Enjoying her fourth festive season with Spillers Pantomimes at Bognor’s Alexandra Theatre, Vicky Edwards admits that she came to panto rather late in her career.
“When I left drama school many moons ago I didn’t need anyone to tell me that pantomime producers wouldn’t exactly be falling over themselves to offer me parts. Too chubby to be cast as a pretty princess and lacking the long legs essential for Prince Charming, there simply weren’t any roles for me. Now, however, opportunities have opened up a bit. Looking every one of my fifty-something years, my wrinkles are a positive plus when it comes to playing old hags and quirky characters,” said Vicky, who lives in Chichester.
Cast as the Sherriff of Nottingham’s evil mother in the Spillers production of Robin Hood five years ago, Vicky is thrilled to have been invited back to play different roles since.
“This year I am playing Slave of the Ring. She’s a feisty and fun and has the handy gift of foresight – think Barbara Windsor meets Mystic Meg,” she laughs, promising that there will be no stinting on fairy dust.
“A great panto must be magical and we have all the key ingredients: a great story with an exotic setting, a fabulous cast and glorious costumes. The Spillers family have been producing pantomimes for many years and they know, instinctively, how to evoke that sense of wonder that gives panto its broad appeal.”
Proud of Bognor’s reputation for staging a first-class pantomime, Vicky acknowledges that there is a big team effort involved. Many of them are volunteers, Vicky said: “The backstage and front of house teams are absolute diamonds. They work so hard and they all really care about the venue, not least because they know how much it is valued by the community. There is a wonderful family feeling that runs right through the place, which makes performing there even lovelier.”
Admitting to occasionally sneaking into the wings to watch the audience’s response, Vicky recalled a moment during last year’s run.
“There was a family group in the third row; grandpa at one end, a toddler at the other and everyone else in between. They were all completely transfixed. There aren’t many forms of entertainment that can do that. To see everyone so immersed in the story is heart-warming.”
And stories are a big part of Vicky’s life.
A writer as well as an actress, she is also the co-founder of Chichester’s Story Factory, an organisation that hosts workshops that encourage children to develop their imagination through storytelling, creative writing, art, music and performance.
“Thinking creatively is something that children do very naturally and harnessing that to a particular project produces some incredible results. Story telling in all its forms can be a great tool for learning and development, but letting our imagination run wild now and again is simply good for the soul. We have been telling stories since time began and panto is proof that we still all love a tale that takes us on a fantastic journey.”
“Going to the pantomime is a big tradition for a lot of families. That we get to share that experience with them is really special.”
But Vicky admits that she needs to be more organised this year.
“Last year we were so busy that we all shopped last minute.
“Our dressing room became a gift-wrapping station – cast members were still frantically wrapping and labelling parcels during the interval on Christmas Eve!”
Aladdin is at the Regis Centre, Bognor from Tuesday, December 12-Tuesday, January 2. Tickets are available from alexandratheatre.co.uk or 01243 861010.