It seems there are two ways actors can go when they reach a certain age: they can either play King Lear or Santa Claus.
Michael G Jones can proudly say he has done both.
He completes the double this Christmas in Jack Frost’s Frozen Christmas at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre from Friday, December 12 until Thursday, January 1. Previous career highlights include covering and playing King Lear during his three-year stay with the RSC.
“Lear is the mountain that every actor dreams of climbing,” Michael says. “How can you compare? There are not as many words with Santa Claus... and it is a lot more fun!”
And yes, there is a much greater chance of a happy ending: “It is not quite so traumatic. There is not so much chance of rain storms and no thunder!”
Michael enjoyed three seasons at the RSC and covered Lear for Corin Redgrave.
“But the big cover I did was at Chichester Festival Theatre when I got to take over from Donald Sinden (as the Duke of Altair) in Venus Observed (in 1992). It was the year we did Coriolanus with Ken Branagh and Judi Dench. I covered Richard Briers in that one.
“I was sitting in the dressing room one night when dear Patrick Garland (CFT artistic director) came in and said he had good news and bad news. He asked ‘Do you know the play?’ I thought he meant Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York (which was also playing in Chichester that summer). Patrick said ‘No, Venus Observed. Donald has had to go into hospital.’ I had the next day going through all the speeches, and it went very well. I played about 30 performances.”
Being a cover can become something of a speciality for an actor, Michael says: “You can get a name for being reliable. But yes and no, it’s a good thing. Sometimes producers and people like that will think that that’s all that you can do.”
As for playing Santa, things should be rather straightforward, and at the show’s launch in Worthing back in September, Michael was already getting into the role.
“A little boy already came up to me and was already wanting to give me his Christmas list. I had to give a little grotto-type chat about keeping his bedroom clean and tidy and making sure that he goes to bed early.”
In the show, Santa and his elves are preparing for Christmas but the out-cast Jack Frost, who has been frozen in the ice for the past 20 years since the Ice Queen’s demise, begins to thaw and plot his revenge on Santa.
He is joined by Dee Linquant and Robin’ Banks, inept and reluctant baddies who are certain to create mishaps and mayhem. There’s a new man in charge of Santa’s elves, Billy, who’s desperate for a girlfriend but doesn’t have the courage to find one. Hazel Knutt, his kind and loving grandmother, brings warmth and a fierce determination to the story, and audiences will also get to meet Candi Frost, Jack’s abandoned daughter who works in Santa’s kitchen.
“Really, this show isn’t a pantomime, but it has got a lot of panto elements,” Michael said. “Everything is there. It’s not a true pantomime, but more or less it is.”
Tickets from www.worthingtheatres.co.uk.