Pantomime producer, writer and director Paul Hendy has got a very special relationship with Crawley.
This Christmas will be his fifth year on the trot producing and writing for the Hawth: “But I used to be a performer years ago, and I performed panto at the Hawth. That would have been about 2000 or thereabouts. It was Snow White, and I played the part of Muddles.
“I have always had a great love for Crawley. I did 25 years as a performer from when I was 17 until when I started doing all the producing and directing and writing, and all that took off and I couldn’t really be a performer any more.
“I have totally given up performing now, and I don’t miss it at all! I think I get as much, if not more, satisfaction putting it all together and seeing the audience laughing. When I see the Hawth full of people and they are all laughing, OK I know it is the performer who is telling the jokes and getting the laughs, but they are still jokes that I have written, and it is me who has put the cast together and the script together.”
The panto this year is Aladdin (December 7-January 6) and Paul is confident that his own background as a performer stands him in great stead when it comes to creating something for others to perform.
“It helps that I know what performers are going through. It is hard work… very, very hard work when you are doing two shows a day, sometimes three shows a day. It is quite intense.”
It also helps that Paul is writing for his cast: “I write 100 per cent for the people I have got. I do every year every script new. It is Aladdin this year at the Hawth. I have done Aladdin before, but I know that at the Hawth they have got a particular dame and that he is different to the dame, say, at Canterbury or Sheffield.”
Paul also tailors the show to the venue itself: “You will have local references and local jokes. But I think quality is quality and that a show will be able to play anywhere if it is quality. But I know in Crawley you get a very good audience. They like funny things. They love to laugh. I know that is fairly universal at the moment. Life is a bit tough at the moment. But also a Crawley audience loves audience participation. They like to feel involved. They are also quite vocal. Some theatres have a much more reserved audience, but Crawley really get into it.
“It is an incredible atmosphere at Crawley. Every actor will tell you how much they love playing there…”
Over the years, panto has changed immeasurably… for the better.
“It is very different now to when I was a 17-year-old. The budgets are bigger. I think panto has come a long way. We spend a lot more money on panto now. We are trying to get West End standards. People are seeing massive shows that they would see on the West End stages, and I think the quality of the actors has gone up a lot. My company is called Evolution and I think pantomime has to evolve and has to keep evolving. It has got to be familiar enough for people, but it has also got to be original each time they come. People don’t want to come away thinking they saw the same thing last year. You have got to keep moving with pantomime.”
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West Sussex pantomimes and Christmas performances: Everything you need to know. Click here to read more.