West End actor Benjamin Armstrong makes his panto debut in the title role of this year’s magical family pantomime Aladdin at Lighthouse... and he's really excited about it!
“I’ve only actually seen one pantomime in my life so I’m very new to the whole panto scene, but I’m excited to start with something as big as Aladdin at Lighthouse,” he says.
“Poole is really good, Lighthouse is absolutely huge and there’s so much going on – I’ve been blown away by the scale of everything. When I came down for the photo shoot it was nice stepping into Aladdin’s shoes for the first time – they felt pretty comfortable to be honest.
“And oh my gosh, the carpet was so magical – it genuinely looked like it was flying. It was really good fun. When I was on it, I felt like a superhero!”
Benjamin trained at the Royal Academy of Music on a Disney Theatrical Productions Scholarship, graduating with a master’s degree in Musical Theatre in 2021 and going on to appear in a variety of different productions all over the country.
No two jobs are ever the same, but he is putting his past experiences to good use in his approach to Aladdin.
“My first job out of graduation was a new musical called Rumi, a show celebrating the history of the Middle Eastern poet, and that had a rehearsal process very similar to this in that it was only two weeks. The day of our first performance was the day we first got into the theatre, so we had four hours rehearsal before we were up in front of an audience.
“After that I was in the run of Broken Wings at Charing Cross. Two days before they were due to open for the first preview, one of the ensemble members got Covid and the director, who I’d worked with before, called me up and asked if I’d learn the show and open in two days, which I did. It was crazy, but I think from doing that process, something like Aladdin where we’ve got two weeks, even though it’s short, will feel like a luxury.
“I just think theatre is so beautiful – you’re with people you’ve just met for the first time in your life and after about three days it feels like you’ve known them forever. I think panto will be very much like that as well.”
Written and directed by Chris Jarvis, who appears as Widow Twankey, with Production Designer James Smith and Musical Supervisor Darren Reeves, Aladdin stars Melinda Messenger as the Spirit of the Ring and features Ionica Adriana as Princess Jasmine and Bournemouth-born Josh Haberfield as the comic character Wishee-Washee. Pantomime Award winners Andrew Pollard and Alim Jadavji, whose winning double act as the ugly sisters in Cinderella last year stole the show, are back at Lighthouse playing the villain Professor Pocus and Genie of the Lamp respectively.
“This is my first time working with everyone,” adds Benjamin. “I didn’t know a great deal about the show in advance – other than I’m flying over the audience, which I’m really excited for – and from what Chris has been telling me although the panto of Aladdin is slightly different to the story everyone knows, the kids and the families will already know the character and will have an understanding, so they’ll be on our side.”
Although it’s his first time in Poole, Benjamin is no stranger to living by the sea having grown up in Blackpool.
“I feel like Poole might be something similar to that, with the coast, and I love Christmas weather – give me the cold over the hot weather every time.
“So, I’m looking forward to spreading some good Christmas joy and laughter. Every show will be a completely different experience with whoever is in the audience and I’m sure we’ll all be playing on stage, making each other laugh, having a good time. It’ll be hard work but great fun. I feel like it will be a very silly few weeks – I’m really excited to get to work!”
:: Aladdin opens on Thursday 7 December and runs until New Year’s Eve. Tickets are on sale now at lighthousepoole.co.uk, or call 01202 280000.