THE autumn sun may have been shining earlier this week but at the Kenton Theatre the
THE autumn sun may have been shining earlier this week but at the Kenton Theatre the talk was all about the Christmas pantomime.
Writer and director Ian McFarlane and producer Oli Seadon were in town preparing for the fourth professional Kenton panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, which opens on Thursday, December 17.
It is the first time the pair have worked together on a production and while Ian has directed pantos before Oli’s career as a producer and general manager in the theatre has taken him to some great places but never to a pantomime.
It is a prospect he relishes and a theatre he delights in.
“It is a wonderful space — the actors who have been there to have a look love it and it is perfect for a panto,” says Oli, who has just finished working on a rather larger production than the Kenton panto.
This was a touring production of the hugely successful children’s TV show In the Night Garden which, in the course of more than 500 performances across the UK, played to audiences totalling over 100,000 people.
Oli’s enthusiasm for the Kenton is unbounded. He was general manager on the extremely successful Morecambe and Wise Eric and Little Ern play that came to Henley last November.
This year’s Kento panto has a cast of six and a three-man band and is written and directed by Oli’s partner Ian McFarlane — the first time they have worked together.
While Ian’s role is clear in writing and directing, Oli’s job as producer is to make sure it all works and that budgets are met without compromising the standards — no easy task.
They are taking a bold step in having a production with amplification.
Oli said: “The theatre is small enough and the audience so close we are doing it all acoustically — it gives a greater sense of theatre in the production.”
The cast has been chosen and rehearsals start in London next month ready for the opening night.
Oli added: “It will be a very traditional panto. Unlike many theatre productions we don’t have to sell panto. People know what they want and what they expect and it is up to us to give them a great show.”
Oli, 32, became hooked on theatre at school. “I had a brilliant drama teacher and she got me into it in the first place.”
He harboured hopes of being an actor and went to university in Kent to study drama, where he acted, directed and produced.
Eventually the production side — whether as general manager or producer — took over.
“I set up a company called Pantaloons. No one was up for producing, so I said ‘I’ll do it.’ ”
He describes Ian as being into musical theatre while Oli enjoys comedy — a combination that comes together perfectly in pantomime.
Ian conceived and wrote the musical comedy Betwixt! which started life at the well-known King’s Head Theatre in Islington and made its way to the West End.
He was also the director of To Kill a Canary, the Sherlock Holmes play that had its world premiere at the Kenton last year.
He is an experienced hand at pantomime, having directed Henry Winkler as Captain Hook in Peter Pan at Richmond last year, as well as Peter Pan at Aylesbury and Aladdin at Hull.
“I tell my cast that for many of the audience the ticket is a Christmas present and we have to make it a performance they will remember — it’s a present you can’t take back,” he says with a smile.
Preston-born Ian has a wealth of experience for someone so young and a clear vision of what he wants his pantomime to be.
“There is a lot of music, beautiful costumes and a really talented cast. The choice of cast is critical and I think we have found a tremendous team.
“Key is telling the story as a good piece of theatre. This is the first time I have written a pantomime and I have tried to work to the traditional rules and routines that it must have, like Dame Trott in our pantomime.
“I have found it great fun. These are very old stories like Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose, Aladdin, Babes in the the Wood and Robinson Crusoe — which is not done very much any more.
“It is hard work for the cast — they firstly have to be good actors but they also have to be able to sing and dance,” said Oli.
His enthusiasm is there for all to see. Now there is just the small matter for Ian and Oli of making it a panto to remember.
• Jack and the Beanstalk runs from December 17 to 27. For ticket information and to book, visit www.Â kentontheatre.co.uk or call the box office on (01491) 575698. The box office in New Street is open from 11am to 3pm on weekdays and from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays.