Following a record breaking pantomime season last year, UK Productions are once again presenting behind the Bournemouth Pavilion panto, this year Sleeping Beauty. Local favourite, and CBeebies star Chris Jarvis once again returns to write, star and direct, alongside the irrepressible Su Pollard, former Dr Who and now panto stalwart Colin Baker,Wave 105.2 FM’s Kate Weston and Benidorm’s singing star Asa Elliott.

A launch party, hosted by Aruba Restaurant, who are again sponsors for the 2012 pantomime, saw the stars come out last week to try out their costumes and answer a few questions about what’s in store for us this year.

Chris Jarvis (Happy Harry / Director / Writer)

So tell me all about this year’s pantomime?
I guess the story of Sleeping Beauty is quite similar to all the other tales we tell at Christmas, but around that we have a lot of traditional panto business, which hopefully everyone has grown to expect when they come to the Pavilion now. We have all the regular ingredients including a really good dame in Colin Baker. He plays my favourite kind of Dame you know, a bloke in big boots, he’s very funny and being ‘a bloke’ accentuates the comedy. Su (Pollard) of course is hilarious and everyone will bend the story a bit and take it in a new direction.

And Asa (Elliott) is a real catch this year! We are upping the comedy with a great and funny prince. He will be doing all the real romantic, swashbuckling business, but at the same time is a bit ‘Gaston-ish’ with a bit of… what’s the term? … oh yes, high camp. It’s going to be a great show. We’ve got great people and to me the cast is the most important thing. Once you have got that right you are there!

My character this year is ‘Happy Harry’, and I suppose he is the same kind of character as Silly Billy or Wishy Washy who you have in the other pantos, and I get to work a lot with the kids. There is a lot to do with the build-up to Princess Briar Rose’s upcoming 18th birthday party, so who better to have around a palace than a party-loving person called ‘Harry’!

Do you enjoy working with the children?
The kids we get up on the stage are always fantastic. Bournemouth children are quite vocal, which is rather useful when you’re doing panto. And the children who actually work in the show – we have two teams of 8 - from a local stage schools, are always brilliant. They are funny, and just love being part of it.

What brings you back to pantomime every year?
I really love every aspect of panto, including the lighting and sound, and one of the things I like about directing is that and I get to be involved in all of it. I get to know all the different characters. I script edit as well – I don’t think anyone every really writes a panto, just collects a lot of old jokes and put the script together – so have to get inside the head of all the characters to bring the most out of the part.

Do you have any influence over the casting?
It is difficult to get too involved in casting as it really comes down to who is available to do the panto in Bournemouth for 5 weeks, and who is suitable. There aren’t so many big character-led sitcoms any more, which are the traditional breeding ground for panto performers. Benidorm I suppose is one, and there is that really great actress (Janine Duvitski) who is out there, and we have Asa of course this year from the same programme. But there aren’t that many sitcoms with comedy actors who are available and suitable for pantomime.

The Perry and Croft sitcoms were invaluable. Almost everyone who was in one of those shows is now a stalwart of panto, going right back to Dad’s Army and Ian Lavender, then you have Jeffrey Holland, who is in Southampton this year, and Ruth Madoc, when she is not touring in Calendar Girls. And Su, well there is only one Su Pollard, and we are so lucky to have her back. That’s more to do with what the audience wants. I love working with Su, but her being in it is as a direct result of asking the public who they most want to see. They said Su, so you go see if you can get her.

What’s next for you?
I’m in the middle of putting together the CBeebies pantomime, and we start filming that soon. We have Bernard Cribbins and loads of people from CBeebies, and that really is going to be very special.

Colin Baker (Nurse Nellie)

Tell me about your role in Sleeping Beauty?

I play Nurse Nellie, who is Sleeping Beauty’s nurse, although presumably not a very good one as Beauty is unconscious for a large part of the show! She sleeps for a hundred years, and you may wonder how it is that Nurse Nellie is around at the beginning of the hundred years and again at the end of the hundred years. It could have something to with a connection to a certain role I played on television. I couldn’t say.

Nurse Nellie is a dame, and dames do what dames do which is to be ‘mumsy’, and inept, and funny and hopefully create a few laughs along the way.

How do you find yourself playing Dame, and do you enjoy it?
I was asked to play Dame first about 12 years ago in Brighton by someone who thought I’d be good at it, and I took to it like a duck to water. I loved it. I had been playing villains for years, but the villain always seems to be apart from the other characters… coming in, being ‘orrible and going out again… whereas the dame is integral to the story and you have a lot of fun as well.

I did Dame three or four times before they asked me to do villain again, which I’ve been doing for the last six or seven years. I’ve been asking Martin Dodd (of UK Productions) if I can do dame again, and he said how do you fancy doing it in Bournemouth? I said, yes please!

Have you used any great Dames from history as inspiration?
One from my childhood who you may not have heard of, was Norman Evans. And he played the dame exactly as was later played by Les Dawson. That’s my kind of Dame, a real bloke. I’m not a great fan of the ‘Danny La Rue’ type dame – although he was a wonderful performer of course. I don’t enjoy someone who is that good at being a woman, playing dame in panto. There is a difference between being a female impersonator and a Dame. I think the Dame should definitely be a bloke in a dress, which hopefully I am.

You will probably now be forever associated with Dr Who, does that bother you?
Not at all. I loved doing Dr Who. 1983 to 1986 was one of the best times of my life in terms of work. I am still involved with the fans, and go to conventions, which are very well attended. It has got a very strong following, particularly now it is on TV again of course. There’s a whole generation of kids now who watch the new series, whose parents tell them that it was on when they were kids as well. So they are rediscovering what I gather is now called the ‘classic Dr Who’ of which I am one, as well as the modern era Doctor.

And what do you think of the modern Dr Who?
I love it. I am so jealous as to what they can do now with technology that we couldn’t even imagine. Getting a dalek to move along a hallway took about four hours and if there was a grain of salt in the way it would fall over it. Now you can do it all on CGI with ten million daleks streaming out of the sky. The good thing about it is that all that could have been disastrous for it. It could have meant the writers got sloppy, just relying on the special effects. But in fact, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffatt in particular, who have been successive producers, have come up with some amazing stories. And I love Matt Smith. When I heard they were casting a 12 year old I got very depressed as I like my old doctors. He may only be 12, but inside there is a 900 year old Time Lord and I absolutely believe it. I think he’s fantastic and I love watching it.

If you had the opportunity to go into another series like that, would you do it?
I’d love to do some television again. I’ve dipped in and out of other people’s programmes, but I would love to get a series again, as I love working in television. The challenge of something new every day is what I love.

Panto is great and the 5 weeks we are doing here in Bournemouth will be fine. It will be tiring but the atmosphere is so vibrant that it carries you along. But I couldn’t do it for 6 months! I would love to do 3 -4 months in a really good television series. That would be great.

Whats next?
I did a tour of a play called Woman in White last year, which is an adaptation of the Wilkie Collins book, and I am probably going to do some more of that, and probably also off to Australia in April to do some Dr Who conventions over there!

Su Pollard (Carabosse)

What can you tell me about your role in Sleeping Beauty?

Well this is the first time I have been in Sleeping Beauty, so don’t really know what to expect. I play Carabosse the bad fairy, and I think she’s a bit like the Wicked Queen in Snow White. I do know that I put a curse on the young princess ‘Beauty’ because she is more beautiful than me, saying that she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die! But then the good fairy comes along and puts a spell on her to protect her, saying that if the princess is kept safe until her 18th birthday the curse will come off. So all the spinning wheels are confiscated and the princess stays locked up in the castle for 18 years, never going out! Just before the clock strikes 12 on the eve of her 18th birthday, Carabosse finds a spinning wheel hidden in the castle and dressed up as an old woman, lures the princess to it, where she pricks her finger. But she doesn’t die of course, just goes to sleep for a hundred years and it all ends happily. Its really going to be good fun.

Obviously you enjoy playing that type of character, do you prefer being a villain?
Well I’m not the type darling to be namby-pamby, and I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to go “oh my prince, my love…” It’s not really me, is it? I’m drawn to meatier parts, because you can have fun, saying such terribly things, and scream at the audience and abuse them madly!

What appeals to you about panto, why do you come back to it year after year?
Well it’s seasonal for a start so you can fit it around other stuff. But basically it’s the interaction with the audience. It encourages people to come into the theatre and join in a bit. Normally when you go to a show you just sit there quietly enjoying what you’re watching, not allowed to interact. I like encouraging them to boo and jeer. The audience can be as naughty as they like. Panto gives them carte blanche to misbehave. I went up to Glasgow once - and they can be quite tough there you know - and was throwing these sweets out, as you do. Thank goodness I was wearing glasses ‘cos they threw them right back!

You’ve been involved in some of the best loved and most successful comedy series on TV, were they happy times for you, and do you keep in touch?
Oh yes. When I come down to Bournemouth I go out with Barry Howard who lives here, and I spoke to Ruth (Madoc) a couple of weeks ago, and Shaney (Paul Shane), and three weeks on the trot I’ve just seen Jeff (Holland) . He’s appearing in Southampton this year at that lovely theatre (The Mayflower). I also keep in touch with Don Maclean, you know from Crackerjack, who is in Poole this year, and he played my mother lots of times in Dick Whittington so it’s great to think we are all so close together this year.

We got on so well together in those shows you see, and we always knew we were in such great hands. The writing today can sometime be a bit mediocre, but with David (Croft) especially, who had a life steeped in theatre and TV and really knew the business, he would not let anything go that was not right. His standards were so high. I knew working with him I would get a good product.

We were fortunate enough to star in things that had a really good long life, and really get into the public psyche, by being in their living rooms every week. Having such a big success as that is such a great springboard for stage work, and hopefully, if you keep a good standard up, you can keep a good core regular audience coming to see you.

After panto, what’s next?
I’m going to New Zealand with a one woman show, which will be fabulous. I am working on it at the moment so a lot of it is still in my head. And then I’m hopefully doing something for Channel 4. It’s “in discussion” – they all say that don’t they?

You obviously all get on well together, are you looking forward to having a great time in Bournemouth?
Definitely. You know exactly what you’ve signed up for. Come along for a big chunk of work, and keep a good, consistent standard. We are all here to make sure the audience get their money’s worth., and I’m sure they will as everybody is so enthusiastic.

They are going to leave that theatre hoarse, I tell you! All that shouting at Su! You know, I really make ‘em scream especially when the kids come with their schools, and I can see those teachers holding their ears, begging me ‘Please don’t make ‘em scream any more!’ And the Musical Director, who has his back to them of course, when I see him cringing, that’s the best bit!

Sleeping Beauty - the Bournemouth Pavilion pantomime
Saturday 8 December 2012 - Sunday 6 January 2013