AS A graduate of Guildford School of Acting, appearing in panto on the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre stage means more to James Merry than most.

“The last time I was on the YA stage was my graduation ceremony, so it feels like things have come full circle,” says the actor who is currently playing Idle Jack in Dick Whittington.

“It’s a privilege to be part of this year’s panto, after last year’s cancellation this is going to be really special! My partner was also at GSA and played Alice in the Arnaud’s Dick Whittington in 2003, so I guess it’s becoming a family affair!”

Since graduating from GSA, James has become well known to CBeebies viewers as Simon, the star of the BAFTA-nominated series Waffle the Wonder Dog, but he’s looking forward to the change of role.

“The key difference is the size of performance you give,” he explains. “On TV you’re acting for a very small screen, but in theatre you’ve got a massive stage and auditorium to fill, so the performance has to be larger.

“Also, on TV you can try again if you mess up. In theatre you’ve got one shot so that does add pressure, but that’s what makes it so magical.”

James says he’s been looking forward to the backstage atmosphere and camaraderie that occurs among a pantomime cast and crew.

“I’ve missed the buzz you get waiting in the wings,” he says. “Also the kids’ laughter, as actors we love getting laughs and kids don’t hold back which is very rewarding.”

To get in the panto mood, James insisted on a seasonal joke:What did the dog say to the Christmas tree? Bark.”

The theatre promises James will be much funnier in panto – they’ve written the jokes for him! Catch him in Dick Whittington at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford until Sunday 9 January.