Star Q&A: Gok Wan

Round & About

Pantomime

Television star Gok Wan, 47, talks to us ahead of his dazzling star turn as the Man In The Mirror in Snow White at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre from 4th December to 2nd January

Hi Gok! How did you get involved in pantomime? “I’ve dreamt of being on stage forever. I first began to think about panto some years back. I was fascinated… Then one evening, maybe 2012 or 2013, I was with Lionel Blair and the very naughty Louie Spence. They said I really should give it a try. I spoke with my agent and Channel Four got involved. I first met Snow White then. There have been other pantos since then but it’s really great to be back with Snow White.”

Q. What’s your character The Man In The Mirror like to play? “Man In The Mirror sounds like a piece of furniture! I’m not and it isn’t! The script is amazing. I finished re-reading it again this morning – the tradition has again been tweaked for the 2020s and I’m excited. The mirror has messages. The mirror motivates. The mirror is magic.”

Q. And your costume… do you have a professional opinion about it? “Do I have an opinion? Oh yes I do! I like it. I was encouraged from the start to contribute input, although the designer anticipated so much that my suggestions could be called incidental. There’s a vital aspect, though, and one I insist on. An aspect that’s seen and unseen – the fit! My costume has to fit and over the Christmas period that could mean adjustments… It’s gotta be done.”

Q. Do you have any pre-show dressing room rituals? “Haha! Not only in the dressing room! Yes, I’m superstitious and my rituals – as you call them – go on throughout the performance; I don’t leave them to lurk alone in the dressing room. What can I tell you? Ahh, there’s ‘first on stage.’ Of course there is going to be stage crew but I like to be the first cast member on stage before a performance. What else? This year in Snow White I am required to fly and when I’m up high, without fail, I whisper a hello to my Mum. I love the flying bit. Love it, love it!”

Q. What is the secret to a great pantomime? “Three ‘secrets’: the first is definitely the audience; the second is likely to be the audience and the third, in my experience, is probably the audience. I like to open the show, to greet and welcome everyone and I can predict within 20 seconds
just what sort of evening it will be. People
have probably had tensions at work, frustrations with traffic, delays or hold-ups – it’s important to me that everyone feels wanted.”

Q. We’re enjoying your new TV show Bling… “I believe you can get a lot from the series. Jewellery can mean so much more than ‘an accessory’ – so often there is special significance attached to a piece. The series sparkles with stories, memories and emotion, as well as amazing technical skills and explanations. It is fascinating. I learned a lot.”

Q. Do you know this part of the world well? “Not really. My home’s London so I’ll commute. I like town and city life. The hustle, the bustle, the noise, the rush, the dirt, energy, sweat, the crowds. I am a absolutely a city boy! I was brought up and lived over a restaurant so it’s what I’m used to.”

To book, call 0333 009 6690 or visit atgtickets.com

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Wishful thinking: Richmond panto star

Round & About

Pantomime

Amid a star-studded cast that also includes Robert Lindsay and Rachel Stanley, comedian Jon Clegg plays Smee in Aladdin, this year’s Richmond Theatre pantomime. We ask him some questions.

Q. How did you get into acting and who were your inspirations? “I got into acting through pantomime! I was working as a stand-up comedian and was told I should give panto a try. I’ve always loved comedy actors – probably Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson were my first inspiration, and Laurel and Hardy!”

Q. What was the first pantomime you remember seeing, and where? “I didn’t go to a pantomime until I was a teenager – how deprived is that?! But then my first panto was in Redhill, Surrey, and starred the lady from the Shake’n’Vac ads.”

Q. What was your first panto role? “I played Wishee Washee in Aladdin, at the Tameside Hippodrome in Ashton Under Lyme near Manchester. I was alongside Hunter from the Gladiators [James Crossley], Irene from Home and Away [Lynn McGrainger], and the vicar from Dad’s Army [Frank Williams].”

Q. What do you enjoy about playing panto? “It’s great to work with a cast of fabulous actors – I do solo stand-up work the rest of the year. And it’s great fun, entertaining an audience full of beaming children is a real pleasure!”

Q. Is there a role on your wish list you would love to play one Christmas? “I love playing the comedy role in pantomime. Buttons was always on my wish list, and I have been fortunate to play that role three times now!”

Q. I imagine performing in panto can be quite intense, with a lot of days with more than one performance. How do you relax off stage? “It is intense, but it’s also incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. I enjoy long walks, eating out and watching sport when I’m not on the stage.”

Q. Is this the first time you have appeared at Richmond? “Yes, it’s my first time at Richmond. I came to see panto here 10 years ago, when I was in Brighton, as a friend was in the show. Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers were the stars. They were brilliant, and two years later I worked with Nigel in Peter Pan at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley.”

Q. Peter Pan is set on an island. If you were stranded on an island which three people living, historic or fictional would you like to have with you and why?
“Firstly, my wife (of course!) along with Winston Churchill and Anthony Kiedis (lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers)”.

  • Peter Pan is on at Richmond Theatre between Saturday, 8th December & Sunday, 6th January. Other Christmas shows worth catching include Snow White at the Palladium and 42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Pantomime

Your local theatres have a stockingful of pantomimes to delight family audiences. Liz Nicholls rounds up some star-studded highlights to enjoy at a theatre near you this winter…

Pantomime elicits some very strong feelings. But, love it or loathe it, the art form – a beanstalk-like offshoot of the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition – often represents youngsters’ first 
taste of theatre. And, here we are at the end of 2018, with theatres and stars near you preparing to give the year the happy ending this year needs.

Speaking of beanstalks, Jack & The Beanstalk is the choice of pantomime at Newbury’s Corn Exchange – you could say a rather apt place considering its original use… Playing the comedy role of Billy Bumpkin, a favourite of Newbury and the panto there, Matthew Grace says: “I’m so excited to be back at the Corn Exchange for what will be my eighth pantomime. Jack & The Beanstalk is packed with hilarious jokes, brilliant songs and amazing dance routines – I dare anyone in the audience to find something they won’t absolutely love”. The pantomime runs until 6th January. Book at www.cornexchangenew.com

A trip, eastwards down the M4 to Reading and The Hexagon takes us on a magic carpet ride to the mystical east with Aladdin. Reading panto legends Paul Morse and CBBC’s Justin Fletcher are joined by David J Higgins as the dastardly Abanazar and Sophie Ayers as The Princess. Read our interview with Justin this month. Aladdin runs from 8th December to 6th January; www.readingarts.com

Whilst at Bracknell Ice Rink, Aladdin forsakes the carpet for ice skates. This is a real community event, performed entirely by a cast of talented young skaters drawn from Bracknell Ice Skating Club who will recreate all the magic of the East with flying jumps, dizzying spins and energetic dance routines. With colourful costumes and the creative choreography of show co-ordinator Jacqui Adams, this will be a visual extravaganza for all ages. The cast includes British Champion ice dancer Adam Bouaziz as Prince Nike and, as Wishee Washee, international gold medallist Max Hall, who had a skating role in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The festival runs 12th-16th December and will raise funds for Sebastian’s Action Trust. Visit www.jnlbracknell.co.uk

Immersion Theatre are producing the pantomime at Henley’s Kenton Theatre and this year it’s Dick Whittington. Though this is only the second time for Immersion, James Tobias, who plays the cat, has had many memorable shows here, including one year, during a run of Peter Pan when he proposed to his girlfriend on stage… and they are still living happily ever after! Dick Whittington, 15th-29th December, is followed by Aladdin, produced by Henley Children’s Theatre, 31st December to 5th January. Visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk
Over at Theatre Royal Windsor Dick Whittington will celebrate 80 years of traditional pantomime fun with the help of Anne Hegerty (AKA “The Governess” from The Chase), Basil Brush, DJ Mike Read and comic Kevin Cruise, along with resident dame Steven Blakeley who will don a frock for his 10th year! Catch Dick Whittington up until Sunday, 6th January; to book call 01753 853888 or visit www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The streets will be paved with gold on the way to Bracknell’s South Hill Park as their in-house panto is Dick Whittington & His Cat, written by Joyce Branagh (sister of Sir Kenneth) sees the return of Bracknell’s favourite Dame, Brad Clapson. From 30th November to 5th January; www.southhillpark.org.uk. Meanwhile, at the Alan Cornish Theatre in Woodley’s Oakwood Centre, Berzerk Productions present a new production of The Snow Queen, 12th-16th December. Visit www.berzerkproductions.com

And Princes Hall Theatre in Aldershot invite you to be their guest with Beauty & the Beast – their “most spectacular pantomime yet” – between Friday, 7th and Monday, 31st December; call 01252 329 155 or visit www.princeshall.com.

While Basingstoke’s Anvil Arts’ pantomime this year is Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs between Thursday, 13th December and Sunday, 6th January; call 01256 844244 or visit 
www.anvilarts.org.uk

Happy holidays!

Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Pantomime

Your local theatres have a stockingful of pantomimes to delight family audiences (and some just for adults). Liz Nicholls rounds up some star-studded highlights to enjoy at a theatre near you this winter…

Pantomime elicits some very strong feelings. But, love it or loathe it, the art form – a beanstalk-like offshoot of the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition – often represents youngsters’ first taste of theatre. And, here we are at the end of 2018, with theatres and stars near you preparing to give the year the happy ending this year needs.

Recently, some press has been given to the nature of fairytales and pantomimes not chiming at the right level of political correctness… However, that’s not stopping Michelle Gayle, who plays the Fairy Godmother in this year’s Cinderella at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud, from getting into the spirit… “Long before Disney realised you can entertain parents and children simultaneously, pantomime had figured out entertainment can work on two levels,” says the 47-year-old singer and actress. “Going to see a panto is such a lovely thing for the whole family to do together at Christmas. My family are really looking forward to coming – my son’s already asking how many friends he’s allowed to bring! And, to be honest, I’m particularly excited that I get to present Cinderella with a beautiful carriage drawn by real ponies! It’s going to be magical.”
You can catch Cinderella (which also stars Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon and Nick Barclay as the Ugly Sisters and Jamie Brook between Friday, 7th December, and Sunday, 6th January. For tickets call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk

 Over at Theatre Royal Windsor Dick Whittington will celebrate 80 years of traditional panto fun with the help of Anne Hegerty (AKA “The Governess” from The Chase), Basil Brush, DJ Mike Read and comic Kevin Cruise, along with resident dame Steven Blakeley who will don a frock for his 10th year! Catch Dick Whittington up until Sunday, 6th January; to book call 01753 853888 or visit www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Paul Chuckle will star as Baron Hardup in Cinderella at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre. Paul says: “I’d like to thank everybody for their amazingly kind outpouring of love and support following the loss of our dear friend and my amazing brother, Barry. Panto was a huge part of our lives for over 50 years and I know Barry would want and expect the show to go on so I’m very happy to be starring in Cinderella in Woking this Christmas alongside our good friend Craig Revel Horwood. The three of us had a fantastic time doing panto last year and Craig and I are looking forward to going out there, getting started and doing this year’s panto in loving memory of Barry.” Cinderella is on between Friday, 7th December and Sunday, 6th January. Call 01483 545938.

Over in Bordon, The Phoenix Players are sharpening their arrows ready to present Robin Hood between 17th and 26th January, at The Phoenix. And, if you’d rather enjoy something adult, Puss In Boots, penned by Joshua Dixon, is an adults-only show full of “sauce and smut” on Friday, 21st December. For tickets call 01420 472664 or visit www.phoenixarts.co.uk

For a different kind of show again, some of the region’s skating talents will bring you Snow White On Ice at Guildford Spectrum between Friday, 14th and Sunday, 16th December. Call 01483 443322 or visit www.guildfordspectrum.co.uk

Head to mystical Leatherheadababa (AKA The Leatherhead Theatre) for Aladdin between Thursday, 20th and Sunday, 30th December; 01372 365141 or visit www.leatherheadtheatre.com. And Princes Hall Theatre in Aldershot invite you to be their guest with Beauty & the Beast – their “most spectacular pantomime yet” – between Friday, 7th and Monday, 31st December; call 01252 329 155 or visit www.princeshall.com. Beauty & The Beast is also the production at Dorking Halls, between 15th and 29th December, from the team behind last year’s record-breaking Sleeping Beauty; call 01306 881717 or visit www.dorkinghalls.co.uk. While Basingstoke’s Anvil Arts’ pantomime this year is Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs between Thursday, 13th December and Sunday, 6th January; call 01256 844244 or visit www.anvilarts.org.uk. Happy holidays!