Vocal chords at the ready folks, because pantos are back for 2021. After the year that shall not be named, it’s all systems go on sequin-spangled costumes and heckling audiences, and time to see some of our small screen favourites tread the boards…
And this year, that includes Eastenders legend Jake Wood, who will shortly be strutting the stage of the Wycombe Swan, hook-handed and frilly-cuffed.
So many burning questions: what’s it like to play a cold-hearted panto villain? What’s the goss back stage? Can you ever outlive the Strictly jokes?
With Peter Pan set to light up the Wycombe Swan from 10 Dec – 2 Jan, Muddy caught up with Jake to peep behind the panto curtain.
What’s it like rehearsing for a panto? Ceaseless pranking?
Actually, it’s extremely full-on! For a normal play we’ll spend about four or five weeks rehearsing, but for this we’re doing a grand total of ten days — with a schedule like that, the only jokes are the ones in the script. You have to show up already knowing your stuff, and then really put your head down to nail it.
Blimey — so not the mucking about that everyone imagines?
The really good bit comes with the performances. That’s when you can react to the crowd, get the kids properly screaming and laughing, and bring everything alive. When all’s said and done, my role is essentially to stomp about and shout at kids, so it really is good fun. We’re all hyped for it: after missing out last year, you can feel a buzz in the theatre — the promise of good things to come.
Any chance for improv?
Pantomimes are a laugh to watch because they feel chaotic, but to be honest they’re extremely well-drilled. The company runs a tight ship (unlike Captain Hook), and they know their pantos inside-and-out, so the script is fantastic. No need to improv!
How will you be spending your Christmas?
It’s one of two days I have off in December, so honestly? Probably conked out.
Which do you prefer: serious stage-acting, or the silliness of panto?
Pantos are a whirlwind blast to be in – this amazing British tradition. We all loved them growing up, and they’re often your first exposure to theatre culture — so it’s great seeing parents continuing that for their kids today. But serious theatre can be incredible. I actually started off on the stage before working on Eastenders, and part of me had forgotten how much I loved it. It’s definitely something I’m pursuing more.
And how does it feel to be back in glitter after your Strictly Come Dancing days?
Let me tell you, you do Strictly once and never live it down. I was on that show seven years ago now, and they’re still describing me as snake-hipped in articles… but of course it was great fun, and how can I help it if I look good in a bit of glitter?