A LAD 'N' A GENIE

There are six-foot dames, women dressed as boys, boys stroking their magic lamps… and this is family entertainment? Sounds more like a Friday night at Revenge! It’s almost as if panto was made for gay people, but apparently adults and kids alike love to go along and shout, ‘He’s behind you!’ and ‘Oh no he isn’t!’ and ‘Oh yes he is!’ and anything else that comes to mind and it’s great fun. This year Brighton’s Theatre Royal plays host to Aladdin, starring CHICO (of The X Factor fame) and TOYAH WILLCOX as the Genie of the Lamp. Hayley Sherman enjoyed free sandwiches and cake at the theatre and spoke to both. 

“A lot of actors wouldn’t dream of doing some of the things that I’ve done.” 

Toyah Willcox is very difficult to pigeonhole; punk goddess, reality TV star, presenter, actress and mediator of the Tellytubby. She has been doing panto for 14 years and seems just as enthused by Aladdin as the first. “I have such a dislike of winter,” she tells me. “To come to a theatre for two months and lock the door helps me psychologically. Also, it’s the only time in my entire work that I get to work in front of three generations of a family. You look out there and you see grandma and grandpa out there with their kids and the grandchildren and sometimes it’s unbelievably touching. And it’s fun.” 

This year Toyah will be donning the MC Hammer pants and playing Genie to Chico’s Aladdin. “There’s actually three genies in Aladdin,” she tells me, “but they’re all played by the same actress ‘cos they all look the same, so it’s a bit of a running gag. The genie always gets Aladdin out of trouble and he’s always in trouble ‘cos he’s a bit of a lad. I think me and Chico are gonna have a lot of fun.” 

As she speaks to me, visions of her role in Quadrophenia leap into my head and I can’t quite make the connection between punk and panto, but she’s quick to remind me that the Brighton-set Mod film was 30 years ago. “I think that it’s age appropriate and time appropriate that I’m doing panto. I think if I went from Quadrophenia one year and did panto the next, that would have been odd, but I think a 30-year gap is 
actually quite manageable.” 

I push the theme of pigeonholing further, but I think it’s not the first time that she has been quizzed on how she would classify herself. “I still have to claim my identity wherever I go,” she explains. “I think that the thing about diversity is that people don’t know what box to put you in and that can be a problem.” 

Pigeonholing aside, Toyah has enjoyed such a varied career that I couldn’t help wondering if she intentionally set out to try every job in the industry: “I always wanted to act and sing and because I’d written songs there was the writing element too. The fact of the matter is that I have to work. There’s no choice about it. I can’t stay at home and do nothing, I’m too self-destructive. I’m not snotty about things. I end up doing an awful lot and I think that a lot of actors wouldn’t dream of doing some of the things that I’ve done.” 

Her appeal has spread even more widely in recent years with the release of her book Diary Of A Facelift. “My employment has just gone through the roof,” she confides, “Which says a lot about the industry.”  

I was curious to know what made her decide to write about the subject. “Everyone’s doing it and everyone’s talking about it except in public. Also, I did suddenly go away for two weeks and came back looking really well and people were saying, ‘Wow! You look really great, have you been away on holiday?’ I can’t lie you know. No! I’ve just spent 20 grand on a new face. I have no regrets, but there’s no way that I could recommend it to anyone, because that would be irresponsible. All I can do is share my experiences psychologically with people, and the book is more about psychology than the event. That’s why I wrote it because I think that psychologically, it’s one of the most immense journeys someone can make, because you’re tampering with nature and I think that you have to take all that on board.” 

I ended the interview by asking her for an autograph for my dad, which she happily did, gushing cheekily when I told her that he fancied her, and then she was on to the next interview. A facelift may have changed her face, but this woman seems to have boundless, natural energy and passion for the things that she is doing: “I’m always so excited about everything,” she tells me. “Everything’s always new to me. I never go into a job thinking ‘I did the same sort of thing a year ago,’ I always think, ‘Wow! This is gonna be the best thing I’ve ever done and it’s gonna be today.’” 

Between Chico’s positivity and Toyah’s energy, this year’s Aladdin has got to be one for the diary. 

ALADDIN, Dec 14, 2006–Jan 14, 2007,  
Theatre Royal Brighton. Box office 08700 606650 
 

GScene Magazine
November 2006
Thanks to Paul Lomas