Behind the scenes with Faye Ellen, who stars as Princess Jasmine in this year’s ALADDIN panto at South Hill Park
We’re all looking forward to South Hill Park’s 2019 panto – always a fabulous, awe-inspiring and truly professional production! In this year’s tale of ALADDIN, Faye Ellen stars as Aladdin’s love interest, Princess Jasmine – and we were lucky enough to have a behind-the-scenes chat with her during rehearsals.
Faye, you’re a professional actress, and this is your third Bracknell panto – so you obviously enjoy being here in Bracknell for Christmas?
South Hill Park has a special place in my heart. My first pantomime here was in 2017. It was Beauty and the Beast… and I played Belle. Then last year we did Dick Whittington And His Cat, and I was Alice Fitzwarren. This year’s character, Princess Jasmine, is a lot of fun – in our version of the Aladdin story she’s not your typical princess – she wants to be an engineer… and her mother doesn’t approve! My favourite thing about panto is that generally it’s children’s first experience of theatre. They can be involved and it’s quite easy-going, it’s not too intense, it’s fun, there’s always a little bit of cheekiness for the adults… And following on from the panto experience, many people of all ages will think about going to see a show in London, a touring production in their local theatre or whatever – all good news.
I get the impression there’s a real ‘family’ atmosphere going on here?
The Bracknell panto is gorgeous – it’s one of the classiest there is. The set by Victoria Spearing (who won the award at last year’s Great British Pantomime Awards, for her Staging and Sets) is phenomenal, she’s so imaginative… and the costumes by Naomi Gibbs and her team are sensational. Everything is just so well done, and everyone cares, that’s why coming back for the third time was a no-brainer for me – I know I am going to have an amazing Christmas, everyone is so lovely. You’re part of a family, straight away. Last year Brad Clapson, who plays Widow Twankey (this is his eleventh pantomime at South Hill Park), arranged for me to stay with his parents here in Bracknell for the whole time – and I am doing the same this year, which is wonderful. Doesn’t that epitomise the family environment we’re all enjoying – everyone wants to help you!
There are thousands and thousands of children and teenagers throughout the UK who dream of being up there on the stage, just like you. How did you get into show biz?
So, my ‘discovering’ happened when I was 8 years old. I was singing in the back of my dad’s car (specifically to All Saints’ Never Ever) and my Nan turned to my dad and said “She can sing, you know. You should see if she wants to go to lessons…” – and off I went! As I got older I did a lot of competitions and then found my love for musical theatre. I started doing amateur dramatics with my friends in my teens and the family atmosphere that I got from it was just amazing. Being around the stage, lights, a team of people – and obviously getting to sing, dance and act blew my mind. I realised, corny as it may seem, that I belonged.
I wasn’t very successful in my academic subjects but I always knew it was important, so I did my A-levels (this pleased my parents). After that I auditioned for drama schools and got into The Italia Conti Arts Centre in London, on a foundation course. This training allowed me to get a place on the 3-year Musical Theatre course. This wasn’t for the faint-hearted, you really do have to work, not just on the physicals of singing, voice work, acting and all genres of dance – but on the mental health side of things too, as you are there to be critiqued to get better.
Then you went out into the big wide world…
I graduated in 2013, and of course having to earn a living was where I learned the most. I’ve had the most amazing opportunities – I’ve been on cruise ships (on one I was the principal singer), I’ve done adverts, been on regional stages up and down the country and fringe venues in London – and every time you learn so much, either skill-wise or from the people you meet.
When we’re not performing, we still have to pay the rent and bills – so I’ve worked in bars, cafes, call centres, warehouses and catering companies. In between things I like to do yoga, meditate, meet friends for coffee, go for walks, visit family and generally spend time with good people. From my experience, my advice to anyone wanting to get into the business is work hard, be kind, don’t take yourself too seriously – and have fun, whatever you do.
There is limited availability for Aladdin tickets, however, due to high demand, there are two extra performances on Sun 5 Jan 2020. To book your tickets visit southhillpark.org.uk/pantomime.