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Theatre Royal panto: Lesley Joseph

December 2014



SHE is fiddling with a gold crown, adjusting earrings and applying make-up during a lunch break that seems to be far from what you’d call a break.

“It’s all a bit manic at the moment,” admits Lesley Joseph, in her dressing room at the Theatre Royal where she and her fellow cast are running through dress rehearsals ahead of tomorrow’s opening night.

It follows two days of rehearsals in London, then two more at Nottingham’s College Street Studios.

“We’ve only just finished Birds,” she says, referring to the second series of ITV’s revived Birds of a Feather, which will begin on Boxing Day.

“We finished in the studio at Pinewood in London on Wednesday. We hadn’t overrun but I’d said yes to panto before Birds had been confirmed for another series.”

The return of the sitcom earlier this year after 15 years, starring the original cast of Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Joseph as Dorien Green, attracted millions of viewers.

“That series was very much about finding out whether it was going to work, were the public going to welcome it back... which they did – the ratings were fantastic.”

Eight million watched the opening episode.

“To go out on Boxing Day is such a huge compliment to the show, 25 years after it started.

“There is something in Dorien’s past that comes back to haunt her,” she says when asked for a few teasers from the new series, its 11th since 1989.

“Sharon turns out to be something you never imagined.”

A man?

“Nerrr, I dernt think serr,” she laughs, affecting a Lancashire accent. “And there’s a health scare with Tracey. It goes very much between drama and comedy which is what Birds has always done.”

It was the live stage version of Birds which last brought her to Nottingham (apart from the panto launch last summer) two years ago when it ran for a week at the Royal Concert Hall.

“I’ve done a lot of shows here so I’m used to the city really. I’ve been to that thing in the courts where there’s a judge,” says Joseph of the Galleries of Justice Museum.

“I don’t have a favourite restaurant here as such, but we had a meal in Marco Pierre White’s the other day and that was lovely. I have a favourite boutique that has some lovely eccentric clothes.

“It’s near the Lace Market – I love the Lace Market.”

Not that she expects to get much time to explore the city over the next six weeks playing The Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, opposite former Eastenders/Dancing On Ice star Sam Attwater as The Prince and Ben Nickless, who returns after last year’s panto with The Hoff, as Muddles.

“The dressing room becomes like a second home, really,” says Joseph. “You eat, breath and live panto. But that’s panto. I’ve been doing it for 25 years so you sort of get your head around it. It’s a strange old life.”

Does she miss anything or anyone?

“You don’t have the time to. I know that sounds silly.”

The next day off for her and the rest of the cast is Christmas Day.

“I’ll be at home in London.”

Will you be doing the cooking?

“I hope not.”

Get an M&S ready meal.

“Oh, I did that last year. It was brilliant.”

The next day, she won’t be watching the new series of Birds Of A Feather kick off because she’ll be on stage at the Theatre Royal for the second show of the day as the Wicked Queen.

She likes evil characters.

“They are quite hard work but whichever character I play, even if it’s not the evil one, I always manage to get a bit of evil or a hint of naughtiness in there.

“It’s always slightly Dorien-esque. I can’t play pure good.

“You wouldn’t cast me as a goody goody anyway. It’s boring for me.”

The production includes wire-free flying and pyrotechnics, so is she involved in any of that?

“I couldn’t possibly tell you that.”

That’s a yes.

“If I fly I fly, that’s all there is to it.”

After its run she’ll be going on holiday: “I’ve been working solidly. I love panto, don’t get me wrong. I’d do it all year if I could. I love the magic, the dancing... you get everything in one show. It’s fantastic but afterwards you are shattered.”

She adds: “Then we’ll see if we get more Birds.”


Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs runs until Sunday, January 11. Tickets start at £15 and are available fro the box office, call 0115 989 5555 or go to trch.co.uk.




The Missing: Arsher Ali

 November 2014



IT was the quality of the writing that drew Arsher Ali to The Missing, BBC One’s prime time thriller about child abduction.
“I was sent the first few episodes and they were good, old-fashioned cliffhangers,” says the 30-year-old, who plays journalist Malik Suri.
“When I’d run out of episodes to read, I was genuinely annoyed,” adds Ali, who rose to prominence in the hit film comedy Four Lions.
“It was like only having the first hundred pages of a good book. The writing was superb. It’s obviously the first thing you look for, as an actor. You don’t have to expend energy trying to find the reason behind what you’re saying, it just is what they would say.”
The Missing follows Tony, played by James Nesbitt, as he searches for his missing child Oliver in Paris, and charts the impact the hunt has on his relationship with wife Emily, played by Mr Selfridge actress Frances O'Connor.
“Malik is an ambitious man,” says Ali.
“At the beginning of the story he is a fledgling journalist looking to make a name for himself, driven on by the memory of his father who was also a journalist. He manages to find a way into the case via some of his father’s past discoveries and as the case progresses he is faced with some ethical and moral questions whose outcomes shape him and haunt him in later life.”
Journalism was a trade he had considered before acting.
“Acting came along as a happy accident,” says Ali, whose TV credits include Silent Witness, Beaver Falls, mini-series The Guilty and Channel 4’s feature-length drama Complicit, for which he won an award at the 2013 Monte Carlo Television Festival.
“My interest was in sports journalism, a different field all together to Malik’s,” says the avid Forest fan who writes about the Reds for the Post.
After flunking media and English - “because I couldn’t be bothered” - he turned to acting with the encouragement of a drama teacher at Bilborough College.
Once he’d graduated from the East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex, where he won the Laurence Olivier Student Award, Ali worked on the stage, with stints at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, before Four Lions came along in 2010.
“I’ve never experienced such a calm, unified and productive atmosphere on a set before,” he says of The Missing, which was filmed in Belgium with Rebus star Ken Stott also in the cast.
“The crew were super-chilled but extremely diligent. In the UK, I think most people like to work themselves into a tizzy.”
He adds: “The most memorable thing for me was the strong smell of herbal cigarettes. It’s a distinctive smell on film sets or on stage for ‘character smoking’. I’m not sure how many packs I got through as Malik, but it felt like an unhealthy amount.”
The Missing returns to BBC One on Tuesday, the fifth episode of eight.
“It’s a very compelling story and it’s been afforded the time to tell it properly. I can’t believe the BBC gave us eight epiosdes to tell the story. And I’m surprised that people have stuck with it because they usually want everything wrapped up in two or three.
“British TV can have a tendency to sometimes rush through stories but if we’ve learnt anything from American or Scandinavian drama, it’s that if the story is compelling enough then people will go with you no matter what.”
Ali, who grew up in Sherwood, now lives in the city centre with Emmerdale actress Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi. The pair are yet to start a family but the horror of child abduction wasn’t hard for him to imagine.
“It’s every parent or family’s greatest fear, isn’t it? Losing a child. It’s earth shattering.”
He has just finished filming with Martin Clunes and Art Malik for Arthur & George, an ITV drama about Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“It’s a true story about a guy, who I play, wrongly imprisoned and Arthur Conan Doyle comes to his defence to get him a pardon. I can’t believe it’s real. It’s like someone getting done for terror charges and Russell Brand leaping to their defence.”
Today he’s off to Belfast to shoot a film alongside This Is England star Stephen Graham. But his biggest role is coming soon, one will that will see him once again on prime time television. Although he’s sworn to secrecy.
“I can’t say but I’m slowly getting there,” he says of a career that will keep him busy for the foreseeable future; one which threatens to interrupt his love of watching Forest play.
“I’m nuts,” he admits.
“I’ll travel everywhere to watch them. And if I can’t make it I’ll ring home and get my mum or my missus to put the phone to the radio so I can listen to the commentary on Radio Nottingham.”


The Missing continues on BBC One on Tuesday at 9pm. 

Theatre Royal panto: Ben Nickless

November 2014

HE was a gent, a generous performer to work with but uniquely himself. That’s how Ben Nickless recalls his time with David Hasselhoff in pantomime at the Theatre Royal last year.
“We’d do our first scene together then sit in the wings,” says Nickless, who played Smee, opposite The Hoff’s Captain Hook.
“I’d be next to him waiting to go back on and he’d say: ‘Great scene, man. They loved us!’ But in the wings, the rule is, you don’t talk... or if you do, you whisper. But he must have learned to whisper in a helicopter, he was so loud.
“I’d always get in trouble because he’d talk to me, saying: “Man, that was awesome!” and one of the crew would come over and say ‘Can we keep the noise down!?’ He’d look around, saying: ‘Why, who’s being noisey?’ He had no idea the noise was coming from him,” laughs Nickless, who is from Lancashire but now lives in Torquay with his wife, a dancer.
“He’d always take his hook off in the wings because it was so sweaty. He was about to go back on without it, realised, searched around for it... and by this time he was supposed to be on stage. Then he’d find it, walk on and the light would catch his hat and pull his wig off. He was really flustered. The wardrobe lady had to follow him around, really on edge.”
Ben adds: “He was often off in his own Hoff world but he really was one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. A top man. We did have a good laugh.”
They stayed in touch and Hasselhoff gave Nickless a small role in his new spoof TV documentary called Hoff The Record.
“He said at the time we were in panto that he’d get me in the show but in the showbusiness world you take that with a pinch of salt. Then I got a call from the producer of the show and filmed it in London last month.
“Here’s a man who works all over the world and lives in LA but I end up filming with him in a kebab shop in London.”
The series will aired be on Dave in the spring.
Before that, the 33-year-old Ben will be back in the Theatre Royal panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, alongside Birds of A Feather’s Lesley Joseph and former EastEnder turned Dancing On Ice winner Sam Attwater.

“I’ve not worked with either before but I did see Lesley in pantomime years ago in Plymouth, because my mate was in it,” he says.
“She was really funny. My expectations weren’t massive for her but she was brilliant. And I’ll think she’ll bring a lot to Nottingham.”
This will be his eleventh panto and he’ll be playing Muddles, opposite Joseph as The Wicked Queen and Attwater as The Prince.
The return to Nottingham will mean a chance to see more of the city.
“The Hoff was telling me ‘you’ve got to go and see the Castle’ but I never got the chance. I’m a big football fan and I did go and see the Brian Clough statue. Hopefully, when I’m back there I can see a bit more of Nottingham and not just the dressing room, the stage and Wagamama’s.”
He adds: “I’m a sucker for a Wagamama’s. I also did TGI Friday, Subway, Bella Italia, Red Hot World Buffet, Harvester and the Moulin Rouge chippy where you could sit inside and have a fritter.
“Nottingham is a great place to do panto because of all the restaurants you’ve got. There’s never a problem finding somewhere to eat after a show.”
Nickless started out as a Bluecoat at Pontins, was a kids’ entertainer, did his first panto, then began a series of summer seasons.
“I’m a variety entertainer. I sing, I do comedy, I do impressions, there’s a few prop gags,” he says.
“I was never the class clown at school. I was quite shy. But I was in a school production of The Wizard of Oz and the drama teacher was shocked how naturally I took to it. The next year we did the Pied Piper and the teacher gave me impressions to do. I became the most famous kid in the school after that.”
He studied performing arts at college but left and got a tele-sales job.
“On the side I was writing comedy and working on impressions. Then I entered the TV show Search For A Star and I won. From that I was offered a summer season. At the same time the office where I was working offered me a pay rise and a company car. I opted for the summer season, even though it was minimum wage and ridiculous amount of hours. It’s because it was what I wanted to do. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs at the Theatre Royal from Saturday, December 6 to Sunday, January 11. Tickets start from £15, available from the box office, call 0115 989 5555 or online at trch.co.uk.