Anthony Costa, Keith Chegwin and more Hampshire panto stars
PUBLISHED: 11:22 08 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:22 08 December 2014
© It's Your Day Ltd, Sean Dillow
From Widow Twanky to the Wicked Witch, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a good old pantomime. Claire Pitcher meets the stars as they get ready for the glitziest, most thigh-slapping shows of the year
Dick Whittington & His Cat - Plaza Theatre Romsey
Romsey actress Kerry Butcher plays Dick Whittington at this (or rather next) year’s panto in her hometown. It appears acting runs in the family, as Kerry’s father once played an ugly sister in Cinderella many years ago.
This is Kerry’s seventh pantomime since she started amateur dramatics at just six years old: “I’ve been in Cinderella three times as Cinderella, Dandini and a villager,” she reveals. “I must say my favourite was ‘Christmas Cat and the Pudding pirates’. I played a super fluffy ginger cat and we had snow, mermaids and pirate rats – I loved every second of it!”
We all know the classic tale of Dick Whittington, but Kerry discovered something a little out of the ordinary in this version: “I was shocked when I found out that I lose a sword fight to King Rat! I even had to check with other cast members to see if it was correct as I thought I was the hero. You’ll have to come and see us to find out what that’s all about,” she smiles.
Having played the good girl (or boy) for so many years, who would Kerry most like to play in a future Plaza panto?
“Well, I’ve never played a villain in pantomime. I’d quite like to try someone like the Wicked Queen in Snow White.”
Tickets to see Dick Whittington cost between £9.90 and £39.60. Book online at www.plazatheatre.com or call 01794 512987.
Sleeping Beauty - Winchester Theatre Royal
December 9 – January 4
“I’ve played Cinderella for the last two years,” points out London actress Catherine Hayworth. “So I’m really excited to play Princess Aurora this year. It’s great to take on something different, and what better role than a classic fairytale princess such as this?”
Catherine’s busy all year round, but she admits there’s definitely something special about Christmas time.
“It’s the magic of it, there’s such a festive atmosphere and I’m like a small child again on Christmas Eve. Pantomime is often the first time someone will visit the theatre, or the only time of the year the whole family comes together to go to the theatre, and that’s really special.”
Evil queen – check; Flora – check; Fauna – check; a time travelling Prince Charming – ‘oh no there isn’t’ Oh yes there is! Catherine reveals that the Prince comes along to save Princess Aurora, “Although I do miss a lot of that since I’m asleep! It’s a brilliant fresh take on the story.”
As Catherine’s appearing in Sleeping Beauty this year, it was only right to ask her if there was one wish she could be granted for Christmas what would it be?
“I think it would be for a happy, stress-free Christmas and panto season. Actually, I might just get my three fairy godmothers to help me with my Christmas shopping!”
Tickets for Sleeping Beauty cost between £8.50 and £12.50 from the box office on 01962 840440 or online at www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk
Aladdin - Kings Theatre, Portsmouth
December 9 – January 4
A magic lamp, a genie, a flying carpet and a feast of stars will be appearing in Aladdin this year at the Kings Theatre in Southsea. Not to mention X Factor’s Jade Ellis, TV actor Marcus Patrick and Antony Costa from boy band Blue as Aladdin himself.
“I’ve been Aladdin once before,” says Antony, “and Jack in Jack in the Beanstalk. Both were great fun to do in different ways.”
Having just started a family with his fiancée, he can’t wait to be able to take his daughter Savannah to a panto.
“I love the fact that it is just before, during and after Christmas. Everyone is in such a good mood.”
The good news is Blue will be touring in 2015, after his next appearance in the theatre, of course.
“I would love the opportunity to play Buttons in Cinderella – that’s a great comedic role I could really get into.”
Tickets, between £8.50 and £22.50, are on sale from the Kings Theatre box office on 02392 828282 or online at www.kingsportsmouth.co.uk
Snow White - Princes Hall, Aldershot
December 11 – January 4
“I was a huge fan of Disney films and fairy stories growing up, so to play fairytale characters is always such fun - seeing how children react and believing in you is quite magical,” admits local actress Rachel Lea-Gray. This year she will be taking on the role of Snow White, her third appearance in panto at Princes Hall.
“I really enjoyed Aladdin here in 2011; it was my first time appearing at a local venue (near to where I grew up) meaning that many of my friends and family could come and watch.”
Snow White has always been her dream pantomime character however.
“I’ve always loved the film since childhood. Over the years my friends and family have bought me many Snow White figurines, so to finally be playing her is very, very exciting,” she laughs.
Aldershot’s Princes Hall may be Rachel’s local theatre, but having toured the country, there’s something about a ‘home crowd’.
“Us cast members always say that Aldershot has the best audiences! The venue is such a lovely place to be over Christmas - we really do feel like one happy family for those six weeks; a very big family of cast, crew and Princes Hall staff.”
She’s keeping any unusual plot lines or twists and turns to herself though.
“All I can say is that something amazing will be happening in the auditorium at the very end of the show...” you’ll have to book to find out more.
Tickets for Snow White cost between £16.50 to £18.50 and are available on 01252 329155 or go online to www.princeshall.com
Cinderella - The Anvil, Basingstoke
December 11 – January 4
You may remember him from Cheggers Plays Pop and Multi-coloured Swap Shop, but perhaps his most classic performances since have been on the pantomime stage. Keith Chegwin is Buttons this year, in The Anvil’s production of Cinderella.
“I’ve appeared in far too many pantos to mention over my 47 years in showbiz! But my particular favourite is playing Buttons,” says Keith.
“It’s a great story. There’s love and romance - good, bad and ugly. It’s a true panto winner with fun for all ages; plus actual ponies that end up being the real stars of the show.”
Keith reveals that there’s no pantomime character he hasn’t played and also that it’s been 15 years since he was last at The Anvil.
“The people of Basingstoke are brilliant. They’re as keen as me. Living on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, I’m a local-ish lad and had their support for Dancing On Ice so I hope I get it for Cinderella too,” he chuckles.
But what is it about the beloved pantomime that lures him back year after year?
“It’s working with the public. Before each show, believe it or not, I go to the side of the stage to listen to the audience. Straight away I can tell if they’re going to be a good crowd.
Most audiences have come to enjoy themselves but I just love to hear them laugh, cheer and jeer. If they’re as exhausted as me at the end of the show - I’ve done my job!”
So if Cheggers had to ask CBeebies’s Katy Ashworth (who is playing the Fairy Godmother) to grant him just one wish?
“It would be that my costume fits after I’ve had my Christmas dinner. On so many occasions during panto and the Christmas festivities I’ve had to ask the wardrobe department to let out the odd seam.”
Tickets are now on sale, from £19 to £24, from the box office on 01256 844244 or anvilarts.org.uk