What does it take to be a… pantomime actor? by Matthew Kelly

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Alongside Hayley Mills and his son, Matthew Rixon, Matthew Kelly is appearing in Cinderella at Richmond Theatre, as one half of the ugly sisters. It could only be pantomime time!

  • How did you first get involved in pantomime, and what is it you enjoy about it?

I love the colour and spectacle of it. I saw my first panto at the age of six, at my dad’s works do at The Ardwick Empire, Manchester. It was the most magical thing and I’ve never forgotten it. I wanted to know what happened outside the frame of the picture and even now while I love the magic on the stage, I enjoy knowing how it’s done as much as the spectacle itself.

I performed in my first pantomime at my local church when I was seven, and I played the role of Happy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This year is my 36th in panto and now my son, Matt, is appearing with me.

 

  • Why do you think pantomime is such a perennial favourite with UK audiences?

It’s a great time of the year and panto is a fantastic art form. I love the theatre so much ­– it’s my passion, my hobby and profession. Very often pantomime is a child’s first experience of theatre, so it’s got to be memorable. There are key ingredients that have to be part of a pantomime ­– there has to be spectacle, the struggle between good and evil, fabulous costumes and a happy ending. It has to appeal equally to parents and children so there has to be something for everyone.

Pantomime has developed as a cultural institution and you get the chance to watch famous people in parts you’d never ordinarily get to see them in. There’s the opportunity for political and local jokes, and it plays very much to the British sense of humour.

 

 

  • You and your son are playing the ugly sisters in Cinderella. What do you enjoy about the part?

The sisters are baddies, a double act that are just vile to Cinderella and that everyone loves to hate. They insult each other and are really stupid but they have to be grotesque and absurd too.

My son and I play them as twins and when we’re in costume you can’t tell the difference between us. We laugh a lot and share a dressing room, and we have a lot of fun together. Being in panto is a wise ruse, as we only get Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off, so on those days everyone feels sorry for us and we get let off doing anything as everyone feels sorry for us!

 

  • What’s your favourite panto?

Cinderella is definitely my favourite, and the effects in this production are thrilling, with a live orchestra and real ponies on stage. When Cinderella is going to the ball and her frock turns from rags to a beautiful dress it happens in a single twirl. It’s magic and very beautiful.

The best part in a panto is Mother Goose, which I played at the Hippodrome about 20 years ago. I had 19 costume changes, so with two performances I was changing my clothes 40 times a day!

 

 

To book tickets to see Cinderella at Richmond Theatre, visit atgtickets.com

 

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