Star of stage and screen, Rita Simons, (pictured top left) who formerly played the Eastenders character Roxy Mitchell, will be appearing in Beauty and the Beast, this year’s pantomime at the Assembly Hall Theatre. Ben Cornwell spoke to Rita to find out about her character The Enchantress and what it is like to be spending Christmas in Tunbridge Wells this year…
You’ve previously appeared in various pantomime productions and West End shows like Everybody’s Talking about Jamie and Hairspray. Are you excited to be working on the stage again?
Yes. It’ll be lovely. I am working back on TV after panto so I’m seeing this as one last stage job for a little while.
What attracted you to doing this particular pantomime at the Assembly Hall Theatre?
I was actually really excited to come and stay in Tunbridge Wells as I know it’s a beautiful place and it’s probably the thing I love most about this particular job. That and of course being part of the spectacular show that Little Wolf Entertainment are so well known for putting on.
How does it feel to be a part of this vibrant cultural community through your involvement in the local theatre production?
I am absolutely loving Tunbridge Wells. I feel very lucky to be spending my Christmas here.
What can you tell us about your villainous character, The Enchantress?
I’m always the baddie and I always like to bring a bit of crazy to her. This year’s baddie will be just as crazy as all the others I’ve played. She’s super evil – and off her rocker!
In what way does your preparation differ for a pantomime role compared to other types of performances?
Prep for panto is not massively different to doing a musical except you have a little more free rein to make the character your own in panto. You also laugh a whole lot more! Comparing it with TV is impossible as they’re two very different jobs. TV is very subtle in comparison to stage and obviously if you make a mistake, you have the luxury of saying ‘CUT’!
What can the audience expect in terms of the visual spectacle in this production?
The costumes and sets are stunning with this production. I worked for Morgan [Brind] and Alan [Bowles] two years ago [on Sleeping Beauty at Derby Arena in 2021] and they put so much into the most beautiful and sparkly sets and costumes. You can expect the very high standard that these guys bring. I can say that with confidence…
What do you find most enjoyable about performing in a pantomime production?
I enjoy the interaction with the audience the most when I perform at panto. The exchange of energy between the stage and the audience makes it a very special thing to be a part of and to know that families have been doing this as a tradition for many years makes us feel very privileged. To be involved in their memory-making is special.
What do you think makes pantos so enduring and beloved across generations?
I think it’s the experience as a whole. Knowing that children and parents are making memories for years to come. And I do believe that panto is something equally appealing to kids and adults alike.
Lastly, what advice do you have for any young aspiring actors, especially those interested in exploring the world of theatre and panto?
Get on the circuit…get some training in whether it be amateur or professional it doesn’t matter. Experience is experience. Then hunt down an agent, hunt down auditions and be prepared to be told ‘no’ a lot before you’re told ‘yes’. It’s normal. Then when the hour comes, you’ll appreciate it even more!
Beauty and the Beast will be running at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells from December 9 – December 31. There will be two showings on each performance day.
For full details on timings and to book your tickets visit: assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/beauty-and-the-beast.html.