Is Cinderella the best part in panto?
Naomi Wilkinson, who is our Cinders in Worthing this Christmas, certainly thinks so.
“It is such a lovely part to play. It’s great when you see all the children coming along and enjoying the magical moment, her transformation. It is just so exciting. You hear all the gasps – and I have just got such a pretty dress.”
Cinderella is at the Pavilion Theatre, Worthing from November 29-January 5, with tickets on 01903 206206.
The big attraction of the story, Naomi believes, is that it is in essence a love story: “And you have also got good triumphing over evil. This year we have got a really, really evil stepmother, and with the stepsisters there will be an awful lot of ganging up on Cinderella. But that’s good… there will be much more feeling in willing her on in the end. She will have had so much bullying by then!
“Cinderella has got to be a kind, hard-working, gentle character. You have got to have everyone rooting for her. She is just such a lovable part. You have got to feel for her. She is having such a hard time with her stepsisters and her stepmother.”
So does it make it easier having the audience on her side? It’s not quite as simple as that, as Naomi points out: “The audience absolutely love Buttons. He is such a huge audience favourite, but Cinderella falls in love with Prince Charming and Buttons doesn’t get the girl!
“I have played Cinderella a few times now,” says Naomi who is the presenter of Naomi’s Nightmares of Nature (CBBC), in which she travels the world to come face to face with animals that seem weird, dangerous or scary.
“This is my third time as Cinderella. I did it last year, but before that I hadn’t played her since 2005. This will be my fifth panto. I haven’t done lots and lots of them. I have been so fortunate to be so busy. Sometimes Christmas is taken up with filming elsewhere, but it is really nice when I can stay.
“Panto is great. It would be impossible to explain it to someone from abroad. People come along and they all know when to join in. There is something really lovely about it. It really brings the audience together. Everyone is having fun and is in a festive mood. There is always something in the show for all ages. And I think when children see their adults having fun, it really helps them enjoy it even more.”
For Naomi another big part of the attraction is the chance to work with children directly – not something that happens too often, apart from during the hugely successful Marrying Mum and Dad, now in its seventh series and winner of a Stonewall Award.
“It is where the children take charge of absolutely everything for their parents to get married. The parents know nothing about it apart from the fact that they are going to get married. It is quite a long process making that series, and we will have about 13 couples in a series.
“It’s a big job for the production team, but the rewards are so great. You get the different themed marriages, superhero theme or vegetable theme or whatever, but when it comes to that moment in the day when the parents are taking their vows, it becomes very serious. Quite often the couples have been together for a long time and have had a bit of history, lots of things happening, but it is so moving – and we get to work with the children which makes it really special.”
Naomi previously co-presented with Steve Backshall the Saturday morning show, Live ‘n’ Deadly (BBC2/CBBC), which won the award for Best Children’s Series at the Missoula International Wildlife Film Festival and the Freesat 2011 award for Best Children’s Programming Initiative.
A popular face on many other CBBC shows, Naomi has also appeared on Sam & Mark’s Big Friday Wind-Up, The Dog Ate My Homework, Hacker Time and Blue Peter.