We may be a long way from December, but there is a definite hint of panto in the air at the Royal Hippodrome, where the whole theatre is setting sail for Treasure Island.
For four days next week, audiences young, old and in-between will gasp, cheer, boo and chortle as the colourful and exciting production takes the stage.
This show – by Tom Swift – looks like quite a coup for the Royal Hippodrome. Leading an impressive cast is Dani Harmer, who enchanted a generation of children as Tracey Beaker in that gold-standard CBBC series.
“I was just twelve, and I didn’t quite realise how big the show was going to be. Jacqueline Wilson was my favourite author anyway, and it was a dream part. They are still re-running the shows, which is great because now a new wave of kids is getting to see Tracey Beaker, who weren’t even born first time round!”
Does she every weary of having been the face of Tracey Beaker? “Not at all. If I hadn’t done it, I’d never have done everything since – getting my dream role in Rocky Horror, appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. I’m pretty lucky!”
Dani may be a positively ancient 26 now, but there is still a mischief about her. Putting this whole show together in a week? “Yep. We started rehearsing on Monday so we’ve barely put the books down yet. Crazy. We are actually mad. Most of us have worked together before, which helps, but it’s going to be tight!
“There aren’t enough family shows, and I love the fact that we’re putting this on over the summer holidays and in a local theatre. This is live theatre for the whole family to enjoy without going to London and spending a fortune. It’s brilliant.”
Almost as recognisable is the face of Chris Edgerley, CITV performer and for several years the presenter of the popular pre-school show Hi Five!
“That was terrific – we got to film the show and then also to take it out on tour. Television, of course, can reach millions but there’s something special about a lovely live theatre like this, where we can engage direct with the audience.
“I’ve worked on Tom Swift’s shows before and they are always a riot. Yes, you can call it work but it’s a heap of fun with this gang. And if Tom will ever let us out of rehearsals we’ll be enjoying some Eastbourne sunshine too!”
Rob Cummings as Long John Silver, just into rehearsals and with pegleg and parrot yet to be added, greets me with a buccaneering grin. Just about resisting the urge to talk like a pirate throughout our interview, we establish that the bones of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story have survived, but with lashings of humour, breezy larger-than-life characters and an upbeat score.
“I’m cheerfully playing the bad guy and absorbing all the boos. There are some big show tunes, some great dancing and a few extra jokes for the mums, dads and grandmas that might go over the little people’s heads!”
Way upstairs in the labyrinthine Hippodrome, a couple of dozen dancers – aged from 6 to 15 and drawn from local dance schools – are in the rehearsal studio, put through their energetic paces by choreographer Emma Russell.
The dancers include 11-year-old Olivia Sorrel-Fleet, who has just landed the part of Louisa in ITV’s huge new production of The Sound of Music to be screened at Christmas. Olivia is just transferring from St John’s School in Meads to Bishop Bell. She is also a pupil at the Sussex School of Dance, one of several local dance schools involved.
Treasure Island opens next Thursday (27th) and runs until Sunday August 30th.