Express & Star

Matt Slack on a decade of panto laughs at Birmingham Hippdrome

We have this conversation each and every year. And, in all likelihood, we’ll meet at the same place, same time next year, as we look ahead to one of the joys of Christmas.

Matt Slack who is appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk at Birmingham Hippodrome

Panto is back and nobody does it better than the inimitable Matt Slack. A tour de force, a one-man, walking-talking-jiving-be-bopping box of tricks, the talented Mr Slack is the real star of the region’s biggest show.

While others take top billing – from Beverley Knight to Jason Donovan, from Alison Hammond to whoever might follow – there’s no doubt that the reason so many of us descend on the Birmingham Hippodrome is to have our funny bone tickled by Mr Slack. Whether he’s singing or dancing, gurning or pretending to throw kids into the orchestra pit, he’s the one with all the best lines and the otherworldly energy to keep the show on the road.

Jack And The Beanstalk is this year’s incarnation and Slack will line up with Alison Hammond, Samantha Womack, Doreen Tipton, Andrew Ryan, and Alexanda O’Reilly. It will run from December 16 to January 28.

Slack can’t wait to get going. “This is my home from home. I always pull it out the bag and deliver the best two hours of entertainment I can give. It’s a new title, Jack and the Beanstalk, and we have our regulars coming back; Andrew Ryan, who plays the dame, and Gill, who plays Doreen Tipton, as the cow.

“It’s lovely to come back and see old friends and invite new friends in and this year we have Samantha Womack and Brum’s very own, the delightful and adorable Alison Hammond. She’s been wanting to do the show for a long, long time. She made me very emotional when I met her, she said what a fan she was and it was very humbling. She’s a joy. We’ve laughed and we’re going to have such a great time. It’s nice to have new people. it’s nice for me to have someone new and someone with no ego. She says ‘I’m all yours and do what you want.’ She’s so thrilled and so happy.”

Slack is the magnesium-bright light who dazzles when the show starts. Writing all the funnies, putting the show together with the remarkable producer, Michael Harrison, he maintains a punishing schedule with more shows than he cares to remember.

“I normally collapse straight after the run and sit in a dark room or lie on a beach for a couple of weeks and really recharge and come round. It’s intense. It’s like being a celebrity for six weeks and working really hard.

“To sustain it is a marathon. So I chill out after, and then other work comes in – I have had a very busy year, with a movie at Pinewood Studios, for Netflix.

“As the year unfolds, I get back in the saddle and start preparing for next year’s show. It’s a lengthy old, painful process. But we’ve got a tried and tested formula. Things get tweaked a bit.

“Alison comes up with ideas, or we build things around the new people. it’s a lot of hard work before we start the rehearsals. The key is the preparation. It’s a massive wave that we have to ride.”

In recent years, Slack’s pedigree as a world class panto talent has led to other offers, including work as a producer. He put together another show in West London, for instance, though has scaled back some of his commitments, lest he burn out. “I put together a panto in Richmond, which is added pressure.

“In one way it gets me in the mood and geared up for mine. But it’s also very stressful and tiring. This year I’m not doing that because I couldn’t make the dates work.”

He’s ever keen to deflect some of the attention onto his co-stars, recognising the contribution they make and ensuring they get plenty of time in the limelight.

“We’re all stars. Some people say it’s the Matt Slack Show, but it’s not. Just because I do funny stuff, it doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of people involved and it’s a huge production. I have such a great foundation of people around me.

“To work alongside Marti Pellow last year, the musicality was great, and to be alongside Alison this year is really exciting.

“Every year evolves around me and my character. This year it’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Last year I was playing Dick Whittington so there was a lot to do. I don’t always want to be on stage. It’s nice to give the audience and myself a break, less is more sometimes, which is what we’re planning this Christmas.”

Slack is genuinely taken about by the attention he receives. He’s perhaps a little uncomfortable with the praise, preferring to keep his feet on the ground, rather than get too swept away. When I met Alison this morning, she said people from this part of the country genuinely love me and what we all do.

“What an incredible feeling to have that much adoration from this part of the country – that’s why I put so much hard work in. I get a bit choked talking about it. it’s my tenth year. I don’t quite understand what it is I do that people like so much.

“I think they know that there’s no ego with me. I’m on a film set then on a panto set in a funny costume – it’s all fine. People want to have a laugh. I want a smile on my face as well.”

The cast are ready to make audiences laugh

Slack is staggered that he’s spent 10 years at the Hippodrome panto. It wasn’t planned.

“It’s been incredible. The last ten years have been life-changing. It’s launched me, from the day that Michael put me into Birmingham and suggested it – I wasn’t sure – I was just in the bottom corner. It was a step back, in a way, but also I could see the longevity of it all and it has been life-changing.

“It’s allowed me to have a celebrity bubble in the West Midlands, which I’m completely happy with. I like my anonymity outside of Birmingham – I like walking down the street and no one knows who I am. I am a normal person, I’m not a fame-seeker, I shy away from it. It’s allowed me to perfect my craft and do what I want to do on stage. It’s allowed me to work with some fantastic, incredibly talented people.”

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