EMILY Taylor has no doubt what makes performing in pantomime special for her. “When you look in the audience and you see children in the front row living their best life. That’s what panto is all about,” she says, during a break from rehearsals for Jack and the Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal.

The York-born dancer and choreographer was one of those joyful children when she saw panto for the first time at the city’s Grand Opera House. “My dad said I was about three and we sat in the box at stalls level. It was Music Man on the song sheet and they asked for children to go on stage. My dad chucked me over the edge of the box for me to go up the stairs and on stage as quickly as possible.”

At 12, she played a dwarf in pantomime at the Theatre Royal but missed out the following year as she was ‘quite tall’, ruling out playing one of the ‘babbies’. She worked as a senior dancer and then, at 17 or 18, assisted the choreographer.

As a professional dancer she has travelled the world on various contracts and cruises, and worked on music videos. This year’s panto is her 19th. The ensemble are more than dancers as they feature in many of the scenes and also understudy. Emily is understudying Jack this year and will be more prepared than she had to go on unexpectedly as Snow White at another theatre.

“I had to go on at five minutes notice but I wasn’t the understudy, hadn’t done any rehearsals or looked at the script. It was like learn a scene, do the scene, learn a scene, do a scene. A bit stressful but I loved it. I love the acting side.

“I also went on for Debbie McGee when she was off for two days appearing in Strictly on the TV.”

She choreographed the Grand Opera House pantomime for seven years and last year was back on the Theatre Royal stage for The All New Adventures of Peter Pan.

Another of the ensemble Khan Rasul, from Hartlepool, was a latecomer to panto but loves the joy such shows bring during the Christmas season. “For me it’s a very positive vibe,” he says.

Dance came early in his childhood when his parents put him into classes when he was just two. Performing runs in the family with his mother has travelling the world as a singer. Khan is a traveller too, performing on cruise ships. When the York show ends he embarks on a seven month cruise following rehearsals in Florida. “I get to travel the world doing what I love to do,” he says.

Chris Morgan-Shillingford, who makes his professional debut as part of the York ensemble, did a few pantos in college but admits he wasn’t a massive fan of panto until seeing a friend in Cinderella last year made him change his mind.

Originally he wanted to do acting, taking a Drama GCSE but started dancing which got him a place in drama school and three years training.

Also making her professional debut is Charlotte O’Sullivan from Scarborough. She trained at Northern Ballet School and was part of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Autumn Adventure Intensive.

Her start at dance school came at the age of three. “I always loved dancing but didn’t want to take it seriously. Then my friend went to dance class and I was like ‘that’s what I want to do’. I’ve never stopped. I love the acting and the dancing. I loved training – I got to do what I loved every day to a high standard.

“I saw lots of pantomimes at school but the one I remember and still watch is Jack and the Beanstalk on the BBC at Christmas time. Julie Walters was in it,” she says.

Back for her third York Theatre Royal pantomime is Lauren Richardson who has understudied Cinderella and Peter Pan in the past – and stood in for ill performers both times.

She names putting the show together as her best moment. “It’s the process, working with so many different people. Everyone is really nice. I know people say that but it’s true - there’s always such a good team. They cast really well. We come in and it feels like it’s going to be a good show,” she says.

Lauren grew up in Helmsley, travelling into York to see panto. Now it’s come full circle and she’s appearing in one. She’s gained valuable experience as an understudy. Next up she’d like to perform on cruises and in the West End.

Like Lauren, Luke Lucas is making his third ensemble panto appearance and understudying the Dame, Robin Simpson, but not anticipating going on for him. “He’s a real professional and always goes on no matter what. I’m just sitting comfortably knowing that I’m not going on,” he says. “But I would like to know what it feels like playing that kind of character. The Dame is such an integral part of pantomime. I would love to see what I can do with it.”

Luke was a latecomer to the panto scene. He saw his first one as a teenager and then only because his brother Tim was performing in it. “So it wasn’t like a magical experience, more an appreciation of how much people on the stage work. Pantomime is hard work,” says Luke. “I was influenced by television and film, then my brother started doing musical theatre which looked really fun and I thought I’ll have a go at that.”

He says he and Tim, currently on the Blood Brothers UK tour, look alike so perhaps they could play the Ugly Sisters – or rather, Ugly Brothers. “It would be great to work with him one day,” he says.

“I’m from Liverpool but haven’t done much work there. I would love to do more. When you get the chance to perform up North it just feels so good coming back to do what I love.

“Your ambition when you’re younger and just graduated tends to be a big tour or West End show but for me now the goal is to be doing what I love, what I’m passionate about – which is performing. “

Luke enjoys audience participation moments when the dancers go into the auditorium and get up close and personal with the audience. “There’s a moment in Jack and the Beanstalk that’s going to be really fun when we go into the audience in costume. It’s going to be quite a treat for people,” he promises.

Jack and the Beanstalk is at York Theatre Royal, until January 7.

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