This year’s Empire pantomime promises to be an Aladdin’s cave of family fun and madcap mayhem.
Its stars flew into Sunderland to try on their shimmering costumes for Aladdin ahead of its three-week run at the theatre over the festive season.
This Morning’s Alison Hammond says she can’t wait to get stuck into the role of Slave of the Ring in the classic fairytale.
“Today was my first day in Sunderland, the sun was shining and when I went to the petrol station the lady behind the counter recognised me and gave me a big hug, so I love it already,” she said.
“I was in Aladdin in pantomime last year and I loved it. This will be the biggest theatre I’ve performed at so far and I can’t wait to add some sparkle.”
In her time as an interviewer on This Morning, Alison’s tap-danced with Renée Zellweger, rapped with Will Smith, jammed with Russell Crowe and been serenaded by Hugh Jackman.
The former Big Brother contestant, who also appeared in last year’s Strictly Come Dancing, said: “I love different challenges in life. I went into Big Brother just wanting to win the £70,000 as I was £4,000 in debt at the time, I was devastated when I was second out.
“Then This Morning rang to see if I wanted to do some interviews and I never dreamed I’d still be there 13 years later. The fact that that happened, I still pinch myself.”
And the TV personality says she’s looking forward to a festive night on the tiles in Sunderland.
“I went up to the call centre in the theatre today, and they’ve already said they’ll be taking me on a night out, so I can’t wait for that,” she said.
Swapping the cobbles of Coronation Street for panto boos, is Terence Maynard as villain of the piece Abanazar.
He’s a dab hand at ruffling the feathers of Weatherfield residents as Tony Stewart (Jason Grimshaw’s dad) and now he has his sights set on Sunderland.
The actor, who’s appeared in films Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and the recent All Things to All Men, is no stranger to the stage. His CV includes a stint in the leading role of Billy Flynn in Chicago in the West End.
But appearing in Aladdin is a theatre dream come true for him.
“I got my Equity card while playing the Genie in Aladdin when I was 17, and I have always wanted to play Abanazar,” he explained. “When they were putting the feelers out to see if I was interested in panto, when I saw it was Aladdin I thought it was fate.
“When I was younger I was a child dancer in panto, but this will be my first panto as a principal actor. It’s come full circle for me.”
Terence’s role in Coronation Street is coming to an end. Though he can’t reveal how he leaves, he says appearing on Britain’s biggest soap has been a career highlight.
“My first scene was in the Rovers Return with Ryan Thomas, who plays my son Jason. I remember my hand was shaking, it’s not like I hadn’t worked before, but you know so many millions of people are watching, so it’s a different pressure.
“I’m not being contrived when I say this, but it’s a lovely place to work. In order to shake off a character, it’s great to go from that to something completely different with panto. When I tried on the costume for the first time today I thought ‘this is great.’ I’ll still approach it with that same acting sincerity, but it’s great to have that interaction with the crowd.”
Derek Moran is used to making children erupt with laughter on Channel 5’s Milkshake, and he’s set to bring that comedy to his role as Wishee Washee.
“This is a beautiful theatre,” he said. “I walked on stage today and thought ‘wow’.”
Speaking about what Wearside can expect, he said: “It’s a very traditional show, but it’s made modern with the music and the references to what’s going on in the media which the adults will find funny. There’s a lot of innuendo too.”
Meanwhile, juggling the role of director and Widow Twankey is Newcastle-born Ian Good.
He’s well versed in panto, and has been working in the field for thirty years - oh yes he has!
This will be the sixth time he’s appeared as the famous big bloomer-wearing widow.
“When I was eight-years-old I used to get on the train from Newcastle, as we didn’t have the Metro then, to come and see the panto at the Empire,” he recalls.
“It’s great all these years later to be directing and appearing in a panto here. People can expect a traditional pantomime with plenty of audience interaction. The audience are part of the cast. We tell the story, but you never know what they will say.”
He added: “I’ve worked with Derek in panto before and he’s great fun. There’s a scene in act 2, a slosh scene, where he goes through a washing machine which is great fun. It’s not been done before, and the kids can expect a lot of mess.”
No expense has been spared with the costumes either. Ian’s frock for the final scene is eight feet tall and is worth £8,000 alone.
The flamboyant dame said: “I have 13 costume changes altogether, but the final Royal Wedding dress is spectacular.”
•Aladdin is at Sunderland Empire from December 11 to January 3. Tickets are available from 0844 871 3022 and www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland. There will be a
British Sign Language signed performance on Wednesday, December 30 at 2pm and an autism-friendly relaxed performance on Thursday, December 17.