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Beverley Knight on panto: 'I've had to channel my inner Idina Menzel'

The Bodyguard and Memphis star is making her pantomime debut in Birmingham

Beverley Knight
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Beverley Knight has had hit after hit in her career, with her variety of top ten tunes including "Greatest Day", "Come as You Are" and "Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda" as well as West End turns in The Bodyguard, Memphis and Cats. But now Knight is trying something completely new – donning the sequins and performing in Birmingham Hippodrome's Cinderella, alongside the likes of Danny Mac, Suzanne Shaw and Matt Slack.

As a Wolverhampton-hailing West Midlander, the experience is certainly a homecoming for Knight, so we caught up with her as she prepares for her role as the Fairy Godmother ahead of the show's opening on Friday.

I saw so many pantos throughout my childhood as it was a big thing for my mum. We went either to the Hippo, down in London or at the [Wolverhampton] Grand. I think Dick Whittington was my first. I remember spending lots of time trying to catch the sweets. It's just all very warm and inclusive, you cannot fail to leave there without a big grin on your face. It's a uniquely brilliant thing that we have over here. So it's nice for me to come full circle and now be appearing in one.

Compared to preparing for a West End show, there are some similarities and some major differences. The production values, the 100 per cent required commitment and all that kind of thing are exactly like a West End experience. The show has a grandness to it that you'd also expect to find in the West End.

I don't think I'll make it through the run without corpsing at least once

But it's also very new to me. What I'm used to is you sit down, you read through the script, you introduce yourself to each other - no. None of that here. What you do is, you go in, and you get on your feet and start doing things immediately. It's like being thrown into madness, but it's organised madness!

On top of that, the going off-piste, the rudeness, the double entendres are nothing like the West End. In order to make gags work in panto you have to approximate certain lines, so they might change every night or every show depending on who's in, while in the West End everything is exactly set – there's one way of doing it and repeat. The liberty to ad lib is there – as long as everybody gets their cues right!

I'm used to a West End show where I'm on stage virtually all of the time and a lot of it depends on what I'm doing or revolves around one character. This is spread, no one person has it all on them, so it's not something I've done for a while. I have to play the 'straight' man in the show, but I have to put the word straight in inverted commas, as there's a couple of scenes with me on stage where I have no idea how I'll keep it together. I cannot see a way I'll make it through the whole six week run without corpsing at least once. I know they're going to me. Matt Slack is just wrong, he's so wrong and a brilliant comedic actor. He'll be my undoing.

There's a lotta Bev onstage

I do a lot of singing in the show (I say a lot, though nothing like The Bodyguard or Cats!) but in a way it's completely different to what I'm used to. There are a lot of original songs here and it all feels very Disney and, since I'm not exactly Idina Menzel, it all feels very new to me! So I've had to channel my inner Idina.

There's a lotta Bev onstage. I get to speak onstage the way I do in real life, rather than doing either an LA accent or a Memphian accent, with some proper Wolverhampton representation! It's nice to just be a bit more me for once. The lines just trip off the tongue.

There are two things I'm really looking forward to doing. The first is a big one, being able to fly – going out and seeing all the kids' faces up close will be lovely. The second sketch I'm going to keep secret...I don't want to ruin the surprise but it involves me and The Grumbleweeds and it's going to be so much fun.

Cinderella runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 28 January.

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