This Christmas, Leon Craig will be playing Dame Nurse Nellie at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells in their pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, alongside a cast including Rhiannon Chesterman and Shirley Ballas, with the show running from Friday 17th December to Monday 3rd January. In the West End production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Leon played Sandra Bollock, a role he will be reprising when the show opens in Los Angeles next month, where he will reunite with his London co-stars Layton Williams and Roy Haylock/Bianca Del Rio. Earlier this year, Leon was in the cast of Annie Get Your Gun at Betley Court Farm, and amongst his stage credits, he performed as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin the Musical in the West End. We spoke to Leon about his role of Dame Nurse Nellie in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, returning to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie as Sandra Bollock for the run in Los Angeles and his time in Disney’s Aladdin the Musical in the West End.
What are you looking forward to for playing Dame Nurse Nellie in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells for this year’s pantomime?
I love playing the best part in pantoland – The Dame. I am really looking forward to doing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as I have never done this pantomime before in all my 17 years of playing Dame. I have heard the Tunbridge Wells audiences are the best in the country, so I cant wait to hear their reactions to this wonderful story that we get to tell.
I’m looking for a man also, so ladies, lock up your husbands, Nurse Nellie is single and ready to mingle… Actually, bring them along with the rest of the family, this is going to be the best pantomime in the UK.
What do you feel you’ll bring to the role and what can audiences expect from your portrayal of the character?
Well, my Dame is full of life, energy and loud. She’s a cross between Danny La Rue, John Inman, and also my grandma. I will bring lots of fun laughter, but also I will tell the story, it’s very important to get the story over to the audience.
What are pantomimes like to rehearse for?
I love being in the rehearsal room for panto, it’s super fast-paced and lots of fun, long days too. I try to be off script the first day of rehearsals as I need to physicalise the role, but also I need to start to think about my costume changes, wig changes, shoes etc. Some pantomimes I have done you get two/three weeks, but the majority of them you get about a week, and then you go into technical rehearsals for about three or four days where you move into the actual theatre on stage. Working with the lighting, sound, my costume changes, set changes, with the band, it’s very hard work for the cast but also the team working behind the scenes. That’s when I get very excited as you start to see it all come to life.
Why do you think audiences will enjoy watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Assembly Hall Theatre this Christmas?
Well, I have have had my script for sometime now and I have to say it’s fantastic, it’s hilarious! Paul and Emily and the whole team at Evolution put on the most spectacular family pantomimes for adults and children. Trust me, Tunbridge Wells, you’re in for a treat. We have a super talented West End cast, seven fab dwarfs, and, of course, the Queen of Latin herself, the incredible Shirley Ballas. I am a massive fan of Strictly Come Dancing and now Shirley gets to bring the evil and magic to the Assembly Hall. She’s fabulous!!
How is the experience interacting with a pantomime audience?
Well, what I love about pantomime especially for the Dame is there isn’t a fourth wall, meaning you can interact with the audience and have the participation, they get to shout out, and cheer and boo and sing along to the songs. Where as if you’re doing a musical or a play, you stay in the story and tell it and the audience would normally just clap and not verbally respond.
Do you have a favourite aspect of performing in pantomimes?
Oh sooo many… I love having a new costume change on every entrance, working with a new talented bunch of people, and generally having a ball. You spend your whole Christmas kind of in a panto bubble, so they are your family. I love seeing the whole production come to life and hearing the audiences appreciating live theatre. Panto can be, and was for me, the first form of theatre you go to, we have to keep this tradition alive forever.
Book those tickets and I’ll see you at the stage door, and, of course, in the best panto Tunbridge Wells has ever seen.
Can you tell us about your time in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie as Sandra Bollock in the West End?
I had such a blast in Jamie, I did it in the West End at the beautiful Apollo Theatre. It’s such a great story, not going to lie, it’s an emotional rollercoaster of a show but being Sandra in the show I get to put some of the fun and humour into it. I got to work with the legend that is Roy Haylock (RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Bianca Del Rio) – the nicest person ever. I still listen to the music now and it still makes me cry. Listen to He’s My Boy, it’s a real tear-jerker.
It’s been announced the show is opening in LA in the new year, and you’ll be reprising your role, how do you think you’ll feel opening in the show in America?
Yesssss how exciting! I’m off to LA baby!!! Yes, the show is off to America, and I was so honoured to get the call from my agent to be asked to reprise the role there and reunite with the amazing Bianca Del Rio and the fabulous Layton Williams. It’s going to be a great 2022 eeeekkkkkk.
The show has a really important message too and I can’t wait to tell the story in the USA.
What are some of your favourite memories from being in the cast of Aladdin the Musical?
Oh so many… but definitely getting to play the Genie, what a role to play, and I can honestly say it’s been one of my favourite roles to play in my career to date in the West End. You get to tap, sing, dance, be funny, and also be covered in glitter, who doesn’t want to be covered in glitter.
The production was produced by Disney so no expense spared, it was lavish, but I’m afraid if you didn’t get to see it, I still can’t tell you how the magic carpet works.
This year, you were part of Annie Get Your Gun, how was this?
Annie Get Your Gun was so much fun. It was an outdoor show in the summer which was boiling hot, we had such a talented cast and a fantastic live band. I played Buffalo Bill, kind of the narrator of the show and also you get to sing There’s No Business Like Show Business.
I am a little young for the role but what was great about this production was there wasn’t any boundaries and the show was stripped back too so we got the chance to put our own take on it.
Where does your love of performing come from and how did you start?
Well, my dad used to dance when he was younger and he still does it now. I used to see musicals and pantomimes when I was a child and remember thinking “I want do that”. My mum used to own a paper shop and every week she used to get these magazines in called The Magic of the Musicals and it would be about the old style shows with a CD and I learnt all about the shows and, of course, listened to them, the best feeling in the world.
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