The Pollyanna and The Parent Trap star is set to take to the stage at Richmond Theatre as the Fairy Godmother in this year’s Christmas pantomime Cinderella
Words: Vicky Smith
The first thing that strikes me about legendary actress Hayley Mills is her remarkable voice. She speaks with the kind of text-book English accent that instantly commands attention, makes you listen, and transports you to a time when actresses were the last world in glamour – unsurprising given that Barnes-based Hayley, 69, has a film and theatre career that began in 1959.
Her first foray into film was in Tiger Bay in 1959, for which she earned the BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer. Her next role – in Pollyanna – saw the (then 14-year-old) actress take home an Oscar AND a Golden Globe, whilst the lead part in The Parent Trap in 1961 made the young star a household name. Fast forward 55 years, and Hayley has swapped the bright lights of Hollywood for the equally dazzling surrounds of Richmond Theatre, where she’s set to star as the Fairy Godmother in the theatre’s Christmas pantomime, Cinderella.
It’s a new challenge for the star, and one she’s clearly keen to embrace: ‘I’ve never been asked to do panto before,’ she says, ‘and I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be enormous fun I think, and something completely different. It really will make it seem like Christmas. It’s a wonderful, colourful extravaganza of a production with great special effects and magic. And it’s bonkers. It’s such a very traditional thing, and I know it’s going to be a wonderful experience.’
One of the highlights of being part of the production, she hopes, will be the audience’s reaction and involvement: ‘There’s an energy and excitement about pantomime that you don’t get with anything else because of what it is. You know that the audience is going to have a wonderful time, and it’s going to be full of children who are going to be very excited anyway because it’s Christmas. And lots of those children will never have been to the theatre before so we’re going to be indoctrinating them – our future audiences! I’m really excited about it.’
When we speak in the run-up to rehearsals, the family-focused actress is feeling slightly anxious about organising the festivities at home around the busy performance schedule – ‘The only thing that is making me pause is – how do you get Christmas together? My family are all very supportive and I’m banking on the fact that everyone will rally round and do their bit. It just takes careful planning I think,’ she says. And when I ask if the Christmas celebrations will be in London, Hayley is adamant there’s nowhere else she’d be: ‘Oh gosh yes!’
The convenient location of the theatre to her home in Barnes will make organising Christmas around the show a little easier, but I learn that her association with the venue goes way back: ‘The great thing about Richmond is that it’s our local theatre. I’ve lived in this part of London all my life. I’ve been to that theatre so many times, I’ve worked there, my father’s [actor Sir John Mills] worked there, my sister’s [actress Juliet Mills] worked there and it’s gorgeous and perfect for a panto. It’s like a Victorian jewel box.’
Having lived in Barnes since 2001, Hayley is more than familiar not only with her local theatre, but all the other things SW13 has to offer. ‘We just love it here,’ she says enthusiastically. ‘It’s so sweet and very convenient for London. I love the pond and walking along the river, and there are great little shops – how wonderful to walk round the corner and have a tea shop and a fishmonger and a hardware store. It’s got everything. And of course the cherry on the top is the Olympic Cinema. It’s fantastic.’
When rehearsals get underway, Hayley won’t have too much time to spare to spend wandering around the pond but, she says, she’s ready for the challenge. So what can we expect from her portrayal of the Fairy Godmother? ‘It’s a bit too soon to say! It’ll come when rehearsals start. It’s like playing any part that everyone else has played – you make it your own because you’re you,’ she reveals.
What is a definite is that she can’t wait to get started, and work with her co-stars: ‘I know Matthew [Kelly, who will be taking on the role of one of the ugly sisters] and his son Matthew [Rixon, who will play the other sister], and I’m really looking forward to working with them. They’re both very talented and very clever and very funny and that’s going to be a very good experience. Also Chris Jarvis who is playing Buttons and directing – he’s got great energy and a wonderful attitude. Everyone’s so enthusiastic about what they’re going to do and that’s such a tonic.’
The experience promises to be hard work but, ultimately, huge amounts of fun, and Hayley is keen to point out that’s really what it’s all about: ‘Pantomime is popular because it’s a collaboration and it’s rooted in our history. It’s like a great big fancy dress party. It’s seeing grown-ups do silly things. And it’s got magic you know. It’s a spectacle. It’s when the theatre lets its hair down and has a really good time…’ And if Richmond’s recent run of first-rate pantos are anything to go by, that goes for audiences too.
Cinderella is on at Richmond Theatre from 4 December to 10 January 2016. See atg.com