It’s still October, and we won’t mention how many shopping days are left, but in the spirit of the season the Standard looks at who’s putting on which panto where this Christmas.
IF you wanted to find an example of just how wonderful and enduring a career in acting can be, you need look no further than Philip Anthony.
He is rather coy about his age but he has been around for a long time, and you only have to spend time talking to him to realise that his has been a life dedicated to the profession.
The veteran actor takes the part of the Emporer in this year’s panto at the Kenton Theatre, Aladdin, and when he walks on stage the younger members of the cast will have a moment to treasure. They will be acting alongside a man who appeared on the West End Stage with Laurence Olivier in a play directed by Orson Welles. It was in 1960 that Philip landed his role in Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.
He said: “I wrote a cheeky letter to Laurence Olivier asking if there were any roles and he kindly passed it on to Orson Welles and I got invited to an audition. It was for the role of a fireman.
“I walked in and was asked if I could do a fireman’s lift, I said I could and Joan Plowright (later to become Olivier’s wife) was standing next to me. I grabbed her in a fireman’s lift and she shrieked and never spoke to me again, but I got the part.
“In the production I was called ‘the boy’ — I was the youngest in the company, but only comparatively.”
In fact, when the play opened in the West End Joan Plowright had been replaced by a budding young actress who went on to make quite a name for herself — Maggie Smith. At the time Olivier, who was still married to Vivien Leigh, was in the throes of a relationship with Plowright whom he later married.
His latest role is a part in a drama being made for Sky called The Smoke — ironically about firefighters. The main difference was that this time Philip had to be rescued from a fire in the Blackwall Tunnel.
He said: “I feel very privileged to have worked for so long and that I was good enough to make a profession out of it. I have had a wonderful life as an actor.
“It is as difficult now as it ever was, which is that it is a challenge. But I would not come into this profession now. It is wonderful if you get into the West End which has more serious theatres than any other city in Europe. But the repertory theatre that I was brought up in has gone.”
This is not Philip’s first foray into panto — years ago he appeared in Cinderella at the Leatherhead rep as a broker’s man. “Years later I was in Babes In The Wood at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham,” he recalled. “I did fight direction with Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.” Indeed he is fight director in the Kenton production.
His mother was a showgirl and he went to drama school but he dismisses any influence from his mother, saying: “She was not in it for the love of the theatre.”
Eagle-eyed afternoon television watchers will see Philip starring in an ad with Ronnie Corbett. “I am on view in a commercial that is going on and on with Ronnie Corbett for Wiltshire Farm Foods about how meals can be provided for old people,” he said.
But here is a man whose life has been spent acting. He looks forward to working with his young cast in Henley and they would do well to listen to the words of wisdom who has survived well past pensionable age to continue his first love of the theatre.
As for the Kenton Philip shamefacedly admits: “I have to confess I was hardly even aware of it, but I am now and am really looking forward to playing there. It will be fun.”
You are almost certain to have seen Philip on the small screen — be it in Midsomer Murders or Last Of The Summer Wine, or perhaps in Holby City, Poirot or London’s Burning. Maybe you caught him in Silent Witness, Rumpole or Lovejoy.
But if you failed there perhaps you saw him in one of his five West End productions or one of his seven seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre. This is a rare opportunity to see an old professional with a truly remarkable background on your doorstep at the Kenton.
* This year’s panto also stars James Clifford as Aladdin and Rochelle Parry as the Genie of the Lamp. The pair played Buttons and Cinderella in last year’s Kenton panto, and Heather Simpkin is back as director. The show runs from Thursday, December 19 to Saturday, December 28. For tickets call (01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk