Can it really be that time again? Oh yes it is! Following on from last year’s successful run of shows, Esher Theatre will be staging a star-studded pantomime, Dick Whittington.
Words | Kim Craig
Combine a classic tale with an abundance of talent, stage it in a beautiful theatre and you’ve got a cracker of a Christmas show! We had a chance to chat with some of the cast before they all set out to seek fame, fortune and happiness in the pursuit to become Mayor of London…
Singer, actress and presenter Sinitta will be gracing the pantomime stage for the first time, along with Sally Morgan, commonly known as ‘Psychic Sally’. Joining them will be singer, actor and West End legend, Peter Straker. Also taking to the stage are Elliot Swann as Dick Whittington, with Sophie Duffett as his trusty travelling companion, Tommy the Cat. Mark Bradford will make his first professional pantomime appearance as Sarah the Cook, bringing plenty of past experience from amateur productions at the Barn Theatre in Molesey.
Sinitta is cast as Queen Rat. She became a household name in the mid-80s with the single So Macho and is well known for her appearances at the ‘Judges Houses’ section of the hit TV show The X Factor. This panto will be a family affair for Sinitta, as her mum Miquel Brown is also taking to the stage. “It’s the first time I’ve worked with my mum. She’s playing the mayor. I haven’t spent Christmas in England for 12 or 13 years, but we’re doing it! I was on the stage years ago in the West End, so it’s been a long time. I’m a bit nervous, but surely it’s like riding a bike?”, she tells us, laughing.
It will also be a panto debut for Sally Morgan, but it’s been on her bucket list… “That’s been ticked off!” Sally explains, “I’ve been asked a few times, but it never fitted in with my own show, overlapping with my tour dates which is my bread and butter. But this year it fitted in well, and so when they offered it to me I said ‘yes’ straightaway!”
Sally is based in Reigate but loves the Hampton Court area, and visited the Garden Festival this summer. Acting isn’t something she has done before, but she’s looking forward to it. “Being out there, and being over the top, I can really be free. I’ve got three costumes, a wand and long white satin gloves. I’m sparkling everything up!”
We’re curious as to whether she’ll be open to psychic messages when she’s on the panto stage? “I’ll be working with a script, and up there in character as Fairy Bow Bells – I’m not on stage as Sally Morgan. I’m very honoured, Eric Potts has written this part especially for me. I can’t believe it. It’s a whole different experience.”
Playing ‘the dame’ this year is Mark Bradford, an experienced amateur theatre actor. He has performed in pantomime for many years as well as in Noel Coward comedies, but says that panto is his ‘happy place’. “It’ll be great to do this to a bigger audience. I’m used to doing four shows, and now I’m doing 53!” Charlie (the executive producer) and Mark are connected through the Barn Theatre Club in Molesey, and he was approached to be the dame in this year’s show after Charlie watched him perform. “The thing about playing the dame is that you can get away with most things!” he laughs. “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven with the wigs. I’m planning on stealing the show!”
Dick Whittington’s right-hand cat will be played by Sophie Duffett. She is no stranger to pantomime, or theatre, having grown up performing. And this role? “It’s the closest I’ll get to be in Cats, she laughs. “I’ve performed in Dick Whittington before as a child, with Basil Brush, and John Inman as our dame.”
Sophie also has theatre experience away from performing, having worked as a manager at Richmond Theatre, and in directing, with her production of Hamlet staged at Esher Theatre in October. Sophie is a fan of the venue. “It’s versatile, bringing comedy, music and panto, and where it’s positioned for the community – it’s great.” Tradition almost dictates that things go wrong in panto, and that anything can happen. “They’re designed to go wrong,” says Sophie laughing, “and you hope they do! That’s the beauty of live theatre – that every audience will see a unique performance, and have a different experience.”
The titular character will be played by Elliot Swann, a young actor based locally, a stone’s throw from the theatre. “I’ll be home for Christmas, it’s great. It’s right on my doorstep, but I’m sure after two shows a day for four weeks I’ll be taking a few cabs!” Elliott studied drama in Chiswick and was selected from over 70 actors that auditioned. He has ‘previous’ having played Peter Pan in High Wycombe, and clearly enjoys this type of theatre experience. “Panto is such a good thing. It’s something that no other country really has. It just feels so Christmassy. My grandparents used to take me and my brothers every year when we were little. It’s always lovely.”
This is a busy period for Elliott, as his rehearsals for performances at Esher Theatre will come just days after he finishes in a run at the Charing Cross Theatre in a musical adaptation of Rebecca, the novel by Daphne du Maurier. “It makes you so grateful when work like this comes up, you really want to make the most of it. This is out of this world for me. I’m very grateful.”
We can’t wait to see what adventures the cast get up to, and may all your streets be paved with gold.
Dick Whittington will run from 7th December to 6th January 2024.
Book tickets now at www.eshertheatre.com
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