Meet The Festive Makers: The Panto Dame
Now in his 18th year playing the fabulously flamboyant dame at Cambridge Arts Theatre – and about to ruffle feathers as Gertie Goose - Matt Crosby tells Louise Cummings why he loves panto so much
What inspired you to become an actor?
It was panto! Although my parents aren’t theatrical, they would always take us to see panto, possibly to have two hours off childcare and enjoy a snooze.
I remember watching panto at the Liverpool Empire and going to see Billy Butler when he did Hold Your Plums with Wally Scott. One of them played Buttons I think, and it was just spectacular; the lights, the colours, the costumes, the jokes, just the whole nonsense of pantomime made me fall in love with theatre.
You’re a versatile actor, having had West End roles and recently playing Jimmy Tarbuck in Netflix drama Nolly – how was that?
That was amazing! I was a bit apprehensive as the bit I had as Jimmy was with her ladyship herself, Helena Bonham Carter. But she was so lovely and we had a giggle because we were both wearing false teeth for the roles, so she joked ‘Oh, we’ve been to the same dentist, let’s get a picture’ so I’ve got a beautiful photograph of us on my phone that she sent me.
What do you love about playing a dame?
I never wanted to be a dame when I first started panto; I wanted to be the Silly Billy character. But the longer you do it, the more you realise what a beautiful role the dame is because it plays to so many levels. The little children see a nice, friendly, larger lady, the teenagers are a bit too cool for school but enjoy the jokes, and the mums and dads get the innuendo and double meanings.
Who inspires your exuberant dames?
Initially I was inspired by previous Cambridge Arts Theatre dames so Michael Fenton Stevens was my first panto mum and then Brad Fitt was my second, and I would take from them what I enjoyed. But it’s mostly my mum’s side, especially my grandmother, who was very flamboyant and a real extrovert. I’ve got this wonderful memory from when was in a hospice, coming to the end of her time, we were all sat round the bed and she was asleep, but as soon as the drinks trolley came rattling, she woke up, had a brandy and coke and fell back to sleep again. And as my aunty sat there holding her hand, she woke up once more and said ‘oh haven’t you got fat hands?’ That was one of the last things she said!
Does you mum watch the panto, and what does she think?
Every year although she doesn’t know characters are modelled on her because she’d probably clock me! I love it when my parents come because it’s like a thank you to them for taking me to panto all those years ago. The whole family come down; my sister, two nephews, niece and my two girls, Clara, 12, and Beatrice, eight!
What can we expect from this year’s panto?
I am really excited because Mother Goose is actually set in Cambridge. So, all the cloths are based on Cambridge scenes, the costumes are fantastic; mine are big, bold, brassy, bright, and with a nod towards Barbie, as I loved that film! The cast is beautiful and talented and the script is funny, clever and family-friendly, with a few naughty winks, so there is something for everyone.
The ‘slosh scene’, which you write, is famous in Cambridge. Have you ever injured yourself as those on-stage tumbles seem real?
Yes, many times! Last year I fractured my big toe, and I’ve damaged my shoulder, both times on the rocking deck. The other injury was in the washateria with Sam Hoy who was Wishy Washy and was tiny, 4ft-nothing; a gorgeous actor. We thought we’d try a moment when the dame shoots out of a laundry hole and slides between Sam’s legs but I shot out too far and head butted his knee cap so my bottom tooth went through my lip. Fortunately, it wasn’t during a performance!
Oh goodness. . . in that case do you enjoy it, or slightly fear it?
I always want to play the scene as the dame, but also as Matt Crosby hating every minute of it. And I think that’s a really nice balance. Secretly though, it’s always my favourite scene!
Mother Goose runs until January 7. Find out more at cambridgeartstheatre.com
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