Having worked alongside the likes of Nicole Scherzinger, Keala Settle, Robbie Williams, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Taylor Swift, Bette Midler and Sarah Brightman on shows from The Brits to MTV’s Living on the Edge, choreographer Katherine Iles was thinking the global pandemic had ensured her a Christmas off from the high-profile film, TV and stage work that has been her life for the last ten years.
But then her old friend Chris Jarvis called...
“I said to Chris a long time ago that whatever he is doing I’d want to be involved and if I can be there, I will be,’ says Katherine. “Well, I can, and I am!”
Chris and Katherine have worked together several times, most notably on two pantomimes at Richmond Theatre, and are great personal friends so when he was putting together the company for Happy Ever After, a very special COVID-safe family Christmas show, there was only one choice for choreographer.
“It doesn’t matter if I'm working with a top name star or whether it’s the London Palladium, or if I’ve been asked to choreograph a little routine as a favour for a friend’s kid at school, the task is always the same no matter what the job – to make it the absolute best it can possibly be. So, this job is no different to any other in that sense.
“And that’s something that Chris and I share so just when I thought I wouldn’t be doing any panto or other work this Christmas; I got a call from him and that’s why I’m here in Poole."
In common with the rest of the cast and company Katherine knew very little about Happy Ever After when she agreed to come on board and she is clearly enthused by what she has found.
“I knew it was a panto but not a panto, that it was all about the happy endings and there was no baddie and concentrating on the good things, but like everyone else I think, I had no idea of the scale of this show. It is epic in every sense – how they’ve packed it all into an hour I have no idea. It’s all bells and whistles.
“I honestly thought we’d have a couple of cloths and very few scene changes. Then I saw what James has done and... Oh. My. God. Wait until you see the Moon. We have a beautiful Moon, an actual Moon, for the Owl and the Pussycat. I mean, it is just stunning.”
Katherine is relishing her work with the four ensemble dancers of Poole-based Steppin’ Out Dance Academy – Bethany Pinner and Chloe Davis, who have already been in two pantos at Lighthouse; Pia Luk-Paszyc, who attends Performers College, Katherine’s old school; and Megan Dodds making her professional debut.
“What an apprenticeship for those young dancers – they are working their socks off and really holding their own, all credit to them. Pia is in her first year at the same college I went to so there's still the same Head of Jazz that we all loved.
“I am so grateful to the people that helped me out on my way up and now I’m in a position where I can offer a helping hand to young dancers just starting out, of course I’m going to. There are thousands of female dancers, it’s an overcrowded marketplace, so if someone can help you with a bit of advice and some tips along the way then you take it on board. I know how much it helped me.”
And whether they’re seasoned performers or treading the boards in their first professional show it seems all the cast and company have one thing in common – they are thrilled to be in Poole for Christmas.
“Oh yes,” agrees Katherine. “I think as an industry we didn’t exactly take our jobs for granted before, I mean we love what we do, but when you’re stopped from doing what you love you really appreciate being able to do it again. It’s on a whole new level and there’s a different sort of energy around now.
“It’s infectious too and I think the audience will feel well and truly treated with this, I’m certain of it. What I love is that the ticket price is just £12.50 so as many people as possible can come – a family of four can come to a Christmas show of this standard for less than they’d pay for a single seat at some shows - and get a free ice cream. I mean, wow!”
:: Happy Ever After runs until 3 January.