Music, comedy, spectacle and lots of over-the-top fun are all elements of pantomime much loved by audiences heading to Norwich Theatre Royal to see Sleeping Beauty this Christmas.
They are elements shared with another much-loved theatre genre, Gilbert and Sullivan light operettas, and very much part of the attraction for opera singer Stephen Godward who stars in our panto as the Lord of the Manor Lord Teddy Norbridge.
Speaking to Judy Foster, Stephen tells how he started out studying music at The Guildhall Shool of Music and Drama and went on to perform in everything from the Mozart buffo roles of Figaro, Papageno, Leporello and Don Alfonso to parts in La Boheme, Aida, Turandot, The Bartered Bride, Carmen and L’Elisir d’Amore, as well as countless musicals and a busy concert schedule.
He has also performed in all 13 of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in many different venues around the country, as well as in Canada, the USA and Spain, and has appeared with Gilbert and Sullivan For All and The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, most recently touring to Norwich Theatre Royal in September this year alongside Richard Gauntlett in The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore.
Coming from such a strong background in the light opera world, Stephen is enjoying his chance to step into panto for the very first time. He said: “I have always loved pantomime because of its diversity of characters and the over-the-top nature of it. It is so much fun and I love the way the audience comes back and enjoys it year after year thanks to the music, comedy, spectacle and humour.”
Tell us a little about your role in Sleeping Beauty?
I am the head of a large country house at the beginning of the 20th century in the times of servants and high living and weekend parties. I think he is a bit of a crusty old Lord. He is definitely the head of his household and into his hunting, shooting and fishing.
Are there characters from Gilbert and Sullivan that you can draw on for this role?
There are quite a few Gilbert and Sullivan influences in my character. Richard Gauntlett said to me ‘think about Sir Marmaduke in The Sorcerer’. He is the same sort of character as he is the feudal Lord of the Manor and he is the one who everyone has to bow down to and he has lots of servants and a big household and a big house. So there are certain characters in that I can draw from.
How did you get started in theatre?
Well I started at school with Gilbert & Sullivan and then I went into the amateur field and did lots of amateur shows and progressed to doing professional ones and with The National Gilbert and Sullivan Company over the last five or six years.. I just recently did the tour which brought me to Norwich. I have done a lot of opera as well, that was my main thing alongside Gilbert and Sullivan as well.
How many times have you been to Norwich and the Theatre Royal before?
I have seen the panto three times before. I saw Robin Hood. I saw Charlotte Baptie in Peter Pan as I have known her a long time and I saw the one last year. I have been three times and always marvelled at scenes like the water scenes which are absolutely marvellous.
So you know a little of our panto audience in Norwich?
I do. I know that you sell out quickly. As soon as tickets go on sale for certain performances, they are snapped up. Friends of mine who are coming from Nottingham say for certain performances, they are hard to get in to as they are quite full. I am encouraging people to book fast so they don’t miss out.
So this is your first time performing in a panto?
This is my very first panto in Norwich or anywhere and I am really enjoying the rehearsal process. I have always loved panto and I have loved the diversity of the characters and the over the top-ness of what panto is. It is really the fun and the music and watching how much the audience enjoy it and come back year after ear to see the comedy and the singing and the humour and spectacle. Looking at my costume, it certainly is a spectacle! It’s very smart and colourful.
What are you looking forward to about spending Christmas here?
I’m looking forward to investigating the city more and I shall be spending Christmas Day in Cambridge because I have relations in Cambridge so it is not so far to go home at Christmas.
Sleeping Beauty is here from 13 December – 14 January. Buy tickets now at Norwich Theatre Royal.