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Eternal magic of pantomime weaves its spell; Christmas is just around the corner and with it comes all the traditions of turkey, tinsel and pantomime. Penny Fray speaks to the stars of Pavilion Theatre's Aladdin about the future of an age old tradition.

Byline: Penny Fray

FANTASY is yet to be crushed by the weight of modern scepticism.

Despite the lure of sophisticated gadgetry and the strength of scientific reasoning, today's children still believe in the magic of goblins, ghouls and genies. Why else would Harry Potter be hailed a 21st century phenomenon or Disney remain one of America's greatest institutions?

For this reason, the celebrity cast of Aladdin, appearing at the Rhyl Pavilion Theatre next month, say the age old Christmas pantomime custom is an important one.

Modern youth may demand ever more revolutionary forms of entertainment, from PlayStation to robots, but there is still a place for staged fairytales.

Tony Scannell, who plays Abanazel in the production, says: "I've got two children, Thomas who is seven and threeyear-old Sophie, who are already computer literate in that they can switch a PC on and off, print documents and load CD Roms, yet there is still an enjoyment of animation and colour. And that's not just them, that's all children. The love of innocence has always existed and will continue to do so, even in this fast world."

The point is illustrated by the latest news that the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has made more money than any other movie, netting more than pounds 135 milion pounds in less than 10 days.

"People have made millions of bucks in Hollywood by taking children into the realms of imagination with films like Shrek and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, " adds Tony, best known as Ted Roach from The Bill.

And Aladdin is certainly one of the best-loved pantomimes of all time, telling the tale of a young man's discovery of an old lamp, the genie within it and his adventures as he goes from rags to riches in the hope of winning the princess's hand in marriage.

This particular stage version of the story has been written by Tom Bright, choreographed by Richard Hooper and directed by Adrian Allsopp. It also stars Deborah McAndrew, who played Coronation Street's Angie Freeman, and Richard Ellis who was Huw in EastEnders.

Tony acknowledges that pantomime has been forced to evolve during the last 50-years. After all, today's audiences demand value for money.

The 55-year-old actor says: "In the 1960s, the panto was a vehicle for one particular type of star who was normally a person in drag, but nowadays, each actor has to individually entertain the crowds for more than two hours."

He says the writer and director have managed to retain the traditional tale by including characters like Wishy Washy, but the script is much more story based in that "it has a beginning, middle and end".

Tony admits that the job pays well and certainly brings in the crowds.

"Christmas is usually the leanest time of year for us, " he says. "But it's also a good time in that people come en masse to the theatres.

"The industry has gone as far as it can with the thrilling, frightening and sexy.

After all, there are only so many ways you can cut up a body. But in panto, there is still a sense of joyfulness in getting lost in the magic."

Tony, son of the international footballer Tom Scannell, actually started his theatrical career after leaving the RAF.

His first professional job was as an assistant stage manager of the Cambridge Arts Theatre, after which he completed a three year acting diploma. Since then, he has spent several years in professional repertory theatres playing a wide range of characters.

HE had been in the popular ITV drama The Bill for more than 10 years and has no regret in playing the bad cop Sgt Ted Roach for so long."I wouldn't be on stage now if it wasn't for him, " he says of the role that won him public acclaim.

His interest in acting started when he was in the RAF, where he had joined the local drama group to avoid guard duty.

"But they couldn't get me off the stage because I loved it so much, " he explains.

"I like making people laugh and cry. As an actor you have power over their emotions and that's a wonderful thing."

Despite his idealism, he acknowledges that it's not always an easy profession to be in, especially when there are no pay cheques coming in. "Art doesn't always pay the bills but it feeds the soul, " he says.

It is a sentiment that Deborah, who plays Aladdin, agrees with.

The 33-year-old actress, who has brought along her eight-month-old daughter Elizabeth for the interview, has appeared in everything from ITV's Heartbeat to Coronation Street. Yet she believes that playing a variety of roles is important.

It is a philosophy that encouraged her to leave the Street and pursue a lesserpaid stage career.

She has worked with Broadsides Theatre Company playing Hermia in Midsummer Night's Dream as well as appearing in King Lear and Antony & Cleopatra.

Other theatre credits include playing Marion in a national tour of There Is A Girl In My Soup and The Sound of Music at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch.

"I didn't leave Corrie to avoid stereotyping, " she says. "I just wanted to do other things. In fact, the problem I have is that I'm not stereotyped enough by the industry.

"In television, actors rarely do a variety of roles because producers and director want to know what they're going to get. Taking a risk costs too much."

Deborah originally trained in drama at Manchester University, but afraid of not getting any work, she went on to train as a teacher.

"Then I thought better of it and joined a jazz band before getting the part of Angie in Coronation Street.

Unlike many actors, she has no shame in dressing up as a boy and entertaining an audience of children. "It's good money and as a happy person I always enjoy it, " she says.

It is this sense of wanting to share the world of make believe with the crowds that allows panto to remain popular.

Aladdin is at the Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl from December 14 to January 12.

CAPTION(S):

AGE-OLD TRADITION: Tony Scannell, Deborah McAndrew and Richard Ellis in Aladdin at the Pavilion
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 30, 2001
Words:1036
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