The Bristol Hippodrome invite you to jump aboard a high-flying magic carpet headed for Old Peking this Christmas for their spectacular pantomime Aladdin. Joe Pasquale, Marti Pellow, and Hayley Tamaddon head up the cast and we’re promised laugh-out-loud comedy, stunning scenery and special effects, beautiful costumes, and plenty of boos and hisses for all the family to enjoy.

Vivienne Kennedy recently met up with Joe and Hayley, as well as creative director Ed Curtis and Widow Twankee herself (actor Dave Robbins) to talk all things panto.

Aladdin Hippodrome

Image - Aladdin @ Bristol Hippodrome

Panto is completely unlike any other genre of theatre, it’s uniquely British, and it seems to be more popular now than ever before – why does it endure?

Ed: The unique thing about pantomime is that an audience can feel part of the show in a way they can’t with any other form of theatre. A West End musical is a fantastic thing to go and experience but you’re just there as a viewer, looking at a product. During the afternoon or evening you spend at the pantomime you have the chance to really get involved in the show and it may well take twists and turns that nobody is expecting. It’s part of the human condition to crave those moments that allow you to say; “I was there that night, you know, when such and such happened”.

Each audience will experience something different from the previous night’s show, something that won’t ever be repeated exactly. Pantomime is the apogee of that, in theatrical terms.

We’ve been told to expect a really spectacular show; Ed, can you tell us a bit more?

Ed: The Qdos approach to shows is to bring West End values to pantomime throughout the country and this show in Bristol will be no exception. We’ve got spectacular special effects that people will have to see to believe; an enormous gorilla that dominates the stage; a snake who flies over the audience; a flying carpet…

We’re all about trying to marry those special effects and that level of production value with the traditional pantomime experience that everyone loves.

Hayley, you’re a Dancing on Ice veteran (she won one series and was runner up in the Champion of Champions competition). Last year Torville and Dean did pantomime here; are you tempted to follow in their footsteps (blade marks) and get your skates on?

I have thought about it. I’m not going to lie, I have thought about putting them on. I don’t know if there’s really a spot for Princess Jasmine to have a skate, but if there is I’ll gladly have a go.

You have an incredibly short rehearsal period, just two weeks – Dave, as Widow Twankee you’ve got a dozen or so quick changes; does two weeks give you time to even get those sorted out?

Dave: The first week we’re in the studios and we might have some rehearsal props but certainly no wardrobe. We’ll be running through music, dancing, whatever.

Then that all goes to pot ‘cos we come to the theatre and once we’re here we realise that it’s not even two weeks. The sets have to be built when we arrive so we won’t get on stage until very late that day, maybe not until the Tuesday and we open on the Saturday.

In that time we have to rehearse everything technical, making sure it’s all running right and that we’re stood in the right place at the right time for the lighting. Then wardrobe come in and we run through various scenes to figure out the quick changes. We do try to fit in at least one dress rehearsal!

It’s full on. That’s the time when everybody bonds and from then on you find that everyone has everyone else’s back because we’ve all been through that stressful time together. We’re all in the same boat and if we can get through that, we can get through anything!

Bristol Sparkled Press

Image - Joe Pasquale & Marti Pellow, credit Bristol Sparkled Press

What’s your best panto story, in a sentence or three?

Jo: My best panto story is from a long time ago, before the days of health and safety. The Dame used to come out with a tennis racquet and serve sweets into the audience. This one kid threw the sweet he caught back and it hit the Dame right in the head; knocked him out!

After that it was deemed unhealthy and unsafe to throw boiled sweets at people.

Hayley: I was working with Billy Pierce doing Cinderella. I’m trying not to laugh just thinking about him now; I love him dearly. There was a moment in the show when he puts a necklace made of plastic carrots around my neck, saying; “here you are, 24 carat gold”. One night he put it around my neck but the two end carrots stuck out like this; “I’m demonstrating now but I’m aware that the people who read this won’t be able to see that my fingers are pointing out in front of my boobies”.

They just stuck out straight in front of me. He was crying, and the audience were laughing, and I was just thinking; “Why? Why are they all laughing at me?”

Billy said; “look down”; out loud so everyone heard. And that was it… I looked like Madonna… we were gone for about 10 minutes, neither of us could stop laughing and the audience just had to go with it!

Ed: I think it has to be when I first met Joe. I was asked, at the very last moment, to go down to Plymouth where he was doing Sleeping Beauty because the director was indisposed for a week. I hadn’t had any preparation time, I’d come straight off the back of directing another show, so I was a little nervous when I walked into the rehearsal room on the first day.

I was slightly concerned because Joe Pasquale was this big showbiz star but I’ll never forget how he put his arm around me, just before I spoke to the company that first morning, and said; “anything you want… anything you need… just ask and I’ll make it happen for you”. It was a production he’d done before but he was still prepared to make me feel at home and welcome me into the family. That, to me, speaks volumes about the sort of people that get involved in pantomime – they really care… really care about each other.

Dave: This is probably my worst story rather than my best. I did Cinderella in Dartford; myself and my Ugly Sister had to start from opposite sides of the stage, making our entrance behind an aeroplane. It would fly in and we’d run behind it very quickly. One night I slipped over and broke my arm. I carried on with the rest of the scene, not realising how bad it was, while everyone else was in the wings looking and pointing. I was wondering what they were all pointing at and thinking; “my arm hurts a little bit”. I came off stage and was rushed to hospital. I had a complete swan’s neck break and did the rest of the run with my arm in a sling!

Can you imagine Christmas without pantomime?

Joe: I’ve been doing panto for 35 years now so I’d have no idea what to do at Christmas if I wasn’t working. This is what I do.

Hayley: I’ve lost count of how many pantomimes I’ve done. If you count the ones I did as a child, we’re probably into the 30s or 40s. As an adult I’ve done a lot.

I didn’t see a pantomime when I was a child, but I was in them. I was two or three when I did the first one; I think it was Mother Goose. I didn’t get to sit in the audience until I was an adult and doing shows like Dancing on Ice or Corrie; I couldn’t do panto so I’d go and watch my friends. It’s quite an experience to watch rather than being in it.

Some of the cast will be doing pantomime for the first time this year; Hayley, what’s your top tip for them?

I decorate my dressing room every year. I always have twinkles and I always have a Christmas tree and fairy lights. I make it as Christmassy as I can. I love Christmas so much!

Everything sparkles and my eyeshadow will be the glitteriest ever, because really I’m just a child at heart.

I will make sure that anyone who’s new to this company will feel so warm and welcome, they won’t have a chance to miss being at home.

There will be a lot of excellent shows in Bristol this Christmas; if a family can only see one, why should they pick Aladdin?

Joe: Because Marti Pellow’s in it for a start. How many shows in Bristol this Christmas have got Marti Pellow in? One, this one. That’s why you should come.

I love Marti Pellow. He’s like my mum, I love him. I mean he’s not my mum, but I wish he was.

Finally, is panto good fun? Or hard work?

All four: It’s both!

It may be hard work as well as good fun, but these four seem to be genuinely looking forward to another Christmas in Pantoland and you get the feeling they wouldn’t enjoy the festive season any other way!

Aladdin opens at Bristol Hippodrome on Saturday 9 December and runs until Sunday 7 January.


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