Interview with Robert Pearce

Petite Pantos’ Eunice! A Musical will be bringing all the joy of the Christmas season into one family show this December at Stanley Halls. I caught up with Robert Pearce, co-director of Petite Pantos and creator of Mama G to find out more about this new show.

Can you tell me about Petite Pantos and how you created Mama G? Petite Pantos is a theatre company that was created in 2017 with the remit to expand peoples’ expectations and understanding of panto as a genre. Panto is an incredibly important cultural staple in the UK for a number of reasons:

1. It is one of only a few uniquely British forms of theatre (despite its international influences). 
2. It is often a child’s first experience of live theatre. 
3. It is designed to appeal to the whole family and can therefore communicate ideas to a much wider audience than many other types of theatre and media. 

Therefore, I wanted to create a company that framed panto as a socially and artistically valuable art form, as opposed to the common perception of it being a throwaway commercial Christmas entertainment.

Our aim is to create socially-conscious traditional pantos with a modern twist. We’ve done Mother Goose where the villain was a Trump-esque character whose lines were all verbatim Trump quotes and the audience got to vote in an election to determine the end of the show. Our Dick Whittington was a commentary on Brexit and directly addressed the mishandling of Windrush families and we’ve also produced a pantomime that used the concept of the female principle boy to defuse the concept of challenging gender stereotypes in young audiences.

Mama G was born out of belief that pantomime is a vital genre that can exist year-round and outside of the constraints of a theatre space. Mama G is a pantomime dame who tells stories, to children and their families, about being who you are and loving who you want. She was created in 2018 at the Brighton Fringe as a way of publicising one of our shows and was immediately very popular. Over the last two years she has performed at the South Bank Centre, Unicorn Theatre, Pride in London, Waterstones and for Disney, as well as at theatres, libraries, schools, nurseries, festivals and prides around the country (and even in Canada!). This year she had been booked to perform at the Boulevard Theatre in the West End and the Edinburgh International Book Festival… but well, something got in the way!

What was the inspiration behind Eunice! The Musical? 
Eunice! A Musical is based on Mama G’s story ‘Eunice the Horse’. Eunice is one of Mama G’s most popular characters and is loved by audiences of all ages. This December we were planning to present the Stanley Halls’ first ever Christmas panto. However, a Christmas panto relies on the audience being an extra character and they need to feel relaxed and safe for that to happen. Unfortunately, we weren’t convinced that with social distancing in place we would be able to guarantee the right atmosphere – and we didn’t want the Stanley Halls’ first panto to end up being a damp squib. So, we decided to produce a musical instead and we all agreed that the story of Eunice is the perfect subject. It’s magical, uplifting, funny and spectacular – all the elements you expect from a panto.  

How have you found creating the show in lockdown?
Creating the show in lockdown has been wonderful. Myself, Joanna Taylor (who is writing music and lyrics) and Amée Smith (the producer) have all worked together before and are able to bring different qualities to the production that complement the creation process. We’ve also been very lucky that when the really hard work on the show began, restrictions had been lifted – so the Stanley Halls was already able to operate as a bar and venue. This meant that we were able to hold socially distanced auditions and actually get to know the people who might be joining the cast. This was an unexpectedly emotional day for lots of us, because many of the auditionees hadn’t been able to audition since March and many hadn’t been able to perform in front of a physical audience since then either. We’ve got an incredible cast and I can’t wait for everyone to meet them!

What can audiences expect?
Audiences can expect some beautiful songs and some really fun songs! The story has been expanded so that there are a whole host of new characters including posh pigs, windy cows, holistic sheep and even Santa! The script is funny (I would say that, I wrote it!) But also allows us to explore what it is to no meet society’s expectations of who they think you should be and coming to terms with your own identity. Oh, and it’s an actor-musician show – so there’s going to be lots of incredible singing AND instrument playing! I was blown away by the talents of the musicians that auditioned! 

How important has it been for you to put on a show this Christmas?
It’s incredibly important. There is no experience like live theatre and many people have felt bereft without it. This show is so hopeful and optimistic I think it is so necessary to present it at the end of this year. We all need a hug and I want this show to feel like a big hug from the stage to the audience. I hope it will help people realise that whatever we are going through now personally and as a society, that we can get through it and become the unicorns that we all are! 

Also, at a time when we are being told that the creative industries aren’t viable, I think it’s important that we put on a show to fight back. And this isn’t a show that is angry, or about Covid – but it could change somebody’s life – and that sounds pretty viable to me!

What would you like Eunice! The Musical to achieve?
I would like Eunice! A Musical to sell out and transfer to Broadway. Is that the right answer? No, I hope that the show inspires people to be comfortable with who they are (even if they don’t feel that they’re that person right now). And I hope it spreads Christmas cheer and warms people’s hearts after the strangest of years. 

Eunice! A Musical will play from 14th December (schools shows) and 19th December (public shows) at Stanley Halls, South Norwood Hill. Booking info can be found at www.stanleyhalls.org.uk/boxoffice

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