Michael home from home in panto

Michael Neilson
Michael Neilson

NEWLY moved to Horsham and just about to launch a new drama school with his wife Gael Johnson, Michael Neilson kicks off life in his new home town with a stint in panto.

Michael is dame in Jack And The Beanstalk at the Capitol (until January 2; tickets on 01403 750220 or www.thecapitolhorsham.com) - his latest panto adventure.

All in all, Michael has now played roles in nine pantos and Christmas shows around the country.

Two Christmases ago he was at the Mayflower Theatre Southampton playing Mrs Fridge in Santa Claus And The Return Of Jack Frost. Last Christmas he played the role of Squire Squander in Mother Goose at the Gatehouse Theatre Stafford.

This Christmas, he’s the dame, a role he loves - and one he was lucky to learn from one of the best in the business.

“I was very lucky. I started my career as an actor very early. I went to drama school on my 18th birthday at Guildford School of Acting.

“I grew up in Guildford, and at the Guildford School of Acting, we had a teacher called Maggie Scott whose husband happened to be Terry Scott.

“When I left drama school, I ended up working with Terry. His dame was perfect.”

Michael puts him up there with the all-time great dames, people like Les Dawson, Roy Barraclough and Billy Dainty.

Key to it is making it perfectly clear that it is a man playing a woman. After all, you don’t want to confuse the children: “And the way that I play dame is very much in that ilk. I suppose I play it as a traditional dame.

“I took a long, long break from panto between 2000 and 2007.

“I was mainly playing Dean Martin in the Rat Park, and I was pretty busy during that period, so it was a long break.

“Earlier in my career, I was doing panto every single year.”

But now he is back: “I am 49. I have got to that age where a lot of actors drop out at this stage in their career. You have got a wife and kids, and it’s a very precarious profession.

“The attrition rate is quite high for actors in their mid to late-40s.”

But so far so good for Michael, particularly with the move to Horsham where he and his wife will be setting up their own drama school in the New Year, the JohnsonNeilson Theatre Group promising drama classes for everyone, children and adults in groups or individually.

More details on http://www.jntheatregroup.moonfruit.com