Craig Hollingsworth: Five Years of Panto!
Actor Craig Hollingsworth has spent his last five Christmases entertaining families in the Belgrade Theatre pantomime. Starring alongside Belgrade panto legend Iain Lauchlan, who writes, directs and plays the Dame, Craig has built himself a reputation as the perfect comic character. As he prepares for his latest role as Idle Jack in Dick Whittington, we spoke to him about his highlights from the past five years.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt from the last five years of being in panto?
The key to a really good pantomime is to have a strong story. You see a lot of pantomimes that are all about the celebrities whereas the Belgrade Theatre pantomime has such a strong story that both the children and adults can latch on to.
What makes a good comic character in pantomime?
To be a good comic character in panto, I think it’s important to be really warm and to break down the fourth wall. If you can connect with the audience, then you’ve instantly got them on your side. I think I’m quite mischievous as a comic character and I do a lot of side glances to the audience. I try to invite them in as much as possible so if I’m ever doing something off-script or improvised, I always include the audience.
What do you love most about performing in pantomime?
For me pantomime is all about the Christmas spirit! One of the things I love most about coming back to Coventry each year is the audiences. I also love that pantomime is such a traditional thing for the British public, and for so many children, pantomime is their first experience of theatre. As a child, I was lucky because my grandad would take me to the theatre all the time and I would sit in the audience and say, “I would love to do that one day!” It was from there that it became a hobby and eventually a career.
Has anything ever gone wrong on stage or during rehearsals?
Things go wrong all the time. I’m a little bit naughty and sometimes push for things to go wrong. Providing you make a joke out of it, the audience love it! To be honest, if things do go wrong in one show we might keep it in if it’s really funny.
Do you ever get recognised for being in panto?
I did panto at Lincoln Theatre Royal once, and that’s my home city. It’s a bit smaller than Coventry so I got spotted all the time. Also my face was plastered everywhere. There were these massive billboards with my face on, in my home city which was a bit bizarre!
What’s the secret to becoming a successful panto actor?
A lot of performers who do panto go to drama school, whereas my background was Butlins! Back in 2006, I was a Redcoat and I remember on my first day being handed a microphone in front of 2,500 people. They said, “Here’s the microphone, here’s the stage, you’ve got 20 minutes to fill. Off you go!” I was absolutely terrified. That experience in talking to the audience was really important.
What is it like working with Belgrade panto legend, Iain Lauchlan?
I was slightly nervous the first time I worked with him but now, five years on, we’re the best of friends! He’s not egotistical and I think that’s why he and I have a good working relationship on stage. I let him have his moments on stage and he lets me have mine. In rehearsals, he’s always very open to suggestions whereas I’ve worked with other directors where whatever’s on the page is final.
What do you find the most challenging or hardest part of being in panto?
I think the most challenging thing is probably the rehearsal process. Iain Lauchlan writes the script and because we’ve built up such a close relationship over the years, he writes with me in mind. Often when I get the script, there’s not much detail in the comedy scenes, just the bare bones. We have to then build on this in rehearsals and add in the funny bits, which is probably the most challenging thing.
What can audiences expect from this year’s pantomime, Dick Whittington?
As always, there’s going to be lots of slapstick, lots of silly humour, loads of dances, and the costumes and the sets are stunning. Mark Walters, the designer, has been working on the Belgrade panto for the last few years so visually, it’s going to be amazing. There will also be plenty of in-jokes; Brexit will get a mention, as well as Pokémon Go, and possibly even Donald Trump! If you haven’t been yet, make sure you come along!
What is your favourite panto character to play?
My favourite panto at the Belgrade was Aladdin in 2014. I really enjoyed playing Wishee Washee, and that family unit is great. You’ve got Widow Twankey who is the mum of Wishee Washee and Aladdin, and as a comic, it’s a really fun show to do. I also love Cinderella and played Buttons in Cinderella in Lincoln, alongside Cannon and Ball! I would love to play Buttons again here in Coventry, which might be happening very soon…
Craig Hollingsworth will be performing in Dick Whittington at the Belgrade Theatre from Weds 23 Nov 2016 – Sat 7 Jan 2016. Tickets are available now priced from £16 for adults, £11 for children and £43 for families. Book now by calling the Belgrade’s Box Office team on 024 7655 3055 or book online where tickets are cheaper.