Pinocchio will be half-term treat in Worthing

Dave Benson Phillips’ last appearance at Worthing Theatres was also his first appearance.

Dave Benson Phillips
Dave Benson Phillips

And it was at least 25 years ago. Probably “much, much longer ago than that.

“It was panto, and Benny from Crossroads was in it. So that shows just how long ago it really was!” Dave says.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

But he is delighted to make good the omission with a happy half-term return to the venue with a run of Pinocchio, produced by Paul Holman Associates and WTM at the Pavilion Theatre (May 29-June 3). And the lovely thing for Dave is that it is a home gig.

“I was born and raised in London, but I live in Worthing so I have just got to make sure that I do it really well!

“People know where I live. I would hate for people to be coming round knocking on the door afterwards and saying ‘Dave, mate, it’s time for a change of career!’

“But it is going to be great. This is my first big gig after lockdown.

“I think this year has been a real frightener.

“The first time I heard about it all, the first time lockdown was coming, I was coming out of panto in Rochdale, and we heard about this awful virus, but it was happening in China and that seemed a long way away and now cut to a year later and the whole world has been put under the cosh by it.

“As a performer and an entertainer, you go from having a full diary to having not much at all.

“But you learn a lot about yourself when things like this happen. I fixed a freezer! I regasssed and repurposed a freezer and it still works. It’s not a career, but it is good to know that I can do it!

“And I would sit down and read the odd book and do all the things on my to-do list that I hadn’t done.

“Being a man, you always look at your to-do list and you think ‘I will do that tomorrow’, but I got on and did them.

“And we have a child. We have a son.

“We didn’t have too much to do workwise, but we had a lot to do with my son.

“He is 11 now, and I was certainly able to spend a lot of time with my family that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. I am very rarely at home so it was incredible to have that time around my family, really lovely.

“But one of the other things I learnt was Zoom. All of a sudden people were contacting me asking me if I would do Zoom shows for people, and that was lovely as well.

“Instead of looking out at hundreds of people sitting cheek by jowl in a theatre, you are staring at a little computer screen, but it was a good thing to be able to do.

“And obviously the other thing you do is that you think about what you are going to do once the pandemic ends.”

That time has now come. Well, nearly.

As Dave says, it was great to get back into the theatre for the first time in a long time, but it felt “ominous” to see the new seating lay-out, the seats in little groups, twos and threes and with gaps in between.

“It just seemed really weird. But it is great to be coming out of it. Or beginning to come out of it.”

Dave joins Pinocchio as the mischievous fox in the tale of toy-maker Gepetto who crafts toys for the local children but has long dreamed of having a son.

And then a magical fairy brings one of his puppet creations to life. But the puppet Pinocchio must prove he is worthy of Gepetto’s love and be a good and honest child before the fairy turns him into a real boy…

Tickets from the theatre.