy Godmother.

“Some extraordinary artistes have played Fairy Godmother. When I was researching the role I discovered Helena Bonham Carter has played it, and Whitney Houston, for example. And I discovered I have a great respect for pantomime, and it’s having a wonderful resurgence, largely thanks to people like Ian McKellen, Dawn French and all kinds of other wonderful artistes playing great pantomime characters.”

Tim Vine: “This will be my eighth. I only do one every two or three years.” The last one was in Wimbledon three years ago.”

Ore Oduba: “It’s all about preparation really because the panto schedule is incredibly gruelling and if you’re not up to it you’ll fall short quite quickly. Being in Grease was a perfect way for me to begin my theatre career, and to go from that to a bona fide touring musical [Curtains] – and then straight on into panto is incredible. I’ll certainly know whether I’m cut out for all of this when 2020 gets here. But I’ve not stopped loving it since I started.

“I actually did panto when I was growing up. In my early days I played CinderFella! So if it wasn’t in sport I was larking about on the stage, and I really want to bring all those tools to the table.”

Jon Clegg: “It’s hard to believe but this is my nineteenth pantomime this year. It’s five years ago now since I did BGT. So obviously I was doing panto for a long, long time before that, but suddenly it gets added to the poster: ‘Jon Clegg from Britain’s Got Talent!’ And you do get a lot of people who want to know about it as well; the experience of it, what’s Simon Cowell like? But it was great for me and worked out very well… and it’s something to look back on isn’t it.”

Yazdan Qafouri: “Of course I auditioned. Come on, who am I! I did the audition, came in, and about an hour later I got a call offering me the part. I know everyone saw my very public audition on Let It Shine on Saturday-night TV for The Band, but you can never turn down an audition, so here I am. I know Biggins doesn’t audition but he’s been doing it for forty-three years. Maybe if I end up doing it that long I won’t have to either.”


Leslie Garrett: “As far as the children are concerned, at that moment, I am the fairy godmother and I can do magic – that’s certainly what I’m hoping. Fairy Godmother is also such a motherly character; she’s very safe and is very appealing. She’s also kind of what Christmas is all about; she brings gifts and magic, hope and the possibility of positive change. She’s basically, Mrs Fixit! which is how I’m seen in my family, so this character is very familiar to me.”

Bobby Davro: “I think the basics of pantomime will always remain the same; there is a unique set of laws and a basic rhythm of jokes that won’t change. It’s completely different to when I do stand-up for instance. It’s just a different and unique style I think, and you have to learn that to make it work. You have to learn how to pull focus and not distract.

“We used to do the ‘bum bum fly gag’. I say to someone, ‘Excuse me, are those bum bum flies, flying around your face?’ And he’d say, ‘Bum bum flies, bum bum flies, what are bum bum flies?’ Then I’d say, ‘A bum bum fly is a kind of fly that is attracted to a man’s… face.’ ‘Are you saying I’ve got a face like a cow’s bum?’ And I’d go, ‘No, but you’re not fooling them bum bum flies!’ By reinforcing the term ‘bum bum flies’ and saying it a certain amount of times, the gag works, otherwise it wouldn’t. Isn’t it strange. But there are a lot of things like that, little combinations and traditional stuff, in pantomime. I’ve written quite a lot of scenes now myself over the years – like the ‘donkey routine’ which I’m doing here. I’ll come on stage on a donkey but it’s only got three legs, and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, it’s a wonky donkey!’ And it’s only got one eye, so it’s a ‘winky, wonky donkey,’ and it smells bad, so it’s a, ‘stinky, winky, wonky donkey,’ but he does dance, so he’s a, ‘funky, stinky, winky, wonky donkey.’ It goes right through for about two minutes… pantomime is full of things like that.

“The other thing about pantomime is that when you write you have to focus the writing on the adults. That’s not to say it’s not for children as well, but you write for the adults. The innuendo content and double entendres completely go over the kids’ heads and, as long as it’s not smutty, it will work.”

Brian Conley: “The thing to remember is that a pantomime is a vehicle to hang as much comedy on as possible, it has to be comedy-driven. You can’t have any long, drawn-out songs – and if there is singing, something funny has got to be happening at the same time. I think we only do one serious song in Cinderella and it’s right up front. The other thing is that a lot of it is visual – both in terms of the comedy and the set. It has to be spectacular, so that people are completely blown away. That’s a common mistake some people make: as soon as you say ‘panto’, they imagine a church hall production that’s been put together for eight quid! But panto is huge.

“So, when people ask ‘what makes a successful panto’, that’s the answer – you’ve got to make them laugh, and lots. And after all my years of doing this, I know what makes a whole family laugh – it’s stupid, visual, dangerous Brian, doing stupid things.”


Biggins: “It’s very sad, what’s happening. That will be the day when I retire, when people suddenly make a political movement towards the genre. If they do that then I’m out because that’s not what I want to be fighting. Nowadays you have to be so careful as to what you say; you can’t say this and you can’t say that. You can’t refer to ‘black’ people, ‘yellow’ people, gay or straight; ‘I don’t want to be called him or her, ’ …well what do you want to be called? I find it bizarre, and it’s so alien to me, I really don’t want to know. I’ll just say, ‘That’s it! I’m off!’… to Barbados. Ha ha!”

Bobby Davro: “Society is so PC now and the world of comedy is walking on egg shells all the time. The press is so negative in this country and it’s such a shame because this is such a great place, despite the doom and gloom over the election, Brexit and everything else going on. It’s a shame that a handful of PC people appear to be trying to spoil it for the majority. We are being told what is right by the minority and we are pandering to those people. As long as you’re laughing with people and not at people then everyone should be included, including jokes about sexuality, race etc. If you ignore those people and completely leave them out then you’re making them more of a minority. Being offended on behalf of other people is just wrong. Most of my friends, who may be black or gay, will laugh at everything. As long as you’re not being cruel or ridiculing them, then we should all have a laugh, like we do with football teams. As a Tottenham man I always take the mickey out of Arsenal, and Arsenal do the same to Spurs fans – and that’s the way it should be. As a comedian it’s about a joke.”


Biggins: “It used to be very uncool to do pantomime, but now people like Ian McKellen have done it, and Robert Lindsay last year, it’s all changed. And of course pantomime is producing the audience of the future, because what happens is: if they have enjoyed the pantomime this year, they’ll book for next year’s show. But not only that, they’ll get hooked on theatre and may very well go and see Shakespeare or Chekhov, so we are the breeding ground for theatre – which I think is very important.”

Jonathan Kiley: “The stamina required in pantomime is extraordinary. A lot of actors are very grand about pantomime, but it’s a genre that is very specific and a uniquely British art form; and it’s not as easy as everyone thinks. Twice daily for six days a week really is hard work, and the energy of pantomime is like a tornado once the overture begins. You’re whisked away for two hours to a magical land with fantasy, magic, fun, music and dancing – and it is the best feeling. I’ve always loved it; it’s got everything and is probably the last Bastian of variety today.

“There is nothing like live theatre. And in pantomime the audience change the performance, so it’s true that no performance is the same. No matter how many times you see a movie it will always be the same, but in the theatre, in pantomime, every single performance is unique. The audience’s reactions to the comic – as well as their reactions to the audience – is what make a performance.”

Leslie Garrett: “The thing about pantomime is that it’s so flexible. Artistes from different backgrounds, different genres – such as opera – can come and bring what they have from their world to the world of pantomime. There really will never be another Cinderella like the one we are going to put on because there won’t be the same collection of extraordinarily talented people taking part. We’ve got a unique line-up, as has every pantomime right across the country.

“It wouldn’t have been till I got to London that I discovered a snobbery. We certainly don’t have it in Yorkshire where I grew up; good music is just good music, and entertainment is entertainment… as long as it’s entertaining! When I got to London I discovered that some artistes look down on other artistes, or genres. And it wasn’t just opera that can be like that. I have spent my life trying to break down that stereotype.”

Tim Vine:Cinderella is actually a very engaging story, and Buttons has really now being replicated in all of those other stories, with varying degrees of success.”
Brian Conley: “Cinderella completely epitomises pantomime, doesn’t it? I genuinely am excited, more than I’ve been for a few years, because I have been doing 9 to 5 for so long – since last Christmas – so it will be just a breath of fresh air for me to step away from it and have some fun.

“Last year, there was a dad in the audience with his two little kids, and he was crying because he just thought ‘what a wonderful moment that the kids will never forget.’ That’s what it’s all about – when you’ve got to put your phone down and you can’t take a photo, you can live in the moment and experience what is happening here and now. That’s what we can bring, and that’s what has kept pantomime so really there, because it’s something that the whole family can sit and enjoy and have a good laugh.”


Tim Vine: “I think as long as you remember that these shows are supposed to be a lot of fun, then you’ll be okay. It’s okay for me because I think it’s harder if you’re not allowed to look at the audience – which is what I do in stand-up all of the time. Once you begin and you’re looking out at them and they’re looking back at you and you quickly realise that you’re all friends in this together. Plus if something does go wrong, it inevitably tends to improve the situation anyway. It’s not like doing King Lear; Forgetting a line in panto is probably a lot easier than forgetting a line while sitting on that throne with the rain pouring down.”

Jon Clegg: “From experience, you already know that the stuff you’re going to do is going to appeal to the audience, the kids especially. So you can afford to have a quiet confidence…”


Bobby Davro: “I’m getting old now. When I do my stand-up shows, my opening line is, ‘My name is Bobby Davro; I’m the only entertainer from an age who hasn’t been arrested!’ It always gets a laugh, and there’s normally someone who shouts back, ‘Yet!’ I also do a routine about getting older and stuff. Anyway, when I did Cinderella a few years back, I was playing buttons – I’m sixty-one now and Cinderella was about twenty-two – I had the line, ‘Cinderella, I wish I could kiss you!’ and a kid shouted out from the back, ‘Operation Yew tree!’ … rightly so, it got a big laugh but, at the same time, managed to throw me a bit. In a way it’s getting more and more difficult to play Buttons, which is a shame because Buttons is the best character in pantomime.”


Leslie Garrett: “There are actually two things I requested with this production; the first …was that I really wanted to fly as I’ve never done that before. The second was that I really wanted a belter of a number which will require all of my operatic training, and I’ve got one. I just sing as I sing, rather than differentiating between, ‘this is a classical gig’ and ‘this is a non-classical gig.’ I just sing with the voice I always sing with, which can be adapted to suit certain composers. I don’t sing Bach like I would Puccini, so why would I sing Andrew Lloyd Webber or Sting like I’d sing Verdi? I’ll find exactly the right quality of sound for this character. I’ve also been allowed lots of input during rehearsals to achieve this which is much appreciated.”

Brendan Cole: “They’ll have a vision of what they want and they already have a director and a choreographer, so I wouldn’t dream of coming in saying I want this, this and this – you’re either a diva or a dick! So, I’ll sit back and wait, and if I’m asked to do some stuff then I’ll be happy to do it. Until then I’m more than happy to respect their situation.”

Tim Vine: “What tends to happen is that I can probably have a slightly better time in the evening compared to the matinee purely because wordplay requires a little bit of brain power and knowledge to have a basic understanding of what I’m talking about. If you’re five you may not have heard of Marmite… not that I’ve particularly got a lot of Marmite material. Having said that, I once entered a competition and won a year’s supply of Marmite – one jar! So a five year old might not necessarily laugh at that but, what does go brilliantly with the younger ones is if I’m in a scene with the wicked Queen or Stepmother, and she’s getting more and more angry with me, while I’m getting more and more silly. They love that, plus any shouting out; anything that cocks a snoot to authority really. If in doubt, shout something out!

“I’m bound to mention Strictly when talking to Ore for instance. When I did Cinderella with Linda Gray from Dallas, I said that I’d hit my thumb and it was ‘Sue-Elling!’”

Jon Clegg: “I don’t like to add too much as I think you tend to start losing the story a little bit. I’ve seen some pantos when a comic will do twenty minutes of material… and believe me you really don’t want to do that. It’s like with the impressions; I like to incorporate them into the story wherever possible. Sometimes the script will say: ‘do an impressions spot,’ so I’ll do one but it’s just for a few minutes, and usually at the start just to get the kids warmed up a bit.”

Ore Oduba: “Well, we have a very short rehearsal of about two weeks. Thanks to Grease and Curtains I haven’t really been offstage since June so that sense of routine really gets into the muscle memory. With Curtains, after a couple of weeks of rehearsals we were more or less there.”


Yazdan Qafouri: “Ha! It’s absolutely fine. Those guys have been hired to do what they do and I’ve been hired to do what I do. I’m not a comedian or a stand-up comic but I’m going to learn what I can, and I can’t wait. Instead of throwing a pie in someone’s face, I’ll be the one getting a pie in the face!”

Ore Oduba: “I really hope I’m going to be very involved. Dandini is obviously an integral part of the actual story when it comes to getting Prince Charming and Cinderella together, but I think – and this is reading between the lines a bit – there’s quite a lot of fun to be had. I’ve been told I’ll be dancing – I know, surprise surprise – which I am actually overjoyed about because I’ve not had a chance to get a big number under my belt since Strictly and I’ve not stopped loving dancing.”


Yazdan Qafouri: “I’ve always wanted to be an actor, from a very young age. While I was doing the auditions for Let It Shine I was auditioning for drama school. I was rejected from my first round at RADA but had recalls from Guildhall and Oxford School of Drama. I would never demerit drama school, but that’s just not the path I’ve taken so far; I’ve probably done things quite a similar fashion to the old Rep Theatre process by learning on the job. In the book True and False by David Mamet, he says that ‘the only way you can learn is by doing.’ And he talks about the ‘fires’ of an audience, and it’s only in front of an audience that you know you’re doing the right job. You can do a million exercises at drama school but it’s only when you get in front of an audience that you’re really tested.

“Something else you don’t get at drama school is working full time with such experienced actors, and it doesn’t matter which genre you’re performing in, the experience that Christopher Biggins has got is priceless. Even at the launch today, in the twenty minutes I’ve been around him the first thing you realise is that he’s not afraid to take risks.”


Brian Conley: “The biggest thing for me is that it’s a family event – those four little kids at the end that come up – that’s one of the loveliest moments. I really do enjoy that.”

Jon Clegg: “I spend the rest of the year alone onstage, so for me, I love getting together and spending time with a cast of people. But I think the biggest pleasure for me is seeing the joy on the kids’ faces in the audience and how much in awe they are of all the characters up there on the stage.”


Leslie Garrett: “It would be impossible to achieve the level I’ve reached today without professional training. But equally, it would have been impossible for me to get where I am today without the amateur training I had before that. It’s that important. All my family were musical. My grandfathers were both fantastic musicians; grandad Garrett was a dance band leader and had a band called Arthur Garrett and the Blackout Boys, and grandad Wall was a proper pucker pianist – and that takes a bit of saying. He was born into a mining family but because he had a weak chest he couldn’t go down the pit. As a result he was ‘put to the piano’ as we say in the North.

“In those days, over a hundred years ago, there was so much music in the community that the next best way of earning money, after mining, was through music – either playing it or singing. My parents were also very musical and could play any number of instruments, and we all just sang around the piano. My school was also fantastically musical and we’d do opera one term and Benjamin Britten the next, then G&S, Rogers & Hammerstein. So I grew up with music being my whole life; I sang every day and couldn’t imagine a world without singing. To me it was just like eating or drinking.

“It was everywhere. There were brass bands, choirs… my mum was in two choirs; Scunthorpe Choral and Doncaster Choral. My dad formed his own operatic society and was in a barbershop quartet… and honestly, my whole family were like that. Our house was the place you came to for a sing song and a drink. It was fantastic, and I certainly wouldn’t be here today without all of that. The amateur movement is probably more important than anything, it really is; it gives us all the start we need.”

The Art of Panto (Panto Special)

The Art of Panto (Panto Special)

At the start of the recent pantomime season Sardines spoke with a host of professionals, some of whom were new to the panto scene, with others highly experienced.
Inside the previous edition, we featured the more recognisable names while, in this issue, we get a chance to hear from the jobbing performers from musical theatre, dramatic theatre, plus the stand-up and cabaret circuits.

Between them we garnered an eclectic mix of opinions and advice that pretty much represents the entire mix of pantomime principals.

  • Ricky Jay (Stand-up comedian) | Wishee, Aladdin, Bromley
  • Max Fulham (Ventriloquist) | Washee, Aladdin, Bromley
  • Yazdan Qafouri (Reality TV – Let It Shine) | Aladdin, Aladdin, Bromley
  • James Bisp (Actor) | Prince Charming, Cinderella, Croydon
  • Jason Marc-Williams (Actor) | Ugly Sister, Cinderella, Croydon
  • Katie Cameron (Actor) | Wicked Stepmother, Cinderella, Croydon
  • James Darch (Actor) | Prince Harry of Hampton, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Richmond
  • Jason Sutton (Actor/Drag Queen) | Nurse Nancy, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Richmond
  • Mia Starbuck (New graduate) | Snow White, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Richmond
  • Pearce Barron (New Graduate) | Aladdin, Aladdin, Woking



Ricky Jay:
“I did eight years on the bounce at the Theatre Royal in Norwich; I was either good or cheap, I’m not sure which, ha ha! I then spent a lot of time working in the States and Australia, so I stopped for eight or nine years after that. But since my wife and I had a baby a couple of years ago, and decided we wanted to spend some more time in the UK, I went back into it. I’ve done about fifteen pantomimes now.”

Max Fulham:
“This is actually my third panto, believe it or not; although I do still feel new to it all, and to the business. But I love panto with all of my heart; I simply adore it. I’m also a massive nerd about it as well. I love the history of it and what it means, the cultural tradition. So I not only passionately love doing it, I also love it as an art form. There’s so much tradition entangled in pantomime, it’s wonderful. I love it when you get a reaction from somebody seeing panto for the first time – and that’s children and adults.”

James Bisp:
“I’ve always wanted to do pantomime but it’s been tricky to fit it round other jobs. I finished a year in Phantom of the Opera in September which, this year, was pretty perfect. I’ve even been able to have a couple of months off – or ‘resting’ as the famous phrase has it. I also live in Croydon so I get to have Christmas at home; it’s all been an incredible piece of timing.”

Jason Marc-Williams:
“This’ll be my 10th panto, but my sixth with Alistair [Barron]. This is only the second time that myself and Alistair have played Ugly Sisters because, of course, the Dame role is usually a very likeable character; the ugly sisters are downright nasty. Usually Alistair and I play the dame and comic role which does tend to become a bit of a double act, so the ugly sisters are perfect for us.”

Katie Cameron:
“Oh, I got it straight away. It’s so funny and I hope it catches on in the States because there are so many regional theatres over there; it will provide so much work for everybody.”

Jason Sutton:
“Panto at Richmond this year will be my tenth pantomime anniversary. I can remember my very first pantomime, as if it were yesterday. That was at Redhill and working for a much smaller company; that was where I cut my teeth. I can remember now being stood in the wings and waiting to go on, and the noise from the children was like a football match. I didn’t anticipate that and remember turning round to the chaperone who was in charge of all the children and I said, ‘I don’t think I can go on!’ to which she said, ‘You’ve got to go on!’ And she just shoved me. Of course once you’re onstage it’s all fine, but I will never ever forget that for the rest of my life.”

Mia Starbuck:
“This is my first one. I trained at LAMDA in New York and at Bodywork. There definitely wasn’t any training on breaking the fourth wall in America. But I think I’m ready; I’m up for the challenge anyway, and I’m sure there will be a great opportunity to learn on-the-job.”

Pearce Barron:
“I’ve just graduated from ArtsEd where I spent five years of my life. So this isn’t just my first panto, it’s my first paid job since graduating.”


Jason Marc-Williams:
“Where some people sometimes get it wrong is when they look for, and play it for, the humour. You’ve still got to find the truth of the story, it’s vitally important. They have their reasons for not liking Cinderella and it’s essential that they believe in those reasons; you have to play the truth of that situation. Hopefully, we’ll get the right balance; you have to be bad in order for good to triumph over evil, but we don’t want to actually make the children cry – they’ve come to enjoy the pantomime after all.”

Katie Cameron:
“The stepmother is the real evil force behind the ugly sisters who, in essence, are really just carrying out her plans. Having the evil stepmother allows the ugly sisters more room to be stupid and, of course, funny. The Stepmother is evil while the ugly sisters are just nasty. That said, the Stepmother is wicked, but also fabulous. The most important thing is probably to play it for real and not ‘ham’ it up. And we’re looking forward to being booed more than in any other show. If we don’t get the boos then there’s a real problem.”


Max Fulham:
“It’s very interesting. You have this phrase: ‘Ventriloquism is a dying art!’ which gets bandied about quite a lot. But it goes in waves, and not necessarily regular or predictable waves. And it doesn’t really matter anyway because as long as I’m doing my thing, bringing my art form to the audience and having a great time then I’m happy because I’m doing what I love to do. But people like Paul Zerdin winning America’s Got Talent has done a lot for ventriloquism. They’ve actually had three ventriloquists win the show now, which is a little bit insane. Also over here, Steve Hewlett coming second on BGT was wonderful. Not only is he the nicest men you could ever hope to meet, he’s also been massively responsible for supporting me as well as other young ventriloquists, and he’s a great friend.”


Jason Marc-Williams:
“Things have moved on over the years and they will continue to do so I’m sure. We used to have the principal boy being played by a girl of course. You get it now and again but broadly speaking it’s faded out, especially in commercial pantomimes. I do hope we don’t lose the tradition of the dame because that character, I think, is vital to the humour of pantomime. Everybody knows it’s a bloke in a dress and we never pretend otherwise. There’s so much freedom in that role, where you even take the mickey out of yourself. I really hope nothing happens to the Dame: one… It would ruin panto forever, and two… I’ll be out of a job!”

Jason Sutton:
“I think because it’s such an important part of our tradition – and also because it is controlled through the script – then it’s safe. If you were to ask me about the drag circuit, then yes, I think that genre definitely is going to change. I’ve said things in my act there on stage that I’ve been saying for years and lately I’ve received complaints about them. So we’re all having to become far more aware of what we’re saying and how are we’re saying it. But the pantomime dame is, I think, as sacred as pantomime itself. Pantomime means Christmas doesn’t it, and I think it will always be there.”


James Bisp:
“It’s amazing to think that you’re in Phantom of the Opera in the autumn and a few months later, pantomime. Variety. That’s why I’m an actor, because I like variety and creating different things. I’ve always wanted to play Raoul in Phantom and I’ve had a very close relationship with that show for years – but, you can’t get your jazz hands out in Phantom!”


Ricky Jay:
“I think my role, essentially, is to keep the energy up for the show and that starts as soon as I come on. I am immediately trying to create energy in the room. It’s important for me to do that and keep that energy up so that the important people in the show – who are carrying the plot – can get the story out. So if there is a pressure, I think it’s to get the buzz and the energy going.”

Jason Sutton:
“We are very colourful characters; it’s all a bit zany and mad anyway, which is exactly what the kids like. I’m a hefty bloke so when I’m dressed up as a woman, coming onstage on a bicycle is a bit of a spectacle in itself. Plus the costumes are also colourful and very over-the-top. When you add that to the fact that the kids there to buy into it anyway then you’re halfway there already – hopefully, they’ve all had their tickets waiting on the wall at home for some time and have been getting excited about the trip anyway.”


Ricky Jay:
“I also get to break the fourth wall down because I’m always interacting with the audience. Of course, with my normal job as a stand-up comedian, that’s what I’m doing all the time. There, the audience is an essential part of the act.”

Max Fulham:
”That’s the wonderful thing with comic roles in panto; you have the ability to talk with the wonderful audience. And, of course, as a ventriloquist all my shows are spent talking to the audience. It’s never passive; it’s always involving them and having fun with them.”

Jason Sutton:
“Just working in front of live audiences is an amazing preparation for pantomime. When I worked the cabaret circuit, you’re a lot freer and I’m totally unscripted which enables me to work with all the people around me and in the audience. When you’re in a panto, obviously you are tied by the script and if you don’t deliver it in the correct way then you won’t give people the right cues, which means it can all go a little bit tits up! But certainly working on the live circuit – and especially in genres like cabaret – is an enormous help for things like pantomime.”


Ricky Jay:
“I’m quite heavily involved in developing the script, so we work quite closely on it prior to rehearsals, and then when we get going things evolve in the rehearsal room – and during the show as well. Thankfully, the comic role has got a bit of a free rein, so if something happens in the show then I can jump on that… and would be expected to.”


Ricky Jay:
“Obviously the audience reaction is a fantastic part of what we do. The laughter and the special effects especially. In fact I often go out and have a little peek through the curtains at the kids’ faces when the carpet flies. To see how much they believe in it is wonderful to watch.
“I also look forward to having a cup of tea and a cake with Biggins in the interval; we’ve never missed one yet. He’s even got a bed in his room and has a little sleep between the matinee and the evening performances. I don’t get a bed; I’ve got a blow-up mattress on the floor. Maybe you get a bed when you pass 40 pantos, ha ha!”

Jason Sutton:
“Apart from the run itself, I’m looking forward to being in a group of strangers all getting together, and within a fortnight of rehearsals you’ve got to come up with the show. It’s quite amazing from that first day how it all starts to fall into place. Sometimes you think, ‘Christ! This ain’t gonna be ready.’ Then, all of a sudden it’s like a collective penny drops. I enjoy the rehearsal period far more than the performance actually, and you look round and think, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s all about!’”

Pearce Barron:
“I can’t wait for the bits that are bound to go wrong. It’s so exciting being on the other side so I can find out which parts people are genuinely laughing at and which are maybe a little bit scripted and even rehearsed.”


Max Fulham:
“I get nervous, of course I do, before opening night, press night, and even rehearsals. A long run makes you nervous too because you don’t want to muck up. Essentially, I’m doing a double-act by myself, so I really don’t want my monkey to muck-up. The nerves do turn to excitement, which is where the adrenaline kicks in and that’s great, it’s the most incredible thing. When you’re doing the very first show in front of an audience, you get a fight or flight moment which really builds up. You just have to go on and do it; at the end of the day the audience is there to have a good time and there’s a strong sense of collaboration with the audience, which helps, obviously.”


Yazdan Qafouri:
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor, from a very young age. Actually, while I was doing the auditions for Let It Shine I was auditioning for drama school. I was rejected from my first round at RADA but had recalls from Guildhall and Oxford School of Drama. I would never demerit drama school, but that’s just not the path I’ve taken so far; I’ve probably done things quite similar to the old-fashioned rep theatre process and learned on the job. In the book True and False by David Mamet, he says that ‘the only way you can learn is by doing.’ And he talks about the ‘fires’ of an audience, and it’s only in front of an audience that you know you’re doing the right job. You can do a million exercises in drama school but it’s only when you get in front of an audience that you’re really tested.
“Something else you don’t get at drama school is working with such experienced actors, and it doesn’t matter which genre you’re performing in, the experience that Christopher Biggins has got is priceless. Even at our launch back in September, during the twenty minutes I was around him the first thing you realise is that he’s not afraid to take risks.”

Pearce Barron:
“Professional attitude and technique is the great thing about training, and the fact that it gives you a route into the industry. If you were trying to get into the pop industry, there is no specific formula laid down to do that, whereas in musical theatre there is – and it allows you to be the most prepared you can be.
“I feel as prepared as I should be but I think it’s true when people say drama school will teach you in attitude and the technique of being a professional but there is a certain amount of inward talent that you need naturally to make it in this industry. Drama school also teaches you how to be versatile which is a great quality to have. Both myself and Misha [Princess] went to the Sylvia Young school when we were younger and that helped a great deal too in that respect.”


James Darch:
“I always think of the Prince and Snow White as being the driving force of the story, and we let the other guys have a play with the audience. Keeping it together and driving the story is half the challenge for us; that’s our jobs. It’s quite a compliment, I guess, that they constantly try to make us laugh and test us to see how far they can take it.”

Mia Starbuck:
”You’ve got to take it seriously. You do want to laugh and get involved with all the silliness as well, but you’ve got to stay strong and keep it together. It’s a very responsible job that we’ve got. You’ve got to live up to the expectations that the youngsters have. If you burst that bubble for them it would be so sad. So you want them to believe as much as they possibly can that we really are Snow White and Prince Charming…”

James Darch:
“… and that’s our job isn’t it. When you go to the theatre and you’re five, six, seven years old, I don’t think you even understand properly that there are actors on the stage. You sit there in the theatre and as far as you’re concerned, what you’re watching is really happening. So we do have to be serious about our story just to keep that going. You cannot forget how important the story is within a pantomime.”

Mia Starbuck:
“… and they need to get really upset when I bite into the apple, and then sit there wide-eyed as the Prince kisses me.”


James Bisp:
“I grew up on the amateur scene in Buckinghamshire doing pantos is every year, then I did youth theatre in High Wycombe and with the National Youth Theatre – and that’s when I decided that this was the career I wanted to follow. There’s nothing like being in a production, in a cast, and being in a cast of hilarious people is a massive bonus.”