The cast of this year’s Horsham pantomime brought a little early festive magic to The Capitol on Monday, October 8.
Natasha Hoeberigs, Nicola Hume, Hywel Dowsell, James Fletcher, Nicole Faraday, James Dinsmore and Ben Ofoedu were all at the venue for the press launch of the spellbinding show Sleeping Beauty.
The family production, which also stars Same Difference musician and solo artist Sean Smith as Prince Rupert, will be at the theatre from December 14 to January 6.
Nicola Hume (playing Fairy Good Heart) who lives in Horsham and is the female voice of Heart Breakfast, says she’s a big fan of the Capitol panto and watches it every year.
“What I like mostly is the fact that they’re original,” says Nicola, explaining that she admires the way producer (and Capitol general manager) Nick Mowat writes, directs and puts together a unique production each time.
“I love that,” she continues. “And I love how creative he can get.”
So how did Nicola get involved with this year’s extravaganza?
“I emailed Nick,” Nicola laughs. “I’d had a major operation on my knee so that put me out for a couple of years but then it got to a point where I went ‘well, I’m kind of free this year’. So I literally just dropped Nick an email.”
It sounds fun and informal but Nicola knows what she’s doing when it comes to pantomime. A few years ago she enjoyed a green Christmas playing the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz in Sutton.
“The only challenging bit I think might be squeezing the radio show around this,” she laughs.
James Fletcher is happy to be a part of the show too, returning this year as Lester the Jester after his hit appearance last year as Simple Simon.
Best known for his role as the troubled Dylan Jenkins in Hollyoaks, he had great fun last year playing an optimistic clown.
“I thought it was fantastic,” says James. “The theatre itself is beautiful and the audiences are amazing.”
“Playing the comic, the back and forth with you and the audience is a huge part of playing the character,” he continues. “The audience are your scene partner for most of the play, so to have such a warm reaction from them was such a gift.”
A big fan of the ‘slosh scenes’, James is also looking forward to unleashing some good-natured havoc this year.
“I haven’t yet seen the full script but I’m sure it will be absolute mayhem with lots of audience participation,” he adds. “A custard pie in the face wouldn’t go amiss as well.”
Audiences will also recognise Hywel Dowsell, who’s returning as the Dame this year, this time in the form of Nora the Nurse.
“It was my first time in Horsham last year and I’m thrilled to be back again,” says Hywel. “The audiences are absolutely wonderful, so lovely, so receptive, and I can’t wait to don the dress again and give them a good time.”
At 26, Hywel’s a surprisingly young dame but his brand of brightly coloured buffoonery went down a treat in Jack and the Beanstalk.
“My first Dame was a few years ago now and, obviously, I was even younger so it was quite a task I thought I had to take on,” he explains. “But it’s so much fun being a dame. I absolutely love it.”
“Obviously the way I play it is very mumsy and I do try to age up,” he laughs. “Hopefully with my fantastic acting you won’t be able to tell.”
James Dinsmore, another Horsham favourite, is back too playing Sleeping Beauty’s dad King Joe.
But Capitol panto enthusiasts may notice that he’s not playing the villain for once.
“Hopefully the audience won’t boo me this year as I’m meant to be a goodie,” he says. “If they boo me it means they don’t like my acting.”
“It’s been great fun being a baddie,” admits James, who played Abanazar in Aladdin (2016) and Captain Hook in Peter Pan (2013). “But it’s also nice to just have a bit of a joke with the audience as well.”
Ben Ofoedu is going in the opposite direction with his character this year. He was the kind yet mischievous genie in Aladdin but is now preparing himself to play the villain’s sidekick.
“I think that the hapless henchman Herman will be one of my most challenging roles to date,” Ben says. “I’ve never really played the bad guy before, but hopefully it’s a bad guy with a bit of a twist.”
“Layers, I like layers,” he laughs. “So let’s hope that he’s bad on top but good underneath.”
Ben is well known for his hits with dance music stars Phats & Small and has starred in a variety of TV programmes with his other half Vanessa Feltz.
“Vanessa Feltz always comes along to support me in panto and, the truth is, it’s just an excuse,” he continues, explaining that Vanessa is a huge panto fan and a real traditionalist when it comes to joining in with the routines.
Playing a baddie may be different for Ben, but it’s familiar territory for Nicole Faraday who will be the Wicked Fairy Carabosse this year.
She played Dr Heather Lincoln in BBC’s Casualty and Veronica in ITV’s Emmerdale but perhaps her most memorable role is that of Snowball Merriman in ITV’s Bad Girls. On top of that notorious character, Nicole has played the Wicked Queen in Snow White eight times.
“It’s so much fun,” she says, when she’s asked what it’s like to be the panto villain. “You can really play with it, because obviously it’s aimed at children. Even though you’re evil, you’re kind of ‘funny evil’ and I enjoy the comedy that you can find within being evil, like stamping your feet and growling at the audience. And I love the audience interaction as well. I don’t think you’ve done a good job unless you get booed and heckled.”
So how does playing a panto villain compare with playing one in Bad Girls?
“It is pretty much completely different,” she says. “With television and film everything has to be a lot smaller. In fact I was constantly being told ‘do less with you face, do less with you face’ because I think I’m naturally quite expressive.”
“I don’t like being reigned in,” Nicole laughs. “It’s much more fun being over the top.”
A flamboyant villain is essential for pantomime but, of course, no production of Sleeping Beauty would be complete without...Sleeping Beauty.
Or Princess Aurora to be specific.
This year she’s played by New Zealand born Natasha Hoeberigs.
Natasha has performed on cruise ships and in many theatres internationally, and she’s reached the semi-finals of Australia’s Got Talent and the battle rounds of The Voice Australia.
But now, living in London, she’s looking forward to a Christmas role in Sussex, away from the bustle of the big city.
“Leaving the house, going away to part of rural England, and then coming back home at the end of the day, it’s almost like I’m going away to a little fairytale land,” Natasha jokes.
“I just love seeing the children and their reactions,” she continues, explaining that she never experienced panto while growing up in Australia and New Zealand.
“We don’t have pantomime there,” she says. “I only did my first pantomime last year and I’d never seen one prior to that so it was fascinating and I just fell in love with it.”
And Natasha has fully embraced the panto spirit.
“Just being immersed with children and families and having that fourth wall broken, it’s a real immersive experience,” she states.
“It’s so inclusive and so fun.”
Tickets for Sleeping Beauty cost £23.50 (concessions £21.50). Family of four £80, group rate (10+) £18, Capitol Friends £20.50/£18.50). Call 01403 750220 or visit www.thecapitolhorsham.com.
Watch the video interviews with this year’s performers here.
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