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Matt – the consummate panto dame on stage in Cambridge

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The pantomime dames at Cambridge Arts Theatre are based on real women.

Matt Crosby who plays them bases them on his mother, aunts, and grandmother. He is the consummate dame.

This year will be his seventeenth pantomime at Cambridge Arts Theatre and his ninth padded up as the fat lady who sings.

He says his character – and this year it is Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington – does not change that much.

Dick Whittington and his Cat – Matt Crosby (Sarah the Cook) and ensemble © Richard Hubert Smith

“I only ever give her little tweaks.” He says in his gentle Liverpool accent. “I have fallen in love with the comforting mummy figure.

“It is all people from my family. There is a bit of my mum, my late nan, my auntie.

“My mum’s mum did not have a filter. When she popped her clogs, the last thing she said…she woke up and we were all sitting round her bed weeping when she woke up and she looked at my Auntie Phoebe and she said: “You have fat hands.

“Those were her last words.”

Was that, possibly his grandmother’s vision failing her at the last?

“No, she did have fat hands.”

This year’s panto is his favourite show he says.

“I love the story. It is very loosely based on truth.

Dick Whittington and his Cat – Nichole Bird (Silly Billie) © Richard Hubert Smith

“This year we have a girl for Silly Billie and the best slosh scene ever. It is less about the characters on stage than the slosh truck. The actual slosh has its own part to play. People are going to leave saying it is the best they have seen. It is technical genius. It is brilliant. I love it.”

He knows about slapstick. He was movement and creative director for the fiftieth anniversary of Jo Orton’s play Loot in the West End and he worked on the Broadway production of SpongeBob: The Musical which comes to the UK next year.

Matt who still lives in Merseyside, in New Brighton, was born on the Wirral.

Dick Whittington and his Cat – Nichole Bird (Silly Billie) and Matt Crosby (Sarah the Cook) and ensemble © Richard Hubert Smith

He went to school in Chester and to drama school at Bristol Old Vic. That was followed by study at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles to study the method.

And what do dames do for the rest of the year?

Since playing the dame in last year’s Aladdin, he has had an interesting time. He played a drunk in Coronation Street, doing his best to flirt with Tracey Barlow.

He directed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Storyhouse Theatre in Chester, and he has worked on a new ITV drama, Nolly written by Russell T Davies and starring Helena Bonham Carter.

It is out next year, and Matt plays the legendary comic Jimmy Tarbuck.

He was first invited to play Silly Billy at the Arts 17 years ago. He was touring in E Nesbitt’s Five Children and It.

It just so happened that the actor playing the Arts panto’s Silly Billy was unable to go on and people from the panto went to see Matt Crosby on stage in London and spoke to him after the show.

“They said can you still do that falling over thing? They said did I fancy coming to Cambridge.

“It is such a privilege, we have so many great people you know, and I love panto. It is such a privilege and joy. We have a lovely company, a lovely crew, lovely everyone our lovely property manager, Twinkle.

“We’ll probably hate each other by the end.”

His first dame was in 2012 – this year would be his tenth, but he took a year off when his second daughter was born. He and his wife Jo have two girls, Clara, and Beatrice.

He recalls working with Wayne Sleep who was in the Arts 2019 panto Cinderella – the last before the lockdown.

“That was interesting. He is such a pocket rocket. It was hard to keep him under control. The things he would say on stage! I would think you cannot say that, but he would get away with it because he was Wayne Sleep. You have to accept the whole package.

“There were a few rude words. I would think that is a 12-certificate word, which is a parental guidance word. But he would get away with it. Just gorgeous.

“He was cracking. He was thoughtful and honest; he would talk about his career. He does great Bette Davis impressions and what a tapper!”

Will this year’s script be topical? “Well, there might be a few comments. How can you not mention what has gone on. We have lost a brilliant monarch and we are going through dreadful times at the moment. But people do not want to dwell on that. They see it every day.”

Matt Crosby plays Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Sunday, January 8.

 

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