Silly Billy, Danny Beard and Jasette Amos return for Sevenoaks 10th anniversary panto
SEVENOAKS’ best loved panto performers, Ant ‘Silly Billy’ Payne, Britain’s Got Talent star Danny Beard, and the Stag’s favourite baddie, Jasette Amos, are all starring in Dick Whittington at the theatre this festive season (30 November – 6 January).
The pantomime can also boast a first – it is the only one in the country to feature a live Gospel Choir (see more details below). Plus, the stage sets are going digital for the first time.
Ant Payne, who played the hilarious Silly Billy for five years in Sevenoaks, is returning to play the comic in this year’s family panto, Dick Whittington – a role he first played in the same panto at the Stag in 2009.
Danny Beard, who wowed Sevenoaks’ audiences as the Magical Mirror in the record-breaking Snow White at the Stag last Christmas, will return to play the equally fabulous Spirit of London.
Playing the evil Queen Rat will be Jasette Amos. Jasette is one of the Stag’s favourite panto stars, having been booed as the baddie and cheered as the fairy in five previous pantos.
Also joining the cast will be previous Panto Factor winner and Stag regular Lucy Reed. Lucy won the role of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin at the Stag, her first professional break, back in 2012. Lucy was last seen in Sevenoaks playing the title role in Cinderella (2014-15) and will be playing Alice Fitzwarren in Dick Whittington this Christmas.
The 2018 Panto Factor sought out a new panto star, and found Dominic Harbison, who plays the title role.
The Sevenoaks pantomime at the Stag now attracts an audience of more than 20,000 every year. Tickets (from £15) are already selling fast for this family treat which runs from 30 November – 6 January, so to make sure you get yours by:
Call: 01732 450175
Or visit The Stag Box Office at the theatre in London Road, Sevenoaks
Jamie’s dream of having a gospel choir as part of his panto becomes a reality
ANOTHER person celebrating being involved in Sevenoaks pantomimes for the last 10 years in Jamie Wilson who, with his business partner Simon Cossons, has been producing the annual family show since 2009.
Jamie said: “Dick Whittington is the 10th pantomime we have staged since the Stag reopened and coincidentally it was also the first panto we put on. We haven’t repeated one since we started and have gone through nine different titles before returning to Dick Whittington. As this is our 10th anniversary it felt like the right thing to do.”
Jamie, who is originally from London, landed a job at The Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone after he left school at 16. He said: “I started as a stage hand, sweeping the stage and moving sets around. It was later while working as an ASM (assistant stage manager) that one of the cast members fell ill, so I filled in for a couple of days. Luckily the producer liked me and the next year gave me an acting job.
“I started performing when I was 19 and as a result have had all kinds of roles. I have been an actor, a singer, a teacher, a director, but I have always been involved in pantomime every Christmas season since I was 16.
“When Simon, who now also runs the Stag Youth Theatre, and I went into business together as commercial producers we did village hall and school tours, but we were always on the lookout for a bigger and more permanent venue.”
It was while Jamie was doing a bit of research online that he came across an opportunity being offered by Sevenoaks Town Clerk, Linda Larter, who had just arrived in the town and was keen on reopening the Stag Theatre which had been closed for a while.
Jamie said: “I sent Linda a message saying that we would really like to do a pantomime there. A couple of other producers were also interested but luckily we were chosen.
“In 2010, our second year of putting on the pantomime, it was a really snowy year. I struggled getting from my home in Maidstone to Sevenoaks in the snow and so vowed I would never go through another Christmas like that. Therefore, I moved to the Sevenoaks area in 2011.”
Jamie is also a river cruise director working on ships around Europe but work on the Dick Whittington show started last November as it takes about 14 months to put the shows together.
He said: “There is always a mixture of professionals from all over the country and local performers in our shows. The tradition of having local dancers in pantomimes goes back hundreds of years. Sometimes producers pick a local dance school to work with, but every year we hold open auditions. This year we must have seen about 300 dancers aged from 6 years old up to professional dancers in their 20s.
“What is lovely about this is that some of our current paid professionals we have dancing with us are people who started off as juvenile dancers with us 10 years ago.
“Plus, as far as I know, no other pantomime company in the country has ever had a gospel choir before, but it is something I have always wanted to do. Employing six world class singers is quite costly but, as this is out 10th anniversary year, we decided the investment was worth it. The choir members we have lined up regularly work with stars all over the world such as Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake and Elton John. But they have all taken Christmas off to come and perform in our Panto in Sevenoaks.”
In previous years, members of the pantomime cast have joined in the switching on of the town’s Christmas lights, but this year’s date of Friday 30 November clashes with the first performance of the show.
Jamie explained: “When we first came to the area, the switching on of the Christmas lights was quite a small affair but Linda Larter had ambitions for it to be a much bigger town event. When we started at the Stag, we had an audience base of nothing. Therefore, we had to find ways to build our audience and the lights provided one of the opportunities.
“In our first year we sold 8,000 tickets. Last year we sold 22,000. Our ticket prices are fairly low compared with the theatres in Bromley, Dartford and Tunbridge Wells, but we still like to reduce our price even further for a few select shows such as the opening show and the first couple of performances when many people like to come along.
“Also, when we started the Pantomime it ran for three weeks, but it has become so popular that it now runs for five weeks and a quirk of the calendar means the dates clash with the switching on of the lights this year. So sadly, the cast won’t be there.”
So, as the annual pantomime takes over a year to plan, have Jamie and Simon decided what next year’s show is going to be?
Jamie said: “We’d really like to stay at the Stag, but every few years or so, there is an opportunity for other producers to have a look at putting a panto on at the theatre. This means we can’t actually say what show we would put on yet, but we have a plan in place if we are invited back. I have made Sevenoaks my home and the Stag theatre feels like a second home to me. We have been here 10 years now and would really like to come back for at least another five years.”