Christmas came early to Crawley on Friday on a hot late-summer’s day as the panto cast convened to offer a taste of the fun ahead this winter.
You’d want pantos to be full of excitement, and EastEnders’ Emma Barton was full of it.
“The most important thing for me is that I am going to be flying on stage,” says Emma, who will be in Crawley this Christmas. “And I have never flown before on stage.”
She will be playing Tinkerbell opposite Shaun Williamson (EastEnders, Extras) as Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the Hawth from Friday, December 9-January 2 (tickets on 01293 553636 or visit www.hawth.co.uk).
Portsmouth-born Emma – Honey Mitchell in the soap from November 2005 to September 2008 and then again full time from last year – has got all the enthusiasm the part of Tinkerbell is going to demand, but she freely admits she has also got a few inches more than ideally she’d want.
“She is supposed to be a fairly dainty character obviously, and I am very tall!”
But it is going to be great, Emma is convinced, particularly teaming up with Shaun again.
Shaun comes to it all on the back of a great run of theatre credits. Before One Man, Two Guv’nors with Emma, he toured in a stage version of the classic TV sitcom Porridge. He’s also gone on to enjoy a stint as Mr Perks in The Railway Children at King’s Cross. Similarly, he relished Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
“And now, this is my 15th panto,” says Shaun “I think I have done one pretty much every year since I left EastEnders. I love it. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t do panto every year. It becomes a habit. I don’t think I would want eight weeks off over Christmas or the two weeks that people get in normal jobs. I think I would just get bored. I am being totally serious. I just love working, and doing a panto actually makes Christmas Day really special – because it is the only day you get off. I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise.
But the bottom line is that he genuinely loves panto: “It is just magical, and you have got to remember that for a lot of children, it is the first time they have been to the theatre.”
Which, of course, makes it a big responsibility for the actors. They have got to take the chance to hook (or maybe Captain-Hook) the audiences of the future and reel them in.
“It is going to be great!”