JOHN Thompson, general good egg, jolly man, wit and raconteur, is on a mission to break the mould, prove a formula and if both those fail, then at least have a laugh.
The comedian and star of The Fast Show, Cold Feet, countless voice-overs and impressions has decided to bring pantomime to Easter. Fun and slapstick for the kids, loads of pop culture references and a full bonbon bag of double entendres for the grown-ups.
I reckon there are too many stand-ups and too many clubs trying to get by on it at the moment. Some of the comedians and clubs aren’t up to scratch. The thing has got watered down.
He’ll be doing this in tandem with pantomime favourite Tam Ryan and be joined on stage by guests including the ubiquitous Mike Toolan from Key 103, Steve Royle with his juggling anarchy, Russ Brown and his UV puppets plus, of course, a mystery guest from Britain's Got Talent.
Assurances have been given that the guest will not be the winning dog from a couple of years back.
But can you even have a show at Easter called a pantomime, I ask Thompson.
“That’s a device,” says Thompson over a soft drink for him in Artisan and beer for me. “It’s an Easter themed variety show really, for all the family. But variety has got a bad name. Tam Ryan was saying we have to be careful of the word, because what remains is often lazy and unprofessional, shoddy.
“One of my kids recently went to such a family variety show and was begging to be taken home. You know the thing, kids are running wild in the aisles and the parents are reading the programmes. People were asking for the names of the cast so they could avoid them in future."
"So pantomime lends more credibility?” I suggest.
“It does,” says Thompson. “Everybody is familiar with the big pantos at Christmas with 'name' casts and high production standards. We wanted that to be in people’s minds when they're booking. Tam and I have also wanted to work together for a while. The idea there was a gap in the market at Easter for that level of show gave us the opportunity.”
Easter Bunny Show - Tam Ryan and John Thompson
“Any clues about what'll happen on stage?” I ask.
“We’re calling it the Easter Funny Show,” explains Thompson. “It’s a loose narrative with the interaction of a panto and lots of guests.
“There’s the classic ‘McGuffin’ – a showbiz term meaning an object of desire that runs through a show as a theme that keeps being returned to.
" So we have the Golden Egg of Easter that has to be protected by Tam and me because if it’s lost all the chocolate Easter eggs disappear and the kids don’t have Easter holidays and, worse, Justin Bieber does another two tours of the UK.
“Enter Bad Boy Billy the egg rustling cowboy of Salford – the classic villain. Oh and we’ve got a ghost as well. In the middle of this is Steve Royale, a comedy juggler and Russ Brown with his UV puppets. We have a silly song, a double act. All the elements in a panto and a bit more. It’s a ‘Best of’, I suppose.”
Thompson settles back in his chair and I ponder what a UV puppet show might look like. The thought makes me smile.
“But you’re not playing lots of dates around the UK are you?” I ask.
He leans forward again, hands on the table.
“This year is a toe in the water. I’ve never produced anything in my life and it’s been really hard. The idea is to see if this show works at this time of year. It’s coming from our own pockets and we won’t make a penny probably. The idea is to see if it’s got potential. We'll hopefully have some big promoters in the audience. And there’s another thing…”
“Go on," I say as a big grin spreads over Thompson's features.
“Well we’ve just had such a laugh writing the script, imagining scenarios, a right giggle. We’re just hoping that people will take a punt on the show because I guarantee it’s funny.
“In fact," he continues, "that’s why I really wanted to do it. I’m an entertainer and I want to entertain. The Easter Funny Show has got my creative juices flowing again. 1,800 seats is a lot to fill, the Opera House is big, but as long as we have a laugh performing it - if I get the luxury of laughter - that will be reward enough.”
The Opera House
We pause and sip our drinks. I order another beer.
“Do you prefer acting or stand-up?” I ask.
“This is a bit of both, but generally I prefer acting. It’s more predictable, with stand-up there are so many variables, is the mike working, has the publicity gone out right and so on. There’s another thing too. I reckon there are too many stand-ups and too many clubs trying to get by on it at the moment. Some of the comedians and clubs aren’t up to scratch. The thing has got watered down."
John Thompson is cautious but if tthe two dates this Easter are a success then next Easter he might “tour the country with the show one night here and there”.
And if he proves there’s demand at Easter is the script flexible enough to be adapted for other times of the year.
Thompson leans back and laughs, “Well if we re-write the script of course. Maybe the Harvest Festival Funny Show, the Yom Kippur Funny Show. We'll see. I’ll see how this one goes first.”
You've got to wish him luck.
Thompson has such a winning character, affable, relaxed, no trouble to talk to. Five minutes with him and you know he'll make the aisles rock at Manchester Opera House, you just hope his 'gap-filling' gamble will work out.
Believe me MONOPRIX more ASDA than Tesco....Read more
What are 'richest diary pastures'?Read more
Saw it a few years ago at the Opera House with Marcus Brigstocke as Arthur. Really good, silly fun.…Read more
Crackerjack................whooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Strong current reference there.Read more