There’s nothing like a Dame as panto draws near

Stephen Weller is this year's Panto Dame 'Sarah the Cook'
Stephen Weller is this year's Panto Dame 'Sarah the Cook'

‘HELLOOO’, she hollers. “I’m Sarah, Sarah the Cook.”

Bounding through the Abbey Gardens and waving to her bemused public, the grand priestess of pantomime has arrived in Bury St Edmunds.

She is on a whirlwind visit for an early September photoshoot to promote the Theatre Royal’s upcoming festive production of Dick Whittington and His Cat in which she stars as the key panto ingredient – The Dame.

Played by actor and singer Stephen Weller, Sarah is a primary coloured treat – gloriously gaudy, impish and playful.

The 39-year-old says: “You have to make her likeable and someone who everyone wants to listen to. She binds everything together and everyone knows she’s going to be funny, a bit cheeky and naughty.”

The show, which is billed as a traditional family panto, is Stephen’s second turn as a Dame following his appearance in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in Grantham, last year.

During auditions, he was impressed with the script.

He explains: “It felt like a good combination of the ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no he isn’t’ gags but also funny modern references.”

Judging from his extensive CV, which includes a wealth of musicals, concerts and a career as session singer, soloist and backing vocalist, the performer looks set to add his own sparkling flourish to proceedings.

Why does he think panto has remained so popular?

Stephen muses: “It’s often children’s first experience of theatre. The fun, slapstick and silliness stays with you.” He remembers his first brush with panto with a dash of irony. “I enjoyed it but I was picked to go onstage and I got too shy about it so my first memory of panto is being a bit scared. Now it’s come full circle.” Dick Whittington and His Cat runs at the Theatre Royal from November 25 to January 15. Visit www.theatreroyal.org