From Lolly Pop to Wicked Queen

Matthew Panter chats to panto star Anna Kumble about her role in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.

 You might think channelling her inner baddie is a bit of a challenge for Anna Kumble. After all, as 90s pop star Lolly, she was loved by young fans through a string of top-ten hits including Viva La Radio, Mickey and Rockin’ Robin. Sweet, fun and energetic in those bubblegum pop days, it’s hard to imagine Anna playing the ‘bad girl’ role in pantomime. Yes, she’s been a Tinkerbell. Sure, she’s shone as Snow White, and, of course, glistened as a Fairy Godmother. She’s been there and done it as a reassuring on-stage presence for the audience to get behind and champion. But a baddie? Surely not? And yet – boo! hiss! Times are changing. As panto season hits the region, Anna’s set to deliver her latest performance as The Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Telford Theatre. And she can’t wait. 

“I’m more excited about this one because I get to play a baddie and I’ve never done that before!” she says. “It’s going to be a challenge but I have always wanted to play a bad role and never had the opportunity. It will be fun.”

Quite how wickedly devious or marvellously malevolent this Queen will be is still processing in her mind. “Will I be a sinister baddie or not?” she questions. “Shall I play it like Angelina Jolie, a Maleficent style baddie, or just be a cackling witch? I’ll see how it goes when I get into rehearsals!” Time will tell and there’s no doubt Shropshire audiences will be relishing seeing her transformation. After all, we all love a good pantomime, don’t we? “It’s the only genre of theatre where every age bracket can enjoy it together,” says Anna. “From babes in arms to grandmas, we can all watch it and get something from it, whether it’s the shining lights and gorgeous colours to pantomime dames and slapstick for the older generation. 

“It’s just a wonderful British art and something I hope will remain and carry on forever. I think most people love it. I know I do.”  

 Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs hits the stage in Oakengates from December 8 to January 2 and also features EastEnders favourite Sam Attwater as The Prince.

Carl Dutfield is Muddles, Chloe Barlow stars as Snow White and Sophie Jane Walters is Fairy Fortune.

And then there’s Ian Smith, who stars as Dame Dolly and is also directing the show, which he is predicting audiences will love. “I think Telford is in for a treat this year!” he says, with enthusiasm and excitement in his voice. “We have a great cast this year so I am not worried at all. “Sam has a great voice and West End credits. Chloe is coming back as well and has worked with Anna previously, and we also have Sophie. It should be good and I am looking forward to it. “There are some really big moments. There’s one moment in act one – I won’t give anything away – where we have something spectacular planned that Telford has never seen before.“Every year we try to up the production value and this year is no different. It’s really exciting.” There are new costumes too and, for a Dame, that means an awful lot of hard work.“The thing with a Dame is that, historically, they enter the stage in a new outfit, top to toe, all the time. “So whenever you are off stage, you are still working. When the others are off stage, they can sit and have a cup of tea.“And then I’m there getting stripped down, harnessed back into something and tightened! “They aren’t light outfits either! I have a completely brand-new wardrobe this year, never seen before in Telford, and some of it is gravity defying. “I’ll have a bad back by January! But it will be totally worth it and it is great fun.” 

That’s what it is all about of course – fun!

And, emerging from a heart-breaking pandemic and coping with a cost-of-living crisis, let’s face it, we all need that bit of fun. A bit of laughter goes a long way. For Ian, being involved in pantomime – it’s his 20th year – is particularly enjoyable because of the wave of the pleasure it brings for the whole family. “It’s full of comedy on every different level,” he says. “So we might be talking about a cream pie to the face or a bit of innuendo off the Dame. “Pantomime is the only show out there where you can go as a full family unit and, so, while performing, you have this whole range of an audience where you know a gag is going to land well with someone.  

“It’s generally part of people’s festivities too, whether in the build-up or in between Christmas and New Year, and that’s what makes it so special for me.”

Now Ian’s busily gearing up for the show to get under way and, in all his years, it will be a first. He’s never performed in Snow White before.

“I have spent years in Cinderella and done lots of Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk but this is the first Snow White for me, so I am really looking forward to it and I think my family are looking forward to seeing something different too!” he said. And, he’s confident that mixing performing and directing is something he will also enjoy.“I have been doing it (panto) for a very long time so it’s quite easy to see where I fit into the picture as director,” he says. “Luckily Carl, who is playing Muddles this year, and I have performed together for eight years now at various shows.“We know each other well. We know each other’s timing, how to work together and how to get something funny out of it.” With Anna conveying her bad routine for the first time and Ian bringing the laughs, it looks like families across Telford will be creating pantomime memories to last a lifetime this Christmas. 

You can book tickets online at telfordtheatre.com, pop in to the theatre at Oakengates or call 01952 382382.

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