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Ten things you need to make a pantomime actually good

Artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East Kerry Michael is a veteran at pantomimes. Here he takes us through the ten steps to a successful festive offering


1. A great script

Every pantomime needs a funny script with real adventure, danger, drama, gags and a bit of smut. We spend the whole year developing the script for next year's Christmas show and from February we'll start on a draft. We'll get the structure of it in advance but then we always leave a section of it to be topical. So this year there's lots of references to what happened with Trump and America.

2. The kind of magic that makes the audience go ‘how did they do that?!'

We have a wonderful magic consultant in Scott [Penrose] and each year he brings videos of all the latest tricks that he's been perfecting over the year and we try and work out whether they would work in the show. There's a remarkable illusion that happens at the end of Sinbad the Sailor where someone disappears and reappears and it's a trick that he originally used for a Star Trek convention and we've been able to adapt it and make it right for us.

3. Opportunities to show-off

As it's all original music, we sometimes write songs particularly for our actors' voice. You'll see this year we have some wonderful singers, in particular our dame Johnny Amobi [who plays Nurse], who has some great big songs, some of which were written especially for him. I think the audience enjoy seeing great singers show off and that's what we try and do in this show.

4. A song sheet that you're still humming in the middle of February

One of the complaints I get is from family and friends who say ‘Kerry your little cousin is still singing that song and we're in the middle of Easter!' I always find that's a sign of a good song sheet, when it gets stuck in kids' heads.

5. A really good villain

The villain is always the best part to play because you're allowed to show off and go off the rails and no one quite knows what will happen next. There's also all that lovely audience interaction and ours are famous for being loud and boisterous. We're spoiled because Michael Bertenshaw wants to come back year after year - I think this is his fifteenth pantomime for us.

6. A pair of young lovers

We've got a beautiful young lead in Julian Capolei playing Sinbad. Him and Mariana Neofitou are wonderful together. We need optimism nowadays and these two give it to us - there's nothing wrong with young love.

7. Audience participation

We do what we do in rehearsal, but a Christmas show is only really complete with the audience. We need the audience to participate to help us fill in the gaps and tell our story and make sure good overcomes evil. That's the role of audience participation, I don't think it should just be there for pointless call and response, it's really there to help the goodies understand what's happening and overcome the baddies.

8. Watching the show with friends and family

Our shows can be watched by a child who has never seen a pantomime before or your boss from the office who's been unleashed with booing and hissing. Sometimes we get audiences that are 90 per cent adults, and that's one of the challenges of this show, making it work for all levels, from a group of five year-olds to an office party. If both those groups of people can be entertained equally then you know you've got it.

9. A belly full of jerk chicken, rice and peas, plantain and coleslaw

I wish we had a bigger bar because the tables are constantly full of people eating. It's all about the full experience and filling yourself up with good food before watching the show - what can be better than that?

10. At least one glitter drop. If not two. Or three…

This year we have one glitter drop, one petal drop, a pillow fight, two sparkling pyros, four bangs and three different smoke machines. I think that's the minimum you need to do each year!