|Is this the
fairest panto of all?
year's pantomime at The Hexagon sees sit-com
legend Su Pollard starring as the Wicked Queen in
a fun-filled production of Snow White. Paul
Kirkley says hi-de-hi to a national institution.
the smell of greasepaint hangs heavy in the air,
which can only mean one thing - pantomime has
returned to Reading once more to delight us all
with what is surely the camp high point of the
this year is a special one in the town's panto
history, because for the first time The Hexagon
is to stage a pantomime written specifically for
the venue -- in this case by none other than
veteran children's entertainer Christopher
Lillicrap. Ta daaa!
so you have to be a child of the 70s and early
80s to really know what we're talking about here,
but Mr Lillicrap is a man of prodigious talent,
who wrote, presented and sang amusingly on many a
children's TV show for the best part of a decade
- including We'll Tell You A Story and Flicks.
recent years, he has found new success with his
Proper Pantomime Company, which has produced a
number of acclaimed seasonal spectaculars for The
Anvil in Basingstoke.
only has he penned this year's dazzling version
of Snow White, but he stars in it too - as (what
else) the show's outrageous dame Nurse Nora.
him on stage will be fellow light entertainment
legend Su Pollard as the Wicked Queen, and
experienced panto actress Debbie Chapman as Snow
White - not forgetting the many local kiddies
from the area's theatre and dance schools,
including Starmaker Theatre Company and South
Lake County Junior School, whose contribution
should really make this a family affair.
in case you're feeling bewildered by how quickly
panto season comes around, spare a thought for
The Hexagon team - plans for next year's
production, Mother Goose, are already underway!
here's what Su Pollard had to say when Weekender
caught up with her at The Hexagon recently...
is the second year you've played a wicked queen
in pantomime, isn't it?
that's right - and I'm quite looking forward to
it because I had such a great experience last
year, in Lincoln. I'm normally principal boy so
even though I knew the story and everything,
obviously, I really had to work out how I would
play her. And because I'm mostly known for
comedy, I wanted to be evil - to really be
horrible to Snow White, and just generally awful.
But then I like to have a henchman I can have a
bit of fun with as well; I like to have quite a
bit of comedy, but be evil when required.
do you want the kids to hate you?
yes, absolutely! I shall feel I've not done my
job otherwise! It was so funny last year, I had a
little boy at the stage door with one of those
swords that light up, and he went to me 'you see
this sword, I'm going to chop your neck off -
you're the most horriblist woman I've ever met'.
And I went 'yay, success!'.
quite a compliment, really, isn't it?
[BIG CACKLE] Well, I thought at least I must have
come across OK because he was quite, you know...
[WAGGLES EYEBROWS LIKE AN AFFRONTED
measure it by boos and hisses, then?
much so, yes. And my criteria, darling, is always
to give VFM - which is value for money. Because a
lot of children have never been to the theatre
before, and panto is probably their first foray,
if you like, into a cultural world. So I think
you owe it to everybody to have colour and
movement and to make sure you speed the story on
- lots of songs and everything - you know? And
[S-Club's] Reach For The Stars, of course, is
obligatory because everybody knows it and they
love it - it's the most marvellous song, it
is it true that playing villains is more fun than
playing the goodies?
I think so - absolutely more fun. I mean, it's
nice being the goody as well because everybody's
on your side, and they go 'don't you be horrible
to him' or to her or whoever, but you can get
much more done with a baddie.
to get your teeth into...
yes! And if they don't boo me, I sneer and say
'is that the best you can do?'. Oh I love it - I
like them to go home needing a throat pastille,
to absolutely scream their heads off.
kids a harder audience or an easier audience than
think if you get the right ingredients, they are
an easier audience. If the script is true, with
some topical references to things they can relate
to (like Playstations and stuff) - because
children are very quick to pick up on something
and say 'oh that's not real' or 'that's not
right' - then they are very easy to please.
an instant, warm reaction...
definitely. I get them to blow raspberries, and I
say 'you can do everything in here, now, that you
can't do at home - so come on'. I love all that,
do Brits love panto, but no-one else gets it?
you see, apart from in Germany, in Bavaria and
places like that, where you've got vampires and
that kind of mythology, a lot of countries don't
have that kind of subculture that harks back to
ogres and dragons and the like. I think it's
because we've been steeped in that kind of
mythology that we're able to accept stories about
things like a giant and a beanstalk - probably
more so than many other country. And because it's
become a great tradition for getting on for a
thousand years, everybody's psyched up for it.
although a lot of them come over to do it - you
know, from the soaps - they haven't got a clue,
half of them, bless 'em. I mean I did Jack and
the Beanstalk with Ray Meagher, who plays Alf
Stewart in Home and Away, and Ray was like
'bloody hell --what am I supposed to do with
this?'. So I explained that a lot of it was
tongue in cheek, and old stories based on real
legends. I said 'you really have got to believe
that there's a giant coming to kill you'.
can imagine it's not easy trying to explain to an
Australian that the principal boy is a girl and
the dame is a man.
'I'm totally lost,' he said. But once they've
done it, a lot of the Australian guys I've worked
with say they can't wait to come back because
once they've overcome their bemusement with it
all, they just love it. Funnily enough, though,
one of our big panto producers took a show over
to Australia and it died a death because the
Aussies hadn't got a clue. The ones in the show
had, but the audience were so confused.
bit of a culture shock...
and of course they just don't understand. It's
the first kind of theatre where an audience and
cast can be interactive - normally there's the
fourth wall, which you can't go beyond. But of
course you're actively inviting your paying
audience to join in and I think that's why people
love it the most And once they're encouraged to
boo...like last year, bloody sods, they never
stopped! When I came out I had to keep saying
'shut up now, thank you, that's enough'.
it shows you're doing a good job doesn't it?
I think so, exactly. And they go home thinking 'I
really enjoyed that show tonight'. And of course
word of mouth sells the rest of the tickets. And
panto, let's face it, for every theatre, is their
bread and butter for the rest of the year. It's
when they take all the money that pays for future
it hard work? Quite gruelling over those few
it is the hardest thing in the entire theatrical
world! Make no mistake - it's very, very tiring.
Tell you why: it's because you've got to have
absolute discipline; absolute energy and stamina;
you've got to have total commitment, because
those people who haven't seen it before, they
don't want you to be tired on a Thursday
afternoon - tough, you know, you can't be tired.
physically and mentally draining, which is why I
won't do three shows on a Saturday ever again -
you don't know where you are. I put my fluffy
slippers on once in the forest! I put my finale
shoes on! Anybody who thinks panto is just a
little bit of endless fun has got a rude
awakening. We want it to be fun for the audience,
but I very rarely make any social commitments
when I'm doing panto because you just can't.
roots are really on the stage, aren't they?
very much so. I started when I was six, at
school, and loved it. Then when I was 11 I joined
the local amateur company because there were no
really fulfilling things that I wanted to do at
school. So I learned a lot of good things from
that local group and I was there for about 12
years. When I was about 16 I started to do
working men's clubs - you know, they were all the
rage then, you don't get so many now.
it was good grounding for me. My first
professional stage job was in the chorus of The
Desert Song, which I remember clearly from the
poster in Cardiff, which featured John Hanson -
the Michael Crawford of his day, a top man in
musicals - was billed as The Dessert Song. And I
remember thinking 'is this what showbiz is going
to be all about, getting it all wrong!'.
a good start...?
I love theatre better than anything.
you not also lose out to a Jack Russell on your
first TV appearance?
I lost to a Jack Russell dog on Opportunity
Knocks - I was mortified! I thought my career had
come to a full stop before I'd even started. But
it's a good talking point.
your website, you say that a whole new generation
of kids are coming up to you now and saying
'Hi-De-Hi!' after watching the show on UK Gold.
Would you expect that at a panto like this, the
kids will know who you are as well as the mums
yes, I do now. I think a lot of them sometimes as
young as four and five catch Hi-De-Hi!, but also
I'm known to quite a few youngsters for Penny
Crayon, and I'm also one of the voices for Little
Robots which is on the BBC.
lot of people say 'oh dear, you can't keep being
reminded for the work you've done in the past',
but everybody is. You can't escape that and why
should you? It proves the things I've done in the
past, along with a lot of other actors, if it's
good quality and it is shown then it's timeless.
Why should the younger ones be denied a good
laugh just because something is 20 years old.
a big believer that if a thing is good, and
appeals, then keep showing it.
many sit-coms just die or fall, why would one
like that just strike a chord?
as I said, it's the content that matters really;
if the idea is good, and people can identify with
it - which they could with the holiday camp,
because it was something they were familiar with.
And the two writers themselves were actually Red
Coats, so all those characters were real.
mean take Peggy - everybody knows somebody like
her who's desperate to better herself but keeps
falling at the final hurdle. And somebody like
poor old Ted Bovis, who probably knows he's never
going to go on to anything else but he's a big
wheel in small machine...
became quite a little sitcom rep company that you
formed there, didn't it?
it did, especially to David [Croft], who was also
the executive producer, director and co-writer -
it was his baby. David was a big believer in
using talent, even if you'd used them for years,
because he said you know you're going to get
reliability and that the public have grown to
know and enjoy them.
what is it about you that's made you successful?
What is your unique selling point?
think it's my voice. I mean, once I was in the
remote little Greek village buying some olives or
something, and this fella says to me 'ah, Hi De
Hi! - me know you, my brother has chip shop in
Birmingham - ha ha!'. So that's probably it. And
also because I talk to anybody and everybody!
life in -
an apprenticeship at the Arts Theatre in her home
town of Nottingham, Su Pollard made her
television debut on Opportunity Knocks, where she
came second to a singing Jack Russell dog.
Undeterred, she toured extensively in drama and
musicals. She first appeared on the BBC playing
hippy Flo in Two Up, Two Down, with Paul
Nicholas, but is best known for playing Peggy
Ollerenshaw, the downtrodden maid in nine series
series was so successful that it won a Bafta
award and resulted in a sell-out musical stage
show, which played seasons in Bournemouth,
Blackpool and at the Victoria Palace in the West
End. The writers of Hi-De-Hi! - Jimmy Perry and
David Croft - then wrote You Rang M'Lord?, in
which Su played domestic servant Ivy for four
series. She was later reunited with her friends
Paul Shane and Jeffrey Holland once again in
David Croft's railway comedy Oh Doctor Beeching!,
playing station busybody Ethel.
addition, she has toured nationally with The Su
Pollard Show, which was followed by a season in
the Donmar Warehouse in her one-woman show A
Song, A Frock And A Tinkle. Recently, she has
also starred as Mrs Hannigan in several
successful tours of Annie.
has written a book, Hearts and Showers, a
light-hearted look at romance, and made a
keep-fit video called Sensible Slimming (though
she says it's hard practising what she
has also made her mark on the pop charts,
reaching number two in 1986 with Starting
Together, the theme from the BBC series The
Marriage, and recording a number of other singles
and albums, including the silver-selling Su. She
has also recorded cast albums of Big Sin City,
Carousel, Hi De Hi! and Little Shop Of Horrors.
more information, visit www.supollard.org
4th December 2003