Panto set to be rat-tastic: Su Pollard and Jeffrey Holland talk ahead of Dick Whittington at Wolverhampton Grand
Lichfield Street will soon be paved with gold, as the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre prepares for the festive season, with the launch of their 2019/2020 pantomime, Dick Whittington.
Every day is Christmas in the offices at organisers Qdos Entertainment, which has no less than 35 shows running consecutively up and down the country this year.
It's a lot of false eyelashes, feathers and fancy frocks, but worth every moment of the hard work to see the faces of families enjoying the festive fun together.
Dick Whittington is not only a traditional rags-to-riches panto tale of a boy made good in old London town, but it is also the only pantomime based on a true story of a real-life character. Yes, Richard Whittington really did exist and he became Lord Mayor of London and he was married to Alice Fitzwarren. Not sure about his cat though, but who knows?
Historical facts aside, don’t worry that this pantomime will be dreary, dusty and dull as Hi-Di-Hi star Su Pollard, and her fellow Yellow Coat, Jeffrey Holland who played Spike in the hit BBC TV series, head up a stellar cast as Queen Rat and Alderman Fitzwarren.
Together with a pack of panto rats, they will be running riot from December 7, 2019, to January 12, 2020, in this fun-filled family favourite.
From the moment she fell off a cardboard box dressed as the Angel Gabriel’s assistant in her infant school nativity play, Su Pollard has been a comedienne.
“I had a little mini cardboard-box stage that had loads and loads of Sellotape on to try and make sturdy", the 69-year-old star told us.
“I remember standing on this box saying, 'fear not Mary, the Angel Gabriel will shortly be bringing you a present of a child.' And then I fell through the box and everybody laughed.”
This was just the beginning, and of course, we know where it led.
From musical theatre performances in the likes of Godspell and Annie, to the incomparable role of chambermaid Peggy Ollerenshaw in the hit BBC series Hi-Di-Hi which gave her big break, for the last 50 years Su has been making us laugh out loud.
Su is excited to be working with Jeffrey Holland again, even though it's been a long time.
"We have just never been free at the same time," said Su, "but it will be great fun."
Walsall actor Jeffrey agreed, saying: "We see each other all the time at events and functions but never seemed to be free at the same time, but at last we are."
Jeffrey has performed in Dick Whittington many times, usually in the role of the panto dame, Sarah the Cook, but this year he will be taking on the role of Alderman Fitzwarren.
"This is the first time I will be playing a man in panto since 1988," he laughed.
"I'm quite relieved at not having to put all that stuff on my face."
Jeffrey started his career at the Co-Op Under 21 Amateur Dramatic Group and said he only went along because he had heard the girls there were pretty.
Ad-libbing is always a temptation in panto, but Jeffrey is a stickler for sticking to the script.
"You can ad lib as long as you allow the audience to share it," he said.
" but then if something goes wrong, you can all have a good laugh.”
Although Hi-Di-Hi was at its height back in the 1980’s these two comedy veterans remain as popular today as ever and panto is the perfect vehicle for their comic skills which are guaranteed to draw audiences in.
The dynamic comedy duo David Croft and Jimmy Perry who wrote Hi-Di-Hi clearly had a huge impact on both stars, so what did they learn from them?
"Discipline," Su said. "But they would let you have a laugh, have some fun first, then it was down to work. "
Jeffrey was very complementary. "I learnt pretty much everything about TV comedy techniques from them" he said.
"You couldn't have worked with two more experienced men in their different fields.
"Jimmy's writing was impeccable and you weren't allowed to change a thing, he was very particular.
"We are celebrating 40 years this year since we made the first episode of Hi-Di-Hi back in October 1979."
Su likes to try out different ideas with her fellow performers to get the best results.
"We try this and that and build on the ideas and if it works and they laugh, we know we have got it right. I've always worked like that," she informed us.
"It's great being the baddie. I've played the Wicked Queen in Snow White, which I loved too. But Queen Rat will be just as good.
"It's one of those where she gets her comeuppance, but becomes good in the end."
Panto is renowned for special effects, stunts and - dare I say - magic, and it sounds as if there is plenty in store in Dick Whittington.
"There's an ultra violet undersea ballet during the shipwreck," Jeffrey revealed to us.
“There's also a wonderful transformation scene at the end of act one when Dick Whittington becomes Lord Mayor of London. That's quite a dramatic moment."
The rest of the cast will be visiting Wolverhampton later in the autumn to tell us all about their characters and put us in the Yuletide mood as we begin the countdown to Christmas.
But for now, with two stalwarts of comedy acting and panto, as well as Corrie star Ryan Thomas, comedian Aaron James and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre regulars, Ian Adams as Sarah the Cook and the lovely Julie Paton as Fairy Bowbells completing the cast, the festive season at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre is already set to sparkle like fairy dust.
It will be rat-tastic!
For tickets for Dick Whittington, visit www.grandtheatre.co.uk or call 01902 429212.