IT’S that time of year again when the Christmas decorations come out of the loft, choirs start singing carols and theatres pull out all the stops with their annual festive show.
And over at Greenwich Theatre this is exactly what’s happening thanks to actor, writer, director and one of the best Dames in the business, Andrew Pollard.
For he is back at the Crooms Hill theatre again for a record 12th year to create its pantomime but although he tells me he’s excited about it he also admits to a fair few nerves.
“This is the 12th one I’ve written for Greenwich and each year the pressure and responsibility gets greater there’s no doubt,” he chuckles.
“It’s the pressure of writing a really good and tight story - which is the key ingredient - and being at least as good if not better than the year before.
“Also I don’t take this job lightly. It’s a show that has become part and parcel of peoples’ Christmas, and we have built up a following over the years which is fantastic and an honour, but it also means there is a sense of responsibility to make it the best it can possibly be and to get it right.
“But writing and being part of it is also really thrilling and exciting because I love it and I have a real warmth and affection for the theatre and the team there - it’s always a real team effort to get the show off the ground and although it’s sometimes stressful, it’s always great fun and we always get there in the end!”
This year marks the fifth that Andrew has directed the show and the 11th in which he’s been its Dame - a recognition of the safe pair of hands that he has built a reputation for being in creating a show which regularly sells out.
This year the production in questions is Peter Pan, not Andrew admits, a traditional panto, but one he says the team at Greenwich had been thinking of doing for a while.
But he warns, don’t go expecting it to be the original JM Barrie story. Instead he’s written a completely new adventure, setting it partly in Billingsgate Market in London where Wendy, the great great granddaughter of the original Wendy, works.
The business she runs has fallen on hard times and over the course of the tale she and her tea lady - Andrew’s Dame - end up getting swept along to Neverland to meet Peter and do battle with the crocodile and Captain Hook.
“Peter Pan didn’t used to be part of the panto canon as it’s not fairy tale in the traditional way,” he says.
“However in the last few years there have been lots of versions staged and Greenwich wanted to do it, so we thought we should have a go. In fact I was in a version this summer and I know there are a few other productions in London this Christmas.
“For Greenwich though, rather than stick to the original story, I have created a completely new adventure with some new characters as well as all the important familiar ones like Pan, Tinkerbell and Hook that people know and love.
“I’ve set it partly in modern day London where Wendy has a bit more spirit to her. The Dame features quite strongly and is very much an integral part of the plot and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.
“As well as the main characters there will even be some mermaids and gorillas and I’ve managed to bring Hook back to life too.
“I’m really excited as I think the story is strong but I’m definitely quite nervous about it as it’s not the Peter Pan story people will know - however, it’s exactly the same formula as our regular pantos so there will be something for everyone.”
As in previous years, Andrew promises all the essential panto ingredients with a cracking storyline, which features all the local and topical references, gags a plenty, singing, dancing, a Dame with a multitude of outrageous costumes and a tonne of glitter, sparkle and merriment.
And as it’s Peter Pan there will be a chance to show off the team’s technical wizardry as they get Peter to fly.
The script has been a year in the making and as the opening night beckons Andrew is now in the last stages of perfecting it.
“I know what we are doing a year in advance as I always bring it into the rhyming couplets at the end of the show, so I knew we’d be doing Peter Pan this time,” he says.
“We also knew at the end of last year’s run that people had already booked tickets for this which was extremely flattering but it has added to the pressure somewhat!
“I start writing the first draft early in the year and have usually done a few by the time we get to casting and rehearsals.
“When I’m writing it I always wonder if I’ve got the balance right between the jokes for the kids and the adults and the links between the scenes.
“The school shows are good markers as you always know when kids are into it or bored!” he adds. “However I don’t rest mentally until we have a few shows under our belt.
“It’s been quite an eventful and rich year with plenty to draw on in terms of Brexit, Trump and so on, so all of that will get mentioned in some way,” he adds.
“It’s also a bit darker and there will be a few more adult themes although plenty for the kids too. There will be lots to boo at and equally a lot to cheer at - there has to be a balance between good and evil.
“It’s got it all going on!”
As is de rigeur at Greenwich there will be no big name celebrities in the show, but there will be a few regular celebrities popping up including Anthony Spargo who is playing Hook.
“I’m delighted Anthony is back as he’s such a great villain,” Andrew says warmly. “He is great to write for and this year we’ve got some great scenes for him so there will be plenty of booing and cheering.
“But we have a really strong cast and the crew at Greenwich is fantastic. They all work so hard, creating the entire show from scratch which is a huge undertaking - everything is made and created specially for the show - but that’s why it’s such a joy to work on and makes it so special and why I keep coming back.
“There is a lot of love that goes into it. Now we can’t wait to open!”
Peter Pan: A New Adventure is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich from Friday, November 18, to Sunday, January 8 2017. Visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk for full listings.