Jason Gardiner – Abanazer in Aladdin at The Hawth, Crawley, this Christmas – is originally from Melbourne, a place he describes as the most cultured city in Australia.
But it’s not really where he is from, he is quick to point out. Genetically, at least.
“I came to the UK in 1994 and I didn’t intend to stay. I really didn’t. I came here because prior to that I had a production company in Hong Kong and I wasn’t happy living in Hong Kong. I had gone as far as I could with living over there, and I found myself thinking that there must be more to life than what I was doing, and so I decided to move to London. I wanted to do a show in the West End because it was like a little bucket list I had.
“And so I got here in ’94 and then auditioned for shows and got them and the rest is history. I have had a long career here in the UK. And it is absolutely home now for me.”
And the reason? Well, it’s in his genes.
“I have always gravitated towards Europe. It has always fascinated me. I was adopted, and I had a DNA test, and I found that I am 97.5 per cent European blood. The other 2.5 per cent is Asian… and that’s why this feels like home. For 97.5 per cent of me!”
One thing’s for sure: he certainly wouldn’t be doing panto if he was back in Oz.
“You have got to remember that Christmas in Australia is in the middle of the summer. It is scorching hot.
“The last thing an Australian wants to do is sit in a dark theatre. They want to be out there having a barbie on the beach. It just doesn’t have the same appeal. It’s hard enough to get an Australian to go to the theatre at any time, let alone at Christmas.”
Over here, Jason was fortunate to start at the top in terms of his own panto experiences. The first one he saw was Ian McKellen and Frances Barber at the Old Vic: “I went and I was absolutely enthralled.”
But he soon discovered, watching other pantos, that not all pantos are like that: “They put TV people into them and they are not all of that calibre and it is like a little bit of you dies when you think how terrible it must be for them to be doing eight shows a week.”
He appeared in a panto along those lines: “Apparently I was absolutely brilliant, but you are only as good as your weakest link, and that was the production itself.”
Fortunately he has heard great things about the panto producers in Crawley: “I hear they are up there with the best. What I noticed in the last one I did was that everybody had been doing it for too long. In the rehearsals, there was no energy. They always knew what was coming and didn’t try anything new. It felt a little bit stale even before it started. It was all ‘I will do this and then you will do that.’ I was thinking ‘OK do that, but at least try to put a new spin on it.’ But it was just all these little acts within the show being dusted off, and to me that just felt lazy.
“The great thing is that this one (Aladdin in Crawley) is being approached like a proper show, and I am very excited about that.”
Aladdin is at the Hawth, Crawley, from Friday, December 7-Sunday, January 6. Call 01293 553636.