PANTOMIME has a tradition stretching back hundreds of years in Britain but it is now performing a new purpose – dragging people away from Facebook and Grand Theft Auto.
Panto has always been something families come out and see together with younger members often getting their first taste of the theatre, but Bonnie Langford says it’s even more important nowadays.
“It means they get off the phone or the PlayStation and come and see something that’s actually happening live in front of them,” says the star who’s playing the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.
“Today you can record anything from a film to a TV programme or just download it, but you can’t do that with theatre. It’s a way of teaching children – and adults – to concentrate on something and be interested in it.”
Bonnie also says it’s a great chance for people to get really involved in their entertainment and interact with each other and the actors on stage.
“Pantomime is like a character that’s different every night, and that’s because of the audience,” she says. “In a good panto it’s clear when the audience is meant to participate – and when they aren’t. It’s lovely to hear people get involved.
“If you watch TV you might talk a bit – especially on Gogglebox, which I adore – but you’re commenting from outside, whereas at a panto you’re part of it. It’s very exciting.
“At Guildford they’re very strong on it being a local panto with a sense of charm and tradition, and I like that.”
Former child star Bonnie (above) has appeared in countless shows on TV, film and stage from Just William and Bugsy Malone to Chicago and Dancing On Ice. But there’s one show for which she’ll be remembered above all others – Doctor Who.
She was the Doctor’s assistant Mel from 1986 to 1987 alongside both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy and revived the role for the recent BBC special Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor.
“They call mine a classic series now,” she muses. “I’m just waiting for them to call it vintage! But Doctor Who never really went away for me.
“When you join Doctor Who it becomes a constant in your life. Most TV shows go out, the jobs done and people might mention it afterwards but usually not. With Doctor Who it keeps on going because the fans are so lovely and so strong.
“Then it came back afresh and it’s huge all over the world. It was a cult thing but now it’s much more mainstream. It has a brilliant production team, writers and actors. When I was doing it, it was all shaky sets and wobbly monsters – I always say I was in it during its Acorn Antiques phase.
“Also, it was quite a difficult time – it was about to be taken off air and there were a lot of emotions behind the scenes because there was such a great love for the show even back then.”
Bonnie also helped pioneer reality TV by appearing in the first series of Dancing On Ice back in 2006.
However, she says: “I never treated it as a competition, I just did what they told me. The truth is I wasn’t meant to be in it, I was on the reserve list and then they phoned me when I was in rehearsal for panto at Guildford and said someone had been injured and I was in the show.
“So then I had a ridiculous schedule of panto and Dancing On Ice so I just did whatever they told me.
“Being able to dance was actually a disadvantage because I’ve been trained for years to keep a straightened knee and that’s completely against everything you do on ice. I just kept falling over!
“I’ve been offered quite a few other realty shows but I’ve turned them all down. I’ve been offered I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! about five or six times and I’ve said no every time. It might make good television because I’d be hopeless but I really don’t fancy it.”
For now former Surrey resident Bonnie is sticking to panto and is relishing a return to Guildford as she now divides her time between West London and New York.
“The Yvonne Arnaud is like my second home,” she says. “As I don’t live in Surrey any more, it’s lovely to go back, it’s such a great atmosphere.”
Bonnie Langford stars as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, which opens at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, tomorrow (Friday, December 6) and runs until Sunday, January 12.