Clive Rowe has had an eclectic acting career, but in recent years has become known as the ‘Grand Dame’ of pantomime – and his run of panto has even included an Olivier Award nomination

Do you remember the first pantomime you ever saw?

I remember going to see Peter Pan starring Lulu I think, with my mum at the London Palladium – but, as I now know, Peter Pan is a Christmas show and not a pantomime! But I also have memories of local amateur pantos with dames in full beards and workers boots.

When did panto become ‘serious’ in the sense of the quality of productions? I remember seeing pantos as a kid and they were a shambles…

I’m sorry to hear that, I think you were just very unlucky. All the pantos I can remember seeing have been of the highest quality and I’m not talking about money spent on the production, I’m talking about the focus and commitment of the performers.

When was your first Dame role and was it a part you wanted to play?

My first Dame was in Nottingham at the playhouse over 20 years ago. And no, until asked, it had never even crossed my mind.

How did it feel to be nominated for an Olivier for Mother Goose?

It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

You had a bit of break from panto until returning last year, but what keeps you coming back to it?

The Hackney Empire family is amazing and I miss them when I’m away. Also I love being a Dame. Don’t get me wrong it’s tiring to your bones and when you’re in the middle of an 11 show week or getting up for two shows on Boxing Day, one can be forgiven for having a humour bypass! But there’s nothing quite like that feeling of organised chaos.

What do you make of being known as the Grand Dame of panto these days?

Oh no I’m not! All joking aside it’s an amazing title to have. There are some fantastic Dames out there doing incredible work year after year. I’m honoured to be counted as one of them.

Is there anything you can reveal about Jack and the Beanstalk, heading to the Hackney Empire this Christmas, yet?

The lead is called Jack and there’s a Beanstalk in it!

Is the Hackney Empire the perfect venue for pantomime?

Yes it’s beautiful and has a rich entertainment history.

Generally as a stage how does it compare to other theatres?

Every theatre has its own very unique signature and I’ve worked in many. Hackney is a big house, 1,400 seats, but you feel as though you are really up close to every person in the auditorium.

Finally Clive, do you actually get to enjoy Christmas with some time off – and how do you like spending it?

Christmas Day, comfy clothes on, too much food and drink in front of the TV ….  bliss!

Jack and the Beanstalk runs from 21 November-3 January 2016 at the Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street E8 1EJ; 020 8985 2424;


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