The serial villain has written panto Robin Hood and will fill the theatre full of silliness and disguise
My interview with actor, playwright, author and star of this year’s Greenwich Theatre panto, Anthony Spargo, begins with farce.
I dial the number I think I’ve been given. There’s no reply. Eventually following an answerphone message a woman answers.
“Is this Anthony?” No, it’s Jane. I suppress an urge to shout “Oh no it isn’t”, and accept I’ve got the number wrong.
Time is short, I’m on a deadline.
Flustered, I check my handwriting and discover a four should be a nine. I can’t get through on this number either.
Then my phone rings. It’s Jane. Oh yes it is! She’s confused and baffled by the number of missed calls and we exchange embarrassed pleasantries.
Meanwhile, my phone fields another call.
This time it is Anthony, now available and ready to chat.
I hardly know who’s who and certainly not whether my contact with Jane is behind me or if there’s more to come.
Fortunately this all turns out to be excellent preparation for an interview about a show that’s full of top notch deception and cunning.
“One of the central themes in Robin Hood is disguise,” said Anthony, not Jane.
“Pretty much everyone is pretending to be someone who they’re not at some point.
“Robin gets to wear three or four disguises over the course of the panto.
“You can imagine the over-the-top, ridiculous costumes we have, including for some of the band – but we don’t want to reveal too much at this stage.”
A veteran panto villain – having spent 11 years on the Greenwich stage soaking up the boos and hisses of exercised audiences – Anthony has taken on a bigger role in 2022.
This is the first year he’s both written and appeared in the theatre’s festive production – taking on the mantle from Andrew Pollard who has left the team after a celebrated 15-year run as writer and dame.
While Anthony said he would undoubtedly miss acting opposite his old friend, audiences could expect the new show to be a descendant of their decade-long collaboration.
“It’s the same but different,” said Anthony.
“My main influence is, of course, 10 years of Greenwich pantos and I’ll miss Andy on stage.
“We remain really good friends and have a great chemistry – it’s rare to find someone you can bounce off – but he’d done 15 years here and that’s a long time.
“Writing and producing a panto really lasts a whole year. I started writing this one in March and had a draft by July – nice and early so the theatre could get on with designing and building the set and all the rest of it.
“Now the theatre’s artistic director, James Haddrell, is already talking to me about what we’re going to do next year and we haven’t even started the 2022 run yet.”
Anthony is set to play the dastardly Sheriff Of Nottingham alongside David Breeds as Robin and Amy Bastani as Maid Marian.
Martin Johnson will return to panto in Greenwich as Friar Tuck, while long-serving musical director Steve Marwick is also back to handle the songs.
Dame duties will be the responsibility of Phil Sealey.
“I’ve worked with Phil in the past and he’s also damed before, up and down the country,” said Anthony.
“He’s great – I think audiences will take to him because he’s such a warm person. He’s larger than life and he’s going to be amazing.
“We have a fantastic cast this year, we’re getting on like a house on fire. There are some great singers and we’re really gelling.
“As for the show itself, it’s quite anarchic.
“What I’ve always liked about the pantos here is that they build and build until the climax at the end, which is often utterly ridiculous, overblown and as silly as panto should be.
“There’s a little bit of everything. Some comedy, some music, puppetry and a bit of magic. We’ve gone for a late medieval, ‘hey nonny-nonny’ vibe.
“Personally I love playing the villain. It’s the best part, you can get away with murder.
“I’ve always played my villains slightly unhinged, which allows you to have fun with the part and muck about – there’s a lot of eyebrow acting.”
Having discovered acting at school as a teenager before going to drama school, Anthony developed his writing in tandem, starting with sketches and skits and going on to take shows to Edinburgh and write more immersive pieces for Les Enfants Terribles.
With politics and current affairs fluid, the exact content of the show will remain in development until the curtain goes up, but its universal themes of greed, taxes and money – as well as people coming together to help each other – are already set in stone.
“Dare I say it, I think I enjoy the writing more than the acting these days,” said Anthony. “There’s something really special and exciting about creating a show from scratch.
“But when the audience is clapping and laughing it feels fantastic to be on stage. It’s a feeling like no other.
“There’s great warmth and joy when you’ve been able to make something that people are able to lose themselves in.
“People can come to the theatre, forget about what’s happening in the wider world, let go and have fun for a couple of hours.
“For me, the louder they boo, the better I’m doing my job. I’m really looking forward to it – I can’t wait to get going – and all we need now is the audience, the final cast member, to do that.”
- Robin Hood runs at Greenwich Theatre from November 24 until January 8 with plenty of matinees and evening performances scheduled. Tickets cost £31.
- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via firstname.lastname@example.org