Phil Willmott Celebrates his Tenth Year Writing and Directing our Pantomime!

Ahead of this year's pantomime Beauty and The Beast, we caught up with Phil Willmott to quiz him about celebrating his tenth year writing and directing pantomimes for us!

You’ve been writing and directing Newbury’s panto for 10 years now, what is your favourite part of the process? 

I think my favourite part is the read through of the script, all the cast come together for the first time, the team at the Corn Exchange come along and we all have a big lunch. It’s the first time we hear the script read aloud with all the different characters and it really starts coming alive, it also gets everyone in the mood for panto!

How long does it take you to write the entire script? 

I start getting together a rough draft around August, which always seems like an odd time to start thinking about Christmas. There isn’t much of the year where I’m not thinking about panto season if I'm honest.

How do you decide what songs to include? 

We always like to see through most of the year before confirming the main songs, because we want to include the biggest hits. I like to get every member of the audience tapping their feet along so it’s important they are well known tunes. Of course as well as current hits, I’m always sure to include some old favourites, and a couple of Christmas songs for good measure. 

Do you still have time to enjoy Christmas? 

The rehearsal period throughout November and the start of December is quite intense for me as we are putting together the show, but after opening night I get to take a step back so I get a bit of a rest over Christmas. 

Which parts of traditional pantomime do you like the most? 

Well I do love a good plot twist and this year’s panto is no exception. I like to mix it up and I think Newbury are always up for some exciting surprises added into the traditional story. Of course we always have to have a pantomime dame and this year in Newbury we are working with Paul ‘PK’ Taylor for the first time who’ll be our fabulous Enchantress - I’m giving no clues as to whether she’s good or evil though.

How do you go about writing something which appeals to children and adults alike? 

I start with an eight year’s old mind-set - the pantomime in Newbury has become a fun filled tradition for families, so we have to make sure it will delight, surprise and tickle the children. After that, the rest follows and I end up with something that works for all ages, and even the ‘adult only’ performances. Inside all of us there’s an eight year old who loves to be entertained.

This year marks your tenth year writing and directing pantomimes for the Corn Exchange, have you any exciting plans for the anniversary? 

I can’t give away too many clues, but I can say it’s going to be bigger and better than ever and that the cast are very excited to be part of the magic this year. It really makes it feel like Christmas when the time to return to Newbury rolls around and there’s no rest for the wicked as next year’s production goes on sale on opening night, Friday 1 December, so you can buy your tickets early.