After an enforced Covid break the legendary Greenwich Theatre Panto is back with the grandest of Grand Dames Andrew Pollard once again writing, directing and donning the frocks, with Anthony Spargo returning to frighten the children in a way that only he can, writes Michael Holland.
Mr Spargo was excited about getting back into the theatre: ‘I’m massively glad to be back; it was very odd having last Christmas off after doing the Greenwich Panto every year for ten years. Being at home and not on stage was a weird feeling.’ Anthony spoke of how he, Andrew and the Musical Director Steve Markwick would call and text regularly and help each other through the difficult times in Lockdown.
But this year will be different because the regulars are back, as is the joy. This Christmas the Panto is The Queen of Hearts and Anthony reveals that he will be The King of Clubs, who runs a night club: ‘We’re coming to the end of our rehearsals now and it’s been a lot of fun… We’ve had our costume fittings – Andrew has about ten, while I have a massive chef’s hat for our tart-baking scene.’
How did you first become the Panto Villain? ‘Years ago I was performing at Greenwich with Les Enfants Terribles, a theatre company I write for, and just by chance James Haddrell, the Artistic Director at the theatre, saw me and asked me to audition for the Panto villain. And that was ten years ago.
I wanted to know what it is about being a baddie that Anthony enjoys and he had a lot to say about that: ‘I love playing the villain because you can have fun by getting away with murder… You don’t have to stick to the rules, you can play with the audience, ad lib with the actors on stage with little jokes to try to put them off… Yes, you need your Principal Boy and your Princess but, to me, playing the villain there is so much more fun to be had.’ I’m sure I heard evil stirring up trouble in his head.
The actor also revealed that he likes to break away from the stereotypical ‘maniacal cackle’ baddie and ‘put a bit of madness in there too… I’ve always been a massive fan of Rik Mayall and his energy, his spark that he had; that little twinkle in his eye when he goes mad, and that’s what I like doing.’
He told of the song ‘I Wanna Be Your Slave’ that he will be singing this year, and called it ‘a proper baddie song’. There will also be a Disco medley and some Beatles included, so that’s another thing to look forward to.
Now, with rehearsals ending and costumes fitted, Anthony is looking forward to getting on to the Greenwich stage to work out the technical stuff, and try the gags and use the props and watch it all come together before the first night.
I asked why people come back year after year: ‘They know what to expect with Andrew and I; Panto is joyful and silly and takes everyone out of their normal daily lives with a couple of hours of pure entertainment and fun. And that’s why we love it, too, and why we keep coming back.’
And that is why I keep going back.
Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8ES from Friday 19th November 2021 – Sunday 2nd January 2022. Times: Varied. See website for details. Admission: £32, £16.50 Children.