Thursday, 28 October 2021

Veteran panto dame’s doubling up for Alice

THE day Clifford Hume decides he has enough of acting will be a sad day for

THE day Clifford Hume decides he has enough of acting will be a sad day for British theatre. But we can relax — that day is a long way off yet.

He first trod the boards as a 16-year-old and shows no sign yet of returning to a life outside acting — no matter what that might have been.

Clifford, now a more mature 46, believes that acting is at the core of his life and no show represents more what his career has been about then Alice in Wonderland, which arrives at the Kenton Theatre at the end of this month.

In it he plays both the Duchess and the Queen of Hearts.

This is not the way the young actor working in rep at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford thought his career would go.

Clifford’s first role was as a brigadier in the Peter Ustinov play Halfway Up the Tree — his interest in theatre having been sparked at a young age.

“As a child, rather than birthday parties, my mother used to take me and some friends to the theatre,” he says. “We used to go the London Palladium. I can remember seeing Yul Brynner in The King and I.

“The most memorable scene was when he was dying and a song was sung. I looked around the audience and no one was looking at the singer — they were all looking at Yul Brynner. I realised then what an impact an actor could have just lying there.”

In his twenties, Clifford’s stage career took him into stand-up comedy in the northern clubs.

“It was a tough old world. Then someone offered me the role of a dame. I was reluctant at first but I decided to do it for artistic reasons — money! But it was great fun... and a lot easier than dong club comedy.”

His comedy heroes include the wonderful Tommy Cooper. “You could learn so much from his stagecraft — Trevor Howard thought he was the most wonderful artist,” says Clifford.

Becoming a dame was a choice that has defined much of the rest of his career. Clifford is clearly a pragmatist and takes a variety of work to keep himself on the stage.

There are voiceovers, corporate work and stints as Father Christmas. Even now he is doing two pieces of film work as Santa in March before joining the rest of the Alice company for rehearsals.

“I am still learning the last of my songs. I am not a trained singer but, as they say, I can carry a tune. It is not dissimilar to doing comedy — it is about rhythm. In comedy, if you lose the rhythms you lose the laughs.

“I am looking forward to the Kenton. It is such an old theatre and so intimate.

“I have done the 15,000-seat arena when I was playing the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine. That was wonderful, but the smaller venue means you are so much more in touch with your audience.”

The future after Alice is more work wherever he can find it. The drive is his love of the theatre — the joy of being on stage.

“I hope I never lose my enthusiasm — I’m still as giddy as a schoolboy,” he says.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is playing in Henley from Thursday, March 31, to Sunday, April 3. The opening day is already sold out but there are performances at 1.30pm and 5pm on each of the other days.

Tickets are priced £16 with a range of concessions available. To book, call (01491) 575698 or visit

The box office in New Street is open from 11am to 3pm on weekdays and from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays.

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