Press Launch – Redworth Hall, Newton Aycliffe

15th September 2023

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love pantomime – oh yes I do! I certainly do not take much persuading to spend a day in the company of pantomime people, so when I was offered the opportunity to chat to the cast of Darlington Hippodrome’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ I jumped at the chance.

In the opulent surroundings of Redworth Hall Hotel on a dull and dreary day, the cast of this very exciting new production from the UK’s largest pantomime producers Crossroads, lit up the room with their enthusiasm and excitement about the season to come. On talking with the five main cast members, I was impressed by their knowledge and passion for this traditional form of theatre and I was luck enough to speak to them all individually about what pantomime means to them. 

Jenny Ryan – ‘The Vixen’ from ITV ‘The Chase’ who will be scaring the children and adults alike as The Wicked Queen was first up and spoke passionately about being an advocate for live theatre. Having strong links to The Octagon in her home town of Bolton, she thrills in the conventions of theatre that pantomime offers. Darlington Hippodrome’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ will be Jenny’s third pantomime and she told me that she is excited about casting off Carabosse for this production and is excited to get the kids booing as she commands the stage as the beautiful but vain and wicked Queen and stepmother to the graceful and elegant Snow White.

Next up was Yorkshire lad and all-round good guy, Josh Benson who will be delighting the Hippodrome’s audience as the comical and well-meaning Muddles. Josh is an absolute treasure trove of stories, anecdote and knowledge of pantomime, theatre, and character work. In addition to regularly playing the ‘Buttons-type’ characters in pantomime, he is also involved with the character work at York Mazewhere he trains the actors in developing characters who interact close up with the visitors and customers in thisimmersive theatrical experience. I found my soul mate in Josh and, as a student of theatre myself, we probably could have talked all day and well into the evening. Josh understands the essence of his sick kick character and always wants to draw out elements of realism and pathos to the role. The kids are going to love his character of Muddles this panto season. 

Gareth Gates is every bit the handsome prince he will play this year. He is an old hat at the pantomime genre nowadays with him having at least twelve under his tunic. Being somewhat older, I can still remember the young lad who burst onto the scene performing on the UK’s very first Pop Idol and that cheeky smile and adorable twinkle is still there under the coiffured facial hair and chiselled physique which will have the ladies swooning. Gareth recently concluded the UK tour of Spongebob Squarepants for which he learned the new skill of, not only tap dancing, but tap dancing with four feet as Squidward. The tour concluded at Newcastle Theatre Royal and the North East is delighted to host this talented and amiable superstar for the upcoming pantomime season at Darlington Hippodrome.

Every pantomime needs as beautiful principal girl and Snow White will be portrayed by Marina Lawrence-Mahrra who sports, among many others, a credit in the global phenomenon that was HBO’s Game of Thrones in which she played the part of Dirah. Marina is returning to pantomime for only the second time, having played Tiger Lily in Peter Pan and she is delighted to be in Darlington where she is looking forward to catching up with family and exploring the local area. If you are very lucky you may see the Princess Snow White checking out the views near you. Marina loves pantomime because it is universal and offers something for everyone of all ages. With Marina’s beauty and Gareth’s handsome prince they are sure to be the fairest couple of all. 

Last, but certainly not least, we have our wonderful pantomime dame who will be played this year by the delightful Jamie Jones. This unassuming and softly spoken lad once held the title as the youngest professional pantomime dame and I was quite taken aback when I saw how young he was. He quipped that he was actually 57 but had a phenomenal face cream which endeared me to him immediately and gave a foretelling of the most wonderful Mrs Nelly Nightnurse to come this pantomime season at Darlington Hippodrome. Jamie is very proud of his dame heritage which started almost by accident around the age of 16 during a pantomime theatre module while still in education. Not content with simply performing, he makes himself up and designs and creates all of his own costumes. I think he had my number right from the start when he suggested he could make me one too. With over ten years’ experience under his bodice, Jamie is not one to look out for – he’s already here, darlings!

Last year, I was really excited to see Darlington Hippodrome’s Peter Pan which starred the pantomime legend that is Christopher Biggins. The sheer excitement and joy of pantomime that Crossroad’s casting team has put togetherwith this cast is spine-tingling. On the day that they first met each other, this is a troupe that will entertain, amuse, delight and thrill from the opening note of the overture to the very last kick of the finale and I, for one, cannot wait to immerse myself into the fairest pantomime in the land.

Photo Credit north_east_kids_

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