Actor, screenwriter, playwright and librettist Kit Hesketh-Harvey treads the boards at Guildford every year and always manages to be delightfully rude about Woking.
Lucy du Cann - 4th December 2019
Kit, how many pantos have you done in the last 20 years?
I think this is my eighth? Or ninth? (During the run itself, panto runs on parallel continua and never once intersects with reality.) I do know that I met my wife Kate Rabett in panto, at Brighton, ooh, 34 years ago. Biggins introduced us. No, really he did.
Do you enjoy it – or is it the money?
I fall easily into ruts. This year marked my fortieth consecutive Edinburgh Festival, a fact which deserves pity more than congratulation.
Why Guildford? It’s a long way from Norfolk.
Ah, but that’s precisely why. It means that I can escape the living torture of the run-up to Christmas completely. Swan into Norfolk in time for Midnight Mass, dash back down the A3 after the Queen. Not a finger lifted, as I lie exhausted on my palanquin, being drip-fed brandy butter by junior relations. Not one dishcloth, and what is more, I pay my daughter to act as personal shopper for the presents, so that I need not endure WH Smith (WHY is that shop so catastrophically awful?)
Truth is, my mother was raised in Guildford. I’m related to most of the audience. (In Norfolk, of course, the audience is related to itself.)
You always play the villain. Does the booing get you down?
Hell, no. Villain gets to come on first. You are giving young children their first, visceral experience of live theatre. The booing means you’re doing your job: terrorising the bejaisus out of them. (My pleasing record stands at nine children physically carried out howling, within 45 seconds. Result.)
King Rat - it wasn't only the children who were frightened
One of the best moments is when you pick a member of the audience and tease them. Has that ever gone wrong?
I’ve had narrow misses, for sure. Trying to drag the distinguished, but disabled, war veteran up on stage, or cuing the visitor from Liechtenstein to sing Baby Shark. But my cabaret training has taught me, if nothing else, hair-trigger last-minute swerves. And let’s face it, audiences love it when it goes wrong ...
Panto has well-established comedy conventions. Does that make it easy?
It gives you a few moments on automatic pilot, maybe, to be thinking up, on the hoof, some killer subversion of the script from a left-of-audience’s-field. It is those gags, just for that night and that house, which are most appreciated.
Why is there always one member of the chorus so utterly prone to overacting?
How dare you! I am NOT in the chorus.
A toe-curlingly smarmy Dandini
When you’re not on stage during a performance, what are you doing?
Bizarrely, I’ll be in my dressing room with palette and easel, executing a yet-more-dreadful-than-the-last daub. Panto so kyboshes your brain during the run, that that is about all I can manage.
Last year we took some Californian friends to Guildford panto and they loved it. At least they said they did. Do you think it would work on Broadway?
Oh you sweetheart, and you believed them? Americans have absolutely no sense of irony whatever, and in panto, irony fuels every syllable, every spangle, every semiquaver. However, Americans are also unfailingly polite, and Californians have manners as perfect as their teeth.
If Barbara Broccoli offered you £5m to play the baddie in the next Bond film, but filming clashed with Guildford panto, you’d turn her down right?
No. I’d bribe the scriptwriter to set, and shoot concurrently, My Evil Lair in Dressing Room Two. (It pretty much is, anyway.) C’mon, five million? Not to be sniffed at. That’s as much as two whole days in the Millbrook car park ...
Which part are you playing in Sleeping Beauty, this year's panto?
Here's a picture of me in the title role.
Stalking the Yvonne Arnaud from 6th December ....
Thank you, Kit, you complete legend!
Kit Hesketh-Harvey is appearing in Sleeping Beauty at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from 6th December to 5th January 2020. Tickets cost from £23 and can be bought online or by ringing 01483 440000 (Box office open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm)