For his most recent pantomime, Christopher Pizzey played Louis la Plonk in the 2021 production of Beauty and the Beast at The Anvil in Basingstoke, and as a regular pantomime performer and director at The Anvil, his shows have included Dick Whittington and Cinderella. In 2017, Christopher joined Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre in the West End playing Officer Tom Smitties, who he played for a year. For Christopher’s first regular screen role, he played Mr Stephen in The Basil Brush Show from 2002, and reprised the role in 2015 for a YouTube series and live theatre tour, which saw him and Basil perform at Glastonbury. Christopher also appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith as her father Eddie Smith, and amongst his many roles, more recently, he played Charles Hardwick in the 2020 feature film The Postcard Killings alongside Jeffrey Dean Morgan. We found out from Christopher about his recent pantomime Beauty and the Beast at The Anvil in Basingstoke, being in the West End cast of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and his time as Mr Stephen in The Basil Brush Show.
Over Christmas 2021, you were playing Louis la Plonk in the Beauty and the Beast pantomime at The Anvil in Basingstoke, how did the run go?
We had such a great run this year doing Beauty and the Beast at The Anvil in Basingstoke. It was brilliant playing Louis la Plonk. It was an award-winning script written by Jon Monie, so the foundations were already there for a great show. I love physical comedy and had immense fun adding that layer to the character.
How was it returning to live theatre during the pandemic?
It definitely added another level of stress to the process. We had very strict COVID regulations about testing and mask wearing around the building. I also directed the show, so there was yet another level of anxiety about cast and crew going down with COVID. Normally, once we are through the rehearsal and tech period, I leave my director hat at the door and just enjoy the run with my fellow actors, but this year, I was constantly rehearsing understudies and then understudies for the understudies in an effort to make sure the show would always go on. Happily, we did manage to complete 100% of our scheduled shows.
As a pantomime regular, you have performed in a range of different pantomimes including Dick Whittington and Cinderella, what do you enjoy most about pantomime season and working at The Anvil?
Firstly, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to return to The Anvil every year as it’s a theatre that really invests in its pantomime. The team there, along with UK Productions, have very high standards. Each year as director, I’m involved in many meetings with the producers and co-creatives, which centre on delivering the best and most magical experience we can achieve. There is nothing I love more than working on a new comedy routine or big show-stopping finale and seeing it come to life in front of an audience knowing we have worked so hard to get that moment absolutely perfect over the last few months.
Having directed many pantomimes over the years, how do you find the experience of directing these types of shows?
I love directing for so many reasons. Lifting a story from the page and breathing life into each scene and moment is a joy for me. I agree with the saying “The Devil is in the detail”. However, it should never just be about what the director wants. Rehearsals should be a collaborative process. When you have the right cast, sometimes the best thing to do is just to sit back and let the ideas happen.
In 2017, you joined the West End cast of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre as Officer Tom Smitties, what was the show like to perform in and was there anything that drew you to the character?
I love comedy and I love London’s West End so… what was not to love! Seriously though, I had seen Mischief Theatre’s other work so was very interested right from the start. Their writing is excellent and they have a great awareness of the comedy greats such as; Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy and, not to mention, Buster Keaton. It was a JOY to be a part of that company for the year. A very talented cast which gave me some wonderful memories.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from your time performing in the West End with The Comedy About a Bank Robbery?
The reactions to the various stunts always made me smile inside. They were such high-octane moments, which never failed to take the audience by surprise. My favourite was one particular fight with another character, which ended with a very large and very heavy metal grate swinging down from the ceiling above, smashing me in the face and rendering me unconscious. To really sell the moment, I had to stand on a mark on the floor which meant as the grate swung down it would get so close to my face that it would literally push my police hat off. Slightly scary but always got a great reaction from the audience.
On screen, you played Charles Hardwick in The Postcard Killings, what was he like to play and how was it on set of the film?
I had such a great time on this film. I played Charles Hardwick as a quiet and bumbly chap. Not the bravest character I’ve ever played. I always find working on feature films fascinating as there is always such a big machine behind the whole process. Filming with Jeffrey Dean Morgan was brilliant. He was very friendly and always had time for everyone.
Can you tell us about playing the role of Mr. Killjoy in Planet Ajay?
Oooh, we are going way back now. That was filmed at Maidstone Studios and was great fun to do. Mr. Killjoy was exactly that – a fun sponge!!! Anyone found enjoying life had to be removed. He took his job very seriously.
You played Eddie Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures in the episode The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith, what was the show like to be part of?
I really enjoyed filming on The Sarah Jane Adventures. I loved playing a character from the Doctor Who world and felt very privileged to play Sarah Jane’s own father – Eddie Smith. The production levels were excellent with no room for compromise. On set it felt like you’d joined a big family. Even after I’d wrapped, the producers sent me a handwritten thank you card, which is still up in my office today.
In 2002, you started your series regular role of Mr Stephen in The Basil Brush Show, what are some of your favourite memories from being involved with the series and working with the rest of the cast?
This was my first big break on television. I had no idea how big it was going to be at the time. I think it ended up going to around 60 different countries around the world, and here in the UK we were getting over one million viewers a week. The show even got BAFTA nominated!! I loved every minute of that show and I always will. It was bonkers off the wall comedy, which is right up my street. Ged and Vanessa, who ran Foundation TV (who were making the show for the BBC), made sure everyone was looked after. Also, the cast and crew were a dream too. I’ve got too many amazing memories all equally special in their own way. Thank you, Basil Brush.
What was Mr Stephen like to play and how was it seeing the fan response and success of the show?
Playing Mr Stephen was a comedic gift. He was the eternal goofball and a hopeless romantic. It didn’t matter how hard he tried, every adventure would end in failure served up with a custard pie in the chops or a calamitous slapstick fall. I was chuffed by the fans’ response and even now, years later, it still makes me smile when a now grown-up fan of the show stops me in the street to say hello or introduce their children to me.
You reprised your role in the 2015 YouTube series and live theatre tour, what were these like to do?
Amazing fun. Getting back together with Basil was great. We toured the entire length and breadth of the UK, which included appearing at Glastonbury too. It was a trip down memory lane but with new material. To top it all off, I directed as well.
Can you tell us about some of your other screen, theatre and directing projects you’ve been part of over the years, which has included appearances in Lucky Man, Sooty and The Legend of Dick and Dom?
I have been very lucky over the years to have been involved in many TV, theatre and film projects. I put this down to having a positive mental attitude. I always try to be respectful, professional and kind. You would be surprised how many people I have witnessed not being the latter.
We understand you also work in narration and voiceover, can you say about this?
Yep, I’m often found in front of a microphone too. It’s such a different skill to on camera acting but just as rewarding when you get it right. I’ve voiced all sorts of crazy characters imaginary and real over the years. The craziest thing I had to voice once was a warrior who had his head ripped off by a giant. I mean, if you have no head you don’t make noise, right??
How did you get into acting and directing and is it something you always wanted to do?
As a kid I loved making up stories and pretending to be different characters so it was inevitable that I would find my way into the world of acting. One of my primary school teachers told my mum that I should find a career in talking as that was the only thing I was interested in doing in her lessons. I guess I did.
What are some of your favourite TV shows and films to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from performing?
I love watching films and TV series. I have a very eclectic taste. At the moment I’m watching Ozark with Jason Bateman and Laura Linney – it’s superb. I also love sport and am often trail riding on my mountain bike.
What are you hoping 2022 brings for your career?
Who knows what it will bring but that is one of the things I love about my profession – every day is different. I’m a very positive person and look forward to whatever the next chapter is.
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