John Thomson and Sherrie Hewson look forward to Aladdin at the Manchester Opera House

Sherrie Hewson and John Thomson Photo by Phil Tragen

Sherrie Hewson and John Thomson Photo by Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

Panto season is back…and we love it. The annual pantomime at Manchester’s Opera House this year stars John Thomson and Sherrie Hewson, who are thrilled to be back in Manchester.

John Thomson is one of TV’s most familiar and well-loved faces, his role as the hapless Pete Gifford in Cold Feet giving him the profile promised by his earlier work on The Fast Show. The revival of Cold Feet saw Pete’s character in a much darker place than we left him, a change which Thomson describes as ‘very difficult’ and needing considerable focus. It couldn’t be further from his role in panto – a seasonal gift for which this lovely, warm, relaxed and chatty man is very grateful.

‘I did my first one seven years ago, the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. I very naively thought that once I’d cut my teeth I’d be doing it every year – I was deluded! It’s taken seven years! I love it and I’m so happy to be here at the Opera House.’

It’s not all fun and games; committing to a pantomime is a serious thing.

‘Panto becomes your world. It’s twice daily for weeks, plus rehearsals. You never see your kids! It’s a British tradition and something I think everyone should experience. I think it’s rotten when parents won’t take their kids.

‘You get immediate feedback with panto and as the ‘baddie’ I get plenty! I love to get the laughs and the boos. You’re constantly informed and know if you’re getting it right; it’s symbiosis. We owe it to our audiences to make this fantasy real; kids don’t have to be told to suspend their disbelief. They’re totally in the zone and we owe it to them to make it real within the confines of the medium.’

Sherrie Hewson feels the same way. Beginning her performing career at the age of six, she considers herself fortunate never to have been out of work.

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‘When I left RADA it was a time when the work was there and there were simply fewer actors. It’s very different now, with the onset of reality TV and so many more actors seeking jobs. I’m a re-inventor, a survivor. I work in my head around nine months in advance, so I always know what’s ahead. I’m already all planned up till next August. Now I think I’m in the best time of my career; it’s the best of best of times of my life.

‘One of the reasons I agreed to this panto is because it’s in Manchester. I have such memories of Manchester! I only like to do panto in a proper theatre – it needs the age and the beauty of a theatre like this one.

‘I’ve done over a dozen pantomimes now and learned how to pace myself. Twice a day six days a week for six weeks - and you have to be on the ball every minute. The young dancers and cast are all looking at you and learning from you. I learned this the hard way when in panto with Paul O’Grady. We went out one night till 6am and I remember looking at him on stage next day and thinking, “This is your fault! Never again!” You just can’t do it on a school night!

‘I have always played the wicked queen in the past, very camp so I can be horrible to children! I have never played the Genie of the Ring before, so I’ve been very curious to see how it will work.’

I have no doubts that in the hands of such a wonderful actress it will work just fine. Oh yes it will…

Aladdin plays at Manchester Opera House from Friday December 9 till Sunday January 8. | 0844 871 3018