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Greenwich: How Anthony Spargo and the team are set to take on Snow White

Greenwich Theatre pantomime eschews a dame in favour of a dragged-up villain and a cast of puppets

Anthony Spargo has written this year’s Greenwich Theatre panto, Snow White, and will star in at as the Evil Queen

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I‘m delighted to find Anthony Spargo walking when he arrives for our interview.

The last time I saw him, on stage as the Sheriff Of Nottingham at Greenwich Theatre, I feared the machinations of one scene in particular might have caused irreparable damage to his lower half.

But the intervening months have been kind and there’s a distinct bounce in his gait as he strides into the Arcola – the Dalston venue where rehearsals are being held for this year’s pantomime.

For 2023, writer and actor Anthony has penned a version of Snow White, set to run at Greenwich Theatre from November 23 until January 7, 2024.

It’s the second work he’s written for the venue, following on from Robin Hood last year, but his 12th as the villain, who this year doubles as the dame.

“It’s a bit like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, where there’s no dame character,” said Anthony.

“I knew I was playing the Evil Queen and I did write an early version with a dame as the queen’s beautician and Snow White’s nanny, but I was struggling with the material.

“The problem was when Snow White escapes to the wood, the nanny doesn’t have anything to do.

“So instead it’ll be me dragging-up and encompassing both roles in a single part.

“It’s the same team as last year – ‘Uncle’ Steve Marwick as musical director, James Haddrell directing and me – and we decided to tackle Snow White because none of us could remember the theatre putting it on before and we wanted to have a female-focused story after Robin Hood

Anthony in a more troubling pose as the Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood

“Next year, who knows – maybe the hero will be a trans person. Pantomime has always been a bit gender-neutral – guys dressing as dames and women dressing as male heroes.” 

Also returning alongside Anthony will be Martin Johnson as Herman The Huntsman (previously Friar Tuck) and Louise Cielecki as Muddles (formerly Mutley).

Other lead roles are taken by Katie Tomkinson as Snow White, Tom Bales as Prince Charming and DeeArna McLean as the Magic Mirror.

“When writing a show, you take the essence of the story and use that as a kind of chassis – a foundation,” said Anthony. 

“But it wouldn’t be a Greenwich panto without a nice twist. There are stand-out plot points and, if I went to see a version that didn’t have some of them, I would be disappointed – so we’ve got the poisoned apple, and the dwarves are obviously in there.

“Then there’s the queen ordering the huntsman to kill Snow White, and he can’t quite bring himself to do it – so the big iconic moments are present.

“In fact, Act One is pretty packed with story, story, story. It moves fast, with lots to set up – the stories of all the characters, for example, which is a panto staple.

“As an audience member though, you could be forgiven for thinking that pretty much all of the story is wrapped up by the interval – that’s where the twist comes in.

“In Act Two you can get away with having a bit of fun and silly surprises – taking people to places they least expect and climaxing in the destruction of the villain. 

Louise Cielecki, seen here as Mutley in Robin Hood, is set to return as Muddles

“In Sleeping Beauty we went to the moon and in Robinson Crusoe we went to the Wild West.

“This year we’re not travelling to different destinations, but I don’t want to give too much away – you’ll just have to come and see.”

Anthony said the thrill and unpredictability of the show was the main draw, with people able to step outside their lives for a few hours and revel in some proper, carefully crafted nonsense. 

“With any show, it’s escapism – a chance to get away from whatever’s going on in the world and let it go,” he said.

“People should come to have fun and be a kid again – shouting out at the villain and cheering the goodies.

“The first read-through is when I get to hear it out loud.

“What I secretly love, is the way a whole gang of people take the inane, stupid, silly nonsense that I have written, completely seriously, and have the most intense and serious conversations about the most stupid things.

“For example, there have been lengthy discussions about how a machine that sticks labels on boxes in this year’s show works, even though it doesn’t actually have to really operate at any point on stage.

“One of the joys of working with a brilliant cast is that while I might have written the lines, other actors may come up with stuff I hadn’t even thought of and deliver it in a way I hadn’t expected.

“When that happens, it’s amazing. 

Long-standing panto player Martin Johnson, seen here as Friar Tuck, is also set to return as the Huntsman

“The dwarves in the story will be played by the cast, our two ensemble members and stage management using puppets and we have a couple of really lovely sequences with them because you can’t do Snow White without that.

“We’ll also be bringing back the revolve on stage this year so we can change scene.

“We have a great new designer – Emily Bestow – who’s been absolutely brilliant.

“Last year it was realism in Sherwood Forest, but this year it feels like we’re back in panto-land. It’s bright, colourful and there’s loud glitter everywhere.

“As for next year, we have started to have conversations about it but haven’t decided what it will be yet.

“With this one I started getting ideas for it while performing Robin Hood and then began writing the show in January last year.

“You start off setting out a plot scene-by-scene and things slowly start merging and coming together.

“I’d love to do Peter Pan again, because selfishly I’d like to play Captain Hook.

“We did it about eight years ago and it’s a great show – audiences love it, there’s flying and also, THERE’S NO BETTER VILLAIN IN PANTO.”

…must resist. Ok, fine. OH YES THERE IS… (suggestions on a postcard to info@wharf-life.com)    

  • Tickets for Snow White cost £33 (£16.50 concessions), with performances running Tuesday-Sunday at various times.  

Find out more about Snow White at Greenwich Theatre here

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- 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 jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Greenwich: How serial villain Anthony Spargo brings joy to Greenwich Theatre

The serial villain has written panto Robin Hood and will fill the theatre full of silliness and disguise

Anthony Spargo will play the Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood at Greenwich Theatre

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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.”

Martin Johnson will also return to Greenwich as Friar Tuck

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.

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- 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 jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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