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Christopher thrives on thrill of panto

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 14, 2012

Christopher Biggins will be starring alongside Basil Brush in Dick Whittington at Plymouth's Theatre Royal

Christopher Biggins will be starring alongside Basil Brush in Dick Whittington at Plymouth's Theatre Royal

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If just the tiniest bit of festive weariness is setting in, try the company of Christopher Biggins. He wishes it could be Christmas every day. Well, a Christmas show every day.

There is no suggestion that his enthusiasm for the seasonal fun is behind him, even after more than 40 years in pantomimes.

He cannot wait to pull on Sarah the Cook's outrageous frocks and get Dick Whittington under way at the Theatre Royal Plymouth tonight.

"It is hard work. We do 12 performances a week," concedes the actor, who will turn 64 on Sunday.

"It is tough but so rewarding because the audiences are fantastic, especially in Plymouth. They do love their panto here and I just love doing it. I love the energy of panto, that feeling you get from audiences."

Christopher is joined in the cast by children's TV favourite Basil Brush (Alderman Foxwarren), musical theatre specialist Sam Cassidy (Dick), impressionist Hilary O'Neil (Spirit of the Bells) and Torbay-based comedian Ben Nickless (Simple Simon).

Younger members of the Theatre Royal audience will know Christopher as the winner of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! in 2007 and for some bonkers antics as a regular on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, both on ITV1.

Mums and dads and grandparents will remember him from the BBC heavyweight drama I, Claudius in the 1970s and as the wicked vicar in the Westcountry mining saga Poldark, which followed the acclaimed Roman history series.

He was a fixture in prison sitcom Porridge in the middle of that decade.

His versatility means that he is in demand every year in panto – yet he can still fit cutting-edge television comedy Psychoville like a glove and walk away with audience hearts (and cash for charity) in Celebrity Come Dine With Me on Channel 4.

Throughout his working life there has been panto.

He broke a run of 38 years when I'm A Celebrity clashed with the build-up up to the festive show but has not missed one since.

After last year's panto (playing Mrs Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe in Cardiff) he went into the film adaptation of a stage farce, Run For Your Wife.

The Ray Cooney romp about a taxi driver with two lives and two wives is due out in February.

"I play [Bobby] a gay fashion designer – that requires a lot of characterisation for me," he adds, tongue in cheek.

Christopher formed a civil partnership with his partner, Neil Sinclair, in 2006.

"In the film my boyfriend [Cyril] is played by Lionel Blair – another piece of difficult casting. We had an absolute hoot doing it."

He was most recently at the Theatre Royal three years ago, also in a panto, playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin.

"Plymouth is probably the premier modern theatre in England," he says, unprompted. "It is a fantastic theatre, beautifully run.

"I love the setting. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous city – well perhaps not the city centre but that was bombed during the war.

"The audiences are fantastic," he adds, confident they will include some who have got the theatre habit through exposure to the Christmas shows. "Panto it is a breeding ground for theatre. It is usually the first time children have been to the theatre and sometimes it is the first time their parents have been to the theatre.

"If they enjoy themselves they may come to next year's panto and more importantly they may come to theatre in between."

Dick Whittington runs from tonight until Saturday, January 19. Tickets start from £10 (box office: 01752 267222 or at www.theatreroyal.com/panto).

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