"It's hard work being charming all the time," Nigel Havers on Nottingham's Theatre Royal panto
It's panto season in Nottingham again – oh yes, it is. JENNIFER SCOTT checks out the biggest events, from the star-laden Theatre Royal fest, where Nigel Havers wreaks misery in Jack and the Beanstalk, to the off-the-cuff mayhem of Kenneth Alan Taylor's latest creation at Nottingham Playhouse.
THE cast of this year's pantomime at the Theatre Royal are still getting to grips with its storyline. "I know it's got a beanstalk in it. And some bloke named Jack," says Nigel Havers. Well, that's a start.
The theatre is promising this Jack and the Beanstalk is so spectacular it is almost unrecognisable. State-of-the-art props include a growing beanstalk and an animatronic giant – the "biggest in panto land", the theatre claims.
The starry cast matches up to the technical wizardry.
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Dastardly charmer Nigel was BAFTA-award nominated for Chariots of Fire and is the son of Lord Michael Havers – who prosecuted the Yorkshire Ripper, defended two Rolling Stones on drug charges and did a stint as Lord Chancellor.
Nigel will play the villain of the piece, Fleshcreep, concocting a horrible fate for Jack from beneath his floppy fringe. He has been to Nottingham several times over the past few years.
"One thing I hope to crack is the one-way system," he says. We won't recommend he break a leg trying to succeed at that one.
How does he feel about playing a panto fiend?
"Cads are easier to play. It's hard work being charming all the time," he smiles. He sounds like he's getting into the swing of it.
"I have a way of dealing with little children – I hang them upside down and shake them. That usually fixes them."
In all seriousness, he would rather not leave young audience members permanently traumatised. "It's great to have children who come for the first time," he enthuses. "If you give them a really great show, you kick start a new generation of theatre-goers.
"Nottingham is a very theatre-orientated city."
Will this year's panto rise to the dizzy heights of last year's record-breaker, which showcased TV star Brian Conley? "I hope so. Otherwise I shall have to have words with Brian," jests Nigel.
Nigel has managed to squeeze Jack and the Beanstalk in between high-profile stints in Coronation Street and US drama Brothers and Sisters. Despite his transatlantic work, he continues to live in London.
"I'm never going to get a Hollywood pad. It's the kiss of death. You never work again," he says.
Andrew Ryan will play the panto's Dame Trot, Jack's ravenously man-hunting mother. Panto regular Andrew spent 20 years in comic lead roles, such as Wishy Washy (Aladdin) and Idle Jack (Dick Whittington), before ending up a Dame.
He designs his own elaborate costumes and has 30 outfits in this outing alone, including an elegant Christmas pudding number.
As he points out: "A panto dame is not just for Christmas."
Emmerdale actress Jenna-Louise Coleman, 23, will be equally pink and frothy as the beautiful Princess Apricot.
"I can't complain, having seen what Andrew's wearing," she says of her lacy, off-the-shoulder gown and gold crown.
"I feel very frilly but it's nice to play dress up."
Best known as the vicar's troublesome niece Jasmine in the ITV soap, this is Jenna-Louise's first grown-up panto. "I was one of the tiny tots when I was about three," she explains. After that early debut, her career blossomed.
She was auditioning for drama school when the role of Jasmine came along.
"I was 19, playing a 15-year-old. I wore baggy clothes and had my hair scraped back to make me look younger."
In typical Emmerdale fashion, Jasmine got into pickles involving affairs with older men, lesbian love flings and, eventually, the murder of her copper boyfriend.
"It was quite interesting. You had a character who cared about doing the right thing and storylines about doing the wrong thing," says Jenna-Louise. "She was always trying to be a goody two-shoes and ended up such a hypocrite! I just loved it."
She finished Emmerdale in February and is now playing a harder, more tortured lass in BBC drama Waterloo Road.
What made her want to squeeze panto into her schedule?
"I really love theatre and, after four years of TV, I thought it would be a great way to spend Christmas," she says.
She is dating Karl Davies (formerly Emmerdale's Robert Sugden), who has just finished filming Midsomer Murders.
Will he be coming to watch her? "I don't know," she muses.
She's also in the dark as to whether she'll see Emmerdale's "Nottingham set" – such as Lucy Pargeter and James Hooton.
"There's a little crowd of Nottingham actors in Emmerdale. I don't know if they're coming but I'd love to see them," she says.
Finally, playing hero Jack is ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, a hit at last year's Birmingham panto who is shortly appearing on the Royal Variety Show. Paul, 37, is the last of a dying breed – the family entertainer – and comes with a clutch of hand-held helpers, including Sam and Churchill the dog (see panel).
"The audience become my gang and help me conquer evil," he explains. "I also turn somebody from the audience into a human puppet."
He worked with Nigel two years ago at Richmond and has appeared in panto with Dallas legend Patrick Duffy.
Michael Harrison, the panto's executive producer, said: "It doesn't seem five minutes since we were bringing down the curtain on our show with Brian Conley. Every year, we strive to give you the biggest and the best panto in the country."