Festive genie-ous

7 December 2023

Panto season is nearly upon us, and this year Croydon has not one but two big pantomimes happening. (I’m really resisting a panto gag here). First up we chat with the director of the Fairfield Halls’ Aladdin, Sarah Redmond, as well as some of the more local cast members, Kiera Nicole, Richard J Hunt, Xenoa Campbell-Ledgister and Charlie Guest, as they start their rehearsals. Aladdin opens at the Fairfield Halls on 16 December.

Croydonist: What parts of London do you call home, and what are your links to Croydon?

Sarah: I’m born and bred in Streatham and still live in the house I grew up in, so I’m ‘officially’ the queen of Streatham. 😉  I came to Croydon all the time growing up, from getting school shoes to shopping trips with friends, and I still do come here to shop. I’ve also seen some wonderful work at the Fairfield Halls over the years. I was thrilled to direct here last year, as it’s so lovely to work near home.

Xenoa: My gran is from South London and I spent a lot of summers over here – I now live in Peckham. I probably came to Croydon with my mum a few times as a child, but this is my first time to Croydon as an adult.

Charlie: I live in Bromley – I’ve toured in Croydon many times, and done jury service here!

Richard: I also live in Bromley, and I’ve toured with Joseph a few times over the years.

Kiera I am born and bred in Croydon – so grew up here, went to school here and graduated from the Brit School in the Fairfield Halls, and I now live just round the corner.

Croydonist: Is this your first panto or are you seasoned panto people? 

Sarah: This is my second panto in Croydon and I think my thirteenth around the country. But this is my first time directing Aladdin.

Xenoa: I’m a seasoned panto performer at my local, but this is my first professional panto after graduating.

Charlie: I’d say I need seasoning 🙂 (if I stop with the jokes they will leave me for the whole Christmas season) I’ve done a fair few – I think this is number ten, performing all over the country.

Richard: This is my dame debut, but I’ve done nine or ten pantos so far.

Kiera: I’m a beginner compared to most people I’ve met in panto, but this is my fifth or sixth.

Croydonist: Who are you playing in Aladdin?

Xenoa: I’m the spirit of the ring, which is the role of narrator in the show. I give the audience context and help the other characters throughout.

Charlie: I’m Wishee Washee Twankey – he helps his mum out in the laundry, and generally spends the show annoying everyone else and getting things wrong, and being a bit silly really!

Richard: I play the vivacious Widow Twankey, who is very mischievous but good fun.

Kiera: I play Princess Jasmine. She has quite a bit of sass to her. She is basically on a lovely adventure  – she sees a whole new world to what she normally sees which is the castle walls and dads’s rules. She discovers Aladdin, and joins in with his adventure, and along the way she discovers her love for him as well.

Croydonist: How are you finding the rehearsals?

Sarah: We’re three days in but it could be three weeks – we go very fast. We do five days then expect a finished show. This is a really lovely bunch, so it’s a joy.

Xenoa: Everyone is already enjoying the panto spirit.

Charlie: The cast is so brilliant and everyone is so funny individually.

Richard: It’s full on but really good fun. We have to stop quite a bit because we are in fits of giggles.

Kiera:  Rehearsals are great – fast paced but not too intense. I feel like I’ve worked with everyone before but I haven’t. Coming in as a newbie I was a bit nervous, but everyone’s super chilled. And we all get along really well.

Croydonist: What makes this production of Aladdin different to other Aladdins out there?

Sarah: I’ve never even seen an Aladdin production before! I like to receive my script and work with the story I’ve got. I keep it story-centric. It’s definitely got some references to Croydon and surrounding areas though. Don’t knock Mitcham!

Xenoa: Well we’re in South London – I think that gives it a little bit of jazz. There’ll be references the locals are going to get. We’ll have a lot of cheeky fun with Aladdin, and the songs we’ve picked are very topical to this year.

Charlie: We all love panto as a form of entertainment, but it’s important to a cast that is has a traditional base – all the things you know and love, like the handy bench, the ghost gags, and the pies in the face, but also it’s about bringing it into the current age.

Richard: Yes, a modern feel to it, but still traditional.

Kiera:  This will be my third Aladdin. This one definitely pushes me vocally. In general Aladdin is the perfect panto to see, with magic and a festive spark.

Croydonist: What are you most looking forward to about panto season?

Sarah: Although it’s a super fast process, it’s always when the audience comes in. Panto is really the only show where we break the fourth wall and expect the audience to get involved. I can’t direct them. We then get to see how what we’ve made serves them. We rely on audience participation.

Charlie: It makes the hard work in rehearsals link up when the shows start – getting the kids and parents on side, and just the differences in shows from performing to schools to the evening shows where there are adults there too. The different atmospheres.

Richard: I’m looking forward to seeing all the families having time together and a good giggle.

Kiera:  I’m looking forward to performing it twice a day (believe it or not!). It sounds tiring but I think it’s the adrenalin. I look forward to waking up everyday to perform and put smiles on people’s faces. Also it’s a nice introduction to people who might not have been to the theatre before.

Xenoa: I’m very excited to wear my costume – it is very rainbow!

Croydonist: Do you get a chance to sample the delights of Croydon whilst you’re here for panto season?

Sarah: If I need to do a bit of Christmas shopping I nip out in my lunch hour to do it.

Xenoa: I haven’t yet. The Fairfield Halls is an amazing place though. A huge hub for theatre – I got to see some of the schools’ concerts here on my first day.

Kiera: Boxpark is really fun as they always have events on. During panto though I don’t get much time to go out.

Richard: We haven’t had a chance yet, but I’m actually off to Ponte Nuovo in a few weeks in Croydon for a family dinner after the show.

Charlie: We have a lot of exploring to do, but we’ll be relying on Kiera to be our guide.

Thank you to Sarah, Xenoa, Kiera, Richard, and Charlie for chatting with me. I very much look forward to seeing the show in a couple of weeks.

Aladdin runs from 16 December 2023 to 7 January 2024 at The Ashcroft in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. You can book tickets here.

Photos courtesy of Fairfield Halls by Sham Hussein. Header: Richard, left, and Kiera right with Davood Ghadami, centre left, and Kian Zomorodian centre right; photo 2 – Richard; photo 3 – Kiera; photo 4 – Richard and Charlie; photo 5 – Charlie; photo 6 – Kiera and Richard. 

Posted by Julia

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