As panto season gets into full swing, I’m sitting here, fingers crossed and touching wood – my middle name is Versatile – hoping beyond hope that this year I will be able to get to the Backstage Bar at the Rialto for The West End’s number one adults-only pantomime Snow White and The Seven Merry Men. In merry anticipation, I caught up with drag queen Ava Cardo and Jamie Redman who are playing Snow White and Prince Donkey Dick respectively. Before moving on to the show, I asked the two to tell me a bit about themselves.
AC: I’m originally from the Midlands and went to East15 (acting school) for 3 years. I started doing drag in the Canary Islands at a drag dinner theatre night called the Music Hall Tavern, where I not only learned the craft of drag but also took my first step into the cabaret world. I then moved to London, originally to do acting but doon realised drag was a better option and that’s how Ava came about. Altogether I’ve been doing drag for about 6 years, and I really love it. Obviously, my background is more acting, but I’ve sort of discovered drag is a more reliable way of getting work and making money, plus I’m passionate about singing, costume and character. I’ve recently moved to Brighton where Ava is starting to get established.
JR: I’m a 24-year-old Musical Theatre singer/dancer/actor. I graduated from the London School of Musical Theatre in 2020 and currently live in Camden.
TE: How would you describe Ava and the Prince?
AC: Ava is quite the opposite of my personality. She is a live singing queen and when on stage, her Midlands accent becomes stronger. She’s cheeky, naughty, full of innuendos. On stage, she has high energy and a big gob. She loves to talk to the audience and involve them in the show. Running around the room and sitting on laps. Performance-wise, she could be seen as an old school queen performing lots of gay anthems – Donna Summer, Abba, etc – that the audience will know and join in with. But, with Ava, you never know, so there will be unexpected songs like a parody version of “Teenage Dirtbag” thrown in the mix. Looks-wise, everything about him is big. I’m six feet tall without
heels. She’s a sequin queen with bright colours, sparkly jewellery, and big hair. She’s always blond and a bit ditzy, but I do wonder if she maybe pretends to be dumb for comical effect.
JR: The prince is a bit of a tw*t. He’s really full of himself and totally over-privileged. Very aware of his status and happy to do down those he sees below him. If you were to imagine him, then think of one of the “OK Ya!” types. He does have a couple of good songs in the show including “Don’t Stop Believing” which he sings with Ava and in Act II he has “Go the Distance.”
TE: How did you get involved with the pantomime?
AC: I was contacted by Simon (Gross) who was looking for an up and coming drag queen to take the role of Snow White. I liked the fact that I was scouted as I’ve always looked up to previous queens – like Tanya Hyde and Vicki Vivacious – that had performed in Simon’s pantomimes before. He came to see one of my shows at Halfway II Heaven on a Monday night. Simon enjoyed the show, and we went from there.
JR: I knew the choreographer who asked if I was interested in joining the cast as one of the dancers. I was, and Simon saw my work then asked me to join the show as Prince Donkey Dick.
TE: So how do you prepare for your roles?
AC: I’ve always wanted to play a Disney Princess and, once I’d read the script and really taken in the fact this is a very adult pantomime, I realised it is right up Ava’s street. Normally Ava’s the dirty cow but Snow White is very innocent – with songs including “Like a Virgin” – and the others teach her about life and other certain things. Ava will still be there. The strong Midlands accent has really come out in rehearsals. I think that even if Snow White is suggesting she is innocent about something, Ava will be giving the audience a knowing wink. Snow White’s songs are just right for Ava. It’s all very silly with Simon’s innuendo’s in the script and that plays to Ava’s strengths like comic timing.
JR: Preparing the character starts with a thorough reading of the script and starting to learn the lines. Given the character, the prince sort of automatically gets a public school accent/ I find that interacting with the other actors helps inform my character and the way he is portrayed he sort of develops in an organic way
TE: How is the rehearsal process going?
AC: We started physical rehearsals this week and I’ve learnt the script and songs. It was the first time the cast physically get together, and I loved meeting them in the flesh and singing with them. Simon, playing the evil Queen Genetalia gets to open the show with “Get This Party Started” and I’m so jealous as I love Shirley Bassey.
JR: It’s exciting. After the year we’ve had it feels like a real privilege to be back in a physical rehearsal room with the six other actors. There’s a great cast of characters, like Helga the lesbian henchman, Fairy AJ of Soho, Fag Hag and of course the magic mirror. It’s been hard work but very fun so far.
TE: What are you looking forward to in the production?
AC: I love that I get to do something different this Christmas. A break from cabaret with something that goes back to my theatrical roots. I really love doing cabaret but am really looking forward to working with other characters and actors and enjoying the material in a theatre setting. I did a bit of theatre as Ava earlier in the year and thought then that combining the two worlds is something I could be doing to mix things up a bit. Also, London at Christmas is always pretty. I’ll be seeing friends and working in the West End will make it all really special.
JR: As well as the easy commute (laughs) I’m really looking forward to having the privilege of performing for people again after a long time away. Knowing what I’m doing means I can concentrate on the character to make a great audience experience.
TE: Finally, what advice would you give anyone thinking of starting out as a performer?
AC: Don’t try to be someone else. Definitely be yourself and play to your strengths. If you’re a singer, be one and sing the songs you like and connect with. If you’re a dancer put that in your act and make that part of the show. This really helped when I started out. The best way is to enter competitions like drag idol – which I did 2 years in a row. It’s a great way to meet people and make connections with other performers. It’s also important to have a strong social media presence. I have Insta and Facebook. Lots of people speak to the camera as themselves as well as drag but I prefer to separate myself and Ava. I have noticed the more I post of me performing the more I get noticed. Insta is almost an electronic CV that can be reviewed by everyone. I’ve set for my New Year resolution to explore making online content so keep your eyes peeled.
JR: Be kind to everyone you meet, and if you are feeling overwhelmed, remember it’s OK to take a step back. You don’t have to be on it all the time.
TE: Well, thank you both for meeting me, and good luck with the run.
Snow White and the Seven Merry Men runs from the 10th December until the 17th January on the Backstage Bar at the Rialto and tickets can be purchased here: