Panto Day 2020
Friday 18th December

Panto Advice

Top Tips for Villainy

I first got hooked on playing villain (pardon the pun) from an early age.  My grandmother had taken me to see a production of Goldilocks at the Theatre Royal Newcastle.  I think I was eight years old. Strangely enough, I’m playing the Demon Ringmaster in Goldilocks this year at the same venue, my tenth consecutive pantomime there.  As a young man, I had three heroes as Panto Villain: Robert Marlowe, John Gower and Alan Curtis.

When you play the same part at the same venue for that length of time as I have done, it’s important to change your appearance each year.  I do this with make-up, wig, prosthetics etc.  Sometimes your look can be determined by the costume design.  On my first entrance, which is usually at the top of the show in the prologue, I always make my first contact with those sitting in the Gods or Gallery.  They’ve paid less for their seats than those in the Stalls, Circle or Upper Circle but deserve the attention all the same.

It’s also important to insult your audience at the least opportunity to encourage a barrage of boos and hisses but never offend them.  Someone once told me that you’re not doing your job properly unless you’ve made a child cry within the first couple of minutes of appearing on stage.  I was recently at a social function when I was introduced by a friend, to someone who told me that they were an avid theatre-goer, particularly loving pantomime.  When I told them what I did and where, they informed me that they had seen the show and enquired as to which part I played.  Obviously not recognising me, suddenly, to their horror, they realised who I was and informed me that not only had they spent a lot of money for their family seats but had spent most of the show in the foyer with their three-year-old who was absolutely terrified of me.

The voice is of course important and the tool of the trade.  Therefore, during a long run, it’s important to keep on top of it and warm it up properly each day.  All that demonic laughter can take its toll and if you have a number to sing also, then it’s even more important.  However, it’s not all about belting it out.  Sometimes, hushed tones can be as sinister.  If you’re a big fella like me, use your height.  Never crouch down unless you’re in disguise or directed to do so.

For me as a character actor, villains are the best parts to play.  A lovely way to play villain occasionally, is to send one’s self up.  Rarely these days are villains committed to a death sentence at the end of the story.  It’s much more fun to be banished to return another year or be dragged off by the Dame who has thoughts of marriage.  In the words of one of my panto heroes:  All ‘good’ characters in pantomime who get involved with evil must have a genuine and believable reason for falling under the villain’s influence, be it blackmail, hypnosis or the fairytale expedient of being cast under a spell.  It’s all great fun!

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