To Panto For Versatile Toyah
bursting on the scene as a singer in the punk
era, Toyah Willcox has remained prominent in the
entertainment business for more than 30 years
which the star puts down to her ability to
constantly reinvent herself. But one mainstay has
been performing in pantomimes at Christmas, which
this year brings her to Sheffield to play the
Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
at the Lyceum Theatre.
This is her 17th panto appearance. "I have
played various roles Jack, Aladdin, Peter
Pan. This will be my sixth time as the Wicked
Queen," she reveals.
And she takes them very seriously. "I am
very fussy that the panto tells the story because
I think these stories are wonderful," she
"I also believe that the tradition of panto
grew out of Shakespeare roles Midsummer
Night's Dream is a comedy for a wedding
celebration and when you look at good pantos the
structures are the same.
"You've got the characters pretending to be
different sexes and characters pretending to be
different people and the fight between good and
evil and I think these are very good stories to
tell at Christmas."
There are potential difficulties with the staging
of Snow White, she says. "Walt Disney made a
very famous animated film and it means firstly as
a trademark you can't go near that film and
secondly you are dealing with a film that
demonised the stepmother which feminists don't
"And then you are dealing with a production
which uses a very unique kind of human being, the
dwarves, so I will only do a Snow White which is
in total celebration of everyone on that stage
and that's what I find very, very good about the
Willcox's very first panto was with the father of
producer Emily Wood.
"This is complete family entertainment and
made for every generation of a family," she
"You see grandparents, their children and
their children and sometimes their children and
it's very moving. That said, in matinees you
sometimes just see elderly couples which moves me
to tears. It's beautiful."
Toyah Willcox was last in Sheffield on tour in
Calamity Jane but admits she is not keen on doing
"It's a difficult one because I get asked to
do them an awful lot and I am really quite avant
garde in my tastes," she explains.
"I love pantomime because I think it is the
most off-the-wall thing anyone could ever see. A
man dressed as a woman, a woman who is royalty
playing a murderer, it's utterly bizarre and
suits me down to the ground."
She makes an exception for Vampire's Rock, a goth
musical which tours one-nighters (in Buxton
recently) and doesn't involve long runs which is
one of the other reasons she has shied away from
offers like Rocky Horror in the West End.
"To be in one place for a year, I am just
not used to that. Vampires are in a different
place each night. Sheffield, I am here for six
weeks, and then I am off to Seattle."
It's the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, perhaps.
I am used to living out of the boot of my car,
exploring different cities, and each city or town
is a completely different culture and it's never
dull and always interesting."
She will be going to Seattle to link up with Bill
Rieflin, the REM drummer, with whom she is
collaborating on a band called The Humans
"We made an album in July and then we start
some sporadic tour dates in January. We do
Stateside, Europe and Russia, the Baltics. It's a
music genre I have never done before, it's very
film noir, it's very dark."
It began with a commission in Estonia originally
for her husband, the musician Robert Fripp, but
as he won't tour she took up the project herself.
It proved so successful that Fripp subsequently
asked to join the band.
"It's nerve-wracking because I want it to
reach its full potential and you can never
guarantee how, but it's exciting and I never
expected at the age of 51 to have a music career
going the way it is going."
You could say that about her whole career.
"Towards the end of the 80s I was having
huge success as a Shakespearean actress and then
suddenly I was presenting Holiday and Health
Check Watchdog for the BBC, Songs and Praise and
Heaven and Earth, so I have always gone off on
"I think I have always been available to
take opportunities," she says.
"When you start something new whatever age
you are you are starting a new experience for the
audience and I am very aware of celebrity, so I
do the odd thing like have a bum lift for the
"I am totally aware of what my audience
expects. Reality TV can bring a new audience, the
only way I will win a young audience is to do a
children's TV or a reality programme."
Reality TV? "It's cool, I don't have a
problem with that. The funniest thing I was
offered and I actually said yes was to enter Miss
Universe in Las Vegas where they wanted me to be
a bodybuilder," she laughs.
"It never came off and I would have loved to
have done that."