The goodies, the baddies and the dame at Aladdin in Guildford
Panto is a uniquely British institution. Oh yes it is. There was no panto for me growing up in rural Australia. Oh, no there wasn’t. But as you can see, I’ve embraced this tradition – and this Christmas I’ll be taking the mini mudlets to see several shows. The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford has a reputation for producing one of the best panto shows in Surrey, this year revisiting the popular Aladdin which it last did in 2012. And being the snoop I am, I had to check out exactly what was behind it all. So here’s my guide to the goodies, the baddies and the dame.
THE GOODIE – THE GENIE
West End theatre star and award-winning actress Janie Dee is the Genie – her first time as a panto genie. “My Genie’s going to be very magical, a little bit naughty and lots of fun,” she told Muddy. “When you’re doing straight plays you don’t talk to the audience very often, whereas in panto a lot of it is out to the audience. I really like the idea of that.”
Interesting snippet: As it happens, in real life Janie is old pals with Kit Hesketh-Harvey, the baddie. The pair have performed many times together, including a cabaret show at Yvonne Arnaud in 2011.
THE BADDIE – ABANAZAR
Supreme panto villain Kit Hesketh-Harvey returns to Guildford for another year of panto. But when he took his first panto role at the theatre, did he think he’d make an annual pilgrimage to play the panto villain six years down the line? “No, not in a month of Sundays!” he tells us.
“But I realised that I actually really enjoy it – and the people are lovely. It’s rather like boarding school: the best years of your life. When you’re doing it for the first term you’re shivering and frightened, but by the time you get to sixth form you realise you never want it to end. It’s all the corridor fun and dormitory banter.”
Interesting snippet: Much of Kit’s family originate from Guildford. “I have many dotty Surrey relatives who used to tread the boards,” he says. “So I feel I’m in an honourable tradition.”
THE HERO – ALADDIN
Emma Thornett plays the title role this year – her third time as Aladdin in Guildford. She first played the role in 2008, and returned again in 2012, and this year making it a hat trick. “How could I not?!” she says. “It will feel like coming home for Christmas. It’s like the Olympics, every four years I do Aladdin.”
Interesting snippet: Emma has an impressive CV, with roles on telly in Extras with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and as Catherine Zeta Jones Double Take. But it’s her role in the West End production of War Horse that she is most proud of, puppeteering Joey (the main horse) when he was a baby foal. “I’d never puppeteered before and had two-week intensive puppetry training, learning all the ethos of puppetry, and every aspect of a horse; how they think and breath and how they sound.”
THE DAME – WIDOW TWANKEY
Eagle Radio’s breakfast show host Peter Gordon comes back for his 11th year of panto at the Yvonne Arnaud as the panto dame. “The great thing about being a dame is that the costume walks on to the stage and does half my job before I even open my mouth,” he says. “I love the ridiculousness of it, the traditionalism of it… and long may the dame role last in panto.
Interesting snippet: Guildford-born and a long time resident, Peter remembers watching his first ever panto with his grandmother in the Seventies. Over the years he’s created his own Christmas traditions. “One of the favourite things I like to do is on Christmas Eve, after I finish at the theare I always walk home by going up the High Street with all the Christmas lights on. It really feels like Christmas is properly underway. It’s the real start of my own family Christmas.”
THE HEROINE – PRINCESS JASMINE
Recent graduate of the Guildford School of Acting, Charlotte O’Rourke will embrace the sequins as tiara as Princess Jasmine. “It’s so exciting. I’ve never been a princess! I like to think that I’ll be able to bring a bit of flair to my princess – she’ll be very kind but also a little bit feisty… a no-nonsense Jasmine!”
Interesting snippet: Charlotte grew up in a peformance-led world. Her dad is an actor and her mum is a dance teacher. She started dancing when she was two and performed in her first local theatre show when she was five.
AND THE CHEEKY CHAPPY – WISHEE WASHEE
Armed with water pistols and custard pies, panto regular Jamie Brook steps into the role of the lovable Wishee Washee – his fourth year in the lead comedy role in Guildford’s panto. “I love the role of the comic. The biggest challenge is just trying to make sure that people laugh,” he tells Muddy.”I’ve always been a performer, just because I’m an only child. I was always being asked to sing a song – and I’ve always loved telling jokes.”
Interesting snippet: Panto is not just for Christmas for Jamie, it’s for life. In recent years he’s also been researching and script writing. “I’ve enjoyed panto since I was a tiny, and I think it’s a specific art form rather than just something theatres do at Christmas.”
THE GOOD COP – PC PONGO
Film at TV star Ray Griffiths – think Harry Potter, Star Wars and Game of Thrones (I mean, wow!) – is returning to Guildford, having performed in Snow White two years ago. “I ca’t believe I’m back and doing Aladdin. I couldn’t ask for me than to be doing this in Guildford, with the cast we’ve got. They didn’t have to cast a short actor in this show. But they chosen to – they’ve decided they want me and I can’t explain how happy I am!”
Interesting snippet: Ray was working as a landscape gardener in Hull when he almost literally bumped into a casting director as he walked down the Kings Road in London. “A man tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘how tall are you?’. I said 4 foot 2. He invited me to be in the film Willow. I did two weeks of filming, standing in a field wearing a weird costume – and it paid a ridiculous amount of money. I thought that was a pretty good way to make a living.”
Aladdin is at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Fri 9 Dec to Sun 8 Jan.
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Millbrook, Guildford, GU1 3UX. Tel: 01483 44 00 00. yvonne-arnaud.co.uk