Approaches to Roles
Approach to Role #1
What I look for in a panto performer first and foremost is a love for the genre. Technique can be learnt at drama school or on the job, but a love for the style, history and traditions cannot. At auditions and in the rehearsal room I enjoy working with people who are passionate about pantomime. So I always suggest getting to know the genre – not only how it works today, but its background and in particular where the routines and traditions originate. For those starting out in the business I suggest seeing as many pantos as possible including commercial (eg FFE, QDOS, Imagine) and home grown “subsidised” ones (eg Nottingham Playhouse, York Theatre Royal). Also start by reading Paul Harris’s brilliant ‘The Pantomime Book’ which has a wonderful collection of routines which used to be passed down by the oral tradition on the rehearsal room floor from performer to performer and are now in print. Also, take a peek at Peter Lathan’s colourful ‘It’s Behind You’ which explores the history of pantomime in readable detail. This is just the start…
Approach to Role #2
Linked to the above is that of honing your skills! Pantomime is often seen as a second cousin to some forms of theatre and seen as ‘easy to do’; but those who perform in panto only make it look easy! It takes technique, energy and skill to undertake even the simplest of comedy routines or deliver a gag with precision. Do some courses in slapstick or verbal comedy if you need to. You’ll also need to keep fit and healthy- long rehearsals and up to three shows per day which contain singing, dancing, slosh routines and tightly crafted comedy scenes soon takes its toll if you are out of condition!
Approach to Role #3
Know what ‘role’ best suits you as a performer. When I first started directing panto I used to be fascinated by the conversations around tables – “what stock character are you?” older performers asked the younger ones. Are you a comic, a Dame, an Ugly, an immortal? Where do your skills lie? Actresses often talk about the year they moved from Principal Boy status into Wicked Queen or Fairy Godmothers. Know what parts you can play now and have an eye on where you will graduate to next- and then do so when the time is right!
Common Mistake #1
The most common mistake a panto baddie can make starting out is to battle with the audience and encourage them to “boo” beyond necessary. This can often mean the scene can never get started and the kids and not the actor controls the action! The performer must be in control of everything, even the audiences reactions.
Common Mistake #2
Is when some of the characters who shouldn’t speak to the audience decide to. Don’t get temped if you are a character that carries the story to start to break the “4th wall” and ad-lib or tell gags!
Common Mistake #3
Don’t try and be clever with the genre. A baddie ALWAYS enters from Stage Left and the Goodie ALWAYS enters from Stage Right, for example. Mess at these conventions at your peril! The audience are expecting certain things to be in there, including ‘behind yous’, songsheets, slosh scenes and of course the perennial call out ‘Oh no it isn’t’ !
Robert is a freelance theatre director who has worked across the UK and Europe in both commercial and subsidised theatre. Current work includes leading workshops on directing in Bangkok; The Wiz (Milton Keynes Theatre); The Winter’s Tale (Staffordshire University) and working with the Victoria Theatre Halifax on developing a number of in-house projects and productions. Directing includes: Beauty and the Beast (Rugeley Rose Theatre); Dick Whittington (Halifax Victoria and Imagine Theatre); Into the Woods (Reveal Theatre Ltd/Stoke on Trent); Cry Havoc (Manchester); Journey to the East (Cyprus); Fame (Regent Theatre/ATG); King Macbeth (National Tour); The Savonarola Debate (Florence, Italy); They Called It Passchendaele (Belgium); Voices of Arran (Arran); Cock Tales (Manchester); Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty (Halifax). Am I Not a Man and a Brother (Reveal Theatre/Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Tour) and co-producer of Silent Anger (Tour). He was also Associate Director on the National Tours of The Naked Truth starring Lisa Riley and Julie Buckfield and The eXtra Factor with Kevin Kennedy, Kelle Bryan and Antony Costa. Robert has worked at the Yvonne Arnaud Guildford, Stephen Joseph Scarborough, Bolton Octagon, Southwark Playhouse, Oxford Playhouse and 5 years at the local New Vic Theatre Stoke on Trent. He has directed, assisted or staff directed numerous productions ranging from working with Sir Alan Ayckbourn on his play Sugar Daddies (National No 1 Tour) and Harvest (devised), Some Enchanted Evening, Fight for Shelton Bar, Outside Edge, Stealing Dreams, Face It, Romeo and Juliet. He has enjoyed directing the musicals Merrily We Roll Along, and Singin’ in the Rain and assisting on a National Tour of Carmen. He is also Creative Director of his own company, Reveal Theatre Ltd where he has produced and directed productions in the Midlands, London and touring including Sticks and Stones, The Most Dangerous Man in England, Hitting Town, Trench Kiss, Two, the documentary play On The Home Front, Charley’s Aunt and Teechers. Robert has also written and directed numerous pantomimes for Red Rose, Rugeley; Crewe Lyceum; Halifax Victoria Theatre; Porthcawl Pavilion; Ammanford Miners Theatre, South Wales; Reading Hexagon; New Vic Theatre; Queens Theatre Stoke on Trent; Stiwt Theatre Wrexham; Compass Theatre, Ickenham; DGO and Courtyard Theatre, Belfast and since 2007 has worked for producer Steve Boden for WISH and Imagine Theatre. He is currently Senior Lecturer and Course Leader at Staffordshire University and a Fellow in Teaching and Learning where he recently directed Lysistrata, Attempts on Her Life, The Bright and Bold Design, Kindertransport, Blue Remembered Hills and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He has recently led workshops in Bangkok, Thailand He is a member of Equity and has had articles published in Arts Professional, Sunday Times, Direct magazine and The Stage and has worked for BBC Radio 4 Drama. Workshops of new work included the musical The Good Enough Mum’s Club (London); and plays Fruit of the Poisoned Tree and WLTM (Stoke). Robert studied at University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has an MA from Middlesex University.