Treading the boards as Dame Trott in Buxton’s annual pantomime is the realisation of a long-held ambition for Steve Nallon.
The actor and impressionist, who made his name impersonating Margaret Thatcher on TV show Spitting Image, had been hoping to land a role in panto for years, so when the call came in from Buxton Opera House asking Steve if he wanted to star in this year’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk, he was delighted.
And it was a double whammy for Steve, who had long fancied taking on the role of a dame.
“I don’t know where the ambition came from,” he said. “I think it was when I was on the Rory Bremner show. I was doing Margaret Thatcher but I was doing her half as Mrs Thatcher and half as Queenie from Blackadder. One of the actors came up to me and said ‘once Mrs Thatcher goes you’ll make a great dame’, and it had also been in the back of my head for a while.”
Having spent so long portraying one of the most famous women in British politics, Steve is more than comfortable with taking on the opposite sex for a role.
“It’s never worried me,” he said. “I’ve seen dames before and it’s clear when people aren’t comfortable with it. As a dame you’ve got to walk right and I’ve watched some good dames over the years so they’ve helped me. I’ve stolen off them really.”
Dame Trott is much like any other pantomime dame, says Steve, but he has drawn inspiration from his nearest and dearest as he prepared for the role.
“Panto dames are always going on about how poor they are but the irony is they then dress up in these wonderful elaborate outfits.
“A friend of mine did panto last year and didn’t enjoy it and the reason is he’s not common. You’ve got to have a sense of commonality.
“It’s not about being working class or anything like that but you’ve got to connect with the audience as soon as you come out.
“I am from Leeds and was brought up by my grandma and aunties so my dame is based on all the warm Northern ladies I knew.”
Joining panto novice Steve in this year’s show is Joseph Elliott, star of CBeebies show Swashbuckle, and a panto old hand.
He said: “I play Silly Simon who is Jack’s brother. He’s the silly comedy character, the one kids are going to relate to.”
Having appeared in panto several times before, it is a genre that clearly appeals to Joseph, but what is it about this Christmas tradition that he likes so much?
“I think I’m just like a big kid myself. There’s a lot of joy in panto. They don’t take themselves too seriously,” he said.
“I come from a comedy background and there is a big comedic element to panto as well as the singing and dancing, which I love, but I’m definitely by no means a natural at.
“The reaction from the audience is a nice element too, especially when you get lots of kids in the audience and they are cheering and screaming.
“Usually with panto, it’s the first time at live theatre for a lot of children and there’s something very special about being a part of that.”
Being part of this year’s panto cast brought Joseph to Buxton for the first time, and he’s immediately taken a shine to the town. “It is beautiful,” he said. “I live in London so to escape the big dirty city and come somewhere that has nice air and nice water as well as the most beautiful theatre is fantastic. I’m very lucky.”
And Joseph was also quick to praise the local youngsters who are starring in the show, adding: “Everyone is so talented. We’ve got some local children dancing and they are absolutely brilliant. I can’t believe how young they are, they’re just so fantastic.”
As with all pantos, Buxton’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk offers something for all the family to enjoy. Running from December 11 to January 3, there are plenty of opportunities to catch the show over the festive period.
So what can prospective audiences look forward to?
“The best two hours of their life,” says Joseph. “It is just a really good traditional panto. There is a lot of fun, it is very joyful. It is not going to make you think about the deep questions in life.
“Just come along, have a laugh and I think you’ll leave the show with a real buzz about the festive period, having enjoyed something quite special.”
For tickets for Jack and the Beanstalk, priced at £16, £18 and £21, call the Buxton Opera House box office on 0845 127 2190 or visit www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk.