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Stars of Cinderella in Dartford reveal what panto means to them

PUBLISHED: 11:16 19 December 2013 | UPDATED: 11:16 19 December 2013

(l-r) Louise English, Bradley Walsh and Barry Hester

(l-r) Louise English, Bradley Walsh and Barry Hester

Archant

For decades families have flocked to their local theatre at Christmas to scream and boo at a stage packed with actors in drag, and other mind-boggling costumes.

It is, of course, panto season and this year’s show at The Orchard Theatre, in Home Gardens, Dartford, is Cinderella – starring the host of ITV game show The Chase, Bradley Walsh.

Big names can often be a draw for theatre goers who make their annual pilgrimage come December, but it can’t be the only reason for generations of popularity.

Ingrained in the festive season as much as turkey and presents, pantomime finds its origin in the Italian Commedia dell’arte and the chaotic 18th century Harlequinade.

It seems the genre means something different to every individual, whether they’re an actor or a punter, so Joshua Fowler caught up with this year’s cast to find out what makes panto so special.

Barry Hester, starring as Dandini, also starred as the dame in last year’s Dartford panto.

“It’s proper family entertainment. You could take your kids to a show where there’s bad language, or it’s a bit scary, but you know this is all good fun. You might get wet and picked on, but that’s the worst it can get.

“The kids can scream and shout out all they want, which parents love because it wears them out and they can be put straight to bed when they get home.

“As an actor it gives you the freedom to do stuff you wouldn’t ever be able to do.

“If you are in a straight play and someone forgets their lines you panic, and you try to remember the line for them.

“In panto you can have a laugh about it on stage, you have as much fun as the audience because everyone knows what’s happened and everyone can share that laugh.

“This year I bumped into Bradley Walsh and he said I should come with him to play in Dartford – so I did.”

Hannah Grover plays Cinderella. She previously starred in productions of Legally Blonde, Mamma Mia and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

“It’s just tremendous fun, and it’s unlike any other theatre.

“It’s a bit more free, you do know something will happen that probably isn’t supposed to – something will go wrong at some point. That’s probably quite an exciting idea for someone who ordinarily does straight theatre.

“The thing I love so much about being Cinderella in particular is that it’s so important to the little girls who come to watch it.

“My grandad used to be the dame in pantomimes and that was my first experience of theatre. I have really fond memories of that, and these little girls turn up at the stage door with their little dresses on – it’s so precious.

“Last year, the first time I played Cinderella, the dress was so big I would knock everything over – I even manage to drag a coat hanger on stage with me!

“This year’s is just as big, you definitely can’t go to the toilet once it’s on.

“Apart from being a tradition, panto just puts people in a wonderful mood. It’s Christmas personified and people are happy when they’re here. It’s a joy to watch the children’s faces light up.”

Louise English, the Fairy Godmother, has previously starred in productions of Gypsy, Cabaret, Annie and Oliver!

“I think we love it because of the fantasy. You go into a little dream world and children get so much joy from it all.

“I must have been in about 20 pantomimes during my career, which have all mainly been Aladdin and Snow White. This is my first year playing the Fairy Godmother and we have some spectacular horses that come on stage – it really is wonderful.

“I haven’t done a panto for about five years as I was in a musical in the West End with David Essex, so this is the first chance I have had to get back into it.

“I hope we leave some great memories for the children who come to see us.

“My first panto was at the Manchester Palace alongside Les Dawson. I must say I’ve been really lucky in that respect, and have worked with some terrific people.”

Cinderella runs until Saturday, January 4

There are two shows every day from now until the final date, with exceptions being Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Tickets cost from £14 to £36.50

To book, call 01322 220000, or visit orchardtheatre.co.uk

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