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Steven Webb: Why You Should Come & See ... Aladdin

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Panto season is upon us and this year the Lyric Hammersmith is offering an 'East meets West (London)' version of Aladdin, which opens tomorrow (2 December 2011, previews from 19 November).

Following his success in last year’s Dick Whittington, Steven Webb returns to the Lyric to play Wishy Washy, alongside fellow returnee Shaun Prendergast as the Dame.

Here, he tells us why we should come and see the show, and reveals a fascinating anecdote from his past…

Steven Webb: This is my second panto in a row at the Lyric. I’d never done panto before I played Dick Whittington last year. It’s the same core team of writers, the same actors and the same crew and design team, so there’s something really wonderful about coming back to that family. I think the pantos at the Lyric get better and better every year. Aladdin is extremely funny but it has a lovely message as well; it’s a good time and you don’t have to think too much, just sit there and take it in.

I can’t say too much about the effects but the magic carpet is just amazing. I don’t want to give too much away because it’s something very, very special but you'll have to take it on trust that it's unbelievable. The first time we saw it in the tech rehearsal we all burst into tears. It flies up, it spins, it goes out over the orchestra, it does a 360. It’s incredible. Just for that alone you have to go and see it!

I play Wishy Washy, who is Aladdin’s brother and traditionally a human, but this time the writers (Steve Marmion, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Joel Horwood) decided to make Wishy Washy a blue monkey. I think they just wanted to see me in the costume! The character has an important function in that he’s the audience’s friend, someone that the kids don’t feel intimidated by. Not a narrator as such, more of a tour guide.

Tom Scutt, who designed the production, has the most amazing costume ideas. It’s genius and I do genuinely look like a blue monkey, though I have to spray my hair white and blue every night which is bit annoying to get out afterwards. Also, because in the suit the only place my body heat can release is my face, I can honestly say I've never sweated so much in my life. And I’ve got blue make-up on which I have to reapply every time I walk offstage. I’ve lost three inches off my waist!

We opened in mid-November and at that time of year it’s a bit harder getting people into the Christmas spirit, but in December everyone’s already in it. It’s so infectious because by the end the audience are on their feet and screaming and there are bubbles everywhere and ridiculous costumes and everyone’s singing and it’s just fantastic. You do come off buzzing every time.

The stage is a very dangerous place when you’re on with Shaun Prendergast! He plays Widow Twanky and I have two scenes alone with him. You might as well rip up the script when we’re together. We riff off each other and we’re in danger of adding 20 minutes to the show sometimes. We also just blatantly stand there laughing if we find something funny and completely come out of character; he’s very clever about whispering little asides to me. He manages to get the energy up so well and that’s the Dame’s job I suppose, to really boost that energy. So while it’s dangerous to be on stage with Shaun it’s also incredible to walk on stage after he’s been on it.

Sharing a stage with Michael Jackson (and Jarvis Cocker)

My first glimpse of fame was when I was about 14. I was at the Sylvia Young Theatre School and I found out that Michael Jackson was going to be performing “Earth Song” at the Brit Awards. At that age, like every child, I was absolutely obsessed with Michael Jackson. I stopped at nothing to make sure I got that job and I tried so hard and I did everything I could and eventually a few of us were picked. We rehearsed again and again at Earl’s Court and did the performance with Michael Jackson, which was crazy.

Then during the performance, Jarvis Cocker ran on while Michael Jackson was up in the crane and as he was being chased off he knocked me and I fell offstage into the audience and I cracked my rib. It was a really odd time because obviously it went mad in the papers and we weren’t allowed to say anything. I think it sounded a lot worse than it all was; by the end of it I’m sure I read one headline that said “Child Punched in the Face by Jarvis Cocker”. That was my first taste of how ridiculous the media can be.

Aladdin continues until 31 December.


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