Why Balham-based comedian Marcus Brigstocke can’t wait to take on the role of Captain Hook in this year’s New Wimbledon Theatre panto, Peter Pan
Words: Vicky Smith
‘I’ve challenged Flawless to a dance-off,’ reveals Marcus Brigstocke gleefully over the phone. And whilst the union might not seem an obvious one – 42-year old comedian and actor Marcus vs the street dance troupe who won over the nation on Britain’s Got Talent – they’re set to spend a lot of time together over the next two months, as stars of this year’s New Wimbledon Theatre pantomime, Peter Pan.
I also discover that Marcus has an ace card up his sleeve: before finding fame, he did a stint as a podium dancer at superclub Ministry of Sound. Will his old moves stand him in good stead for the challenge he’s set? ‘I kind of feel like they’re [Flawless] energetic, they’re young, they’re fit – but they just don’t have the experience that I have…’ he says with more than a hint of sarcasm, before adding, ‘but what’s likely to happen is my knee will give way and I’ll sit on the floor crying while they dance around me.’
Dance-off victor or not, what is certain is that Balham-resident Marcus is more than delighted to be taking on the role of Captain Hook in the theatre’s much revered annual panto. The experience, he says, is in fact a dream come true. ‘I have been asked to do panto before and said no, but I mentioned to my agent some time ago that Wimbledon is one of the best in the country, certainly the best in London – I’ve been a few times – and that if they ever had the part of Captain Hook, I would (ironically) give my right arm to do it. She rang me and said ‘Ok, Wimbledon, Captain Hook – you in?’ And I was like, ‘I literally need to cancel about 50 things that I’ve put in over Christmas, but yes, I’m in.’ I’m SO excited about it.’
But what is it specifically about the part of Hook that Marcus is so attracted to? ‘Honestly, Captain Hook is one of the great roles, one of the best roles an actor can play. He’s one of the best villains ever created – he’s from the nightmare imagination of every single child, but you can see his own vulnerability. He’s terrified of the crocodile, and he’s jealous of Pan’s youth and ability to fly.’
So what part of playing the vulnerable villain with a hook for a hand is he most looking forward to? ‘I’m hoping to have that moment when I’m standing facing upstage for the first time in my long red frock coat, and I turn around with a big curly-ended moustache, smile and say “hello children.”’ He says this phrase with such a measured, perfect amount of theatrical menace, that I’m convinced there’s already been one early rehearsal in front of the bathroom mirror…
Marcus isn’t alone in feeling delighted that he’s got the part, and says his children will be watching. ‘I have a 13-year-old son and a daughter who’s ten, and for them to be able to come and see me play Captain Hook is a thrill beyond thrills.’ I learn that trips to the panto are, in fact, a Brigstocke family tradition. ‘We used to go en masse to panto when I was a child. I have very fond memories of it.’
He goes on to reveal why he thinks pantomimes are so enduring and ever-popular. ‘I’m a fan of the form – what I don’t really like is when it gets messed about with too much; there’s a reason why panto has lasted as long as it has – because at its finest it embraces a sense of silliness and fits perfectly with Christmas: it’s camp, it’s silly, it’s aimed at the whole family. It’s a form of entertainment we don’t really see on television any more, and I think that’s why it’s lasted. The ones I’ve not enjoyed are the ones that have tried to be too clever, and subvert the form.’
Happily, Wimbledon’s production of Peter Pan will include all the glitter and giggles of the pantomime performances we know and love. ‘Panto always selects great stories, and Peter Pan is one of the greatest stories ever written. This telling of it will be very close to the original story. But with lots of modern, silly, joyful stuff,’ says Marcus, who will be staring in the show alongside Jared Christmas as Smee – ‘Jared’s a really close friend of mine, a brilliant, brilliant stand-up who I’ve known for years; we get to be a kind of double act’ – and Wimbledon Panto regular Verne Troyer.
The performances won’t leave Marcus with a huge amount of spare time over Christmas, but he’ll be hosting on the 25th at home in Balham, a place where he’s lived for the past two years. ‘It’s a great place to live – it’s a village between two commons with faces and people that I recognise. It’s got a wonderful independent butcher, grocer’s market with amazing fruit and veg, and so many places to eat and drink,’ he says.
Of these, he namechecks brunch hotspot Milk as one of the best – ‘my favourite cafe that I’ve ever been to; the food is fantastic and the coffee’s amazing’ – alongside Gazette, Cattle Grid and the Balham Arms, which, he says, he and his daughter believe serve ‘the best chips we’ve ever eaten. And we’ve eaten a lot of chips.’
After the panto run is over, Marcus is straight off to Mayrhofen for Altitude, the Alpine comedy festival he set up with Andrew Maxwell, which actually starts the day after the pantomime finishes. Is he concerned about the timings? ‘If I can fly out that night I will, but the most likely is that I’ll fly out in the morning – unless I can get Peter to give me a lift!’ But first, of course, there’s that dance-off to contend with…
Peter Pan at the New Wimbledon Theatre runs 5 December – 10 January 2016; atgtickets.com