Beauty and the Beast at The HexagonBy Caroline Cook
June 13, 2012
It might be the summer, but the job of putting the panto together has already begun.
Caroline Cook found out more about a tale as old as time
It took a good deal of self-restraint not to shout out ‘He’s behind you!’ when Jolyon Dixon walked into The Hexagon in full pantomime dame costume.
“Hello, darlings!” he called to a group of children, who were left gawping in a cloud of glitter as the dazzling dame swept through the foyer and into the theatre for the 2012 panto press call.
It may be more than 190 days to Christmas, but the stars of this year’s Hexagon panto Beauty and the Beast gathered at the venue on Friday to launch the show.
“This is going to be a very exciting production,” said CBeebies favourite Justin Fletcher, who is returning to The Hexagon for the third year running to star as Willy Do-it.
“Beauty and the Beast is a first for The Hexagon and a first for me and we have got some wonderful stars coming in for the show.
“We are going to have a very magical production.”
Justin, who grew up in and around Reading, has been busy filming his TV show Justin’s House, but said he cannot wait to return home for Christmas.
“I can remember coming here when I was a kid to see Stu Francis, Rod Hull and Emu, and Linda Lusardi,” he said.
“I have very fond memories of coming to the panto and other shows throughout my childhood in Reading.
“Panto in Reading is fantastic. The added bonus of being a local lad is absolutely lovely and the comments we get when we come out through the stage door are just wonderful.
“People come along and have a wonderful time and it’s for all ages, from one-and-a-half to the grandparents.”
Joining Justin on stage for the Imagine Theatre pantomime will be ’Allo ’Allo actress Vicky Michelle, who is starring as the Enchantress.
“This is the first time I have done panto in Reading and I’m really looking forward to it,” she said, dressed in a glittering white gown for the press call.
“When you look into the audience and see the little faces believing everything that’s going on in the fairytale, it’s just magical.
“My parents took me to lots and lots of pantos when I was little and I loved it.
“It’s keeping children’s imaginations alive and I think that’s so important. They come to the theatre and it’s magical.”
Also returning to The Hexagon is Nigel Nevinson, who played King Bumble in the theatre’s 2010 panto Sleeping Beauty.
“It’s pretty awful,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “Everyone is always glum and depressed. Apart from that it’s great,” he laughed.
“I’m really looking forward to it. Kids love it because they can join in and become part of it. And Beauty and the Beast is a great panto because it’s got the funny bits but it’s got the story side as well.”
“Panto is the best way to introduce yourself to the world of the theatre,” added Jolyon, appearing from the wings in another colourful outfit, even more outrageous than the last.
It will be Jolyon’s third year in Reading for the panto season, having previously appeared as Window Twankey in Aladdin and Nurse Nanny Norah in Sleeping Beauty.
“The reason I’m coming back to The Hexagon is because they’ve asked me,” he deadpans. “No, the real reason is I’m working with some lovely people again.
“The crew are wonderful and everybody at the theatre works tirelessly to give you the best show we can.”
Dressed in a Union Jack-style corset, a bright yellow wig and layers of skirts which appeared to resemble the sea, the pantomime dame was whisked away to join her fellow cast-members in front of the camera.
And judging by the laughter, merriment and glitter that was present at the launch, the panto will be a very entertaining event indeed.
Beauty and the Beast opens at The Hexagon on Saturday, December 8, and runs until Sunday, January 6.
Tickets for the opening weekend are £14, all other tickets are £18, and discounts are available for groups and schools. To book, visit www.readingarts.com or call (0118) 960 6060.