Stars come out for the big Southampton Panto Launch!
Qdos Entertainment, the world’s largest pantomime producer, have signed a new 3-year deal to present pantomimes at the south coast venue, and Jack will be their first all-star offering. Featuring a larger-than-life beanstalk and one very mean giant at the top of it! The traditional elements of a family pantomime combine with visual effects, including a fantastic 3D enchanted forest and journey through the Giant’s castle.
Julian Clary will star as Spirit of the Beans, Nigel Havers as Fleshcreep, Lee Mead makes his pantomime debut in the title role of Jack and comedian and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, as Simple Simon, and his cheeky companion Sam. They are joined by veteran panto dame and Hi-De-Hi star Jeffrey Holland as Dame Trot, and local Wave105 news journalist Shireen Jordan as the Lady in Waiting.
The Mayflower and Qdos are introducing a special relaxed performance of the pantomime for the very first time. Children with special needs will be able to enjoy a sensitively adapted performance of the pantomime free from the usual constraints of live theatre.
At a special launch party held at Southampton’s newest arts venue, The Hub Theatre, Whatsonstage caught up with a few of the cast to chat about Jack and the Beanstalk and panto in general.
Julian Clary has turned his hand to comedy, acting, presenting, writing and even performed as a novice dancer on Strictly Come Dancing, where he reached the final. He has recently won Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5. Julian has appeared in numerous record-breaking family pantomimes all over the UK. Nigel Havers is renowned for playing charming, smooth-talking characters throughout his distinguished career. He has appeared in countless television programmes including Lunch Monkeys, Little Britain, Brothers and Sisters, Sarah Jane Adventures, Dangerfield and The Charmer to name but a few. His numerous film roles include Empire of the Sun, A Passage to India and Chariots of Fire. Nigel can currently be seen reprising his role as Lewis Archer in Coronation Street. And this year marks Jeffrey Holland’s 41st pantomime season, his twenty fifth as pantomime dame, and his second visit to The Mayflower. Jeffrey appeared at The Mayflower as Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington in 1994. Jeffrey will don the frocks and make-up to take on the role of Dame Trot. Jeffrey’s volume of work is enormous having appeared on stage in the West End and throughout the UK, Jeffrey is well known for his television roles including the classic, hit programmes Hi de Hi, You Rang M’Lord and Oh! Dr Beeching.
Q1: So tell me about the pantomime, and your role in it?
Jeffrey: Well I’ve done a few Jack and the Beanstalk’s in the past but this production is quite new to me as its got a 3D giant for a start and all those special effects that I don’t know anything about yet. I am looking forward to all that tremendously. I think that if you’ve got all this marvelous technology, come on lets use it! And Jack is a wonderful story – its got happiness and sadness, and good triumphs over evil at the end of course as it has to in all pantos. I play Dame Trot, Jack’s Mum. We are so poor we have to sell our cow daisy, so Jack takes it to market to sell it for a bag of gold, but comes back with a bag of beans, which I throw out the window. Then the beanstalk grows….
Nigel: I am the henchman to the giant. I have played it before, but I don’t know yet what happens this year. I have worked with most of the cast before, apart from 3D – I’ve not acted with him before so I can’t wait to see what all that’s about. I’ve not seen the script yet – not that that makes much difference… no, no what am I say. It’s going to be great fun.
Julian: I play a rather ethereal being, and I arrive in this rocket. It’s nice as I’m a bit disengaged from the story really. I am there to protect Jack. My real role is to entertain the Mums and Dads in the audience. The story and all the magic is for the children, although we all like to see good triumph over evil of course, but the parents do need to have a good time as well. So that’s what I’m there for. We’ve got a 3 dimensional monster which I’m looking forward to. I haven’t seen it yet. It involves the audience wearing special glasses, and you can apparently see the giant’s arms reaching out into the audience. I like the fact that we have all the traditional panto stuff but the producers are embracing all the modern technology to make it very spectacular.
Q2: And what about working with this cast?
Jeffrey: Well Julian, Nigel and I all worked together two years ago, in Dick Whittington in Birmingham – so we know each other and get along well. Lee (Mead) is new to me, and new to panto, this being his first, so being my 41st, I shall take him under my wing a bit.
Julian: Well yes, quite apart from the fact they are spectacular panto performers, it is nice to get on so well with the people you work with. I have been in productions where people fall out over the silliest things, and I can’t be doing with all that. Life is too short. You need to make it fun. Nigel is a proper actor you know, not like me, who can do the whole range from nice to nasty. I can only really play myself. Whatever part you see me in you only really get Julian Clary.
Q3: What appeals to you about panto?
Nigel: It’s quit addictive actually, as an actor I can break all the rules that you learn in straight theatre. Also I’ve got lots of mates now who do this every year, and we can be sort of naughty boys together. More importantly I know there are lots of kids out there for whom it is the first time they have ever been to the theatre. So it’s important that they have a good time, so they will come back again and again. It’s quite a responsibility, but I enjoy it. I love to hear them laughing and screaming and booing and hissing. I like playing the villain in panto as you get a big reaction.
Julian: The magic has to be very convincing, and the transformation scenes very real. I often peek out at the audience during those scenes and I love seeing the children’s faces, absolutely amazed at what they are seeing. You have to capture the imagination at an early age.
Jeffrey: Its an art form. The whole family can sit down together and enjoy it, then the children grow up and bring their children, and so it goes on down the line. It is quite often a child’s first visit to the theatre, but with panto they know the stories before they get there, so you can’t fool them. You have got to tell the story and tell the truth – give them what they expect. Panto has evolved as necessary, and not always for the best. I regret the passing of the female principle boy for example. I have worked with quite a few brilliant ones. The last time I was here in Southampton in fact at the Mayflower in 1994, I was with the beautiful Rosemarie Ford, who played Dick Whittington, and she was a wonderful principle boy. The female principle boy was there for the Dads, like the Dame was there for the Mums to have a good laugh at. I suppose it’s not a bad idea to cast someone like Lee in those roles now, as the kids know him from the telly and he’s a good looking lad so all the girls love him. They’ll come and scream, so it’ll feel a bit like a pop concert, which is fine. Anything so long as they come and react.!
Q4: Jeffrey, what makes a great dame, and who do you take inspiration from?
Jeffrey: I try to play the Dame the way I saw it played as a kid, the greats like Arthur Askey and Cyril Fletcher. I worked with Terry Scott a few times during the late 70s and early 80s, and he was incredible Dame. Not such an easy man to get on with, he could be quite difficult sometimes, but you cannot take away the fact that he really was a superb pantomime dame, and he taught me a lot. The great Jack Tripp, who I worked with once too, also taught me a lot. I’ve learned from the best so I try to carry on the tradition.
Q5: Jeffrey, you’ve been part of some of the most successful and best loved comedy series on TV, do they hold happy memories for you?
Jeffrey: I have enormously happy memories of that time. It is a shame that there is not a place for that type of comedy now really and it’s a sad fact that they don’t make shows like that anymore. Having said that, I watched Citizen Kahn last night, and I thought that was a wonderful warm two-dimensional family sitcom. It is set in a Muslim household in Birmingham, and all the characters are there; Mum, Dad, the kids and all the people they are surrounded by, and of course the central character is a con-man who is very funny. And I love Miranda (Hart), and The Vicar of Dibley – that was really the last of the sitcoms that was made the way we used to make programmes. I saw Su (Pollard) last week, who is down in Bournemouth this Christmas in Sleeping Beauty, and I see Paul (Shane) occasionally, the last time sadly, was at David Croft’s memorial service last year. We do the odd signings at memorabilia shows together so we all keep in touch.
Q5: Julian, from ‘alternative’ stand-up to pantomime. Is it a conscious decision to move into more mainstream, family entertainment, or are you still firmly rooted in the adult comedy arena?
Julian: It wasn’t a conscious decision no, but that is what inevitably happens if you hang around long enough. I’ve basically been doing the same act since the 80s, and I went through a phase of being a sort of a cult on the fringes, but if you do enough television you cannot help but become a bit main stream. Certainly pantomime is, but it is not a new thing for me. I have been doing panto for 14 years! I like mainstream, so long as you don’t compromise yourself to do it. Where I don’t compromise is on my own shows, the one man shows that I am touring. That is me being as filthy as I like.
Q6: Do you find it difficult to reign yourself back in for panto?
Julian: I’m very good at censoring myself and the discipline does me good. The true double-entendre has to be very carefully crafted. For example in Cinderella, my entrance is riding on a chariot drawn by two bare chested mules, and my opening line is ‘I like to be pulled wherever I go”. The adults will laugh in a sniggering way, and the kids will find it funny on a different level. A proper double-entendre is funny on two levels.
Q7: Nigel, how do you feel being part of a long running serial (Coronation Street)?
Nigel: Well it is like a big family, and they all get along, so it’s a very happy experience. Even though we work very hard it’s a happy place to be. I’ve been doing it on and off for a while, but I finish at the end of the year and I think that’s definitely it. I’m too much of a nomad to be in one thing for a very long time. Whenever I’m doing a film I think I wish I was doing a play, and then when I am in a play, I wish I was doing a film, so I am always looking for the next part really.
Q8: Julian, you recently came first in Celebrity Big Brother. What does that success mean to you?
Julian: I was so surprised. When you are in that house for three and a half weeks you don’t forget you are being filmed but you don’t really know if anyone’s watching and I thought I was being terribly boring. And because I never win anything I didn’t expect it. When it was just me and Colleen left at the end I felt sure she’d win. So I was in a bit of a daze for a while. I’m getting used to it now and can say a gracious thank you when people congratulate me… and what a thing! Going out on tour now it feels like starting again. I think it’s made new people aware of me, and they are coming to see me in droves. I’m kind of a hot ticket which, at my time of life is a real thrill. So, I’m just going to enjoy it all.
Q9: What’s next?
Jeffrey: Well I’m doing a play before this panto, at a place called The Mill at Sonning – a lovely place to work. It is a Neil Simon comedy called California Suite which is basically four separate stories set in the same hotel room. I am in two of the four stories – which is more than enough for me in a Neil Simon play as it is quite physically demanding. Then straight onto this panto. I am also in a film version of Ray Cooney’s Run for Your Wife.
Julian: There is a rumor that I am going to star in a sitcom with Julie Goodyear after our time together in the Big Brother house. There is talk of a sitcom based in a gay B & B called the ‘White Swallow’, which seems like a good idea to me!! She is very funny and she has great comic timing so I think my people are talking to her people.
Q10: So what is on the wish list for the dressing room at the Mayflower?
Julian: Plums I think are important!