A big part of the attraction for Bev Berridge is he knows in advance he will have a great audience for pantomime in Bognor Regis this Christmas.
As he says, there are some venues where you can shout out “How are you doing?” and be met with virtual silence; venues where the audience will effectively sit back, fold its arms and say “Right, I’ve paid my £12! Come on! Entertain me!”
Not so Bognor where Bev is directing Peter Pan at the Regis Centre – one of three he is bringing to the stage this year.
“You have just got to keep a balance between them!” Bev laughs. “But they are timed quite well.
“The first of the three opens in Motherwell in November, which is one of the first, and then after that I have got Epsom Playhouse which is pretty much in parallel with Bognor.”
Inevitably, the same considerations apply.
“A panto is a panto is a panto, but the stories are different. They have always got the same characters, the villain, the hero, the heroine, and that’s really the great appeal, why you get audiences from your 126-year-old grandma right down to the three and four-year-olds.”
But expectations do change, Bev concedes. You can’t just shove a comic on there.
“You have got to embrace the new technology. You have got to have a bit of technological wizardry in there somewhere! Times have changed, but really I think you have always got to start with the tradition and then keep it fresh. You are dealing with a unique art form, something which doesn’t just happen. You have to inherit it.
“I have done lots and lots of pantos over my 30 years in the business. You learn the craft, but you have to realise it is an art form that has to evolve.
“But really underneath, you have got to know it is a bit like McDonalds. You go into a McDonalds anywhere in the world and ask for a Big Mac and you know what you are going to be getting. It’s a bit like that with panto. But at the same time you have got to keep it fresh.”
And for Bev that means writing it very much with the actors in mind, adapting it all to their strengths and weaknesses to get the best possible out of your cast.
“You have got to respect J M Barrie and the way he wrote it. You have got to have that integrity.
“You can’t just go ‘This is Peter Pan!’ and start throwing custard pies at everyone. You can’t do that, and we wouldn’t do that.
“But you have also got to enlighten it for the times and make sure you bring it into the modern world. It’s quite a heavy dark serious story when you think about it, and we do use some of the original language from the J M Barrie story, but we have taken that and we have added the panto elements to make sure it is all bright and fun.”
And the hope is that the venue will do the rest: “The venue is massively important. You have got to take it on board.
“We have been doing panto in Bognor for six or seven or maybe eight years now, and we have got to know the venue.
“We have discovered what works, what doesn’t work. We know we can do a panto that is right for the venue we have got, and this is a really good panto venue.”
Peter Pan is at Bognor’s Regis Centre from December 16-January 3. Tickets on 01243 861010.
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