Hi-de-Hi’s Su Pollard is appearing as the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which also stars CITV’s Jamie Rickers, at the Assembly Hall this Christmas. Ahead of the show’s launch on Thursday Eileen Leahy caught up with the comedy actress to talk about the power of pantomime and how good will always overcome evil
How excited are you to be playing the Wicked Queen in Snow White?
This will be my tenth year in the role and I just love playing the baddy because you can really get your teeth into it. I’ve been in about 40 pantomimes over the years and am always excited about performing. I’ve graduated from being the good principle boy to the really evil characters but at least I can always have a bit of fun with them. The Wicked Queen clearly has bad intentions – she wants to poison Snow White after all – but I like to add a comedy element to her character, too.
What’s the point of pantomime?
The great thing about them is that at the end of every one, the traditional or modern versions, it’s the baddy who loses out. So if there’s a moral to be had out of seeing one it is that you always get the bad and the good but ultimately good surmounts evil. It’s all great fun along the way but it’s always better to be nice than horrible. I think that’s lovely and it’s a great message for the kids.
Do you think pantomimes are still as popular with the general public?
Yes I do but sadly a lot of them like Dick Whittington for example are not as popular anymore nowadays. It seems to be all about Disney and I think it’s a sad demise really. I mean it’s great that Disney are bringing their popular films to the stage and I guess it makes sense as watching a DVD is a child’s first foray into the world of entertainment but there’s nothing like a proper pantomime. Thankfully though there are some like this one or Cinderella and Aladdin which are still enormously popular and that’s because they have a really strong story.
You’ve played the Wicked Queen for ten years. Do you try to do something different with each pantomime?
Well the story and structure stays the same but you might be performing in a smaller theatre, or with a different cast or director and that makes things feel fresher. Our current producer Martin loves panto, it’s one of his favourite genres so he’s always very true to it and spends as much time as he can ensuring the music and visuals are all fantastic because he wants it to be magical for the children – and the mums and the dads, too.
What is it about this particular genre that captivates audiences of all ages?
Good pantomimes should always have lots of colour and movement to enjoy – nobody should want to go to the toilet and or be bored. If they’re done well and stay true to the traditional formula then there’s no reason why audiences won’t continue going to the panto for the rest of their lives. It’s quite possibly the only performance genre – unless you count stand-up comedy – where you can heckle! Panto actually encourages the audience to feel free to join in shouting ‘hurray’ or booing. In fact it’s essential that the audience gets involved so they feel they are also contributing to the performance.
When did you start rehearsing?
We began at the end of November which is late but as some of us have done this before we don’t need much time. I think we had about nine or ten days in total which is quite generous actually as some casts only get about four days! There’s a lot of preparation that goes on beforehand though so when you meet you know what to do.
Have you been to the Assembly Hall before?
I’ve never appeared here in panto before but I did come here a couple of years ago with (comedy duo) Cannon and Ball to do Ha Ha Hood (Prince of Leaves) which was a send up of the classic Robin Hood story. Before that I was in a variety performance show with a load of golden oldies including the late John Inman.
Do you like its new refurbishment?
Oh yes it’s absolutely lovely. Whenever I perform at a theatre I always go and sit in the auditorium to get an idea of its size and so I know how far to project. The seats here are very comfortable which is a bit of a worry as you don’t want the audience to be too comfy so people will nod off! But there’s no worry of that happening with our production as it’s got lots of music, big bangs, and fabulous special effects going on . . .
How do you get on with the cast?
Absolutely great. They’re all lovely fun and nobody’s got an ego! Everyone knows what they have to do and that each person’s contribution gels in order to make the whole end product. We all want to do the best we can to ensure a great show. I call it ‘VFM’ and people often say ‘what does that mean?’ Well quite simply it’s Value For Money and they’ll definitely get it because we’re all dedicated to wanting the show to be the best one they’ve seen!
What do you personally like best about doing pantomime?
I just love going on stage and seeing the audience’s reaction to things. They’re so gripped by the story and it’s wonderful to hear the children’s laughter. When I’m in my dressing room getting ready I can hear them over the speaker and you can sense their excitement. I particularly love it when the schools come and I usually pick on one of the male teachers in the audience and you just know the poor thing is going to get total stick when he gets back to the classroom! I guess I just love the whole thing of everyone having a good time.
What will the audience enjoy most?
What they see before them – the colour, the movement, the music. And the special effects this year are just incredible. There are a few going on when I’m conjuring up spells to poison Snow White. I’ve always said you have to believe in whatever role you’re playing and if I know I’m giving people the creeps then I’ve done my job.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is on at the Assembly Hall from December 8 until January 9 2017. To book tickets, which are priced from £18, go to www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk