Christmas comes but once a year they say, but not if you are Mr Simon Gross. Not content with one sell-out run of his adult panto Snow White and the Seven Merry Men, he is bringing the show back to the Rialto as an Easter treat. I spoke with Ava Cardo (Snow White) and Luke Brilley (The Magic Mirror) and started off by pointing out that they are indeed doing panto at Easter?
AC: Yes, I’m looking forward to it. It was even more fun than I expected last time at Christmas. I think it will be even better this time. I think last time there was just a little Covid scare in the air like “will things go ahead or not?” whereas I think this time, we’re just going to relax, and we’re going to have more fun.
LB: I’d done the Christmas show which was a blast and Simon approached us near the end of the run and pitched the idea of doing it again at Easter. I was already 100% down for that because of how much fun it was the first time and how well the audience received it. It’s strange because it feels like it’s been a quick few months and now we’re here ready to go and I’m delighted to be back and to be doing it with Simon and this cast. It’s going to be very exciting.
TE: When I saw the show you all definitely looked like you were having a lot of fun.
AC: I’d not done a panto before and I quite enjoyed just being given a script and initially thinking that I would just do my lines, but every night was different, depending on what the crowd was like. So, each night there would be a bit of improvising going on, and I think that fun we were having on stage and the fact we were having a good time flowed over to the audience who definitely felt that as well. There’s no pressure to do a certain kind of performance. It’s going on and having fun, doing the lines, smiling, laughing, and taking the audience with you. So yeah, easy work really (he laughs). At the same time, it’s not because once I’m off the stage, I realise how hard I’ve worked because I was always knackered at the end of it, and my feet really ache because I’m doing a lot of dancing around in heels. Doing anything in heels takes years of practice until you feel comfortable. And I’m not really a dancer either, but I quite surprised myself that I could move in these shows. I thought I might have to get a smaller heel or something, but it was fine.
LB: It was really fun, just because there was sort of no limits to the show, and if you messed up the audience actually loved it more and like you could sort of play with people in the audience and with the cast, you could really have as much fun as you want. Even when we were off-stage, we had the best banter together and it didn’t feel like work, it was more like hanging out with your friends. It was really the most fun I’ve had doing a show just because of how free it was. Simon gave us that freedom telling us to have fun with our character, and the audience because that’s what everyone wants.
TE: I have to say that when I saw the show I was really struck by the quality of the choreography, especially on a smallish cabaret stage.
AC: Not just the stage but the ceiling is quite low as well. I’m tall as it is, then put me in my heels and I wasn’t that far off the ceiling. But we still managed to get every movement on it. When it came to the choreography, in rehearsals, I was in for a bit of a shock on day 1 and 2 because while I come from a drag background, the rest of the cast are from a more musical theatre one and they seemed to know what to expect when it came to the first choreography rehearsal. I was there thinking oh my god, everyone’s really good, they’re picking it up really well and I’m the one falling behind. But I think that’s all it was, just something new and towards the end of the rehearsals I did have the steps and when it was on the stage, once you’ve learned the moves to precision, I found I could relax and have fun with the choreography, so it’s not as intense as it first seems at the beginning. So, it was fine at the end and all good. A few times in rehearsals I would watch the dancing from the audience’s point of view, and I could see how good it was looking at which is something you don’t necessarily see when you’re performing.
LB: Originally, I wasn’t supposed to be doing as much choreography as I ended up doing. Simon asked me during the rehearsal period if I would be open to being more in the dances. As scared as I was initially, because I’m not much of a dancer, I was up for the challenge and went for it. It was funny because in rehearsals, we planned the dancing as if the stage was bigger, then when we got to the venue, we found it was smaller than we had thought so we had to cut the movement down to fit the stage and make sure we didn’t fall off the sides or front. I think it ended up working out really well and I think as well one of the best things about the show is that somehow, we make this smallish stage look and feel bigger by the way the show’s staged and the way we moved. It took a lot of practice and hard work and in the end, we eventually smashed it. Luckily for the dances, I didn’t have to wear the mirror part of my costume. There were two versions of the magic mirror in the show. The character one with the mirror attached to his face, and then the one without who chats to the audience and luckily it was that one who did the dancing.
TE: Do you think this is something you will be taking forward into Ava’s shows in the future?
AC: I was thinking that actually. I was thinking I should go to a few Zumba classes or something. Often Ava is just running around wriggling her hips a bit. A bit like dad-dancing. Ava’s a bit of a clown and she wants to make people laugh so she does silly dance moves on the whole. So, it will be interesting to see if I can integrate some choreography into my numbers a bit more and take the dancing idea a bit more seriously myself, rather than thinking I can’t dance so I’ll be silly with it.
TE: Looking back on the first run in December, what was or were your highlights?
AC: I think it was each night, getting a different audience reaction, because they can be quite wild. Simon did say, be prepared to think on the spot, because they will call out things or shout things and they might catch you off-guard so be ready to say something back, they will be loud but don’t be afraid, just speak up. He was right because each night the audience would be quite wild – in a good way (most times) – and we would come off stage and laugh about how funny a scene was, in particular, that night because of the way the audience reacted and how we interacted with them.
LB: Where do I start? I think one of my real stand-out moments was during the “If I don’t work for the Evil Queen” song. As part of the song, each character comes on and does a verse building a cumulative song, (like Old MacDonald had a farm). This particular night, we had all done our verses and pointed to the stage side ready for FagHag to walk on, but she wasn’t there, the music carried on and we were like dancing in place, then suddenly she ran on in panic and we just laughed so hard we couldn’t finish the song.
TE: How did you find coping with an enthusiastic, loud, vocal audience?
AC: I think I have a bit of experience with this, so I didn’t mind. I know its perfectly normal and if anything, it means they are enjoying the show if they’re shouting things out. But there was a little bit of a challenge because I would have to get back onto the script in order to tell the story. So, I might get a bit carried away, then stop and think where we were and work out how we smoothly transitioned back. So that could be a challenge, but I never got distracted from my lines too far.
LB: The audience, they were a tricky bunch (laughs). They were fun and the majority of them were the best, they responded in the ways that you’d want them to. I’d never been involved in a show before where the audience were involved in the story as much as the cast. They have to shout things out and give you the push to lead the show, and I’d never been a part of something like that. So, on the opening night, it was definitely a shock knowing I had to talk to the people and sometimes take the pee out of them which was so much fun. However, there were a few nights when the audience got a bit out of hand and were screaming things rather than listening to the dialogue so that was tricky, and we had to work around it but on the whole, they were great, and it was definitely something for me to get used to.
TE: Did anything take you by surprise when during the show?
AC: In the beginning, it was really important for me to ensure I hit all my lines and had mastered the choreography, but after a few shows I was more relaxed about anything going wrong. If anything did, such as the time I was singing ‘Let It Go’ and one of the dancers was spun too fast and her wig went flying off into the audience. And there was a moment of “Oh No!” then everyone, including the performers were in hysterics. So, we were allowed to laugh at what had happened. So it was that whole idea that yes, things can go wrong, but its OK as we will play to it, enjoy it, and get the show back.
LB: Having an audience really. In rehearsals, you’re saying the lines and telling the jokes, but because we’ve read the script like a gazillion times, we don’t find them that funny anymore and are saying them in an empty room with no0one responding. Then you go on stage the first time and the audience are howling with laughter and it strikes you they are hearing this stuff for the first time. I was a pleasant shock as I had to think about stopping to let them laugh before moving on, which was a fun challenge, but it was great.
TE: What are you looking forward to doing it again?
AC: I think just going into it from the beginning and knowing what it’s about so from day 1 I can just let go and have fun. Also, seeing the cast again, not only as people but I know we all just work well together, they were really sweet and really nice.
LB: I think just being in front of the audiences again. I think people want to go to the theatre and they want to have a good time. They want to leave feeling better than when they came in. There’s no better feeling than being in front of an audience doing stupid stuff and having them laugh. There’s something really fun about that. Also, it will be fun and nice to be back with the cast and catch up with what they’ve been up to in the last few months.
TE: for anyone that doesn’t know, give me a quick precis of the show.
AC: Snow White (me) has a horrible stepmother who believes she is the fairest in the land. She has a mirror that tells her she isn’t, and Snow White is. The queen plots to kill Snow, and initially gets her henchwoman to do it but that doesn’t work so she goes after Snow herself. However, Snow has met some merry men who have taken her in because she is on the run and then finally the prince saves her.
LB: It’s an interactive panto/drag show/all the best parts of theatre combined into one. It’s a fun night out with crazy characters who are camp and hilariously stupid. Whatever you are into, anyone can enjoy the show and it’s for everyone – 18 and up obviously.
TE: Ah yes, the prince. A man of at least one extraordinary talent.
AC: yes, without giving too much away, the Prince’s name gives you a clue as to why he is the favourite character in the show for many people. Often him just walking onstage causes an eruption in the audience. And it really is one of the funniest parts of the show. One of the most bizarre things for me is that if I look back years ago when I was asking myself what would I be doing in three or four years’ time? I think I’d be so gobsmacked at where I am now in this show I’m doing. How mad, crazy, wild, and naughty it is, but I’m very happy to be doing it again.
LC: Yes, I can’t think of any show when the audience didn’t laugh or gasp and get their phones out the moment the prince appeared. The first time I saw the costume I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was hilarious, and we were all excited for the audience’s reaction.
TE: Has Snow White whetted your appetite to do more theatre work?
AC: I think it made me realise there are opportunities. I would like to do any theatre as Ava Cardo in drag, rather than a Jack, because it’s more fun and there are more opportunities, such as pantomimes and other theatre things where drag is seen these days. Ava’s doing Brighton Fringe this year in May, straight after the panto, and she’ll be at the village party during Brighton pride.
LB: I don’t like to plan anything out. I like to let myself go and see where the wind takes me. If I make a plan and it doesn’t work out, then that’s when I’m going to be hard on myself. I have goals but don’t try to put timestamps on them. So, we will see what the end of the year looks like. Hopefully, it’s something even bigger, but again I’m not going to try and put too much pressure on myself.
TE: thank you both so much for meeting me again. Let’s remind everyone of the details for the show.
AC: It’s on at the Backstage Bar of the Rialto which is between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square and the run starts on the 15th of April with the final performance on the 1st of May. If you have did see the show at Christmas, it’s definitely worth coming again, because there are going to be changes to the script and new songs – especially Snow’s entry number. I’ve let go of ‘Let it Go’ so there will be something innocent, Disney princess and very in character for Snow.
Follow Simon Gross on Twitter @SimonGShowbiz with links to the show.