Some things are just meant to be and Katie Arundell, who plays Alice Fitzwarren in Dick Whittington this year, was born to be in panto. We caught up with Katie along with Sammy Phillips who plays Dick Whittington’s trusty side-kick, Tommy the cat.

“Oh I was born in Pantoland – I was practically raised by seven dwarves,” she laughs, unable for a moment to explain further, before regaining her composure a little. “My mum used to put community pantos on at home in Plymouth. It’s her fault.”

 The reason for Katie’s giddiness is sat alongside her – the relentlessly playful presence of Sammy Phillips, soon to become familiar to Lighthouse audiences as Tommy the Cat.

 “Panto is my bread and butter, my life’s work,” she purrs. “Cut me and I bleed panto… and gravy. This year’s show is ten years in a row in panto for me. I’ve played varying roles from villains to fairies to cats – the weirdest thing I ever did was a pantomime wasp one year. It was a puppet that had the voice of Rik Mayall, Thanks Rik, hope you didn’t mind.”

Not to be outdone, Katie can draw on her own stash of panto peculiarities…

“I was a panto dinosaur once,” she reveals.

“A panto dinosaur?” chirps Sammy.

“Oh yea,” Katie confirms. “My mum – again – did that to me. I think the Disney store was selling off these leftover dinosaur costumes at a reduced price so mum thought she’d get them, they might come handy. It was about three sizes too small and I could barely walk in it, so I was this rigid panto dinosaur in the woods.”

Such a rich vein of merriment cannot end there.

 “I played a giant,” adds Sammy, who’s barely five feet tall. “It was odd for me. I’ve been the back end of a cow, but I was the entire giant. It was a gag; the short person was the giant. Really. I get it, very funny. It was funny once, for the cast, the rest of the time it was me in a massive big head and I kept falling forward all the time like a new-born Weeble.”

 More laughter, some face pulling and plenty of giggles later, Katie comes up for air. 

“Pantomime is often the first thing kids see in the theatre, it’s probably the first thing any of the cast saw in the theatre and all we’re doing is trying to carry that on.”

Sammy agrees, adding: “For me it’s a real gateway for kids into theatre – imaginative play, which is a dying art. The thing I’ve noticed over the years is that kids watching panto don’t know they they’re allowed to join in. There seems to be this thing that they watch everything on a screen and there’s a block that stops them joining in. This is live, you can get up and shout and get involved.

“Panto is what got me into performing arts and wanting to be an actor, I went every year with my grandma to see Cannon and Ball and Billy Pearce play these huge characters. Variety isn’t there anymore, so now panto is where those big old school characters can live.

“And here I am, a female, short Billy Pearce.”

 And so the giggles return as Katie and Sammy play off each other, comparing costume notes, sharing anecdotes – the pair have only met once before but clearly get along famously…

 “No, I hate her,” snaps Sammy. “She’s dreadful, the worst actor I’ve ever had to work with. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this. I know she’s awful, you can smell it.”

 Katie looks up: “I’m terrified, I don’t know if you see it but I’m trembling already.”

 As she holds her hand out to demonstrate, Sammy goes for the jugular: “She’s vegan, can you believe it? I’ll be lacing her food with chicken.”

Katie’s prepared: “I’ve got a bottle of B12 in my rider, it’s fine.”

And as the giggles return their pair fold themselves into a bundle of laughing panto stars.

Interview over.

Katie and Sammy appear alongside Chris Jarvis and Richard Gibson in Dick Whittington at Lighthouse from 7 December until New Year’s Eve.

Published 4 December 2018