Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel-Horwood as you've never seen him before

Craig Revel-Horwood is transformed as Cinderella's Wicked Queen at The Mayflower

Craig Revel-Horwood is transformed as Cinderella's Wicked Queen at The Mayflower - Credit: The Mayflower

It's panto season in Hampshire and that can only mean one thing, big wigs, bigger dresses and men in heels

Craig Revel-Horwood is transformed as Cinderella's Wicked Queen at The Mayflower

Craig Revel-Horwood is transformed as Cinderella's Wicked Queen at The Mayflower - Credit: The Mayflower

Craig Revel Horwood 
Not strictly a Dame but most definitely a Strictly star, Craig will be donning his six-inch heels and treading the Mayflower Theatre boards this year as he transforms in to the Wicked Queen for the performance of Cinderella. Despite his tough demeanour on a Saturday night, Craig is a softy at heart as he shares: ‘For me, pantomime always spells Christmas, and the fact that we get to help children fall in love with live theatre. It’s the main reason I do it!’ 

He is no stranger to Southampton’s leading theatre, and last played The Wicked Queen in 2017 in the pantomime, Snow White.  

‘I think The Mayflower is a beautiful venue. It's one of my favourite theatres in the country because of its size and grandeur. The audiences here too are spectacular! I’ve been here lots. The facilities are great, the dressing rooms are nice, the people on the front of house are fantastic and all the resident crew are amazing! I'm really looking forward to every show. This theatre always says Christmas to me - all that beautiful, lush red and gold, darling. I love it!’ 

Hoping for some time off in between performances, Craig shares: ‘I’m looking forward to a very well-earned break on Christmas Day darling! It’s been a busy year for me, so it will be wonderful to have a rest with my family. There’ll be lots of games, some presents and plenty of Christmas cheer!’ 

Craig is well-used to hearing the boos and hisses as he gives his sometimes-brutal opinions on Strictly Come Dancing, but it’s a job he feels lucky to have as he shares: ‘I love being a judge on Strictly, I love having a front row seat to all the dances. I love seeing all the pro dancers as well, because dance has been my life, ever since I was a kid, so it’s lovely to be able to come to work and actually enjoy it.  

‘I think Strictly is one of those wonderful entertainment shows that audiences know as the build up to Christmas. There’s always an excitement, a buzz, and you can talk about it with your friends and family. It’s something that from ages three to 93 can enjoy, which is just brilliant.’ 

And if he could sum up Cinderella in one word it would of course be ‘Fab-u-lous'! 

See panto star Jack Edwards as Dame Trot at The Kings in Southsea

See panto star Jack Edwards as Dame Trot at The Kings in Southsea - Credit: CINNABAR STUDIOS

Jack Edwards 
Panto Dame extraordinaire, Jack Edwards has been performing in pantos since 1998, and will be stepping on to the Kings Theatre stage in Southsea for the seventh time this month, playing the role of Dame Trot in Jack and the Beanstalk. With side-splitting lines like: ‘Sorry I’m late. My Stannah stair lift broke…it was driving me up the wall!’ in his repertoire, Jack says: ‘Jack & the Beanstalk is 100% going to deliver the usual festive fun, entertainment, and laughter and... toilet rolls! If you know, you know!’.  

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For Jack it’s all about the audience’s response as he shares: ‘I am so lucky that my role always involves a lot of audience interaction and they never disappoint. They are as much a part of panto as the rest of the cast.’ And with The Kings home to the legendary Pompey Panto, Jack is proud to be taking to the stage again this year.  

But it’s not just the stars of the show who get all the laughs...the backstage crew have Jack and the rest of the cast in stitches, it seems: ‘Scott Jeffels, Darren Smith and all our behind-the-scenes crew make me laugh the most. Although, having said that, Darren does quite like to make a guest appearance each year! They should all be on the stage in truth as they keep me and the cast entertained daily!’ 

When the curtain comes down you can find Jack in Purple Mango but if it was down to Dame Trot, Jack says: ‘I think she’d like the idea of a panto day out with the rest of the cast at Old Thorns or somewhere like that. Round of golf first, (I’m sure she would love to wear a golf outfit and hers would certainly be eye-catching). Then, a nice relax in the spa followed by a lovely meal and entertainment with her fellow cast in the evening. It would be nice for her to be in the audience for a change! Although I can’t guarantee she wouldn’t find a way to get up on the stage!’ 

Julian Eardley is Widow Twanky for Theatre Royal Winchester's Aladdin pantomime

Julian Eardley is Widow Twanky for Theatre Royal Winchester's Aladdin pantomime - Credit: The Other Richard

Julian Eardley 
‘I am not sure what I would do at Christmas if I was not in a panto!’ says Julian, who is celebrating his 15th time as Dame at this year’s performance of Aladdin at Theatre Royal Winchester. ‘For me the joy of a pantomime is the wonderful company spirit in the theatre, from the cast, the crew and all the theatre staff. Everyone is working hard to create some much-needed fun, magic and wonder for the audience, especially for those smaller audience members who may be visiting a theatre for the first time.’ 
With ‘clean(ish) fun for all the family, there is plenty to entertain the children as well as the adults’ at this year’s performance’, which promises original songs and ‘dollops of fun and silliness’.   

Julian’s Widow Twankey character certainly won’t disappoint when it comes to her wardrobe, and with several costume changes throughout the show, he relies heavily on his dresser, Beth and the fabulous Technical Crew who keep the show moving.  

‘Beth is the picture of calm but has a sly sense of humour which always makes me giggle and hoot while changing clothes. The backstage crew always keep us actors amused and on our toes.’ 

And with hilarious lines courtesy of scriptwriter James Barry, Julian will be trying hard to keep a straight face under the spotlights too: ‘There is a wonderful section in the show in Twankey's Laundry where Abanazar first meets Aladdin and his family, and none of the Twankeys can say his name right. It is totally silly and I find that incredibly funny. I know I won't be able to keep a straight face by the time I say "A Banana?"’.  

After the show, Julian likes to relax with a meal at The King Alfred pub, but for Widow Twankey he says: ‘She would love a day relaxing in the countryside. As a busy working woman running her own laundry, she would really appreciate seeing all the splendours of Mother Nature at first hand. It would just need to be accessible by rickshaw as there is no way she will be getting her glamorous, high heeled, work boots muddy. Luckily, she has two sons to pull the rickshaw so she is also doing her bit for the environment!’ 

Nick Wilton is a million miles away from his EastEnders role as he becomes Polly La Plonk at The Anvil

Nick Wilton is a million miles away from his EastEnders role as he becomes Polly La Plonk at The Anvil - Credit: The Anvil

Nick Wilton  
Some may recognise Nick as the hard-nosed market inspector for Walford's Bridge Street market in EastEnders. But his latest acting offering couldn’t be further from Bob Lister’s grey suit and tie as he dons a dress and bloomers and becomes housekeeper Polly La Plonk for Beauty and the Beast at The Anvil in Basingstoke. No stranger to the pantomime, Nick remembers: ‘I did my first panto when I was 30 playing Captain’s Mate in Dick Whittington in 1987 at the Theatre Royal Plymouth; in 1990 I was Wishee Washee in Edmonton; and in 1991 the baddie in Bill Oddie’s Mother Goose at the Shaw Theatre in London. When I was 40, I had the idea of playing a panto Dame but it took three years to find someone to give me the chance. In 2000 I played Nurse Nellie in Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood at the Salisbury Playhouse and I’ve played Dame every Christmas since - I was last at The Anvil in 2010 in Sleeping Beauty with the wonderful Wendy Craig.’ 

With an award-winning script, comedy routines and songs a-plenty, audiences are set for an action-packed show. Nick’s favourite routine is with fellow cast member Chris Pizzey, who plays Louis, Polly’s son, he shares: I’ve worked with Chris before so I know what “a little tinker” he is. My favourite bit is the kitchen scene where we get into a bit of state trying to bake some baguettes. Louis says: “No rest for the stupid”, Polly says: “Wicked” and Louis replies: “Cool”. I love this little exchange at the beginning of the scene - it’s such a neat joke. 

All this on-stage excitement sounds exhausting and so when it comes to some r&r for Polly, Chris says: ‘I think she’d head down to Lymington harbour - she’s got an eye for the sailors. Or possibly she might take a busman’s holiday and go for afternoon tea at Highclere Castle - it would be nice to be waited on for a change.’