Our interview with Chris Casey – came for panto and stayed for Chesham
As the New Year begins and our panto run nears its end, we found some time to sit down with Chris Casey; his incredible energy has seen him bouncing across the stage as Buttons two, or even three times a day.
The Elgiva: We really wanted to grab a chat with you because you’ve moved to Chesham!
Chris Casey: Yes! It was a complete coincidence, really. I got this job, had never heard of Chesham before, came for a look around and thought what a nice town it was. I got a little flat here – it’s cheaper than London, but still on the Tube. I love it! I’m originally from Blackpool, then Preston, but I’ve lived in London for the best part of 20 years, but now it’s so nice to be in a little market town in the countryside. I became tired of the humdrum of London, so it’s great to be somewhere else and The Elgiva is a really nice regional venue with a great community feel. And Chesham has a lot of resources for a small town, there seems to be a lot here – lots of good shops, clubs, two pools, the theatre…
My favourite place in the world is the Lake District, so be surrounded by the Chilterns is just amazing. You can tell you’re not in London anymore the minute you step off the Tube – the air tastes better – it really does! Much healthier, more relaxed.
The Elgiva: And when you’re not treading the boards?
Chris Casey: I’m quite sporty – I use the gym in Chesham and I’m a big mountaineer, I love climbing mountains in the Lake District or abroad. And I love walking in the countryside round here.
The Elgiva: Your thing is panto at the moment, but obviously you don’t do that all the time?
Chris Casey: No, in fact my thing is not really panto most of the time; most of the time I work in rep-style theatre. This year I’ve done everything from J B Priestly to The King’s Speech (I was the King). Earlier in the year, I did an interactive courtroom drama where I was a fighter pilot and the audience had to decide my fate – guilty or innocent? Each performance was a different ending depending on the audience.
I love the idea of bringing ‘straight’ theatre to regional theatres. One of the venues I’ve visited is The Pomegranate in Chesterfield and that’s a similar size and has a similar feel to The Elgiva. The audience there was so grateful to see good quality straight theatre that they didn’t have to travel to the West End for. So, I’m all for the idea of bringing plays to The Elgiva. My girlfriend’s an actor too and we’re both up for the idea of a local rep company, plus we have contacts with rep companies who are looking for venues and I think there is a market for it. It needs establishing and building up, but once the word spreads about good theatre, which it will because of the local community, who knows? I am passionate about repertory theatre, playing different roles, learning that theatre craft, commanding the stage, projecting your voice. That’s where you really learn how to be an actor, not just stage school.
The Elgiva: How have you found performing at The Elgiva?
Chris Casey: The Elgiva is very welcoming! It’s a good job that it has been, because with a panto schedule like we’ve had – such a crazy schedule, with so many shows – it’s a really lovely cast, everyone is so down to earth and everyone at the theatre has been so welcoming and down to earth, so it’s been easy and smooth.
The Elgiva: When we spoke to Sean and Kaya before Christmas, they spoke about the real family-feel of this cast – is that something you’re finding too?
Chris Casey: Oh absolutely. There are no egos, everyone is really professional, very good at what they do and respects each other. Everyone has a particular skill they bring to each performance: David is a beautiful singer, Kaya brings her singing and dancing, Sean is amazing at throwing himself into the pit – every single day! We all have our own skills, and everyone respects each other’s skills and is very committed.
Particularly with panto, when there are so many performances, we have to keep it fresh but maintain a balance. You never want the audience to feel left out of a joke, so there can’t be any cast in-jokes – everything has to be shared with the audience, but it’s good to try new material. We rehearse bits where we mess the script about, so we are confident with the material and where we can go. Audiences love the bits that go wrong, the corpsing, the cock-ups! Sean, Ben, I… we’re quite good at picking up on the situation on stage, but involving the audience in that – no private jokes!
The Elgiva: Tom [Owen] said that nothing alienates an audience faster than a panto full of in-jokes.
Chris Casey: Exactly! You have to get the balance right as well between it being appealing for the children and for the adults. You have to remember that panto, fundamentally, is a kids’ show and a kids’s story, so they have to be following it and they have to be excited and encouraged to shout out. I’d never been a particular panto fan until I started doing them, but my girlfriend pointed out that pantomime was her first introduction to theatre and to her it was totally magical – it was live and exciting. Live theatre is a really positive thing to get kids involved in and excited by. Going to a pantomime is a really special thing to do together as a family and it’s something we could develop in the community too, a youth theatre group, or a slightly older theatre group – it all works together. It’s a long-sighted vision, but we’d love to bring something like that to the community.
The Elgiva: What’s the secret to playing that Buttons / Muddles / Wishee-Washee role?
Chris Casey: You have to remember that you’re like a cool big brother for the kids, that’s what you’re there for. They identify with you and come along on the story with you. The Buttons character often leads the story and keeps the audience following the plot. It’s the glue that holds the cast together, driving the action and there’s so much direct address to the audience. My character lets the audience know that it’s allowed to shout out and join in. As well as linking the children to the story, I have to speak to the adults as well, ensuring they’re enjoying it and getting in all those cheeky asides and balancing it just right.
The Elgiva: Biggest ‘having to wing it’ moment so far this year?
Chris Casey: Crikey! Well, there was one moment when the wrong music played and I mean totally the wrong music. David [Heath, Prince Charming] had to sing completely different words to the song that was being played – that was quite amusing for the rest of us! The trick in panto, is whenever something goes wrong, not to ignore it. You make a thing of it, draw attention to it, point it out. And you don’t ever let anyone get away with messing up, you always point it out because the audience love it.
Be sure to see Chris in Cinderella! Join him and the rest of the cast at The Elgiva for our traditional family pantomime from now until Sunday 5th January. Enjoy £10 off a full-price pair with our New Year offer, too!