James Barry director “Wizard of Oz” Theatre Royal Winchester.

Taking time out from the strict rehearsal regime, James Barry spared a few moments away to talk to me about his directing role in the upcoming Pantomime Wizard of Oz which will be this year’s Christmas production performing at the Theatre Royal in Winchester from Saturday 3rd December until January 2nd.

How long have you been directing for and involved in the Theatre Industry?
I trained as an actor way back when God was a boy but gradually started to write and direct more, as I wanted to be more involved in the creative process. In the 1990s I set up a touring company and although I initially cast myself in the shows, I eventually stopped, to concentrate on the other elements. My last acting role was about 15 years ago.

What made you decide to work on this Pantomime this year?
I work on a panto every year! I love it. I appeared in my first panto in 1980 and co-wrote my first one in 1982. I have written and/or directed at least once every year since 1995.

Have you previously directed or worked at the Theatre Royal Winchester?
Yes, this is my eighteenth-year writing and directing the show at this beautiful theatre. I had been to the venue many times before (including seeing my wife in a show here) but hadn’t worked here before my panto stint. I love it.

Do you have any funny rehearsal stories from the last couple of weeks?
Panto rehearsals are hard work. We have to get what is a full piece of musical theatre up and running in just two weeks. My favourite moments are when an idea or a funny line just comes out of the actors working together in a scene. It’s not in the original script, it’s a result of that moment of interaction on stage. If we were working on someone else’s script, we couldn’t put it in. But because we’re creating the show ourselves, in it goes! And they are invariably the biggest laughs in the show!

Do you have a favourite Pantomime?
It changes all the time. I have done five versions of Beauty & the Beast over the years and have loved every one of them. There are so many different ways of telling that story. But I recently wrote and directed Dick Whittington, which has never been one of my favourite subjects and it was great. We had a fantastic cast, and because I’m not a fan of the traditional storyline, I played around with it and had some fun. We got two nominations at the panto awards that year, so we must have done something right!

How do you respond to critics and actors who class Pantomime as low art?
Pantomime is an essential element of Christmas for so many families, as much a part of the festivities as the turkey and the presents. Because of that, it can sometimes be dismissed as something trivial and frivolous. But good panto is real, hard graft to get right, and takes commitment and talent from everyone involved. It has to appeal across the age range from four to a hundred and four. It has to be funny, exciting, tender, spectacular – and it has to work whether there is an audience of schoolchildren, or the front ten rows are full of noisy office parties. And all this is put together in double quick time. Those who poo poo it should give it a try. My wife and I met some new friends a few years ago, who had never been to panto, saying it wasn’t for them. They came to my production of Peter Pan and have been back every year since. And they now bring their grown-up children along too!

What are your working plans for next year?
We are already discussing next year’s panto, but no decision has been made yet. I know what I’d like to do but for now all I will say is watch this space.

Have you had time to explore Winchester while staying here, if so what has been your highlight?
I’ve known Winchester all my life; I grew up in Basingstoke, so it’s always been on my radar. It’s a beautiful city, and I especially love being here at Christmas. I never tire of walking around by the cathedral, and along the river. I just wish it was easier to park! (Sadly, very true)
I also love the theatre. It’s such a pretty auditorium with a very intimate feel – perfect for a panto.

I have been informed that Wizard of Oz! isn’t a traditional panto title, but we are definitely giving it the panto style. It’s going to be a lot of fun. If what I saw and heard from the rehearsals taking place audiences are in for a festive Panto treat. Just a quick reminder it is running from 3rd December until 2nd January.

Photo credit to Jon Bonner. https://instagram.com/jonbonphotography?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=




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