Well, slap my thigh and call me Tinker Bell! This week, not one but TWO Captain Hooks vie for your attention as a whole new round of pantos throw open their doors, starring the big names of telly and music as you’ve never seen them before...
We’re used to seeing him with his claws out, but this is just getting ridiculous! Craig Revel Horwood goes a step further with a ferocious-looking left hook and outright sneer as the rogue in Dartford panto, Peter Pan.
Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig is one of the most-watched stars of TV in the build-up to this season’s finale, and he’s got a reputation for being the villain of the piece there as well!
“We’ve got some really good people in this Strictly,” said Craig.
“Pixie is doing Kent proud as ballroom is very different to the type of dancing she’s used to doing.
“I didn’t hold much hope for Greg Wallace. Some of the celebrities weren’t particularly gifted in the dance department but it’s been a spectacular season,” says the most critical member of the Strictly judging panel about this year’s participants, in one of his milder comments.
In fact, in the flesh Craig comes across as (whisper it) an altogether softer character.
“I’m looking forward to introducing children to theatre, and I think panto is the perfect recipe to teach kids that theatre is fun, interactive and better than computer games,” added the 49-year-old.
Craig takes the role of Captain Hook in what is his fifth panto. Many will remember that he appeared at the Orchard Theatre in Snow White back in 2011 alongside former Kent MP and Strictly contestant Ann Widdecombe.
“I’ve done five years of panto,” he said. “I did two years with Ann, so the script was very politically-based. One would have to act responsibly around Ann, but she was fun – she sort of ‘got it’ in the end, I thought she was great with the kids and stuff. She learned the stage craft as she went along.
“The last one I did was with Lisa Riley [formerly of Emmerdale and You’ve Been Framed], so we could share the musical theatre side of things, which was great.
“I was a nervous wreck, I’ve got to be honest, when I first did [panto] in LLandudno. I hadn’t performed for 16 years because I’d been directing and choreographing, so it was a return to the stage, but I ended up loving it so much I signed for four years.”
Playing a male role, as opposed to the Evil Queen on his last trip to Dartford, comes as a relief.
“I’m looking forward to not being in drag. That was seriously hard work. This will be a lot easier costume-wise.
Craig, who turns 50 the day after the run at the Orchard finishes, added: “I like the freedom of panto. You’re not entirely tied to the script and you can have a lot of fun with the audience and break character. In most theatre you can’t do that.”
The cast of Peter Pan also includes ventriloquist Dawson Chance with Willy, Andy Owens as Peter Pan and Tabitha Camburn as Tinker Bell.
Being on the judging panel of Strictly is not as easy as it may appear, says Craig.
“Being on a judging panel is quite a skill and I’m not sure people always realise this.
"It’s quite something to watch a performance in one minute and 30 seconds, then form a constructive argument to talk about what you’ve seen for ten or 20 seconds,” he’s said in the past. “It takes practise, because in life you never have to be that succinct.
"I quickly learnt to jot down several things about the performance as it was going on. Then, if Len [Goodman] or Bruno [Tonioli] talked about arms, I could talk about footwork.”
But here are those claws again: “Len hands out 10s willy-nilly, come on! And Bruno! He’s all, “Oh that was wonderful my darling, I love it, I love it, I LOVE IT, 10!”
CRAIG’S STORY SO FAR
Craig’s professional training began in his hometown of Ballarat, Australia
He appeared in Melbourne productions of West Side Story, Me and My Girl and Ladies Night
On moving to Europe, Craig won the part of a dancer and then principal singer in Formidable at the Moulin Rouge
Once in the UK, he appeared in Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and Miss Saigon
He has been an expert judge on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing since it began in 2004
Since then, he has become a regular panellist on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5, and has appeared on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy, Celebrity Masterchef and Ready, Steady Cook
“My favourite thing about Christmas is having Christmas Day off, because you only get two days off in panto, otherwise you work seven days a week,” said Craig. “This year’s going to be even more spectacular because I’m going to be having it at my new country manor, and my family are coming over from Australia for it.
“Normally I have all the waifs and strays, people left in London all by themselves, so it’s normally for friends, but they will all come too. My house is plenty big enough for a party of 20 or more! The house will be full of people and life.”
He adds: “We always do the Queen’s Speech, we flick the telly on for that, and then we eat, watch Strictly, and party.”
Peter Pan opens at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre on Friday, December 12 and runs until Saturday, January 3. Tickets cost from £15. Visit www.orchardtheatre.co.uk or call 01322 220000.
How can Peter Pan fail to fly high with Kent kids, with a cast boasting Holby City heartthrob and narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine, Mark Moraghan? Jo Roberts finds out more.
Cutlasses and cannons! Can you believe who’s been washed ashore in Tunbridge Wells, shipmates?
Children will familiar with the Liverpudlian tones of actor Mark Moraghan, who plays villainous Captain Hook in the Assembly Hall Theatre panto Peter Pan, as the narrator from Thomas the Tank Engine.
Meanwhile, parents – and particularly mums, perhaps – will recognise Mark best as Owen Davis, the doctor who set pulses racing in Holby City.
But, back in the late 1990s, it was Brookside that turned him into a household face, as the ill-fated builder Greg Shadwick, who died in an explosion.
“Being a regular in something like that does help to raise your profile. I was only in it for 18 months, I got out at the right time,” says Mark, 51.
“I walked straight into another job, which was Dream Team [the Sky 1 football drama]. That was a great job - getting to run around with a football. I did that for two years and then went on a run of doing long-term jobs. I think I went on to Holby next.
“I did Holby for five years. I enjoyed the technicality of it – all the medical stuff we had to learn. It was quite challenging to look convincing doing it.”
The stage has also played a large part in Mark’s career, and he comes to the Assembly Hall Theatre directly from a show called Never Walk Alone: The Official History of Liverpool Football Club, which he says has been a career highlight.
“Being a Liverpool fan, it’s 121 years of history of the club. To anyone who’s not into football it might sound boring, but it’s far from it,” says Mark.
“I wrote quite a few of the sketches in the show and have had a big input in it. The critics have loved it and we’ve had some tremendous reviews. So that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
The diversity of an actor’s life is what keeps it so interesting though, and Hook is a role he’d set his sights on.
“Captain Hook is one of the great characters to play in panto. I keep playing the villain, but Captain Hook’s the one I’ve really wanted to do. I much prefer playing the baddy,” said Mark, who will be appearing in Tunbridge Wells alongside a cast that includes Gemma Hunt of CBeebies’ Swashbuckle as fairy Tinker Bell.
Despite his roots in Liverpool, Mark won’t be too far from home in Tunbridge Wells – he made the move to London for work purposes in 2006.
“I get a lot of work in Liverpool still, so I have a place to stay when I go up there; it works really well,” says Mark, who lives with his partner, Vanessa, and children, Ella, seven, Yvie, four. He also has adult daughters Jade, 28 and Hollie, 24, who have children of their own.
“We live half an hour away from Tunbridge Wells, so I’ll be able to do the school run before work and then drive home every night. It’s a luxury, as I’ll get the benefit of my own Christmas decorations this year, for a change!”
Peter Pan is at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells from Friday, December 12 until Sunday, January 4. Tickets cost from £16.50. Call 01892 530613 or visit www.assemblyhall theatre.co.uk
For the full Kent panto round-up, including details of others shows which launch this week, click here.