Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, we smell lots of Panto fun! With the first day of panto rehearsals just around the corner, we chatted to cast members Emma Fraser and Danny Stokes about their roles as Fairy Alfalfa and Villain Sir Dastardly, and what you can expect from this year's pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk...
Jack and the Beanstalk is a classic pantomime. What do you think will be different about the Corn Exchange’s production (without giving any spoilers!)?
Emma: This year will certainly be Jack and the Beanstalk as you’ve never seen it before! The Corn Exchange doesn’t just tell the story, they offer the audience an entire ‘pantomime universe’ in which the story takes place and I think that’s the biggest difference. It gives the audience an opportunity to meet a host of wonderful characters that you may not usually find in the classic version of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Danny: It’s the same thing that brings people back to the Corn Exchange year after year: Phil Wilmott’s ability to take a classic script that people are familiar with and give it his own unique twist and humour. If you’re familiar with any of the Corn Exchange's pantos in the last 10 years you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.
Danny, you have played a variety of different roles with us at the Corn Exchange pantomime. What excites you about being this year’s villain?
Danny: My first panto role was Abanazar in Aladdin at The Little Theatre in Leicester when I was 19 so it’s a really fun return to form for me. I’ve always preferred being a villain to being a good guy. When people heckle a good guy (which they do from time to time) you have to stay in character and there’s not as much room for banter with the audience. As a villain I can really give them space to hate me ;)
Emma, we’ve heard that your one liners are particularly raucous during the Adult Only Panto Performances! What is it that you enjoy about these particular shows?
Emma: I think everyone can agree that adults are just as eager to get involved in a panto as children, so when the Adult Only Performances come around it’s wonderful to see the grownups having fun and getting involved. I love being kept on my toes and trying to outwit the audience when they heckle. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t, but there’s humour to be found in both situations, and the audience are always on your side regardless!
Opening night must be pretty nerve-wracking. Do either of you have any funny rituals or ways to get character before going on stage?
Emma: I usually get pretty excited on opening night, which is probably just nervous energy in a different guise! My main ritual for any show actually involves a picture of my grandmother, which I take with me to each theatre I go to. My grandmother was also an actress and she will forever be my theatrical inspiration. So as long I have her with me I know I’ll be okay!
Danny: My pre-show traditions seem to change with every show I do. Last year, Amy Christina Murray (who played Lilly) and I had an elaborately long secret handshake we’d have to do before every show. Even if things were running really behind schedule and we had to literally run to find each other, we’d always make sure we did it! We were fully aware of how ridiculous this superstition was.
Year on year the Corn Exchange’s pantomime is a family favourite within Newbury and further afield. What do you think it is about our pantomime that makes it so special?
Emma: The heart of a Corn Exchange pantomime is definitely its audience! The show offers something for everyone and always has such a lovely message behind it. The feeling of community in Newbury is so strong and the Corn Exchange itself is a beautiful venue, so when you put the two together you create something really special.
Danny: I think it’s the fact that we don't have big celebrity names. Newbury Panto has a family feeling throughout. Not just for the audiences who come to see us, but as a cast onstage and the crew running the show behind the scenes. I think our audiences appreciate that and it makes the show more special.
Lastly, with Christmas only next month what is it that you are most looking forward to? (other than playing your roles in our panto!).
Emma: I’m really looking forward to Christmas Day this year and being able to spend it with my family and close friends. It’s pretty traditional in my household and we usually eat lots of food and plays lots of games. I’m very lucky that I get to see my family quite often, but it’s always wonderful to come together and celebrate the year gone by and remember those who are no longer with us.
Danny: Newbury Panto has become a staple part of my Christmas over the past few years and Newbury is a wonderful place to spend Christmas, but with my daughter Molly getting older and getting as excited as she is, I just can’t wait to spend Christmas Day with her and my wife Sammy.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs from Fri 30 Nov - Sun 6 Jan. Find out more
Our Adult Nights take place on 7, 8, 13,14 and 15 December.
Tickets for our Preview Performances are just £15!