ALADDIN is like the Olympics for panto star Emma Thornett –oh yes it is! She’s back in Surrey
to take on the role of the young boy with a magic lamp for the third time in eight years.
Now a puppeteer for the West End production of War Horse, she made her pantomime debut at
Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre back in 2008, then returned to reprise the role in 2012 and has
chosen to sustain her record, claimingthe Aladdin title for 2016 as well!
“How could I not?” says Emma. “It will feel like coming home for Christmas. It’s like the Olympics,
every four years I do Aladdin!” However, the graduate of Birmingham School of Speech and Drama admits: “I was quite nervous for my first panto because it’s a very different discipline to any other kind of theatre – it’s like nothing else. What I really love about it is directly addressing the audience and having
fun, telling jokes and enjoying their feedback – I really love that immediacy.
“For Aladdin, the importance is really in the storytelling and about playing the truth – that’s what
director Gerry Tebbutt taught me – and he’s right. Each character in panto has their role and if everyone
sticks to that, it turns out really well. That’s what I really enjoy about it.”
This year Emma is looking forward to treading the boards with stage star Janie Dee, who plays the Genie. She has won the Olivier Award, Evening Standard Award and Critics’ Circle Theatre Award – a triple honour she shares with Dame Judi Dench!
“I was so excited to hear that she was doing it, what a legend!” says Emma. “It will be brilliant, I’ll really enjoy sharing the stage with her and taking some tips from this wonderful award winner.
She’s done so much so hopefully she’s got some anecdotes and stories too!
“And I’ve never met Ray Griffiths, who plays PC Pongo – but I’ve seen some banter on Twitter
already between Ray, Peter Gordon (Widow Twankey) and Jamie Brook (Wishee Washee), and I
think we’re going to make a great team.”
Emma’s own stage credits are getting more and more impressive. She created the role of Mary in the
original cast National Tour of David Essex’s All The Fun Of The Fair, and her West End roles include
Donna Marie in Blood Brothers and most recently, Paulette and Baby Joey in War Horse.
“War Horse was just such an incredible job,” she says. “It’s a huge production, with 38 people in the cast, 15 dressers and countless crew, and it felt like quite a big responsibility to be taking over such an important role. I was puppeteering Joey (the main horse) when the audience first met him as a baby foal and I really, really wanted to get it right.
“I’d never puppeteered before so I learnt a new skill! I had two weeks of intensive puppetry training,
learning all the ethos of puppetry, every aspect of a horse – how they think and breathe as a pack animal and how they sound. I feel really blessed to have been a part of it and I’ll always draw on my experience from that show for future productions.”
Now, Emma’s thoughts have turned to panto – and Christmas. “I love the food and the presents of course,” she says. “But I get really moved when I hear anybody sing carols – I’m a bit of a softie though, I cry at anything!”
lEMMA Thornett will star as Aladdin at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from tomorrow (Friday 9 December)