David Robbins is a veteran Dame in panto terms. Here he speaks with Jasmine Storm about playing Widow Twankey in this year's Aladdin (Milton Keynes Theatre) as well as sharing his favourite musical and how he loves a bit of sparkle. Oh yes he does.
JS: Nice to meet you. You look very different out of costume. Not what I was expecting.
DR: everyone says that. (Laughs)
JS: Do you love the big frocks and wigs or are they a bit cumbersome when you’re on stage?
DR: I love it. Every single minute of it. The bigger the better. The more sparkly the better.
JS: Do you request bigger dresses?
DR: well this is the thing…I design all my own. I used to make them but now I have makers…in fact one of my makers is based here in Olney. I used to work with him, before Hairspray but definitely onHairspray. He was wardrobe and I was wig; I’ve known him quite some years so he makes a lot of my costumes…it’s a lot easier for me to go here’s a sketch, here’s the fabric – can you make it for me. I’ve got a basic wardrobe of about 35 costumes, and I mix and match depending on the show.
JS: do you wish you could wear them outside of Dec/Jan panto period? Go to a house party in them perhaps?
DR: no. I wouldn’t want anyone to splash wine down them. I get a bit precious. They are like my children.
JS: what if Elton John invited to you a party?
DR: Oh, maybe yes! If its something like that then yes of course. If there was any chance, I could wear one of my frocks to a DECENT bash, then yes; not just my nan’s birthday in a care home. Id give everyone a right shock
JS: I think they’d love it.
DR: If I do on Mother Kelly’s Doorstep, they will all join in with me.
JS: They absolutely would.
JS: You’ve done a lot of pantos – how many have you done?
DR: ohhh…well let see, 14 Cinderella’s, two Beauty and the Beasts, Sarah the Cook, Mrs Crusoe, and two Aladdin’s. plus, this Aladdin…I’m older than I feel.
JS: well Ed Curtis (Creative Director, Qdos Entertainment) said downstairs that you are really young for a dame.
DR: (laughs)…did he? Oh, In some ways its true. I am one of the younger dames. But old.. it’s a weird one. You have to kind of get there. I felt I had a way to go. I wasn’t fabulous. It was head down thrown in the deep end. I enjoyed it and wanted to go further and I’ve taken it further. But it takes a lot of hard work to get there. That’s the thing, you can’t just put on a dress on, go on stage and say I’m here. You’ve got to love it
JS: Oh no you haven’t (in a panto voice).
DR: Oh yes you have. Its the thing I say to people all the time. I am a man in a dress, and I don’t mind being referred to as a man in a dress, I’m not a drag queen I don’t go ‘How dare you, I’m a lady!’. But I’m a character. Whenever I take on a role, I see it as a character and that’s when you get everybody on board. Because you’re making believe that I’m Widow Twankey, I’m Aladdin’s mother, I’m Wishy Washy’s mother. We are going on a laugh, we are going on a journey, its that whole thing of if the character is believable then everyone will believe it.
JS: Do you have a favourite panto? Are you going to say Aladdin?
DR: Its difficult because every one is different for me. I love them all. Aladdin is great – its one of the mumsy dames – you can be so quirky. With Dame Trot or Sarah - the cook you are a bit grumpy to start off then you have to lighten the mood. With Twankey you can be as quirky and zany as you wanna be from the off and hopefully everyone is going to like you. Yeah, it’s weird, the last few batches of dames, but playing an ugly sister for 13 years was a whale of a time because you can be evil. You’re a dame but you’re also the evil one. So, making the children cry when you tear the ticket up is the best moment ever.
JS: I think you made me cry.
DR: I did Robinson Crusoe with Brian Conley, and I played Brian’s mother, again I’m always playing the mother. Brian on stage is brilliant. Just the same as Joe is. They are both just as good in different ways. So, I think it’s that thing of having fun on stage that shows to the audience and that’s what hopefully gets them. Its that fish hook going ‘come on we’re having fun – you’ve got to have fun’.
JS: If you could have your dream role or show, what would it be. It doesn’t have to be panto
DR: I’ve got lots of favourite musicals. One of my favourite musicals is Lucky Stiff. Its based on a film called the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. Its so random. I pick up obscure musicals. There is another one called Eating Raoul as well. Which is a really good musical. There is loads. I think for quite some time when I was younger, I always wanted to play Barnum. When I was on Doctor Doolittle, I learnt loads of circus skills. I was Swing and Resident Director. In our first few shows, some people were off sick and I said hang on a minute this looks like a really bad circus, doing the juggling or stilt walking are off and there is no one that can-do tricks. We brought in a circus guy who taught me how to do circus tricks and I learnt how to do everything. Whenever someone was off, I did their tricks.
JS: You are multi-talented!
DR: Oh yeah, I was back in the day. Not anymore. I think if I got on a ball now I'd fall off. Although I still do have my stilts at home but they’ve been in the attic for far too long.
JS: What is your favourite line in a show?
DR: I have to go back to Cinderella and its TEAR. IT. UP. That has to be my favourite line. Of course, it does. Everyone wants to say that really.
JS: Noooo I don’t!
JS: What do you love about panto?
DR: It’s the whole thing. It’s like doing a musical but involving people. You’re putting on your performance; your involving the audience. It becomes an extra thing.
JS: The audience participation?
DR: Yeah. I think its letting people into that. And its live. Because its live people are there witnessing it. Its not TV. They’ll never forget it. It’s a whole experience for all the generations. Grandparents, grandkids – they’ve all gone to see that show and its gonna stick. Like it did with me when I went to see my first panto and I just went wow – I wanna do this.
David Robbins is playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre.