You write, direct and act in the same production. How is that?
I am the script writer and creative associate for First Family Entertainment which means I write all the scripts for their productions across the country – ten this year – I then always end up in one of them which I like to direct too – just so I can make sure it's done how I envisaged it while writing.
You make a great panto dame. Are you inspired by anyone in particular?
I learned the art of Daming from the wonderful Kenneth Alan Taylor who is appearing this year at the Nottingham Playhouse but who used to be Artistic Director at the wonderful Coliseum Theatre in Oldham. He is one of the best so I suppose he is my inspiration. Oh, and Les Dawson!
This production has been well reviewed. What are the ingredients for a good pantomime in your view?
Every panto must have a good story – in the case of Dick Whittington it's an adventure story. You must engage the young audience with that – then you can add the other ingredients; lots of comedy, great songs and music, special effects and audience participation.
Why in this age of iphones, Smart TVs and Film on Demand - are they still popular with audiences?
I think the main reasons are children will always be held by a good story, well told. They have to be interested and involved. If this is the case they will enjoy the show and if that is the case then the people actually paying for the tickets will enjoy it too. In this day and age a couple of hours of quality escapism is worth every penny!
Tell us a tale about Pudsey the dog?
He is totally lovely and simply adores Ashleigh, as she does him of course. But, like every other dog he can get easily distracted and a couple of days ago he obviously smelled something fascinating at the bottom of a set of stairs he had to climb on stage. He wasn't for budging until he had completed a full sniff investigation, Ashleigh practically had to drag him away – got the biggest laugh of the scene!
How do you get such a big cast to gel so well?
The cast must realise just how special it is to be part of something so important in people's Christmas calendar and feel the pride associated with that. Each member of the cast has their own individual and integral role to play within the show. It must be an ensemble piece. That and the fact I believe that both rehearsals and performances should be great fun. If we're having fun performing then, in theory the audience will too.
They say never work with animals and children. You work with both.How is it?
It's great!! Pudsey is wonderful and totally steals the show!! Our lovely local juvenile dancers are a joy. They are talented, charming, disciplined and bring a very important extra layer to the production.
You have written so many pantomimes. What keeps you going?
I love it! Pantomime is very often a child's first visit to the theatre and, in this day of dwindling audiences as we compete with the ever increasing number of TV channels, we have to make it an experience they love and want to repeat. I love the history of this great British tradition and am honoured to be a small part of that history.
Has anything unscripted made you laugh out loud so far during a performance?
Our lovely Tam Ryan who plays Idle Jack in our show is supposed to get slapped by one of the girl dancers at one point. As rehearsed she taps his face and we have a sound effect to make it look like a hard slap. Let's just say our dancer misjudged it one day and walloped poor Tam with a left hook Ricky Hatton would have been proud of!! I couldn't help myself have a giggle as Tam slowly realised what had just happened!!
Lastly, why should people come along to see Dick Whittington?
It's fun! A fantastic show with truly stunning scenery and costumes, loads of laughs, great music and dancing, slapstick comedy and a brilliant 3D film sequence (you get free 3D glasses to keep too). It's a great couple of hours for children of all ages to relax, laugh and escape the traumas of the real world!! Come & join us!
Dick Whittington is at the Manchester Opera House until 5 January.