Panto legends are back to make us laugh at Norwich Theatre Royal in Jack & The Beanstalk

Richard Gauntlett and Ben Langley in Jack and the Beanstalk

Richard Gauntlett and Ben Langley in Jack and the Beanstalk - Credit: Dave Guttridge The Photographic

He is as much a part of a Norwich Christmas as the festive lights being switched on and the shops being swathed in tinsel. Richard Gauntlett is back at Norwich Theatre Royal panto for the 16th time and he tells John Bultitude he cannot wait.

Norwich Theatre Royal panto dame Richard Gauntlett is set for his 16th Christmas in Norwich.

Norwich Theatre Royal panto dame Richard Gauntlett is set for his 16th Christmas in Norwich. - Credit: Archant

For Richard Gauntlett, Christmas is definitely not the time to sit down, put your feet up and enjoy the easy life armed with a turkey dinner and a glass of sherry.

Instead he will be in the midst of the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime for the 16th time.

A stalwart of the festive spectacular, this year he will once again be writing and directing the show which features a star cast headed by Wayne Sleep, as well as playing the part of Nigella Trottalot, the panto dame.

In common with previous years, it will be a very traditional pantomime but with a twist, as Richard explains. 'This year we are presenting it in the Wild West which means a whole fresh new look to the show, some fresh gags — well, almost fresh, and new costumes. It is really, really exciting.'

Richard Gauntlett in Jack and the Beanstalk

Richard Gauntlett in Jack and the Beanstalk - Credit: Archant

And with the role of panto dame comes the chance to wear some lavish and outrageous frocks.

Richard laughed: 'A couple of favourites will be back. At the moment I am looking at 12 or 13 costume changes.'

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He is also delighted to get a man who is arguably a dance icon as well as a TV and West End favourite like Wayne Sleep to head the cast as the villainous Phineas P Stinkworthy.

Richard said: 'I'm extremely excited to get Wayne. He will bring a new energy to the show and I am really looking forward to working with him. The man is a legend. I can remember seeing him in Cats and all those other fantastic shows. He broke the mould as far as dance is concerned and introduced this dynamic energy that he still possesses.'

Dress Rehearsal of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto 'Jack and the Beanstalk'PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Dress Rehearsal of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto 'Jack and the Beanstalk'PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Richard will also be reprising his comedy partnership with South Norfolk-based Ben Langley. He said: 'It is great to have Ben back. He is an absolutely adorable man. We get on very well and we do have a laugh so it is very lovely to have him back.

'David Gant is also returning to the pantomime cast for the four time, and we also welcome Mira Ormala who is a friend of mine and came to Norwich with the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company. She is a lovely person with a fantastic voice and has performed in the West End.'

For Richard, panto is a key part of his performing year, with entertaining being part of his life from a very young age.

He cut his performing teeth in the fiercely competitive environment of the Covent Garden piazza where his blend of comedy, acrobatics and street performance made him popular. From there, his career has been busy and varied combining a wide range of roles including West End runs in the likes of Barnum and The Lion King, and TV appearances in Doctor Who and The Sooty Show, as well as writing episodes of Sooty too.

Dress Rehearsal of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto 'Jack and the Beanstalk'PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Dress Rehearsal of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto 'Jack and the Beanstalk'PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Since appearing in Snow White, he has performed in Australia and New Zealand as well as doing work on some cruise-ships.

Richard, along with panto co-star Mira, also made a rare non-festive visit to Norwich with the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company.

But there is no doubt that he has an incredible affection to Norwich. 'I have so many friends here and have spent Christmas here of the last 16 years. It is like going to my second home. I see a lot of other theatres and none match the Theatre Royal,' he said.

So it seems the joy he brings is matched by his love. Oh yes, it is.

Dress Rehearsal of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto 'Jack and the Beanstalk'PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Dress Rehearsal of the Norwich Theatre Royal panto 'Jack and the Beanstalk'PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Panto comic back on the ranch

'Surely, I am the luckiest panto comic in the country.' That is the verdict of Norfolk-based comic Ben Langley as he returns to the stage this Christmas to star in Jack and the Beanstalk, making it a hat-trick of pantomime appearances on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage.

'To be able to be back at such a wonderful, beautiful theatre again is just fantastic. I have grown to love everybody there and not just those on stage, there is just such a lovely vibe,' said Ben. The location helps too. Being based in South Norfolk, it means he does not have to spend too long away from his home and family. He explains: 'Being able to commute is a big deal for me instead of renting digs somewhere. To be able to be at home with my family every night is so important to me.' As well as the theatre team, he is also excited to resume his on-stage partnership with Richard Gauntlett. Ben said: 'I knew Richard for a number of years before we worked together. He is a fantastic performer and the audiences in Norwich obviously adore him and love that he is here every year. 'He is a great performer with a great instinct and he writes well. Being a comic performer himself, people might worry that there is not much for the comic to do with the Dame writing the show but every year, he has been so lovely and giving and we give each other equal space to shine.' As well as the fantastic people and the show itself, Ben also likes the way the show is a very traditional pantomime but with a twist which this year will see Jack and the Beanstalk set in the Wild West. 'I do think we have to move with the times. You need to produce a traditional pantomime but you do need to nod to the contemporary too. We have an important job in pantomime. For many children it is their first visit to the theatre and we need to be careful of that. Bringing it to the Wild West just fits panto comfortably and it just feels right.' One of the big delights of the panto season is the fantastic support from Theatre Royal audiences. 'When you go out to a full house, it is amazing. Richard's writing decisions on the panto really do work and they are both congratulated and celebrated by those watching. The theatre is also perfect for comedy with that great intimacy.' A very busy actor and performer, Ben honed his performance ability on the Covent Garden cobblestones for 18 years in parallel to his panto co-star Richard. He has worked extensively as an actor and performer in everything from Zeffirelli's Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House opposite Placido Domingo, to The Detectorists which starred Mackenzie Crook. He is also in demand as a writer. He has followed up the success of his Ha Ha shows which poke fun at characters from history and books with some work writing panto, penning Aladdin for the Artshouse Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Despite all that, he loves the opportunity to spend time in Norfolk with his family. He said: 'It is just great. My in-laws live not far from me in Talcolneston, and we also have family in Hockering and Ringland. It is a lovely part of the world and living in the country is great. I am a very lucky man.'

• Jack & The Beanstalk, Norwich Theatre Royal, until January 15, £23.50-£7, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

• There will be signed performances on January 7, 2.30pm/7.30pm and audio-described performances on January 4, 1pm, and January 7, 2.30pm. Captioned performance on January 8, 1pm/5pm.

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