The dame is the heart of the show, says Horsham panto performer Martin

Martin Ramsdin as Widow Twankey. Picture by Steve Robards/ SR1630310
Martin Ramsdin as Widow Twankey. Picture by Steve Robards/ SR1630310

He’s just totted them up to check, but yes, that’s right. 2016 will be Martin Ramsdin’s 22nd pantomime season.

With panto, he’s found his niche. His latest outing is as Widow Twankey in Aladdin at Horsham’s Capitol this Christmas (December 9-31).

“I have been working with Roy Hudd for the past couple of years, doing his wigs for his first dame. I don’t know how long he has been doing pantos, probably 50 years, but the first pantomime I ever did was at drama school, and it was his script. And then we went to see him when we were at drama school, and he gave us a talk about it afterwards.

“Sometimes in life you find the door to the Matrix! The light goes on and you just find that the right window opens, and with me, it just happened to be panto. It became my calling.

“Three or four years later was the first time I played dame in Mother Goose, and really something just went ‘ding!’ Panto is magical. It brings the family together, and I am just a sucker for magic and fairy tales and all that!

“Pantomime is a juggernaut. It just goes on and on. Without getting too serious, I think it is important as a communal thing. Theatre becomes a focal point. If you don’t go to places to worship or you work at home and don’t go to the big staff dos, then it is great to go to the theatre, particularly to go to pantomime at Christmas.”

But elements of panto do change from year to year: “I always try to update myself. I am not an old-fashioned dame. I am quite a glamorous dame. Most people’s grandmothers don’t look like Old Mother Riley any more. They are much more Joan Collins, and I try to reflect that. Grandmothers aren’t old washerwomen any more. And also, obviously, you have to update the references.

“But I do think the heart of pantomime has always remained the same. I am a real stickler for the story. You have got to tell the story. If you have got a five or six-year-old who has never seen Aladdin, never seen Cinderella, never seen Jack and the Beanstalk before, you have got to give them the story.”

As for the role of the dame: “Well, the dame is the heart of the show. You have got to be warm and funny and lovable and flirty and glamorous or at least think you are glamorous! But really you can play the dame any way you like. You can play it as a man in a frock and just wear man’s boots and quite broken make-up or you can go all the way through to the beautiful creatures, very glamorous, very heightened.”

Martin puts himself very much towards the latter end of the scale, with people like Chris Hayward very much at the top of the tree, a fixture in Newcastle pantomimes for the past ten years ago.

And that’s something Martin likes – where a particular performer becomes part of effectively a resident company at a particular venue, something Martin says is happening increasingly. Horsham is an example. There are a number of performers on repeat returns for this year’s pantomime.

“I think people like that familiarity. It becomes much more of a family.”

Tickets cost £10-£20.50. Call the box office on 01403 750220 or visit

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