Brief Encounter with… Nottingham panto's Kenneth Alan Taylor

Panto king Kenneth Alan Taylor is about to don his dame’s frock for the very last time. Here he talks about his thirtieth and final pantomime at the Nottingham Playhouse

You’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you retiring from pantos now?

I’ve decided to stop whilst I am still able to give 100% on stage. I would not like to continue if I thought I wasn’t doing the job to the best of my ability.

As much as I love playing Dame and will miss it, the part does require quite a lot of stamina and the costume changes do take a lot out of one.

You write, direct and star in your pantomimes. That’s a lot of hats. How do you do it all?

I am very lucky to have amazing backup at Nottingham Playhouse, from all the technical departments. I also have a nucleus of actors that have worked with me in panto for several years; and that makes life so much easier for me.

Obviously after all these years, (I did my first panto in 1959 at Oldham Coliseum), I know what works as far as audiences as concerned.

What’s the secret in particular to playing a great panto dame?

I’ve always said a good dame should be themselves and essentially be a man in a frock not, I repeat not, a drag act. The best dame I ever saw was Arthur Askey, he was literally himself in a frock and was a brilliant ad- libber. And I personally think the ability to ad lib is essential for a dame. My Dame is a warm friendly Northern lass, based on all the wonderful mothers and women I have met- a sort of poor man’s Thora Hird.

Your first panto in Nottingham in 1983 was Jack and the Beanstalk and now you’re bowing out with Jack. What is special about this pantomime in particular?

We deliberately chose it because it was the first panto we ever presented at Nottingham Playhouse. And it is a very familiar story – but this year with lots of surprises!

As well as your own 30th anniversary, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Nottingham Playhouse. What part are you and Jack and the Beanstalk playing in marking this milestone? And how do you feel about that?

We are very honored to be presenting a Gala performance on 11 December, which is the date the theatre opened. I think the fact that the theatre opened 50 years ago with Coriolanus staring John Neville and we are now presenting pantomime shows the enormous range of productions presented at Nottingham Playhouse.

Pantomime should be for all ages from 4 to 94 and that has always been my aim here at the Playhouse.

What are some of your own highlights at Nottingham over the time you’ve been working there?

One of the main highlights was presenting the first pantomime and I never thought we would be here 30 years later.

On the first night of the first ‘job’ the beanstalk broke which caused chaos and hilarity. I always hope something will go wrong so that I can ad lib. Audiences love it and so do I.

What’s next for you?

After such a lengthy run a rest … but not for long I hope! I am lucky that I combine straight theatre with pantomime so I hope a nice play will come along for me. Nudge nudge- wink wink!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Come and see the panto at Nottingham Playhouse and me as Dame, one last time!

Good pantomime brings young children to the theatre probably for their first visit. So it is essential that the production has all the elements of theatre – comedy, drama, song, dance, spectacle and truth. If the children enjoy it they are hooked for life – this is so important as far as I am concerned.

Kenneth Alan Taylor’s final pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, runs at Nottingham Playhouse from 29 November to 18 January.