Comedian, singer and impressionist Jess Robinson – Spirit of the Ring in Crawley’s Aladdin this Christmas – doesn’t think the panto spirit ever really leaves you at any point in the year.
“We were doing the photo call in June when it was scorching hot!” she laughs.
“But I just love it. I really, really love it. It just feels like it wouldn’t be Christmas without panto. It is just such great fun. And it’s really great to get to know the cast. You become like a great big family. You make friends for life. You are spending virtually the whole day together and it is very intense. You are shattered and you are hyperactive.
“And there are all the stories, the funny things that happen that you remember later and that you talk about. You become really close.
“And the whole thing is just so joyous and daft. There is really something for everyone. Young children get caught up in the magic of it and the adults and older people will like the jokes that go over the children’s heads. And you have also got the magic of the music.
“My first ever job was playing Snow White at Euston straight out of school at the age of 18. I just had the best time. I had such a great time that I decided to defer my place at Bristol University (where she was going to read music) for a year. It got me working… and I never did go to university. I didn’t regret it… but actually the panto was probably a bit like freshers’ week with all the drinking going on!”
Jess was classically trained as a singer, but panto was still a great starting point for her career: “I think it builds confidence. And I don’t think you can be a happy person if you can’t laugh at yourself. I went very much down a comedy route in my career, but panto was great to start with. It helps you get on with anybody.”
One of Jess’ greatest roles so far has been in Little Voice, and that’s where the impressions emerged: “It was wonderful. I think there was no other role like it that allowed me to showcase my talents, and that’s when I started creating my own shows. But I hadn’t done any impressions before Little Voice. I lied my way into it. I was doing panto in Herefordshire, doing Sleeping Beauty, and the next show coming up was Little Voice. I didn’t want to go back to my day job so I told them I was brilliant at impressions. They said auditions were in ten days, and that’s when I panicked.
“But because I had already been trained classically, it meant that I knew what to do with my throat and my voice. It definitely helped. Also I was a bit of an obnoxious child. My currency was making friends laugh at school and taking the mickey, so in a way I was always heading towards the show. I knew that it would be within my reach… in the way I would know that being a ballet dancer is definitely not within my reach! Or being a doctor!”
As for the panto: “Obviously you have got to play the role, but it is nice also to be able to bring something of your own personality.”
And yes, that means the impressions. You can expect Nicky Minaj, Jessie Jay and Lily Allen among others…
Aladdin is at the Hawth, Crawley, from Friday, December 7, to Sunday, January 6.
Tickets on 01293 553636.
Sleeping Beauty ballet offers an enchanting show for the whole family. Click here to find out more.