Snow White is having fun battling Wicked Queen Atomic in Ipswich Regent's family panto
PUBLISHED: 20:13 20 December 2018
Pantomime acts as a theatrical life-support system over Christmas as we escape from the trials and tribulations of the world-at-large. Arts editor Andrew Clarke talks to the cast of Snow White about the restorative nature of a trip to the theatre
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the great Christmas pantomimes which revels in the fact that it has a strong story propelled along with that glorious mix of glamorous heroine, dashing hero and evil Queen who, in turn, are helped and hindered by a cheeky comic foil. It’s been a mainstay of the panto season since the days of music hall in the early 20th century.
It’s an infinately adaptable tale which allows for the actors to bring their own bits of business to the role and allow their own stage presence to make its mark on the production.
For Ipswich audiences this year’s production of Snow White is extra special because it not only combines famous names like Natasha Hamilton from Atomic Kitten, Stevi Ritchie from the X-Factor, and Matt Pagan winner of Britain’s Got Talent but also features regular funny men Mike McClean and BBC Radio Suffolk’s Wayne Bavin along with local actress Harriet Bacon as Snow White.
The success of any pantomime often comes down to the cameraderie shared by the cast. Relationships are forged during rehearsal which then translate to the action on stage during the run.
Audiences pick up when the performers are having a good time and that sense of fun quickly transmits itself across the footlights and the panto takes on an extra level of fun.
Mike McClean, who plays Muddles, says that bonds have formed quickly and this year’s panto feels particularly good.
I suppose that the mindset of being with a cast is different to what you have to do when preparing for a stand-up gig?
Mike: “When I do my stand-up shows, it’s just about me, so when you come in to a panto you realise very quickly you are part of a team and you all have to work together. We are very fortunate that this year we have a particularly strong cast and we work together very well. We have some amazing singers, the comedy is great and we some wonderful dancers and your time on stage is rationed so you have to make your mark.
“When I do my stand-up show I’m on stage for an hour but in panto you have to come on and really hit them, make your presence felt. I’ve been here before, so I know Ipswich audiences are very warm but they can be, what I call, ‘smile audiences’ rather than laugh audiences, so it’s my job to make sure they are laugh audiences.
So how much freedom do you get to make the part your own?
Mike: “We get the script and I then take it away and study it. I take it apart and say: ‘This won’t work but we could do this,’ or ‘This is great but we can make it better by doing this.’ I have worked with some great comics in the past who all told me, if you are the comedian, it’s your job to stay on top of the comedy. It’s your job to get the laughs. If there’s a topical line I’ll always add it in – audiences love that.”
How much of the comedy is in the script and how much evolves during rehearsal?
Mike: “I’ve worked with Natasha before which is great but everyone is really great, really up for it, and we are just having a great time bouncing ideas and routines off one another. When everyone is on board, it’s very easy to build bits of business into something very special which get a really strong response from the audience.”
For Natasha Hamilton and Harriet Bacon it’s important for actors to put their own stamp on the panto.
Natasha: “It’s really great when a director takes your personality into account. I suppose with the Wicked Queen it’s a lot easier and I enjoy getting involved with the comedy and bits of business. It’s great to let your hair down and be really mean and nasty.”
Harriet how you found playing Snow White and crossing that divide between audience and stage?
Harriet: “Snow White is a challenge because she is the perfect princess but you have to find ways to make her different and distinctive and you do that by giving her a personality and a good script certainly helps.
Natasha: “It’s very much a collaborative process. Harriet is a brilliant Snow White, she’s given her a real sense of character and we get to play off one another, so we are able to build on things during rehearsal that are just hinted at in the script – take scenes to new places or create comedy moments that perhaps weren’t thought of in the original script. Panto is great for allowing actors to develop routines and get the best out of one another. It’s all about trust and communication and we have got a great bunch here in Ipswich this year. The energy is great.”
So Harriet, how does it feel performing on stage at The Regent, back in your home town?
Harriet: “It feels great but I have a confession to make. I have watched the Regent panto before and watched tons of shows at The Regent but I have never performed on The Regent stage before, so it’s the first time for me. It’s strange, I have done loads of stuff over the years but its always been elsewhere, so I’m pleased to be able to add The Regent to my list of theatres I have performed in.
How important is it in these cynical dark times to have something like panto to take us out of ourselves?
Natasha: “Panto is great. It’s a fully immersive experience which the kids absolutely love. Not just the kids but the grown-ups too, it’s one of the few things that kids and adults both enjoy but get different things from. There are jokes for the kids, different gags for the adults which the kids won’t get, it’s a wonderful mix and it just takes you9out of yourself. Leave your troubles at the door and just have a good time.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Ipswich Regent until January 2, 2019