features gig 



Stars of Aladdin, Ben Thornton, Cat Sandion, Sam Rabone and Loula Geater

Look out behind you


Lichfield Garrick

Aladdin will be polishing his lamp ready for the panto season at Lichfield Garrick with a strong cast which includes CBeebies’ Cat Sandion as Princess Jasmine .

Cat, one of the leading presenters on the Bafta award winning channel, is best known for her singing and dancing, and will be familiar to many pre-school children and their parents with her new hit show Magic Door!

The Garrick also welcomes back Sutton Coldfield’s Sam Rabone as Dame Widow Twankey, and Ben Thornton as Wishee Washee after their stand-out performances in last year’s sell out Sleeping Beauty .

The production also features rising Lichfield star Lizzie Wofford as The Spirit of the Ring, Adrian Bevan as Aladdin, Ian Billings as The Emperor of China, James Mitchell as PC Pongo and Robin Johnson as Abanazar and another local actress Loula Geater.

This is the second year the Garrick has teamed up with Evolution Productions to co-produce the show. The company is led by television presenter Paul Hendy and his partner Emily Wood who produce shows throughout the UK.

I know Sam Rabone from having performed with him many years ago in amateur pantomime when I was rubbish, and he was good.

I am still rubbish, but he has become outstanding! Sam took time out to chat with Behind the Arras to talk to us about his forthcoming residency at the Garrick.

Sam, you are a local lad who has performed all over the country. Where have you been performing, and how does it feel to “come home?”

This year has taken me not just all over the country, but a few places in the world. I’ve managed to take shows out to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sweden, which has been a right treat for me this year. Usually I perform in holiday parks all over the U.K. so this year has been a little different, but a great experience. And with all that travelling it makes coming back home even better!

As a veteran of many pantomimes, how strongly do you rate Aladdin as a show?

Aladdin is one of my favourite titles, I think Dick Whittington is my favourite, but Aladdin is up there. I love Aladdin because we get to “travel” starting in Egypt, and heading over to China, and then out into the country and the mountains. The transformation in the cave is up there with the Cinderella and Mother Goose transformation for me, the rags to riches, but also a whole cave transforming to a cave of jewels.


Sam showing a wide range of . . . shoulders

The children get to see people fly on magic carpets, they get the magic of not one, but two magical characters. So for me, Aladdin is a great pantomime!

You specialise in playing pantomime dames, how did that come about?

I think Gary has a bit of inside information here. I never really planned to be on the stage, I joined the Vesey Players to help out back stage. After being in the stage management team, I was asked if I could go on stage the following year, I wasn’t keen but they said they didn’t have enough men, so, I asked to do a smaller part and appeared in Aladdin as one of Abanazar’s henchmen. After that I auditioned and ended up playing dame for the Vesey Players, the rest, as they say, is history. 

The pantomime dame is a complex role, difficult to pull off. How do you see the role, and what do you try to bring to the part?

For me, the dame is a bloke in a dress, everyone knows this, and that’s the joke. Drag is a completely different art form and one that I would struggle with, as my dame, is me, a short, portly bloke in a dress. The dame I think, when played best is an extension of yourself, mine has characteristics of my grandma, my mom and some Julie Walters in there somewhere, as how can’t Mrs O feature in a brummie dame!

What do you like about the part of Widow Twankey specifically, and how important is the dynamic with Ben Thornton as Wishee Washee?

Really Twankey for me is everything a dame should be, a mother, down on her luck, still working to make a living, single and on the prowl (watch out!) but of course she gets rags to riches too. I think the Dame and Comic dynamic is so important, I think it shows in a show when they don’t get on. Ben and I got on instantly, we had a similar sense of humour, and a very similar work ethic.  

Some comedy duo’s try to out do each other and get the last laugh and top the other ones, the best out there get a laugh, and don’t mind who’s achieved it. We just want the audience to love the show. So for me, the comic and dame dynamic is one of the most important in the show, we need to get on, and understand each other and each other’s tempo. Hopefully that comes across.

You have performed at the Lichfield Garrick many times before, what is your impression of the venue as a performer?

One of the friendliest theatres to work at in the country, we have been welcomed with open arms every time. The team want us to be happy, knowing if we are happy we’re going to be doing our jobs even better. The venue itself I love performing in. I can see every row, and I try and have a look round to see as many faces as I can, that myth that we can’t see you…… LIES! I can see all your faces.

How closely is the show scripted, do you have any flexibility to ad lib? Is every show the same?

Evolution write a fairly tight script, tighter than a lot of other companies I have worked for. BUT he does this knowing it works, and knowing what's funny. We have a bit of flexibility in rehearsals if a joke isn’t working for us, or if something more topical comes along. HOWEVER no show is the same as the audience is also a member of the cast, they influence the show more than they realise.

A pantomime run of shows is exhausting- what do you do to relax between performances?

Head to the bar! Mines a G&T. I enjoy reading, and baking and find this helps me relax, but also going to see other pantomimes, I love going to see what other people are doing and how their shows are going. A busman’s holiday if you will.

 Are there any parts in pantomime that you have not played yet which you would like to?

Smee! I would love to play Smee in Peter Pan one year. But the dresses keep coming back!!

Pantomime always sells well. What is the secret of its enduring success?

Moving with the times, yet keeping with tradition, and being one of the true fully British things we have left. This genre works very rarely anywhere else in the world. Choosing strong casts who know pantomime, getting better scenery and costumes year on year, and creating a cast that people want to come back and see year on year. What better way to spend Christmas, a time to be spent with family and friends, than at the theatre with your nearest and dearest laughing until it hurts!


Gary Longden


Aladdin runs from Thursday, November 30 until Saturday January 6 in the Garrick’s main auditorium.

For tickets visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com or call the box office on 01543 412121. 

Feature index/a> Home  Lichfield Garrick