Alban Arena launches annual pantomime with Strictly Come Dancing star

Laura Bill meets Arena panto star Chizzy Akudolu.

Laura Bill meets Arena panto star Chizzy Akudolu. - Credit: Matt Adams

For the Alban Arena's acclaimed annual pantomime, the post-Bob Golding era has finally arrived.

The local legend quit the show after nine years of festive frolics earlier this year, meaning his planned appearance as the dame in a production of Mother Goose could not go ahead.

Hence the launch this week of old favourite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, giving panto producers Evolution a bit of breathing space before launching a new dame in the future.

Topping the bill is former Holby City and Strictly Come Dancing star Chizzy Akudolu, joined by old favourite Ian Kirkby alongside newcomers Jonny Weldon (Muddles), Natasha Hoeberigs (Snow White) and Daniel Breakwell (Prince Charming).

We spoke with the cast at Harpenden's Eric Morecambe Centre this week, the same day they had actually met each other, and before anyone had even seen the script, to find out what they were looking forward to in St Albans this Christmas.


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Gants Hill resident Chizzy, who played surgeon Mo Effanga for five years, is a big fan of Ru Paul's Drag Race and said: "I am very excited to be in my first pantomine and coming to St Albans. I've never played anyone evil, and I will be channelling my inner drag queen in my performance."

A former pupil of St Edmund's College in Ware, she was hoping to go much further on Strictly when she appeared in the show last year, only to be voted off after just two dances - the cha cha and foxtrot - becoming the first celebrity to be eliminated.

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"My strength is definitely acting, rather than dancing! I was absolutely gutted to be voted off Strictly as I think I had so much more to give."

Chizzy will be following in the wicked footsteps of former EastEnder Rita Simons, whose cackle haunted the Arena in 2016 and 2019, and is hoping she can offer some tips on how to get the crowd booing.

"Rita is a close friend of mine and I will definitely be asking her for advice. I don't know any of the cast, but I'm really looking forward to working alongside them. There's a very intense rehearsal period of just a few weeks, so I'll be taking plenty of Berocca and drinking honey and lemon."

She is also looking forward to welcoming fellow Holby alumni, and former St Albans resident Rosie Marcel, who will be coming to watch the show with her daughter Beau.

Long-term panto star Ian Kirkby said losing Bob from the show is like having his right arm chopped off, before joking: "I've carried him for years so it's about time! This is my ninth year in the show - you get less for murder."

In fact, the duo were so close that Ian was even best man at Bob's wedding, meaning his solo turn as Baron Von Badapple is even more poignant: "I will miss him terribly - we pulled each other through the long days - but I'm looking forward to working with Jonny Weldon."

The departure of Bob has also given Evolution the opportunity to slightly shake up the show, while Covid-restrictions mean there will be no children dancers this year, but fans need not worry that it's going to have changed too much.

Ian explained: "We have new routines and new gags, but it will still have all the usual bells and whistles. It's going to be fantastic, there's nothing quite like working with a live audience!"

There's no doubt the shadow of Bob Golding will be hanging over this year's pantomime, as his involvement  no doubt contributed to its huge success over the best part of a decade, but this is a new and exciting era for the production, and if the enthusiasm of Chizzy and Ian is anything to go by, one very much to look forward to!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is at the Alban Arena in St Albans from December 3 2021 to January 2 2022.

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