Ugly? Not at all, insists Stephen Howe who plays Ugly Sister Montana in Cinderella at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre, the traditional rags-to-riches fairy tale, from December 2-31.
“She’s lovely! She’s beautiful!”
And what’s more, she’s the very height of fashion, Stephen insists: “She gets all her clothes from Primark”, Stephen confides.
Beware, though, you good citizens of Worthing.
“Montana is looking for a man. She has come to Worthing to find one! And she will find him during the course of the pantomime run.”
Her minimum requirement is that he should be breathing. Beyond that, she would quite like it if he were between the ages of 18 and 90; but if it comes to it, she’s prepared to go older if necessary…
“I think this must be my 16th season as an ugly sister,” Stephen says, “and before that I did all the other roles in panto. And then I graduated to ugly sister. I think it’s really good to have done all the other roles, especially as I started my career in panto working with people who had been in panto for years. They taught me a lot of the tricks. It was learning on the job, and I always knew that every year I would learn more and more and more.”
For instance, you learn that audiences are different in different parts of the country. What might raise a laugh in Leeds might not do so in Worthing. You also learn how to assess an audience - something Stephen reckons takes him 15 seconds to do.
You then adapt your performance accordingly, not by changing the script, but by changes of intonation and approach. For instance, there’s a running gag in which Stephen picks a man out of the audience. You need that sixth sense to make sure you pick someone who will go along with the gag - otherwise the gag just won’t work.
Mind you, that instinct isn’t always spot on. Once Stephen selected from the audience a chap who turned out to be a rather butch-looking woman, and she most definitely wasn’t amused.
“She was quite offended. I just had to say that I was a bit blind in one eye - and move on quickly!”
Box office: 01903 206206 or online www.worthingtheatres.co.uk.