When Terence Frisch steps out onto the Watford Palace stage tonight, he’ll be carrying the weight of more than a century of tradition on his shoulders – as well as a headpiece so wide he has to walk through doors sideways.
The Harrow actor is playing the part of Mother Goose in the annual Palace panto, and can't help but feel the history of the place when he delivers his lines.
“The great thing about panto is you’re doing scenes and gags that were done 100 years ago by other people, almost verbatim,” he explains, removing his six-inch heels. “And you think, my gosh, greats like Herbert Campbell and Dan Leno did these same bits, played the same parts.
“You You really do feel, especially in an old theatre like this, like the ghosts are here.”
The Palace has been putting on pantos almost every year since 1911’s Boxing Day performance of Aladdin. In those days it was a bustling music hall, where the stars of vaudeville played to packed houses night after night.
A favourite of Watford audiences at the time was Harry Champion, singer of Any Old Iron. In tonight’s production, Terence will be singing lines from the Cockney classic in a nod to the musical comic.
“He actually played here and sang Any Old Iron in this very spot,” says Terence. “I keep thinking the ghosts of this theatre will be hearing this song again, for the first time in 80 years or so. It’s nice to feel part of that sense of history. It’s in the theatre, it’s all around us.”
Set in the not-so-far-away land of Watfordia, the show follows Mother Goose whose pet goose Priscilla is laying golden eggs. Will Mother Goose learn that there’s more to life than money and fame, and more to Priscilla than her Midas tush?
“It’s the Dames’ King Lear,” says Terence, who has recently performed in The Lord of The Rings in the West End and Romeo and Juliet at The Globe. “Most pantos, it’s usually a love story or hero story and the dame is incidental, a bit of light relief. In Mother Goose the play is about Mother Goose. She goes through quite a journey.
“In essence you’re telling a story, whether it’s panto or it’s Oedipus. It’s just working out how to tell the story in the most entertaining way. In panto we say the play’s the thing, it’s all got to serve the play.”
Featuring a live band, a ballet-dancing goose, stunning bespoke sets and costumes designed by Cleo Pettitt, and, of course, plenty of audience participation, the production promises to be the Palace’s most magical yet.
“The audience are so much part of the show,” adds Terence, “without them being in the same space as we are, we can’t do it. Panto is something that happens in between the audience and the stage – a miasmic blob of joint experience between a crowd and performers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go put on a green frock and some very high heels and see if I can fly.”
- Mother Goose is at Watford Palace Theatre, Clarendon Road, until December 29 at various times. Details: 01923 225671