‘H’ steps up to be Jack in pantomime

Jack and The Beanstalk - The Lyceum Theatre - Sheffield Theatres - 6 December 2013
Jack and The Beanstalk - The Lyceum Theatre - Sheffield Theatres - 6 December 2013
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Steps star Ian ‘H’ Watkins went from Joseph to Jack at Sheffield Lyceum in less than a week.

Ian had been playing the lead in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane but stepped down to start working on the title role in this year’s big panto, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Ian said he has spent 10 years doing pantomime, so the quick turnaround didn’t worry him too much as his experience stands him in good stead.

He added: “It’s incredible. We had three weeks rehearsal. It’s a full-on extravaganza – you usually get a week rehearsing.”

Being in Joseph was nothing new to Ian, either.

He first starred in the show aged nine in Leeds, playing Benjamin, the youngest brother. He said: “I thought then, ‘I want to play that role’.”

He says that he loves pantomime: “If you have children, it will probably be their first trip to the theatre. It’s bright and cheerful and has a great message.

“This show epecially is like Joseph. Both have poppy songs, with a meaningful message.”

Naturally, those songs include the 1990s band Steps’ greatest hit, their cover of the Bee Gees song Tragedy, performed complete with all the band’s dance moves.

Ian takes a lot of stick on stage from Damian Williams, who plays his stage mum, Dame Trot. There’s plenty of teasing about the role of Jack being played by one of the members of one of their rivals, S Club 7.

Speaking during rehearsals, Ian was looking forward to the pairing and the challenge of Damian’s constant ad libs.

He said: “I have the wonderful Damian, who veers off piste quite a lot. I’m going to give him a run for his money. I’m hoping he’s going to raise my game.”

They certainly seem to have a great chemistry on stage and have plenty of fun playing off each other.

It all looks effortless but Ian says a lot of work goes into the show, saying: “People think panto is easy and it’s beneath them. You try it. It’s hard work!”

He has been able to renew an old acquaintance with Sheffield Theatres artistic director, Daniel Evans, as both come from the sdame part of the Rhondda Vallwey in Wales.

He said: “Daniel and I are from the same valley and the same village, about a street apart. We grew up on the same street.

“I’ve known him since he was little and he’s kind of my boss now. He was a lovely boy. Over the years I’ve followed him. It’s just incredible how well he’s done.”

Steps, who have sold 20 million records and achieved 14 consecutive top five singles, are still a going concern but there’s no live dates planned for the moment, Ian said.

He explained: “We were always going to have this year off.

“It’s very hard co-ordinating five people’s lives. There’s a lot going on, so who knows?”

He has fond memories of performing in the city from Steps’ heyday, recalling: “We did the Arena as the group and I remember the crowds were incredible.

“I’m hoping it will be more of the same.”

Panto performers never have much time for the festivities but Ian says that he always heads home on Christmas Day.

He said: “I like a nice traditional Christmas with family and stockings for presents and kids about.”

There’s no turkey dinner, though, he says. “I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat my ducks and chickens that I keep!”

Jack and the Beanstalk is running at the Lyceum until January 5.

Box office: call at the Crucible box office, phone 0114 249 6000 or go online to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk