Monday 24 February 2020

Interview with Dick Whittington And His Cat pantomime cast

With this year's panto already breaking records at the Everyman Theatre, SoGlos goes behind the scenes with the stars of this winter's seasonal show, Dick Whittington, chatting songs, slapstick and sensational sets.

Promising another festive treat for big and little kids across Gloucestershire and beyond, Everyman Theatre’s 2017 pantomime promises to deliver another outstanding performance, with the cast featuring a host of familiar and new faces.

With chief executive Mark Goucher getting involved with a pantomime for the first time and taking the reins as producer, working alongside Everyman’s long-standing panto director Phil Clark, the scene has been set for a sparkling Christmas show in Cheltenham.

Discussing panto’s irresistible charm, Tweedy’s mischievous plans for the stage set, and backstage pranks, SoGlos chats to the cast of Dick Whittington And His Cat in this festive interview.

Molly McGuire, who plays Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington panto

Is this your first time in Cheltenham?

It’s my first time to stay; I came down for the press day and fell in love with the town within a day really. I knew that I was going to have a really lovely Christmas as soon as I got here.

Have you done pantomime before?

I’ve done a few! My first pantomime, Snow White was in Redhill where I was in the ensemble and an understudy for Snow White, which was really fun and an amazing experience. Then I did Guildford, another Snow White, so it will be really nice to do something a bit different.

You must be used to how intense the pantomime season is?

Yes; we only have two weeks of rehearsals and then tech, and it creeps up on you, but it’s really exciting. After that you normally have two shows a day, six days a week.

This show is going to be a bit different for me. Before when I was ensemble it’s all about looking after your body and resting, having ice baths. After a day your body’s in bits because you’re being lifted, dancing – in the past I did 17 dances per show, three times a day. You have to keep fit and healthy so you don’t injure yourself during a show.

With Dick Whittington for me it’ll be vocal. I’ve done big vocal tracks before and this will be the same. Lots of steam, honey and lemon, not talking when I can, and not going out for drinks after the show!

The worst thing that can happen to an actor is the common cold – the whole cast has had their flu jabs!

How do you keep the energy levels high during the performances?

The best thing about pantomime is that the audience gives you so much and that’s what is amazing. Even if you’re not feeling energetic, the minute the curtain goes up and you hear the music, you feel the adrenaline pumping through your body.

It must be a great show to do at this time of the year?

Absolutely. I’ve done other types of shows at this time of the year and they’ve been great, but panto just has this whole other level of homeliness to it.

Backstage during pantomime is carnage! It’s so much fun; everyone is playing tricks on you and you have to have eyes in the back of your heads.

Especially with Tweedy in the cast…

I’m ready for him!

Lynette Clarke, who plays the Fairy Godmother

Dick Whittington panto

You’ve worked in a number of pantomimes at the Everyman; what’s it like to be back?

Yes, and I’ve done Dick Whittington before in 2007, so it’s lovely to come back again and do it 10 years later! I can’t quite believe that. It’s the same director, Phil Clark, and it’s fantastic to work with him again; I think this will be the sixth time.

I’ve even got the programme from 2007 and you can just see how it changes. Phil is adamant that he writes this play for the eight-year-old who comes to the theatre for the first time. He takes that quite seriously.

And you start rehearsals today?

Yes, and they’re going to be intense. We have a cast of 10 who will go through the songs, dance routines, and two different groups of 10 children who are getting involved.

What does your magical role encompass?

I’ll be flying! I’ll be the goody who is up then down, and it’s all lovely to do.

I’ll have a half-an-hour lesson before I get in my harness, and am lifted 20-odd feet into the air, staying there for a couple of minutes, and then coming onto the stage.

You hone in on what you have to do, and are very nice to the men who have to lift you! You all have to communicate; in the past, there have been a couple of times I’ve gone up and then realised that I didn’t have my bloomers on!

It’s just lovely when you do it; you come on, high up in the air, and everyone just goes ‘oooooh’. For many children it’s their first panto experience, so you have to get it right.

Whoever the audience is we give them the same beautiful, fun Christmas production.

The kids love the panto, but adults seem to enjoy it just as much…

Completely! I’ve worked in place where they have ‘adults only’ performances; some adults think they can’t come without children which is not the case at all.

The production values at Everyman Cheltenham are second-to-none and they take their responsibility of their audience very seriously.

I have friends in London who want to come and see Dick Whittington in Cheltenham; they’ve chosen their date and it’s already nearly sold out! That is fantastic. That does not happen everywhere. This is the West End of Cheltenham.

People leave happy and it’s so lovely to see; that’s why I’m back for the sixth time!

What can audiences expect?

Well, every year Everyman comes up with something new. We have some jokes and one-liners in there to keep up with what’s going on in the world and in England. We also keep the music up-to-date for children, but there’s something for everyone.

You must have to love it as it’s such a high-energy season?

It is intense as we’re doing 10am starts and then another later on. You have to get all the lighting, music and costumes back, all ready to start again at 2pm. It’s a full-on two-hour show and it’s like a rollercoaster.

Whoever the audience is we give them the same beautiful, fun Christmas production.

Tweedy the Clown

Dick Whittington panto

How is it having the whole cast together?

We met a lot of the cast last night for a drink so that’s always good! There’s some that I know who’ve done the pantomime before and some who haven’t; it’s a good mix.

You’ve been doing the pantomime for a while; what is it that you love about it?

I just love panto anyway and Everyman’s great because it’s an in-house production, rather than a company coming in and doing their show. Everyone at Everyman is involved and it’s got such a lovely community atmosphere. And obviously, living in Cheltenham helps!

You’re such a big draw to the pantomime; does this put pressure on you?

It does in a way because I have to come up with new things every year, so that gets a little difficult. But because I’m already established that makes it a little easier, whereas if I’m doing a show in a different part of the country where they don’t know me I have to make them like me first, and get to know the character!

Will you have your trusty side-kick Keef this year?

Oh yes! I couldn’t do it without Keef. And this year I’ll be selling Keef toys…

You’re as big a draw for adults as children; are you aware of how much the adults like you?

It’s quite funny because when people spot me in the street it’s more the adults than the kids! The parents are like ‘ooh it’s Tweedy’! Some adults will say that they go to the panto because of their kids who love Tweedy, but secretly it’s because they want to go anyway.

What is your inspiration for performing?

I love things that are physically funny. When I see physical comedy or slapstick, I just absolutely love it.

It can be done badly and there are a lot of bad clowns which is why so many people say ‘oh I don’t find clowns funny’ and I have to agree with them a lot of the time!

A lot of people think if they put on the silly costume that’s job done, but it takes a lot more than that.

You must have a very busy schedule with Giffords Circus, pantomime, your solo shows…

I don’t stop! I have Cirque Berserk after this, then February half term at Peacock Theatre on the West End, and then my solo show. I’m doing a new one this year, so I have to find time to actually put the show together…

Are you used to the intense schedule of pantomime after a summer with Giffords Circus?

It’s quite funny because I find it a really easy schedule in comparison to Giffords when you have three shows on Saturday and three on Sunday. But you don’t ever have a three-show day with panto. Some days I get home by 5pm which is almost like a normal job!

Do you decide your own solo acts in the panto?

Yes; the script at the moment just says ‘Tweedy spots’ and I also usually do a special act with the Dame which we’ll work out.

How do you find the musical numbers; are you naturally musical?

Well… not really! I play lots of instruments but not very well – actually my new show is all musical-based because I like to give myself a challenge so that will be interesting!

But no, I’m not musically gifted. I’m confident enough singing and happy to sing, but I’m not a great singer.

How about dancing?

I’ve always done a bit of dance show I just do it in my own way; the choreographer usually just says ‘it doesn’t matter if you mess it up, because you’re Tweedy’.

What can audiences expect from the show?

This year they have had all new sets built which is great because I was able to ask if I could sneak in things like trap doors, so that’ll be exciting.

Also because it’s on a boat there’s a whole scene where the whole set rocks which I’ve done years before years ago – and the first time you do it you feel a bit seasick! But you get used to it and it’s a lot of fun.

By Kathryn Purvis

Dick Whittington will run at Everyman Theatre from Friday 24 November 2017 to Sunday 7 January 2018. For more information see Dick Whittington pantomime, call (01242) 572573, or visit directly.

© SoGlos
Tuesday 31 October 2017

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