Cast raring to go for The Witham's first panto
By Stuart Laundy - Senior Reporter
IT’S panto time in Barnard Castle this December and producers have come with a real beauty – Sleeping Beauty, that is.
The show runs from December 16 to 24 and the cast, who were unveiled last week, said they were delighted to be bringing panto to The Witham for the first time.
Producer Tom Rolfe, who also wrote the script, said it was crucial to get theatre back on its feet after the Covid-19 crisis and panto was one way of encouraging audiences back through the door.
He promised plenty of topical content in the oft-told tale.
“A perfect panto has got to be fast, funny with a good story, comedy and slapstick and not too long,” he said.
“This is the sixth time I have produced Sleeping Beauty, so it’s a tried and tested show that has been tweaked along the way. This will be the biggest and best version so far.
“Adults will get as much out of the show as the kids.”
A class of children from Green Lane Primary School were given a taste of what’s in store as the cast took to the stage at The Witham to introduce the show.
They were soon hissing and booing the wicked fairy Carabosse and cheering the prince and princess, while they were not too sure what to make of Phil Hoyles as the dame Nurse Nellie.
Johnny Wright, who plays the prince, said he was delighted to be back on stage after the pandemic.
“It’s been a horrific time for everyone – the world paused,” he said.
An accomplished singer and performer when not on stage, he said: “When lockdown lifted, I was a bit rusty, but it’s good to be back doing what we love.
“Kids and grown ups love Sleeping Beauty – it’s got all the right ingredients for a panto.
“I only found out today this is the first panto here at The Witham – no pressure then!”
Mr Hoyles is a seasoned dame – he has spent six of his ten panto seasons in drag and make-up.
“Panto without a dame is simply not a panto – and they’re eye candy for the dads and grandads,” he joked.
When not on stage, he is part of Phoney Fools and Horses, a touring tribute to one of the nation’s favourite comedies, along with other dinner theatre shows.
After seeing all his work cancelled due to Covid, he said signs for the future were encouraging.
“Things are coming back slowly, and next year is looking better,” he said.
Both cast and producer said they understood that some people remained nervous about returning to theatre and being part of a large audience.
“It’s understandable – I was apprehensive for the first couple of gigs I was back,” said Mr Hoyles.
Mr Rolfe said there were encouraging signs that there was an appetite among audiences to return.
“We have just done a season in Blackpool. People really looked forward to it and the response over the summer was good.”
Tickets for Sleeping Beauty, priced from £10, are available online from thewitham.org. uk, by calling the box office on 01833 631107 or in person during the centre’s opening hours.