Panto’s just kids play for Andre

As youngsters they were a double-act and now the festive season sees them back together again. Comedian Andre Vincent talks to ABIGAIL SALTMARSH about playing the sidekick to Richard Gauntlett 's dame in this year 's Norwich Theatre Royal panto.

s youngsters they found themselves together so often that they eventually formed a double-act.

Now some 30 years later, Andre Vincent and Richard Gauntlett still appear together in panto – and are currently to be seen in Sleeping Beauty at Norwich Theatre Royal.

Andre, a stand-up comedian, writer and actor, is playing the cheeky chappy to Richard's flamboyant dame in the all-singing, all-dancing production.

This is his third appearance in pantomime in Norwich, and he admits he has grown to love it after a period of being less than keen on the festive shows.

'I did panto back in the mid-1980s somewhere else and I hated it,' he recalls. 'There was something about the dropping in of the political jokes for the adults while the kids didn't get it that made it a hard form of entertainment.

'At the time I didn't really understand why people wanted to do it.'

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He goes on: 'Then Richard bullied me into doing it at the Theatre Royal three years ago and I found it a completely different experience.

'The kids always had great fun and I got into the slapstick. Richard's pantos really worked for everyone from the children up to mum and dad and the grandparents.

'In fact, I don't think I had enjoyed myself like that in a show for a long time.'

Part of the pleasure was also working with Richard again, he admits. After years of not being on stage together, the pair found they slipped easily back into their double-act routines, bouncing off each other, ad-libbing and instinctively knowing where the other was heading with a gag.

'We first got to know each other when we were about 11 or 12 and we were involved with the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. Whenever they wanted a young boy for a play one of us would do it,' he says.

'There was a bit of competition between us then but by the time we were 15 we became friends. I was plumping up at that point and he was skinny, and so it was natural they kept putting us together.

'We hit it off and decided to form our own double-act.'

For a while, the pair did street shows together and performed at festivals. Then Richard went off to star in musical Barnum while Andre moved in cabaret.

Andre went on to appear on stage in America, as well as Britain, enjoying nine sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Festival, as well as radio and TV work.

He started working with Marcus Brigstocke in 2005 on The Late Edition, which was the first live topical show on the BBC for many years. They also took a live version of the production to Edinburgh and have performed it at many of the leading UK festivals.

Most recently, Andre has starred at the York Theatre Royal in a play about Laurel and Hardy.

'Richard and I kept track of each other over the years but it wasn't until Robin Hood at the Theatre Royal that we worked together again,' says Andre.

'It was very interesting how easy it was to be on stage together after all that time.'

Sleeping Beauty runs until January 15. Its all-star cast also Dancing on Ice winner Hayley Tamaddon, Hollyoaks heart-throb Kevin Sacre and Helen Fraser who is best known as 'Body Bag' from TV's Bad Girls.

'I think it is going to be better than ever this year — before we had even started rehearsing it I realised it was going to be good because the script was so funny,' he says.

'Without giving too much away, I can say there are lots of visual surprises and that we have great fun with a time machine.'

He continues: 'One of the nice things about working at the Theatre Royal is that they always do everything so well. Visually, the pantomime is always very exciting.'

Andre, who has also appeared at numerous comedy festivals and shows in Norwich, says his time spent here with the panto has led him to 'fall in love with the city'.

He now has a home in Norwich and enjoys returning between stints at theatres and festivals elsewhere to focus on his writing.

'It has been so nice coming back to Norfolk and knowing I will be here for the weeks over Christmas during the pantomime,' he says.

'And it has been great fun working with the cast and Richard again.

'I do enjoy the fun we have with the audience during the shows. When we get the kids up on stage, and when we do the song sheet, we never know what will happen.

'But Richard and I always find something to have fun with – and in many ways I think it works because, even after all this time.

'When it comes down to it, we are still bigger kids than they are!'

? Sleeping Beauty runs at Norwich Theatre Royal from December 14 to January 15, �19-�5, under-3s free, 01603 630000, ? Limited performances tickets �17-�5. Over-60s/under-18s and group concessions.