The Playhouse


Preview: Beauty And The Beast

December - January 2016-17

Pre-Christmas ladies who lunch with panto people

Sharing a sandwich and a cup of tea sitting in the stalls with a famous actor, comedian, author and sitcom star at a panto launch in Weston-super-Mare is how two local ladies lunch!

Retired teacher Lynda Dicks, of Backwell, and her friend retired nursery nurse Jacqui Nelson, of Nailsea, are big fans of BBC 1 sitcom Only Fools And Horses and jumped at the chance of ‘interviewing’ John Challis at The Playhouse for Nailsea People.

Lynda is such a fan she even named her dog Cassie after Cassandra the love interest of Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter's younger brother Rodney in the series.

But Lynda and Jacqui are equally well-known here in Nailsea and nearby for their community involvement so it was no surprise the pair ‘volunteered’ to journey to Weston mid-week to meet the panto people.

But they admitted the interview turned into more of a friendly chat with the 74-year-old Bristol-born actor and some the cast of Beauty And The Beast who will be going into rehearsals soon.

John Challis has played all sorts of baddies from nasty gangsters to wide-eyed secondhand car salesmen but this December he is due to tread the boards as Beauty’s dad Doc.

His role as Aubrey ‘Boycie’ Boyce and its spin-off The Green Green Grass made him a household name although his ‘role call’ over the years covers most of the television soaps and some serious appearances too.

Critic of previous panto shows commented that ‘John Challis is whipping up pure villainy as Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk using unabashed brashness’ when he played at Plymouth and Bradford.

His Somerset public appearances include switching on the Christmas lights at Wells and Weston so was there a possibility he could do so in Nailsea? asked Lynda who with Jacqui belong to Nailsea Community Chrismas Fair committee.

There were no promises but many of the cast said they would love to put in an appearance especially former Backwell School student Chloe Hawkins, who has landed the coveted part of Beauty.

Chloe’s mum and step dad Alison and Mark Hieron and older sister Lucy Hawkins still live in the village.

Chloe didn’t tell the director she was local when she auditioned for Princess Beauty the beautiful heroine and was delighted to learned she was cast purely on merit.

She said: “I really did not think it was going to happen – that I would get to perform in this theatre again.

“My only other appearances at The Playhouse were when I was studying at Weston College and we did our end of year shows here.

“So the last time I performed there would have been 2010.”

Lynda said: “We were treated to a small taster of the story which considering the cast only got the script the day before was a great introduction to the plot and characters.

“John Challis is the star of the show ably assisted by a cast of young, very talented actors.

“In the question and answer session we learned that although John was born in Bristol he moved to south London when he was very young at a time when other children were being evacuated in the other direction.

“He said he was very pleased to be back in the West Country where he still has family connections although he lives with his wife and manager Carol at Wigmore Abbey, Herefordshire.


“Jacqui and I were delighted to discover that Beauty the lovely leading lady was brought up in Backwell and went to Backwell School and Weston College before going to drama school.

“In fact her mother still lives in the village and helped with our buffet lunch as part of the Anne Guy corporate event catering team also based at Backwell.

“When she was growing up Chloe told us she dreamed of being a Disney princess and Beauty was always her favourite.

“Will Elliot as the beast looked far too handsome when we saw him and has a wonderful singing voice.

“From what we heard the standard of music is going to be very high and Hywel Dowsell as the Dame was a breath of fresh air especially as he is only 24.

“After the preview we grabbed a plate of food and headed back into the auditorium to chat to John Challis.

“Playing a dodgy secondhand car salesman in Only Fools And Horses we asked him what was his driving preference and would have fallen over laughing if he said a Robin Reliant but he said a Land Rover which he parks outside his property in scenery not dissimilar to that in Green, Green Grass Of Home.”

And behind the scenes he admits to liking a fridge in his dressing room to keep snacks and a newspaper to read.

The panto has all the right ingredients including a wicked witch, handsome prince who is turned into a horrid beast, a madcap inventor and oddball characters like Muscles from Brussels and Djon M’tard plus the utterly bonkers dame.

The publicity blurb says it is ‘a tale of love and heroics, mixed with great songs, shouts of 'Oh no you won't' and more jokes than Christmas cracker factory, this has to be a must booking for your festive time in 2016’.

In its heyday, Only Fools and Horses peaked at around 24.3 million viewers, and John played a key role, in winding Del Boy and Rodney up the wrong way.

For those with long memories do you remember how they finally got their own back on Boycie in 1996, when the helpless brothers found an old pocket watch in their garage, which was auctioned and made them millionaires with a share of £6.2 million between them?  

Jacqui said: “There was quite a bit of ad-libbing at the press launch with 24 -year-old Welshman Hywel Dowsell playing Mademoiselle Marlene which allowed John Challis to bring his catchphrase of 'Marrrleeeene'.

“I remember going often to The Playhouse when my daughter Lysa took part in Eisteddfods and concerts back in the early 1990s as part of the Bristol School of Dancing and it felt very nostalgic but the first show I saw there was while a student at the then Weston Technical College back in the 1970s.

“After an introduction by the general manager Mark Thompson and director Martin Cleverley we got to watch the Showcase Spectacular while nibbling on panto-themed cupcakes.

“This 15-20 minute ‘sketch’ had only been put together just hours before the actors performed it but they were almost word perfect and came out in full make-up and costume and all sang along accompanied by a pianist.

 “I watched every episode of Only Fools And Horse, it was a very well-written comedy so it was great to meet John Challis in person who is both entertaining and funny.

“He said he usually plays the baddie in panto who dislikes children and this his first panto role playing a good guy.

“He talked fondly of his memories of this area and his strong connection to the Alzheimer charity after his father Alec passed away from the disease in 1990 aged 72.” 

Parkwood theatre producer Martin Cleverly said: “Following on from last year’s production of Cinderella, which was the second in-¬house produced pantomime by ourselves, we decided to try something new in the world of panto.

"This is the first time Beauty And The Beast will be played here and we wanted to bring something magical to the venue that captures the imagination and the good spirit that is required running up to Christmas time.”

Tickets for Beauty And The Beast which runs from Saturday to Sunday, December 10-January 1, can be booked from the box office on 01934 645544 or online by clicking HERE.

  • The next role for our ladies who lunch, pictured right, is organising a Christmas lunch at the Trinity Centre for people who would otherwise be spending December 25 on their own. More details later of the community festive midday celebration which is now in its third year…