CHRISTMAS would not be Christmas without a dame. The festive season is just around the corner, but planning for pantomimes across the country has been underway for months. Laura Hanton spoke to writer, director and performer Lee Redwood, who tells us why this year's production of Cinderella at Weymouth Pavilion is bigger and better than ever before.

Cinderella was the first pantomime staged when Weymouth Pavilion reopened back in 2013, and incidentally the first pantomime in which Lee, 29, starred. The team have come full circle: having entertained audiences with the likes of Snow White and Dick Whittington over the years, they're now back with a production of the beloved classic fairytale. Yet Lee promises that plenty of things are different from the previous production six years ago.

"It's pointless going back and doing exactly the same thing," Lee says. "We've completely rewritten the script; there's probably not a single line the same as in the production of 2013."

Speaking of scriptwriting, Lee has only very recently finished the process.

"We always leave it quite late in case something topical comes up that we want to include," he explains. "This year is more than likely to feature a bit of Brexit and Boris."

Apart from a touch of political banter, what else is making this year's production the biggest and the best?

"We've gone all out with budgets and planning," Lee says. "We're working closely with The Twins FX, a production company based in Wareham. Their big budget special effects are giving our show more of a West End feel, moving away from the village hall pantomime - not that there's anything wrong with those!"

The Twins FX produce special effects, illusions and animatronics for theatre, film and TV productions. Their work has been featured on the BBC and at the London Palladium, and amongst other breathtaking visuals, audiences can expect to witness a pumpkin transform into a carriage right before their eyes.

Lee also thinks it's the returning cast members who make the show extra special, describing how they've built up "a kind of friendship" with the audience. Alongside Lee, Gwynfryn West returns as Buttons, with fellow familiars Chay Antoni and Yvonne Patterson taking the roles of Dandini and the Wicked Stepmother respectively.

"People have got to know us," Lee says. "They come to us in the street and have a chat. Even though I wear a full face of make up on stage, people still seem to recognise me!"

Newcomers Luke Attwood and Brandon Nicholson, from E4’s Coach Trip, will star as the Ugly Sisters.

Lee saw his first pantomime when he was just two years old, and credits this moment to his lifelong love of theatre: "My grandmother took me to see Jack and the Beanstalk at Bournemouth Pavilion. It's actually my earliest memory, so something must have clicked for me."

With no formal training, Lee has worked his way through the ranks, starting off as a mascot in a theme park at the age of 16 before beginning to produce his own plays.

"I love the magic of it all," he says. "Every day is different, and I love the variety pantomime brings. For a couple of hours, you can just completely escape the real world."

Unlike many other theatres in the country, Weymouth doesn't tend to cast celebrity actors in the leading roles.

"People who were famous a decade ago aren't usually very good at the job," Lee says. "In Weymouth, we have a great team who really love what they do. I know people who come down to the town every Christmas just to see the pantomime. They know what they're getting; we put on a good show."

Unbelievably, however, rehearsals for this finely-tuned production begin only a week before the opening performance, meaning the cast are in for some very long days. Yet Lee promises that it will all be alright on the night: "This really is the biggest panto we've ever done," he vows. "It will be an incredible atmosphere from the moment you step into the theatre. You'll be surrounded by magic."

*Cinderella at Weymouth Pavilion will run from Saturday, December 14 to Sunday, January 5. Tickets are £17 for adults, £15 for concessions and £60 for a family of four. Book now by visiting the pavilion website or by contacting the box office.

For those who can't get enough of pantomimes, several others are being performed in theatres across the county throughout the festive season:

  • Aladdin comes to Bournemouth Pavilion from Saturday, December to Sunday, January 5. The production features EastEnders star Richard Blackwood and Amelia Lily from the X Factor, alongside returning favourites Noel Brodie and David Ball.
  • Lighthouse, Poole's Centre for the Arts, will see Jack and the Beanstalk take to the stage from Thursday, December 12 to Sunday, January 5. The show will star former Sugababes singer Amelle Berrabah and Tracy Beaker actor, Connor Byrne. This is the fourth year running that Lighthouse has co-produced its own pantomime with Duncan Reeves Productions, the company headed by Olivier Award-nominated actor and TV presenter Peter Duncan and musical director Darren Reeves. Peter is set to play his first ever panto dame.
  • Dick Whittington arrives at the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne on Friday, December 20 and runs until Sunday, January 5.
  • Christchurch's Regent Centre will put on a production of Jack and the Beanstalk from Saturday, January 18 until Saturday, January 25. The award-winning Highcliffe Charity Players will perform the classic tale for the first time in 15 years.