Opportunities still come knocking for Peterborough panto star Bobby Crush
Peterborough’s panto-lovers have a date with a “Hall of Famer” this festive season - as Bobby Crush comes to the New Theatre .
Playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin in his 37th panto season is a far cry from his showbusiness beginnings - which older readers might remember from 1972 - as a piano playing teenager who won a TV talent show and the nation’s hearts.
“It was an amazing start to my career because Opportunity Knocks had an incredible following and of course it was at a time when we only had three stations, so it wasn’t diluted like TV is now,” Bobby recalled.
“We were getting 14m-15m people a week watching the shows so for a young, unknown performer it was an amazing springboard which allowed me to get first recording contract, and first management contract, and 49 years on I am still here.”
And it wasn’t long before panto came calling.
“I did my first panto in 1973 at the ABC in Stockton and funnily enough it was Aladdin,” he says . “I was 19 and I was Aladdin and Stephen Lewis, who was Blakey from On The Buses, was Abanaazar, the baddy.
“That was in the good old days when I would always be cast as the juvenile lead,” he joked.”Then you get to about 40 and you think I can’t do that , shinning up a beanstalk any more or jumping out of a cave.
“So you either settle for dad roles or go down the Dame route - where of course you get to wear the best frocks, say the funniest lines and get the biggest cheer on the walkdown, so what is there not to love ?”
Bobby, now inducted into the Panto Hall of Fame, made the switch to Dame in 200 and has been doing it ever since.
“I get to do 10 costume changes- I have always thought in every panto I have ever done that you should never see the dame in the same frock twice,” he pointed out. “With every entrance you should have a different frock and with each entrance the frock should become more and more outrageous, so that by the time you reach the finale it is just a mad creation.
“I love every aspect of playing the Dame but it is very hard work, because what the audience doesn’t see is a lot of the time you are in the wings doing these mad, fast costume changes and it is exhausting when you are doing two shows a day.”
Bobby clearly loves panto as he keeps coming back, but why does he think it is so special with audiences?
“The reason I like panto so much is that it embraces every aspect of the business that I am in. There is music, comedy slapstick, dance and running gags. It is a culmination of all those things and it means that when an audience comes to see a panto there is going to be something for everyone, no one is left out.
“ I like the innuendo, I don’t like it when it is too saucy but I like cheeky innuendo and I can guarantee there will be a certain amount of that.
“In Aladdin of course, Widow Twankey is very flirtatious towards Abanaazar and in the end his punishment is that he has to marry her, twice daily! So I like all of that aspect of the show and am very much looking forward to coming to the New Theatre.”
It won’t be his first city panto, however, having appeared at The Cresset - in Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White in 2007 and 2008.
“I have not been back in 13 years and hopefully they have forgiven me by now,” he joked.
So how did he become a Hall of Famer?
“It is very peculiar because I was approached by the people that run it and they asked for a list of all the pantos I have done since the start of my career to present day, and I thought it was just for a archive purposes,” he says.
“But what it actually was they were preparing to make me the 2021 inductee into the Panto Hall Of Fame. They only allow one person in every year and this year it is me, which I am really thrilled about, and I am following people like Christopher Biggins, the Krankies, John Barrowman, really good company. It came right out of the blue, I wasn’t expecting it, and I was very honoured.”
So of his 36 panto season so far, which has he enjoyed the most?
“I have two favourites, one is Aladdin and the other is Jack and the Beanstalk, because as the Dame you get to do comedy and pathos - there is a scene where Widow Twankee is led to believe Aladdin has been killed in the cave and she goes into apoplexy and a similar kind of thing with Jack and the Beanstalk when the Dame thinks the giant has got Jack. So I like the sad bits as well as all the funny bits.
“I only ever played bad once and I did enjoy being the Wicked Stepmother. I loved being booed but it only ever happened once because everyone says I am too nice to play bad.”
Bobby did have a message for Peterborough audiences, who can see him from December 15-30, alongside the likes of Rufus Hound and Sabrina Washington.
“Come and celebrate the fact that all the theatres are open again and we guarantee them a wonderful time,” he said.
“We are working hard on it now and I have got my costumier busily sewing some rather outrageous frocks for you all to see . I will be playing the piano in the show, too. There will be a a scene where a grand piano is rolled on and Widow Twankey shows off her keyboard skills.
“I just think it is going to be a magical show and is going to be a great night for all concerned.”
Tickets at newtheatre-peterborough.com