Chris Jarvis begins his role of Betty Bonbon next week in Lighthouse Poole’s pantomime Beauty and the Beast, which will mark his Dame debut, and he’ll be working alongside a cast including Alice Rose Fletcher, Wade Lewin and Michelle Collins. This year’s pantomime is written by Andrew Pollard and Chris will be directing the show, which runs from 9th to 31st December. As a children’s TV presenter for nearly 30 years, Chris can regularly be seen on CBeebies with some of his recent shows including Magic Den and Stargazing, and he has directed this year’s CBeebies Christmas show The Night Before Christmas. Over the years, amongst Chris’ other projects are Playdays, Show Me Show Me, Jungle Run and the Saturday morning TV show Fully Booked. Catching up with Chris, he tells us about making his Dame debut as Betty Bonbon, directing Beauty and the Beast at Lighthouse Poole and working on CBeebies.
Is there anything you are most looking forward to for playing Betty Bonbon – your Dame debut – in this year’s Beauty and the Beast pantomime at Lighthouse Poole this Christmas?
I’m looking forward to every last drop of panto this year and playing Dame is the glacé cherry on the top. I was very lucky to be part of Happy Ever After, a mini pantomime show last year in Poole, but this year’s show is a full-scale, all-singing, all-dancing production. And yes, on top of that, I get to play Dame for the first time in a theatre production. After 25 professional shows, as well as a whole host of TV pantos, I’ve picked up a lot of tips and guidance from some of the UK’s finest Dames. I’m most looking forward to putting all that wonderful advice to good use.
What will you bring to your portrayal of Betty Bonbon and how are you preparing to play her?
I’m hoping everyone will love Betty. In fact, she desperately needs a little bit of love right now after losing many husbands and failing to find a new one. I can’t think what’s putting them off! Possibly the shocking dress sense!
I have some incredible frocks that don’t require lights, or maybe her Mrs Slocombe-esque hairdo. I’m playing her as a traditional panto Dame – a man in a frock with DM boots. Betty is a vulnerable, older woman who eats as many sweets as she makes and sells. She has a heart of Terry’s All Gold. I’ve spent years working with some amazing Dames – all different but all delivering family friendly comedy, I’m hoping to do the same in Poole.
You will also be directing the show, why would you recommend booking tickets and what can audiences expect from this year’s production of Beauty and the Beast?
This is the perfect pantomime for 2021; it has a strong storyline (as pantomimes go!) that was penned by Andrew Pollard, a pantomime genius. We have used his storyline to create a brand-new show for Poole with lots of comedy, great songs and spectacle. Most people are familiar with Disney’s tale of Beauty and the Beast, but may not have heard the full story that includes Cupid, Nightshade the enchantress and Soufflé, Belle’s rather chavvy sister.
As a writer of pantomimes, what do you feel makes a good pantomime script?
My definition of pantomime is a family show with an even balance of story, comedy and music. David Wood said a good story should have a lot of “suddenlys” – great advice, especially for a pantomime that needs to constantly surprise. Spectacle and amazing effects are fine but without a strong story delivered by a strong cast, it’s just a noisy light show.
How do you find the experience interacting with a pantomime audience?
The audience is a massive part of pantomime, it’s a member of the cast. Often with more lines! One of the reasons why panto rehearsal periods are short is because there’s a real danger of the show becoming over-rehearsed without the laughs, boos and cheers. Timing is everything!
I’ve been lucky enough to work in kids’ TV for nearly 30 years but most of that time has been spent performing to cameras in studios or on location, a few of the shows have live audiences but you can’t beat the buzz of a full auditorium of excited families at Christmas.
Do you have a favourite aspect of being part of a pantomime cast?
Yes, friendship. Pantomime should be exhausting – we perform two shows each day, six days a week – but I cannot remember a time when I’ve actually hit a wall. Doctor Footlights always comes up trumps but it’s the audience and the rest of the company who keep you going. I feel very lucky to have worked with so many hilarious, talented and generous performers, and it is their friendship and support that I value most.
What advice would you give actors appearing in their first pantomime and audience members seeing one for the first time?
Trust the script! Pantomime gags and routines work like one big magic trick. There’s a rhythm and panto vibe that the audience will tune into; once they’re on your wavelength, they’ll love every minute.
You’ve worked with CBeebies and CBBC over a number of years, what are some of your highlights from your time with them?
Well, the pantomimes have been a true highlight for me. I loved creating the Big Bash pantos of the 1990s and I’ve just had the most incredible experience directing this year’s CBeebies Christmas Show – The Night Before Christmas with many of the usual stars, including nine tap dancing reindeer!
I’ve been lucky enough to host Playdays and Show Me Show Me for the youngest of viewers as well as shows like Jungle Run for older children, I even got to host the Saturday morning teen show Fully Booked for a couple of years – that was a hoot meeting all the big pop stars of the time.
Can you tell us about the show Magic Den?
CBeebies Magic Den is a Tardis-like broom cupboard full of magic tunnels, secret doors and a dumb-waiter that delivers bonkers items to me and Stuffy. For those not in the know, Stuffy is one of the characters on Show Me Show Me on CBeebies. As well as Auntie Edie we have special guests including Derek Griffiths, Su Pollard, Michaela Strachan, Dominic Wood, Cat Sandion, Pui Fan Lee, Michael Rosen… please listen! It’s bonkers.
With your continuing career with CBeebies, what do you enjoy most about hosting shows?
Variety! Earlier this year I was Montague in Romeo and Juliet and filmed more CBeebies Stargazing, then I was directing our biggest production for CBeebies, BBC One and the cinema.
How lucky am I?!
Where does your love of presenting, writing and performing come from and how did you start?
My grandmother! My parents were both in education. My mum was a headteacher and my dad was a senior lecturer in a university. Goodness knows what they’d done in a past life to end up with a clown like me!
But my grandmother had been a dancer at the Swansea Grand and London Palladium years ago, her tales as well as many trips to shows and pantomimes got me hooked.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career?
Like a lot of performers, my career is also my hobby so, rather predictably, I love going to the theatre. I’m a radio anorak and much prefer listening to the wireless than watching the gogglebox. I love The Archers and speech radio: the BBC local stations, BBC Radio 4 and LBC where I worked 30 years ago.
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