Luke Roberts – Buttons in panto at The Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne this Christmas (until January 2)– always knew the cast would be able to trust in their instincts once they finally got back on the stage.
“It’s the only thing we can do! There’s nothing else we can do!” he laughs. “But I think we were all a bit anxious as to whether we could still do it. It has been two years and panto is such a short rehearsal. We are talking ten or 11 days to be doing the whole thing and we were having to learn lines for the first time in 18 or 20 months.
“That was my main anxiety. I was thinking will I still be able to learn those lines like I used to but actually we all had the same anxiety and that was great, the fact that we were able to talk as a group and encourage each other and just discuss things like that in a really positive way. That’s the thing about panto casts – you get that reassurance from each other. You can’t always be up all the time and on the days when you are doing three shows you are in the theatre for 13 or 14 hours, but the lovely thing is that there’s always one person who will boost everyone and just lift the mood of everyone else. The audience sees all that is happening on the stage but there’s a lot more that happens behind the stage in terms of being there for each other and supporting each other, and that’s so important.”
Luke did panto in Eastbourne two years ago and loved it: “I was thinking at the time that the people in Eastbourne just love their theatres, don’t they! They’ve got enough of them! But they were really up for the show. They were watching us when we were telling the story and when we encouraged them to join in, they really did. They were completely with us.
“Every audience is different around the country. Different audiences, different places, but in Eastbourne they were totally up for it. I can’t remember how long the run was but every performance we would come off and say just how great the audience was. And sometimes it was ten o’clock schools performances in the morning and they were very young and a little bit delicate in their reactions and then sometimes it was year five or year six and they were going for it hell for leather and that was great too.
“And also there were the more mature audiences and that was lovely. There is something just as magical when you have the more mature audiences because you know they’ve actually chosen to be there and they haven’t just come along with their schools!”
After the 2019 panto, Luke was settling down, as he always does, for a quiet January: “You always work really hard and then you think in January you will just have a bit of time off, but it went from being quiet to being just ridiculous. There are all the whispers of what was coming across in February which was nerve-racking and then obviously everything stopped but I am so pleased that so many of our theatres have managed to survive.
“It was great that theatres like the Royal Hippodrome are recognised as being important and as being such iconic venues and that they were supported. I think at the Hippodrome it’s the age and the history of the building that make it so special. You can really feel that atmosphere and that atmosphere takes over. Alex and Debbie (Adams at the venue) just really believed that there was a space for the theatre in Eastbourne and they have worked so hard and with such energy to make it work and it is so lovely that you can just feel that sense of history there.”
Cinderella is running at the Hippodrome from December 17 until January 2 2022. Tickets are from £8. You can book online at royalhippodrome.com or by calling 01323 802020.