With panto season fast approaching, Gareth Gates is preparing to play the Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – but even as a seasoned actor and singer, every performance presents a fresh challenge for the former Pop Idol star.
While singing is his first love, when it comes to delivering his lines, Gareth still has to find ways to control the stammer which has been a part of his life since childhood.
Music became his saviour at the age of eight, when he took on the lead role in a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and found that singing and performing gave him the confidence he lacked due to his speech problems. He went on to realise his dream when he was offered the role of Joseph in the West End.
“For me, music is a release and a means of self expression,” says Gareth. “I love singing, but speech is more of an issue, I use breathing techniques to help me manage it. I’ve tried various things, but the only thing one seems to work is the McGuire programme. It can be isolating to have this problem, but through the programme, I’ve met other people who share my affliction.”
The method developed by Dave McGuire, which featured in the Channel 4 documentary Stammer School, teaches ways to keep the problem under control, such as Costal breathing, a technique used by opera singers.
Gareth is supported by a fellow member from the programme, Chris Cooksey, who acts as his speech coach, advising him when he needs to slow down or take a breath to stop him stumbling over his words.
“When I’m rehearsing, it can be terrifying,” admits Gareth, “But when I actually go on stage, I get into character and I’m on a roll. I adopt a different persona. For Aladdin, I played him as a cheeky chappie, with my own Northern accent. In Snow White, I become a handsome prince, who speaks very well!”
Stress can worsen Gareth’s speech problems, so it helps that panto is a more laid-back style of theatre with the chance to ad-lib if necessary.
“Compared to serious West End shows, panto is nice and relaxed,” says Gareth, who spent 18 months in Les Miserables. “It’s an enjoyable thing to do, to get on stage and interact with the audience.”
His five-year-old daughter Missy loves to watch him on stage and on one occasion during the traditional scene where the hero plays up to the audience by failing to spot the villain, a little voice piped up from the audience: “Daddy – he’s behind you!”
“This is my fifth panto – it wouldn’t feel like Christmas without it!” says Gareth. “Im looking forward to singing songs I really enjoy in this production of Snow White. Panto really gets you into the festive spirit. As a child I went every year, and now I love to be part of other people’s Christmas.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, written by Paul Hendy and produced by Evolution, stars Gareth Gates as Prince Charming and Witney White as Snow White, with Quinn Patrick as Nurse Nellie and Siani Owen as Queen Morgiana.
Interview by Angela Lord
Performances at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, run from Friday 5th December until Sunday 4th January. Tickets for performances from Friday 5th to Friday 12th December and Sunday 4th January are £17. All other performances are priced £21, £26 & £30 Adults and £21, £22 & £25 Children & Senior Citizens. Family Ticket £91. Concessions for groups. Tickets are available from the Fairfield Halls Box Office 020 8688 9291 or online at www.fairfield.co.uk
Wednesday 1st October 2014