Even though the sun was shining, visitors to Crawley’s Hawth Theatre on Friday, September 12, could have been forgiven for thinking that Christmas is just around the corner.
An array of colourful characters, including a court jester, a good fairy and a wicked queen, were spotted having their photos taken for the venue’s 2014 pantomime.
Sleeping Beauty is on at The Hawth from Friday, December 12, to Sunday, January 4, and the stars are already looking forward to it.
CBeebies presenter Cat Sandion, who plays the show’s fairy, said: “Panto is amazing because it’s family time, it’s Christmas time and it’s just excitement.”
“I love it because you have all different ages coming to watch,” she continued. “Any age can just go and have some fun and a laugh. It’s just the best time of year.”
Stephen Mulhern, who returns to The Hawth after his hit performance in last year’s Cinderella, said: “Last year was the first year I’d actually been to Crawley. Not that didn’t know it existed because that’s nonsense, but I’d never been out here. I’d never even driven through Crawley. So when I arrived I was like ‘this is actually a really nice place, the shopping’s brilliant and the theatre is amazing’. So when they asked me whether I would come back, it was like I didn’t even think about it.”
Stephen, a familiar face from Catchphrase and Britain’s Got More Talent, is certain this Evolution Pantomime production will be a success.
He said: “When they told me it was going to be Sleeping Beauty I went to watch the show – it was in Sheffield at the time. Then they sent me a DVD of it when it was in Canterbury, so I managed to see it performed a couple of times.
“It’s amazing. If you enjoyed Cinderella last year, you will love this show. It’s got magic, it’s got comedy, it’s got illusion and the special effects are just phenomenal.”
Crawley-born performer Lauren Cocoracchio is understandably excited to be part of this year’s show too. Lauren, who trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Performing Arts in London, beat more than 30 performers to the title role.
“I was completely thrilled and overwhelmed,” she said. “I was so excited to hear that I got it, because, when I came to the audition, there were quite a few girls – big competition – and they got us all to sing in front of each other so I got to see how talented all the other girls were.”
Lauren, who now lives in Horsham, had her first stage experiences with local theatre groups, Stages and Act Too, at The Hawth.
“I haven’t performed here since I was about 15, so it’s really nice to come back,” she added.
Sleeping Beauty’s performers boast a wealth of combined experience.
Impressionist Hilary O’Neil, who plays the Wicked Queen, entertains all over the world and had starred in shows alongside Brian Conley and Joe Pasquale, as well as dozens of pantomimes.
By Hilary’s count Sleeping Beauty will be panto number 32, but it will only be her second time playing a villain.
“Funnily enough, the first time I was asked to do a baddie was here at The Hawth,” she said. “But yeah, 32, I’m a real veteran. I’m sort of Nana Panto really.”
Even after years of experience Hilary still gets a buzz from performing in this Christmas tradition.
“It’s just the unbelievable family feedback,” she explained. “Panto’s more sophisticated than it used to be. There’s a lot of time and effort gone into the script, particularly this one. This year is a really good script, which is important because pantos can get thrown on and they just think that putting on a bit of silly blue eye shadow and putting a dress on is all you need. You don’t, you need a heart to the show.”
Michael Batchelor, who stars as Nurse Nellie and is one of Britain’s premier pantomime dames, shares this belief.
“I love the fact that panto’s the first introduction for children to theatre,” he said. “It’s very important it’s done well and done properly because your future theatre audience are coming in to watch this.”
After speaking to the stars, it certainly sounds like this year’s Hawth panto will be a memorable one. The performers promise magic, family fun and even a slapstick scene involving two tons of water.
“It appeals to everybody,” Michael added, summing the whole thing up. “So if you miss it, you miss out.”
For tickets, call 01293 553636 or click here