“There’s nothing like a live audience” – our interview with panto star Tom Owen
Tom Owen has been a regular panto performer for over two decades, but he is probably best known for the beloved BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. Following the death of his father, Bill, who played Compo for twenty seven years, Tom joined Last of the Summer Wine as regular star Tom Simmonite, son of Compo, staying with the show for a decade until it finished in 2010. The Elgiva caught up with Tom in his dressing room between performances…
The Elgiva: How are you finding the audiences in Chesham?
Tom Owen: Oh, they’re great! They certainly seem to be enjoying the pantomime – that’s the main thing! The kids love it and of course that’s the reason we do it.
The Elgiva: Have you done many pantos in your career?
Tom Owen: About 25! And Cinderella is my favourite, that’s the classic one for me. I once – only once – played a dame, but I’d never play it again! It’s such a physical role, you have to be really physically fit and there’s an art to playing the dame, a huge art. It’s much harder than it looks to the audience.
The Elgiva: You’re playing Cinderella’s father, Baron Hardup, in the panto. It’s a straighter role that a Dame, or Buttons, for example, but you bring a lot of comedy to the role. Has your grounding in TV sitcoms helped with this and do you particularly enjoy the comedy aspect of panto?
Tom Owen: You make it your own; pantomime is an art in itself, sometimes what you read on the page in the script isn’t necessarily that funny until the cast get on stage and make something of it. I love the improv side of panto, that’s always good fun – and this cast has a real energy on stage, bouncing off each other and that’s really good for the audience.
The worst thing the cast can do is alienation their audience – if the performance becomes all in-jokes, that that’s not good at all!
The Elgiva: Do you have favourite panto role?
Tom Owen: A lot of the roles in panto are the same part by a different name, so I’ve played the King (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), Alderman Fitzwarren (Dick Whittington) and the Baron (Cinderella). I’ve played the Baddie too – Fleshcreep (Jack & The Beanstalk) and Abanazar in Aladdin, but probably Baron Hardup gets to the winning post for the winning post for the amount of performances! Playing the baddie makes a very pleasant change, however!
The Elgiva: The music is an important part of panto – do you enjoy the singing aspect and would you fancy a solo?
Tom Owen: Well, I’ve done solos before, but I’m an actor that hoofs a song, I’m certainly not A Singer, although I can sing in tune! We have some great singers this year.
The Elgiva: How are you enjoying working at our theatre?
Tom Owen: Well, to be honest, I didn’t even know it existed! But it’s great to see it funded by the Council – that doesn’t often happen in this day and age, because it’s always the Arts that get hit by Government cuts. So, I think The Elgiva is wonderful! I trained in the theatre and to perform in the theatre is, for me, the best. Television is also wonderful and it pays the rent, but there’s nothing like a live audience.
Be sure to see Tom in Cinderella! Join him and the rest of the cast at The Elgiva for our traditional family pantomime from now until Sunday 5th January.