Interview: Aladdin’s Paul Hendy

Paul Hendy has been involved in Pantomime for most of his working life and is responsible for writing and directing some of the biggest and most elaborate productions to have ever come to Sheffield. This year’s production is Aladdin which Hendy has assured is will be his biggest and most spectacular show yet. We chatted with him to find out how preparations are going and how Aladdin is going to be their best production yet.

How are preparations for Aladdin going?
Really well thanks, it’s in a good place at the moment. The script is all written and the actors are going through it at the moment so we’re actually ahead of schedule. We haven’t started rehearsing yet but that’s next on the agenda.

You’ve been a part of pantomime productions in Sheffield for a few years now, how do you find it?
I love being involved in pantomimes and started out as a performer over 25 years ago. I especially love producing in Sheffield at the Lyceum. It’s our 8th or 9th show there and I genuinely think it’s one of the most beautiful theatres in the country. The production value, lights and staging even rival that of the West End in my opinion so I always look forward to the Sheffield show.

You’ve always enjoyed pantomime then?
Yes, I did my first one at the age of 18 and since then I’ve covered pretty much all aspects of the show, from performing to script writing and directing. I just love entertaining and that’s a big part of our ethos, to employ good entertainers.

This year you’re doing Aladdin and it’s one of those classic tales that has been told and retold hundreds of times. How do you manage to keep it fresh and modern?
I think you need to get the balance right because people like the familiar with pantomimes, the audience participation and the classic stories they tell but you need to find new ways to make it better each year too. You need to have something that leaves the audience thinking ‘wow I’ve never seen that before!’

aladdin-castYour pantos are renowned for their great set pieces, is there anything big you’ve got up your sleeve for Aladdin or are you keeping it under wraps?
Well for this one we’re going to actually have Aladdin fly over the audience. It’s been difficult logistically but now we’ve got it sorted it’s going to be a great spectacle. It makes the scene where Aladdin flies away on his magic carpet really memorable. There may be a few more surprises too.

Is this one that the parents are going to enjoy as well as the children then?
Oh definitely, I’m a big believer of that. When I’m writing the script I don’t view it as a kids show but a family show so it’s written with the parents in mind. We try to have two levels of wit; the more visual stuff for the kids and comedy that the parents will appreciate too. It’s not rude or risqué stuff that you find in some pantos but it’s definitely funny. I once saw five different generations in the audience, from great grandmother to great granddaughter, all thoroughly enjoying it. That’s the beauty of panto, there’s no other form of entertainment like it.

You’ve got a few people off the TV in this production too; how do you go about the casting process? Are there certain people that seem perfectly suited to the role?
Yes we’ve got Chris Gascoyne who’s known as a bit of a bad boy on screen in Coronation Street. I actually saw him in panto last year in Birmingham and thought he’d be perfect for the role of Abanazar. We’ve also got Alex winters from CBeebies who’s a big star for the kids and Damian Williams who’s just a hilarious guy who has everyone in stitches and is great as the dame. I think it’s one of the best casts we’ve ever had.

You used to be involved in television presenting as well, how does it compare to live performances? Is there one that you prefer?
Yes I used to love it and it has been a big part of my career but panto has always been my real passion. As I got older I wanted to have a bit more creative control over what I was doing and I’ve got that now with Evolution Productions.

AladdinHow is it running Evolution Productions with your wife Emily? Are there many arguments or do you get on as well in work as outside of it?
You know what we’re actually very good with each other. We’ve got a very similar ethos and have the same vision for each production so we agree on pretty much everything. We work very well together.

It’s going to be a busy month for you all, do you get time to enjoy the festive period too or is it all work?
I’m working on seven pantos this year all over the country from Canterbury and St. Albans to Sheffield. It’s a busy time but I never once think of it as work. We do get Christmas off which is nice but we have an open house for Christmas dinner and invite the cast round so that turns into a bit of a panto day too.

Lastly, what do you think people will come away from Aladdin thinking?
I’m hoping people will come away saying ‘that’s the best panto I’ve ever seen!’ I want to blow people away.

Aladdin comes to the Sheffield Lyceum on December 4th and runs until January 3rd. Tickets can be bought here.

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