“It really is the most wonderful time of the year. How many other forms of entertainment can you take everyone from toddlers to grandparents to, together, and for them all to enjoy it equally? It’s simply a glorious family-friendly tradition that is part of so many Christmas festivities.”
A relative newcomer to panto (“I only did my first panto four years ago”), Vicky is returning to The Alexandra Theatre in Bognor Regis for Beauty and the Beast as Mrs Potts, housekeeper to the Beast: “She’s a twinkly old biddy who acts as the narrator, as well as housekeeper to the prince who becomes the beast. Quite a mumsy character, I’m looking forward to chatting to the audience,” said Vicky, who is relived that her costume is a little less restrictive this year.
“Last year I doubled as Mrs Darling and the Mermaid in Peter Pan. The Mermaid tail was so tight that I had to hobble and there were so many sequins on the costume I was still finding them in the carpet at home in June!”
Vicky reckons that Bognor has got one of the most accomplished panto casts in the country this year. “They are all so good and have great experience of panto, which really is something of an art form. Great panto needs great sets, comedy, music, drama, dancing, special effects, romance, audience participation and a happy ending. They are all essential, but all these elements have to be top notch.
“For younger children panto is usually their first experience of live performance. You have to make it especially magical for them,” said Vicky. “My own first experience of theatre was of seeing Follow The Star at Chichester Festival Theatre in the 1970s. I remember coming out of the theatre afterwards and being literally breathless with the thrill and excitement of what I had seen and I have never forgotten how that felt.”
Born in Shropshire but growing up near Chichester, Vicky went to the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts as a youngster, going on to work as an actress at Chichester Festival Theatre, on national tours and in the West End. Changing direction in the mid-1990s, she returned to the Festival Theatre to work in the press office.
“But performing has always been my first love and panto is such enormous fun,” said Vicky, who has also written several books and writes a weekly interview for the Observer series.
“I’d actually love to have a crack at writing a panto or a Christmas show. Maybe when the roles dry up that will be my next challenge,” she said.
But in the meantime she urges everyone to come along to Bognor to see Beauty and the Beast. “It is going to be a superb show and it is great value for money, too. My experience of Bognor audiences is that they are terrific; they aren’t afraid to let you know that they are enjoying themselves.
“The Alexandra Theatre is also blessed with the most incredible backstage and front of house team.
“Many of them are volunteers and they are all utterly committed and dedicated. Under the wonderful leadership of Hazel Latus they are all part of the panto family.”
Time off at Christmas doesn’t really happen when you’re doing panto, but Vicky’s daughter Lily, 12, doesn’t mind mum being busy: “She loves hanging out with me at the theatre and helping out. We’re training her up as an usherette,” laughed Vicky.
The show runs from December 12-January 2.
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