Twice a day, Adam Stafford pulls on a series of frocks so loud they’re deafening, not to mention the outlandish wigs and huge false eyelashes, and is transformed into Widow Twankey. But, he insists, panto is a serious business.
“Panto fills the coffers of a theatre, and generates it for the rest of the year,” he says. “It’s old-fashioned variety and it’s hard work.
"You need discipline to sustain the energy required for two shows a day. You have to give it 110per cent, whether it’s a midweek matinee or a Saturday night show.
"It might be our 70th performance, but for each audience it’s the first time they’ve seen it. Alhambra audiences have been fantastic.
“We keep it fresh for each other. In the short space of time it takes to get a show up and running, it’s important to establish a good camaraderie, which we have. I always wanted to work with Billy (Pearce); he’s a master of panto.”
A seasoned pantomime dame, Adam plays it “cheeky but mumsy”.
“She’s a bit cheeky, but warm too,” he says. “You get camp dames, or the ‘bloke in a dress’ approach, but as a child I found that quite scary.”
Adam started acting aged six – one of his first jobs was a chocolate bar commercial and he ate 80 in one day of filming – and he went on to carve a career on stage and screen.
He co-presented Tales of Maths and Legends with Johnny Ball, and has appeared in everything from Shakes-peare to the Basil Brush Show.
Having worked as both actor and assistant director with children’s dramatist David Wood, on theatrical productions including Roald Dahl’s The Witches and The BFG, Adam knows about child audiences.
“They are perhaps the most critical audiences, because they’re very honest,” he says. “If they’re not enjoying it they just switch off. With panto, we’re very mindful of the fact that children believe in everything on stage.”
For Jeffrey Harmer, boos and hisses from the audience are music to his ears. He plays evil Abanazar and says it’s the “best panto I’ve done”.
“I love playing the baddie, when you come on stage to a wall of boos you know you’re doing something right,” he smiles. “Panto is a mix of variety and acting. The show is so well timed, even when you ad lib you need to know what you’re doing.”
With a giant cobra, a monster gorilla and a magic carpet flying over the audience, the show blends high-tech wizardry with traditional elements of panto.
“I’ve never known so many special effects in a panto, it’s a West End standard show,” says Jeffrey. “It tells a good story, and there are slapstick routines and ‘He’s behind you’. Children love all that.”
Jeffrey was last at the Alhambra in I Dreamed A Dream – The Susan Boyle Musical, and other theatre credits include The Witches of Eastwick, The Blue Room, Chicago and an international tour of Mamma Mia! He played Prince Andrew in TV drama Diana: Her True Story, and appeared in TV’s Poirot and the movie Still Crazy.
For now, he’s enjoying being the panto villain. “Live theatre really captures children’s imaginations. For many, it’s their first taste of theatre and there they are, chucking bananas at us every night.
"Hopefully they’ll enjoy it so much they’ll return to the theatre.”
Aladdin runs at the Alhambra until Sunday, January 26. For tickets ring (01274) 432000.