IT’S hard enough starring in one panto in a single season let alone two, but 14-year-old Jemima Pilgrim-Morris is flying from the land of Oz to the gold-paved streets of London this Christmas as she takes the leading role in two different shows.
Jemima, a student at Gilllots School, will play Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz at Caversham Park Theatre, before transferring to the Kenton Theatre to play principal boy in Dick Whittington, this year’s panto presented by the Henley Children’s Theatre Group.
Jemima started acting while still in Year 6 at Valley Road Primary School when her natural talent was spotted as she played Nicky in Home For Christmas. But in recent years she has taken a number of roles with the Henley Children’s Theatre Group, established more than 40 years ago by Henley resident, Muffin Hurst.
She has played a mayor and King Richard and last year she was principal girl in Jack And The Beanstalk. This year, though, is her first outing in the star role — and she is very much looking forward to the show.
“Both roles are exciting, but this is my first year as principal boy,” she said. “It’s quite hard as there’s a lot of lines to learn. It’s very different from Dorothy, because I have to be manly, but it’s good fun.”
Her Dorothy costume includes a blue-and-white checked dress and, of course, a pair of red patent shoes. Toto, her dog, is a toy in a basket — Jemima’s real-life miniature Schnauzer, Lola, went for an audition but was so excited after spotting a cat outside the theatre that she spent the next 10 minutes howling and was dismissed by the director as not having the necessary stage decorum.
Jemima, who is studying for GCSEs, says she is not yet sure if she will take up acting professionally, as she intends to study bio-chemistry at university, but says she has loved her time at the Henley Children’s Theatre Group.
Meanwhile, her best friend Olivia Dunning, whom she met at primary school aged four, is also a member of the theatre group and will be playing the baddie in the same production.
She said: “I’m playing the Rat Man who’s trying to stop Dick Whittington from killing all the rats, because they are his army. Usually I play the good person so it’s really good fun playing the baddie — it’s more complicated but really exciting.”
Olivia, also 14, joined the Henley Children’s Theatre Group at the age of three and played Jack in last year’s production of Jack And The Beanstalk, and the lead role in Puss In Boots at the age of 10. She said: “It’s really helped me with my drama. When I first came I was really shy and just sucked my thumb, but Muffin has really helped me develop my confidence.”
So much so that she landed a year-long part as a workhouse child in the West End production of Oliver!, where she rubbed shoulders with Griff Rhys Jones and Rowan Atkinson, both of whom played Fagin, at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Olivia also hopes to continue and develop her career on the stage, but in the meantime she is studying for GCSEs at Queen Anne’s School in Caversham.
Meanwhile, she and Jemima have remained best friends — despite going to different secondary schools — thanks to the Henley Children’s Theatre Group.
Dick Whittington plays at the Kenton Theatre from Monday, December 30 to Sunday, January 5. For tickets call (01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk