Festive pantomime? it’s just so a la mode

PUBLISHED: 14:47 04 November 2009 | UPDATED: 17:18 16 August 2010

CHARACTER: Claire Sweeney is the wicked fairy.

CHARACTER: Claire Sweeney is the wicked fairy.

GEORGE Wood, the director of this season s pantomime at Bromley s Churchill Theatre dropped by your Times to talk about money, wickedness and reality television.

GEORGE Wood, the director of this season's pantomime at Bromley's Churchill Theatre dropped by your Times to talk about money, wickedness and reality television.

Sleeping Beauty starring Claire Sweeney as Carrion the Wicked Fairy is already selling quickly and theatre bosses expect it to be a sell out. Regional theatres now rely on the festive shows to pay the bills.

Producers can now afford to pay stars more money which has attracted some seriously high brow and headline-grabbing choices. Only last week Pamela Anderson was cast as the genie in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre, which saw ticket sales rise by 800 per cent.

This follows on from Ian McKellen and Simon Callow's pantomime debuts.

Director of Sleeping Beauty, Mr Wood, who also plays Prince Charming in the show, admits money has a lot to do with the changing fortunes of pantomime.

He said: "Pantomime is recession-proof. People may cut down on other things like holidays or buying a new car but they will still come to the pantomime. It will sell out. You can afford to pay your top stars more money. The stars that sell the tickets are worth paying

"We are able to hand pick the cast. This is the A-Team. It is such a big show. Pantomime is going through a really good stage at the moment. When I started there was such negativity about it. You would have Australian actors who people have never heard of and sports stars who has never acted, such as Frank Bruno.

"Now we are going through a stage when it is fashionable. It was frowned upon whereas now in our show we have Lorna Want who was in the West End show Evita. The likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Simon Callow doing pantomime helped. And now we have Pamela Anderson!

"It is seen as a positive career move. I feel lucky as it is going through a great time. Bromley is so close to the West End that standards have to be high. And kids coming are used to seeing big productions like High School Musical.

"Bromley is home. I only live down the road. It is the place I care most about and put most time into the shows when they are here.

"I came here with Stephen Gately for Cinderella in 2005. It was such a good show. He was brilliant. We all became great mates and kept in touch ever since. We would always say on that job we just laughed from start to finish.

"I went to his funeral. It was such a shock. We are going to have a tribute to him in the programme. We don't want it to be morbid. He loved this theatre."

Rehearsals begin on November 16 at the theatre and the show opens on December 4. But the cast feel lucky they have a little over two weeks to rehearse as most pantomimes only get a week.

Star Claire Sweeney can't wait. She said: "I'm looking forward to the rehearsals starting. We are going to have a blast.

"I love this costume. It is a beautiful costume."

The former Brookside actress said: "Pantomime acting is completely different to soap acting. One is camera technique acting and pantomime is exaggerated. One always has to get to find the truth in what you do. If you find the truth, you find the story.

"I love Bromley. I live in Pimlico and I can just jump on a train and I'm home."

But she was remaining tight-lipped about other projects. She said: "We have got certain things lined up. We are just looking at some television work.

"In this business you can get a phone call and your life can change in an instant."

She admitted that she had had lots of offers to go on reality television and has turned down just as many.

When asked why she said: "Well I have done Strictly and I did the first ever Celebrity Big Brother."

But like soap acting, she would not flatly turn down all other offers.

She said: "I never watch soaps but recently I started watching them when I went and stayed with my mum in Liverpool for five weeks.

"They are great. The story lines are great and they have great actors. If it was a good character and great story...."

She admits that even though she is known as a warm and down-to-earth person she prefers to play the wicked characters adding: "Well, I am an actress."

Marina Soteriou

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