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UK's longest serving black panto dame to take to stage - with VIDEO

He’s a familiar face to many as possibly the longest-serving black pantomime dame in the country.

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Now, Dennis Ffrench is due to take to the stage in January as part of a Beauty and the Beast pantomime production.

The performance, which was due to take place before Christmas, was rescheduled due to the snow and is now due to take place in January at Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton.

Dennis, who is from West Bromwich and now lives in Burntwood, is preparing for the role, donning his pantomime costume complete with sultry red lipstick, polka-dot white and red dress and of course the stylish white hair bow and stripy socks.

In the production, delivered by Working Theatre, Dennis plays the comedic role of Ding Dong Bell – Beauty’s fictitious mother in Working Theatre company’s interpretation of the classic story.

Dennis started his career as a dame back in 1995, after taking on the role following a stint as the much more serious Macbeth.

Dennis, who describes himself as a character actor, said: “I was used to performing strong, masculine characters.

“So to get the offer of becoming a pantomime dame was very different for me. But I wanted to challenge myself and the stereotypes surrounding male black actors.”

Dennis Ffrench from Burntwood, from Working Theatre

His first role as a dame saw him take on the character Hettie Hawkins in an interpretation of the classic Treasure Island.

He said: “When I first performed as a dame, people weren’t used to seeing a black male actor on stage, let alone one dressed as a pantomime woman!”

A gifted sportsman, Dennis found himself making a choice between competing as an athlete or heading into the performing arts.

After making the decision to become an actor, he joined the then West Midlands Arts company in Moseley, Birmingham, and was one of the people selected out of 100 to work with them to create a theatre company.

Third Dimension Theatre company was the company that Dennis helped to form in 1986 before going on to be freelance in 1990.

Eventually, he joined ZIP Theatre Company based in Wolverhampton in 1996 and toured extensively around the UK before joining Working Theatre most recently in 2013.

Dennis said: “Over the years the audience has grown with me and expects more from me.”

Dennis Ffrench from Burntwood, from Working Theatre, and dressed for Beauty & the Beast, on some pics with him is co-star: Rebecca Shepherd from Oxley.

The most challenging role Dennis has played over the years was one he took on last year in Working Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz.

Dennis said: “That was hard work because I played three characters in that production – the Wicked Witch of the West, the Good Fairy and the Wizard himself.

“To go from playing an evil witch to the opposite, a wholly good character, to a conflicted character like the Wizard was a real test, but very satisfying to perform.”

The industry has changed significantly during Dennis’ time in the business.

He said: “When I first started it was about challenging people’s stereotypes about what black male actors could be and what parts they could play.

“It was impossible to get roles. There were many parts that weren’t deemed appropriate for black men to play. But becoming the dame has given me a unique selling point and enabled me to have a long and successful career.

“I can bring cultural references into my performance which really makes audiences respond and get where the character is coming from. I could never have done that years ago.

Pic at the Newhampton Arts Centre of possibly the longest running black Dame: Dennis Ffrench from Burntwood, from Working Theatre, and dressed for Beauty & the Beast, on some pics with him is co-star: Rebecca Shepherd from Oxley.

“Now, the audience accepts me and don’t see colour. It’s about the role I play, the character and their uniqueness, not me.”

Dennis is taking to the stage in Working Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast on Sunday, January 7.

The show will be performed at Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Wolverhampton, from 1pm and 3pm.

Tickets cost £8 for adults and £6 for children.

For more information and for tickets, visit the website or call 01902 572 090.