It’s panto season and this year Andrew Pollard marks his 10th appearance as Dame at Greenwich Theatre’s annual festive show with something slightly different. Kate Gould finds out more.
THE story of Little Red Riding Hood and her encounter with the big bad wolf in the wood has provided Andrew Pollard with the inspiration for his latest festive extravaganza at Greenwich Theatre.
The writer, actor and for the past nine years, the Croom Hill theatre’s resident panto dame, was determined to pull out all the stops for this year’s show with a story that was slightly off the beaten track.
“As this is the 11th show I’ve written for Greenwich and the 10th I’ve been in as Dame, I didn’t want to do a repeat of a story we’d done before,” he explains.
“I was thinking about what was a nice, classic story, that was not too complicated and what might make a good role for me and this one seemed to fit the bill.
“In fact I have been wanting to do it for a while and as a story it is strong. It’s also nice to be able to go down a slightly different route and do something not so obvious.”
Given Andrew’s previous festive successes at the theatre, its boss, artistic director James Haddrell, was happy to give Red Riding Hood the thumbs up.
“Audiences like the Greenwich panto and trust us to do a good job," says Andrew. "It’s fantastic as it means we can take a punt on a story that is not done very often.
“It’s good to do the staples now and again because they are classics and they stay for a reason but Greenwich audiences like the fact that we do something a bit different.
"Also, going to a panto marks the start of Christmas for many people so there's that too and it does mean the pressure is always on to do at least as well as if not better than previous years," he adds chuckling.
“That’s the thing that worries me the most - hoping it’s funny enough and that we come up with the goods.
"The pressure keeps me going though!”
We speak as Andrew is “polishing bits and pieces” of the show which opens tonight and which, if previous ones are anything to go by, promises to be a high octane, all singing, dancing and laugh out loud affair.
Indeed ticket sales are doing very well and were even selling back in January before the title was revealed, something that Andrew says is "a great endorsement".
In it, Andrew plays the Granny which he says despite the fact he is supposed to get eaten for dinner by the wolf is a “good part”.
“You can’t be too gruesome but there is a clever way of me being eaten and then brought back up again,” he laughs.
“It is one of the classic fairy tales and comes with scary elements – something which is true of most pantomimes so I think you water things down at your peril.
“Besides we all like to be scared now and again, it’s all part of growing up, hiding behind the sofa at things like Dr Who.
“The beauty of panto is that it is married with such a lot of slapstick and humour and of course the wolf gets his comeuppance in the end but in a comic way.
“Besides I can’t stay eaten as I have to be back for the finale and I have a great costume for that!”
Andrew has set the action in a wood in Switzerland rather than Greenwich but there are, as always, plenty of local and topical references.
Indeed, this year’s theme is the theatre itself something that Andrew feels passionately about.
"As the Granny I run a theatre in the woods which is under threat, so a nod to Greenwich," he says.
"I didn’t want to get too political but panto in its essence was always political.
“While we were tinkering about with the story early on we found an article about Red Riding Hood that was done in the mid 1800s in Manchester. There was a riot and the council had to close the show.
"I don’t want that to happen here but we do allude to the situation in Greenwich.
"This theatre could still be lost quite easily and I want to acknowledge that because once something is gone it doesn’t come back.
“It’s also nice to acknowledge this theatre and the important part it plays in the community here in Greenwich. I want to salute it because it’s been a fantastic home for me and a springboard to my career and I love it.
“What’s amazing is that it was built so long ago and has been entertaining audiences for all those years with gags that are still funny today so it would be a crying shame if it were to close.”
And if Andrew's past stories have had you weeping with laughter, this year is likely to be no exception as he promises a cracking script, fantastic and utterly outrageous costumes, plenty of silly gags, music, merriment and lots of audience participation plus the finale to bring the house down.
To tell the story, Andrew will be aided and abetted by a dedicated team of actors, musicians, set designers, costume designers and other backstage crew who he says are “like family”.
“There is a real loyalty with the Greenwich show not just with the audiences who come and see us year after year but with those who take part in it,” he says.
“What’s brilliant is that we get a lot of people asking if they can be part of it which is a lovely position to be in."
And regulars will notice a few familiar faces in this year's cast although there are one or two notable absences.
Paul Crittoph, the long-time side kick and foil to Andrew’s Dame is otherwise engaged, but fortunately back to entertain again are Antony Spargo, Alim Jayda and Martin Johnston.
“It’s good to change it up a bit but we do miss Paul,” says Andrew. “However, Antony is brilliant and he will steal the show and we have Martin and Alim back which is great.
"We have such a great team both front and back of house who all pull together to make it the best show it can be so I'm very lucky.
"So now we are all raring to go - we can't wait!"
Red Riding Hood is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill until Sunday, January 10. Visit ww.greenwichtheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 8858 7755 for full listings.