RIGHT up to his costume fitting, AJ Powell was sure he would be dressed as an egg throughout playing the title role in Humpty Dumpty at York Theatre Royal.
“I didn’t see the costume until the fitting day. I didn’t even know I was going to be in a schoolboy’s outfit,” says AJ. “For months I thought I was going to be inside an eggshell, so I was even telling me friends not to see it.”
The West Midlands actor, musical performer and dancer does indeed begin the show in an egg, but soon sheds the shell in a central role that proves he really has cracked it in the Theatre Royal panto – confirming dame Berwick Kaler’s belief he was “born to play Humpty”.
Four years ago, he was performing his first York show in the dance troupe for Cinderella, but gradually writer-director Kaler has brought him to the fore, in Cinderella, Dick Turpin and now Humpty Dumpty.
So much so that AJ’s first words, when he breaks free of the shell, are “I think you’re lovely”, the hippie-dippy catchphrase delivered in a Brummie accent that instantly endeared him to Theatre Royal audiences.
“It started four years ago with Berwick saying I’m thinking of giving you a couple of lines, maybe turning you into a really Brummie character, so we talked about what Brummies said and ‘lovely’ came out, and he then elaborated on it and emphasised the accent,” recalls AJ.
Technically, however, it is not a Brummie accent. “People think of it as being Bummie, but it’s not, it’s Black Country, Dudley, but I’m happy for people to think it is if they’re enjoying it,” says AJ, who is originally from Birmingham and has lived in London for six years.
He has enjoyed his involvement with the York panto since day one, but will not be the first actor to have been baffled by his first sighting of a Berwick Kaler script.
“I remember reading it all and thinking ‘What on earth is this?’ I didn’t have a clue where the plot was. I’m thinking, ‘Have I made the right decision here?’. I’m definitely sure of that now, but at that time I just thought the whole thing was completely bizarre,” AJ recalls.
“It’s not until you get into the theatre that you discover just how much people love it, and you realise that Berwick really knows how to make a pantomime work – and how to work the York audience. He’s a genius.”
AJ’s gift for comedy continues to blossom in the Theatre Royal panto.
“That’s why I love doing this panto so much because, after doing a musical for a while, a show can get monotonous, whereas with this, there’s always something different happening – mostly thanks to Berwick.”
• Humpty Dumpty runs until January 30.
Did you know?
AJ appears in the video for the American version of Duffy’s hit single Mercy.