Hove’s Keris Lea is finishing the biggest 12 months of her career by penning a new panto version of Jack and the Beanstalk in
Christmas has always been about pantomime for writer and actor Keris Lea. Her father was the theatre manager at Cardiff’s New Theatre and was responsible for writing and directing the annual Christmas gala.
So Dad was naturally the first person Hove-based Keris contacted when she was offered the chance to write the second E3 Production pantomime at the Hilton Brighton Metropole.
“Doing a show at Christmas is in my blood,” she says sitting backstage at Jack and the Beanstalk’s official launch.
“For a lot of people a pantomime is often the first time a child will go to the theatre – so it’s important to get it right.”
The 42-year-old’s role as Fairy Nature almost acts as a bookend to what has been a pretty spectacular year in her career. In December she played the Fairy Godmother in E3’s inaugural Brighton panto Cinderella. But as she trod the boards it was with the knowledge that her life was going to change thanks to a BBC One primetime Saturday night show. The Sundaes, the cabaret trio she founded in 2010 with the support of E3’s David Hill, had performed on the talent show All Together Now hosted by Spice Girl Geri Horner and Rob Beckett. And as Keris granted Cinders her greatest wish she knew the flamboyant trio had made it all the way to the final, finishing in the top five.“it had all been filmed at the end of the year, but
All Together Now
it wasn’t going to be aired until January,” says Keris. “We couldn’t tell anybody. It was so difficult to keep quiet!”
The talent show saw performers sing in front of an audience of 100 industry professionals, lined up in front of them in intimidating stacking booths. If they liked the act, the judges would change the colour of their booth, and start singing and dancing along.
“We had to look at them as if they were the audience, not judges,” says Keris, who performs as Chocolate Sundae, alongside Amy Goater as Strawberry and Andrea Martin as Vanilla. “We knew the act worked really well, but it could have gone one way or the other. As soon as we saw people standing up we knew we weren’t going to have to do the embarrassing walk of shame!”
The Sundaes got the judges on their feet with renditions of Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer’s No More Tears (Enough is Enough) and The
“We were the only group that got to the final which was fantastic,” says Keris. “We went on because we wanted the phone to ring more – we wanted to raise the profile of the act. It’s been crazy since – the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. We did an amazing summer season, performing every single day, and a number of big festivals including Pride in Cardiff and Glasgow. It ticked all the boxes we wanted it to.”
She feels there is a crossover between cabaret and pantomime. “Cabaret is a bit like musical theatre,” says Keris. “I’m going out there to tell a story. As The Sundaes there is a story throughout the set – we are three characters. My character Chocolate is a strong-minded figure – a bit bossy. Strawberry is a bit of a flirt, and Vanilla is plain and simple.
“The show started because I was fed up of going to auditions and being in the ‘no’ pile because of the way I looked or because I didn’t fit into last year’s costume. Sometimes I wouldn’t even get a chance to sing. I wanted to do something where it only mattered that you were talented – and that’s the premise of the show.”
Jack and the Beanstalk is packed full of popular songs whose main function is to push the action along. “The songs had to be there for a reason,” says Keris, who put story at the centre of her script. “I’ve seen pantomimes where it is all about the celebrity names – the story doesn’t make sense. The story and characters are important. When you’ve got those right you can start adding the layers.”
Like Cinderella there is a love story at the heart of Jack and the Beanstalk, as Jack falls in love with a princess. But there is also plenty of magic – with Keris’ Fairy Nature looking after the magic beans and ensuring Jack grows up into a hero, plus a special video appearance by pantomime royalty Christopher Biggins.
Keris won’t be drawn on the special effects which will go into this production, but it can’t hurt that E3 is building its own theatre