Dick Whittington stars Bobby Davro and Sheila Ferguson bring plenty of laughs to Mayflower Theatre

Sheila Ferguson and Bobby Davro at the Dick Whittington panto launch Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, on 27 September 2018. Picture by Robin Jones/Digital South.
Sheila Ferguson and Bobby Davro at the Dick Whittington panto launch Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, on 27 September 2018. Picture by Robin Jones/Digital South.
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With Dick Whittington winning rave reviews and the panto a good way through its run, the cast will have by now got to know each other pretty well.

But its veteran funny man Bobby Davro, who plays Idle Jack, and singer and TV star Sheila Ferguson, as The Spirit of The Bells, go much further back. 

The former Three Degrees star explains.

‘We’ve known each other for 30-odd years, Bobby actually gave me my first shot as a solo singer in England.

‘He’d just finished his TV show, Rock With Laughter and he was doing a tour. I had been on the TV show, we sang Don’t Let The Sun Go Down. After that his management talked to mine, we got on, and they asked me to open his tour –  so I did the first hour and he did the second. That was my first shot after leaving the The Three Degrees.’

Speaking together with The Guide back at the panto’s launch, the pair were on riotous form – barely letting your interviewer get a word in sideways as they giggled over old memories and told anecdotes that we couldn’t possibly print in a family paper.

Sheila Ferguson as The Spirit of the Bells in Dick Whittington, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

Sheila Ferguson as The Spirit of the Bells in Dick Whittington, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

They’re joined in the cast by X Factor winner Joe McElderry as Dick, former Hear’say singer and actress Suzanne Shaw, and EastEnders’ Steve McFadden’s gleefully wicked King Rat.

‘A pantomime is made up of so many characters, you’ve got your goodies, your baddies, the funny ones, the sad ones, the romantic leads,’ explains Bobby of his love for panto – this is his 37th. ‘And here you’ve probably got one of the finest villains in the country with Steve, and they’ll boo their heads off for him, it’s great.

‘And then you’ve got Sheila as the beautiful fairy, and you’re going to be singing the big ones –  a right couple of belters!

‘I’ve done it almost every year since the start of my career and that was 40 years. I’m a veteran, and I’m still learning. That’s the great thing, you can still learn from all the great people you work with.’

Bobby Davro as Idle Jack in Dick Whittington at Mayflower Theatre. Picture by Robin Jones/Digital South

Bobby Davro as Idle Jack in Dick Whittington at Mayflower Theatre. Picture by Robin Jones/Digital South

READ MORE: Why Steve McFaddden loves playing the bad guy

While Sheila’s a few behind Bobby, she’s racked up 12 pantomime appearances too. Originally from Philadelphia she has long-since made her home on this side of the Atlantic.

‘I like seeing the look on children’s faces when they see the magic of the lights and smoke and all the wonder of theatre.

‘One of my bugbears, that I miss from back in our day, is that there was a pulse and vibe as you were getting ready to go onstage and the band was tuning up. Nowadays you go onstage and you go on to a sea of cameras and phones, and I can’t look into people’s eyes, then before I even get home it’s all over the internet.

‘I miss that contact that you still get with panto –  kids, they look, they pay attention.’

It’s a theme Bobby jumps on: ‘I’m proud of myself because I can see young kids laughing with their teenage siblings, and their mums and dads and grandparents, and they’re all out together as a family, and family, I believe, is the most important thing in life.

‘Even on TV at home, we’re all watching different things.

‘The parents get the innuendos and if it’s done properly it goes over the kids’ heads, so you’re not offending anyone, and as long as it’s seen in that way, pantomime is one of the best genres of entertainment there is.’

‘For a lot of kids, it’s the first time they’ve been to a theatre, and if it captures them, they could go on to be regulars.’

And he's happy to hark back to an older generation of comedy.

‘Modern comedy is very acidic and quite shocking in a lot of areas, because how far do you go with stand-up comedy? And I see it being a comic, how it develops, and I don’t think it’s developed for the best, if I’m honest.

‘I think there’s a limit to what you can and do and say. I like to be rude, I like smutty jokes, but in front of the children it’s got to be on two levels.’

In the past couple of years Sheila has been a regular on the hit BBC1 show, The Real Marigold Hotel and The Real Marigold on Tour, which has seen her travelling to to India, Iceland and Thailand with other celebrities. She’s also been to Russia for a new, as yet unaired, series, and it may well prove to be her last thanks to one of her travel companions.

‘It’s kind of like childbirth,’ she explains of making the show. ‘You get to bed at two o’clock and then you have to get up at four to do whatever. Generally once you’ve come back and de-stressed from it, it’s okay. 

‘But a lot of it depends on the other people with you and on one particular one I had an awkward gentleman with me, and I mean extremely awkward. Every other word out of his mouth was either Trump, Putin or Brexit, and he did it on purpose to wind me up. They edited it out, but I can live without ever seeing Stanley Johnson ever again.

‘Living with that guy in Russia was...’ she fishes for the right word, ‘hell.’

She adds that production company TwoFour had emailed her recently to ask how she was doing, and it’s safe to say she gave it short shrift.

In the meantime though, you can still catch Sheila, Bobby and the rest of cast doing their thing in Dick Whittington.

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Until January 6 

mayflower.org.uk