It’s all about the magic for panto stars

WITH three television stars, the largest giant to be seen on any pantomime stage and a good pinch of magic, everything is in place for Dunstable’s Grove Theatre pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk, writes Laura Kempsell.

The adults will recognise the famous faces of former EastEnders Gemma Bissex and Don Gilet – both of which were spotted in Grove House Gardens on Thursday for the theatre’s panto launch.

But the children will no doubt be more impressed by the appearance of Postman Pat – playing himself of course.

The seasonal show not only boasts talented actors and a children’s favourite, but also an experienced dame in Malcolm Lord and a huge moving giant.

Producer Barrie Stead told the Gazette: “We’ve got one of the largest giants you will see on any panto stage in the country. As the giant moves to the front of the stage you can see the kids trying to edge back.”

But the giant isn’t the only baddie.

Don Gilet plays the giant’s henchman Fleshcreep.

And he’s had lots of practice after his role as preacher and murderer Lucas in Albert Square.

He said: “I’ve come to embrace that part of me. It’s a fun thing to do, everybody loves a baddie for some reason. You’ve got to embrace that side of scaring people.

“When I started doing panto, I was the cheeky chappie – it is still in there somewhere!”

Don, who lived in Dunstable for five years before moving away last July, admitted that he had to explain to his young son that the audience were likely to boo him as the evil character.

But he loves the interaction involved in panto.

“I love the immediacy of it,” said Don. “You know it’s going to happen and the audience know it – you’re all in it together.

“There’s not a lot of shows where you are allowed audience participation and we love that. The audience has a role as well.

“It’s always magic. Panto sets the imagination on fire. We are doing it for the children but it is ageless. You all become children that night.”

And Gemma Bissex – who plays Princess Tamara – is also a fan of festive fun.

She said: “I love children, I love Christmas and I love the family atmosphere of pantomime.

“You should always bring a child to panto because it brings a different magic to the show.”

Gemma has played the princess before when she was 17 but is more well-known for portraying mean characters these days. Only as Cinderella in pantomime last year did she start to make the transition from bad to good.

She joked: “It was a bit of a difficult ask being a nice character, but at least Cinderella had a bit of gusto. I’m a bit of a tomboy and I have to be ladylike as the princess.”

Jack And The Beanstalk opens at the Court Drive venue on December 9. And after problems in previous years with heavy snow during the run, the Grove has arranged earlier show times to allow for severe weather.

Barrie said: “In view of the two years of heavy snow – we can work magic but that’s beyond us – we’ve got rid of some of the later 7pm shows and moved them to 5pm so people can get home easier before the roads freeze up.”

And it promises to be worth the trip.

“You need spectacle and that is what we’re going to give you,” said Barrie.

Tickets for Jack And The Beanstalk are on sale now. Prices range from £10 to £22.50.

Call the box office on 01582 602080.