Sheffield panto Dame says role is never a drag, even after 10 years

Bob Spink as Widow Twankey in Manor Operatic Society's 2018/19 performance of Aladdin at Sheffield City Hall, alongside James Smith (Aladdin) and Chris Hanlon (Wishee Washee)
Bob Spink as Widow Twankey in Manor Operatic Society's 2018/19 performance of Aladdin at Sheffield City Hall, alongside James Smith (Aladdin) and Chris Hanlon (Wishee Washee)

Panto season is almost behind us (oh yes it is, and so on), and for one man in particular that means a well-deserved rest.

This has been Bob Spink’s 10th year playing the Dame in Manor Operatic Society’s annual extravaganza, and he’s not planning to give up the role any time soon.

The 51-year-old, who lives in Ecclesall, still loves pulling on the flouncy dresses, fitting his wig and getting into character each Christmas as much as when he began.

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Bob, who this year has been playing Widow Twanky in Aladdin at Sheffield City Hall, said: “This year’s been great fun, and we’ve had really good audiences.

“I’ve loved dressing as a woman and making people laugh for the last 10 years, and hopefully I can continue for a good while yet.

“The best thing about it is being able to get away with so much, interrupting people or pointing out to the audience when people – myself included – have gone wrong.”

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Bob particularly enjoys the bucket game, the traditional finale in which dozens of children are invited on stage to compete for sweets in a version of musical chairs.

For him, it is a special privilege introducing children to the magic of theatre, which many young audience members are experiencing for the first time.

It is 30 years since Bob's love affair with acting began, more by accident than design.

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“Bents Green Methodist Church put on a panto every year and one day I was mouthing off in the pub saying how anyone could do it, so they wrote me a little part,” he said.

“I had my own butchery in Bents Green, so they asked me to play the village butcher Hair Soup in their production of The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

“I loved it and I’ve been acting ever since.”

He spent several years with Ecclesall Theatre Company before joining Manor Operatic Society 19 years ago.

Having started off with the society as a ‘broker’s man’ in a comedy double act, he took over as the panto Dame when his predecessor Brian Platts became ill, and he has been doing it ever since.

Even being diagnosed some 13 years ago with the blood cell cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which leaves him tired and at greater risk of infection, did not keep him off the stage.

Although playing the panto Dame is a demanding role,with rehearsals beginning in September, he describes it as a ‘busy time but a very enjoyable one’.

Having given up butchery after being diagnosed with cancer, he briefly worked as a teaching assistant before becoming a theatre escort at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where he takes young people to the operating room.

Colleagues often attend the pantos, he says, as do patients and their families, and in the past he has delivered smiles to the hospital by turning up in character.

After a decade in the role, he has played all the famous panto Dames, his favourites being the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella.

But he still looks forward to learning who he will be playing next and to being presented with his latest extravagant costume, about which he says ‘the louder, the better’.

Aladdin is at Sheffield City Hall until Sunday, January 6. You can still buy tickets here.