Once upon a time, I was a full-on pantophobe. My mum took me to see one in Bournemouth when I was little and I specifically made myself hate it. I was an insufferable little snob back then and saving myself for Italian operas and Russian ballets, not Widow Twankey doing fart jokes with The Krankies. I grandly declared it wasn’t “my kind of thing”, ignored the show and consequently missed out on something magical.
Fortunately, I later realised my mistake and when a chance to be in one came up, it was too good to miss (oh yes it was). So now I’m having the time of my life in panto (Snow White in Bristol, tickets still available). It’s possibly the most extraordinary thing I’ve done — and that’s in a career that spans prosecuting warlords and dancing the Charleston dressed as Fred Flintstone. It’s been entirely, immeasurably wonderful.
Just as winter was painting everything grey, it’s been the sparkliest, jolliest tonic of my life… and a reminder that theatre has this unique power to gift people imagination, delight and authentic happiness. Plus, who doesn’t love glittery costumes, lavish dance numbers and script throbbing with hot, piping innuendo? It took me longer than most, but I’m finally a full-on, born-again pantomaniac. There are loads on in London right now — get yourself tickets ASAP.One of the many fascinating things I’ve seen is the sheer quantity of work needed to make our panto feel so gloriously playful.A few nights ago, as soon as the curtain went down on yet another standing ovation, I noticed my peerless co-star Lesley Joseph leaving the stage at high speed. It turns out she’d gone to sort out some minor lighting issue she’d noticed in the middle of Act Three. No one else had spotted it (and I’m certain the audience had no idea), but she did and wanted to help the lighting guys put it right. Not because she’s a diva (nothing could be further from the truth) but because she’s an old school professional who takes her job completely seriously. The same is true of the entire cast; everyone (especially the matchless comedian Andy Ford) recognises that our frothy pantomime requires just as much dedication and focus as any complex project.
I’d guess there’s more conscientiousness behind the scenes at our panto than there is right now at Number 10. The difference is, we’re creating something brilliantly silly and taking it very seriously; they’re dealing with something deadly serious and treating it like a joke. The long and the short of it is, we need Joseph as PM as soon as humanly possible. Once our run is finished, I’m putting her in a taxi to Downing Street to take over.
In other news...
I was incredibly sad to hear about the death of the great Stephen Sondheim. I knew from the very first moment I heard his lyrics — sitting cross-legged in front of the 1961 West Side Story — that my life had changed forever. Sondheim’s intelligence mixed with the exquisiteness of Leonard Bernstein was completely awe-inspiring. From then on, I’ve loved everything he’s ever done. I’m actually listening to Send in the Clowns every night as I slap on my make-up in Bristol (there’s no finer gift you can give yourself than seeking out Judi Dench’s perfect performance on YouTube). Great art like his comes around every so often. It can come in any genre, any form, but you know it when you see it and it lives forever.
Have you been to any pantos this year? Let us know in the comments below.