Actor Stephen Beckett first became known to me when he burst onto my television screen in The Bill on ITV – one of my favourite shows back in the day! This year I saw him take on the role of Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and he was extraordinarily exceptional in the role. So much so that his performance earned him a Break A Leg Award in our Critic’s Choice category. He can now be seen treading the boards as Fleshcreep in Jack And The Beanstalk at Cambridge Arts Theatre and he’s appearing with a stellar cast. I caught up with Stephen to find out all about his latest journey into Pantomime.
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Stephen – you’re currently playing Fleshcreep in Jack And The Beanstalk, have you played the role before?
I have actually, six years ago. Here at Cambridge Arts Theatre in fact! I’ve played the Baddie here four times now.
Why do you think the Baddie is such an enjoyable part to play?
I love the Baddie, it’s so much fun to play. What I like, particularly about this year’s is we’ve managed to get comedy into it as well as trying to be a bit scary. The role of the Baddie is very specific within a Pantomime, he’s there to scare people obviously but he’s also there to wind people up, poke fun at the people on stage in a comedic, farcical way. As opposed to just growling. I play my Baddie as a bit of a wind-up merchant, merged with a touch of Michael Gove.
How do you make the role different for yourself each year?
It’s a weird old thing but every Pantomime Baddie is different – for example, Abanazer in Aladdin is magical, powerful and greedy, then you get Fleshcreep who’s the middleman down on earth trying to climb up the social ladder. Captain Hook, of course, is the classic Baddie who encompasses all of the traits, you can bring elements of the Baddies into the role. Fleshcreep is one of my favourites because you see him being really horrible but also subservient, scared of the fairy magic and trying to be manipulative.
How many years have you been treading the boards in Pantomime?
This is the tenth pantomime I’ve ever done.
Why do you think that the tradition of Pantomime has remained such a huge part of Christmas festivities?
It’s extraordinary, isn’t it? There’s something for everybody, it’s a family trip – something for the kids, something for the teenagers, something for mums, dads, grans, granddads. Then you’ve got the music, the dancing, the fun and the smashing down of the fourth wall. It’s literally about entertainment. It’s also really important to get the story across to children and hold their attention. It’s that fine balance of keeping the traditions going such as things going wrong, half on purpose and half not – while keeping the story alive. There are so many elements and there’s a lot more to it than people might think.
Finally, sell the show to me – why should everybody book tickets to see Jack And The Beanstalk in Cambridge?
It’s a classic story that everyone knows and loves with a fantastic beanstalk, we’ve also got Tony Christie as the King of Amarillo, we’ve got the best Dame in the country, Matt Crosby, the bloke who plays the Baddie is alright – he gets away with it sometimes! Also, this seems to be one of the funniest pantomimes I’ve done.