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Spike Liseiko

Interview with performer and comedian Kat B

15 November 2013 Charlie Kenber

“You just know that the payoff is worth it…it chokes you up sometimes!”

We caught up with Kat B, star of the Hackney Empire’s latest pantomime Puss in Boots ahead of the opening…

London Calling: What drew you to the project?

Kat B: I’ve done all of Susie McKenna’s pantos, so this is a bit of history because it’s her sixth one and nobody’s done all of her pantos back-to-back. I join the ranks of people like Charlie Chaplin in the history books at Hackney Empire. Whoever wants to do it again in another six years has got a lot to step up to.

LC: It must be fantastic to have done so many – does is feel like coming home?

KB: Oh yeah! To be playing Puss and having the chance to tread the boards at Hackney again, and when it would mean doing Susie’s newest one as lead it was like “oh my gosh!” She’s a task-master, she’s a great director and writer, and she knows what she wants on-stage visually. We all work really well together.

LC: It must be great to do a new pantomime too. Can you really make the part your own?

KB: Yes, there’s shows where I’ve had to just jump in, like last year playing King Rat. It was for years David Ashley’s role, so to step in and then completely change it up and make it my own made me go, “ok brilliant so I can do these kind of roles and make up my own stuff.”

LC: What can you tell us about the story?

KB: This is an original story. A lot of people are still stuck on the Walt Disney version, so it’s going to be an eye-opener for a lot of people; they’re going to go “wow”. It’s full up with so much raw talent on the stage and glitz and glamour, but the essence of story-telling is just there.

LC: Do you have a favourite part of the show?

KB: I like watching it, that’s the dangerous part! I’m going to try not to watch it again because I get carried away watching the others on stage, and go “oh, that’s me!” I just fall into the show.

It’s a big family event, not just for the people in the audience but for the people backstage. It’s a big family, people look for each other and we can’t do the show without every element!

LC: Who does the show appeal to?

KB: We get them from all over the world: around Boxing Day we’ll get the parties in from Australia, New Zealand and America. Then we’ll have all the school parties. We get some kids who have never seen a panto, and then we get some adults who’ve never seen a panto! Some teenagers especially say, “I ain’t going to that, it’s a pantomime that’s for kids!” because they’ve had a bad experience with other shows, and then they come here and go “that was excellent!”

It’s an eclectic mix of people, it’s completely nuts. It’s nice because you see them smiling and you know you’ve made that cross-over.

LC: What is it you most enjoy about doing panto?

KB: There’s not even a challenge with this, it’s really weird. There’s that anxiety of getting a script and not knowing lines, but the way it works is we go in there and have so much fun that by the end of the day we’ve learnt the whole show! That’s not heard of…but because we’re having so much fun you enjoy it and you remember it.

LC: It must give you a great energy boost when the audience first turn up too!

KB:Absolutely, I’ve been here for twelve/thirteen years. You’re going back and forth doing shows all over the world and then you’re coming back to do panto, and you know those faces that always book on a certain day. They’ve grown up with you.

LC: So you recognise individuals in the audience?

KB: Yeah definitely! It’s so lovely when you’re out of costume, sitting on a train to go home and they walk up to you and go “can you sign this?” and everybody else goes “it was you! That was excellent, thank you so much. We’re going to be back next year!” You just know that the payoff is worth it…it chokes you up sometimes!

LC: You also do lots of stand-up as well – how does that fit in?

KB: It’s lovely! All I have to do is worry about nine months out of the year, and then come back do three months here of panto, which is excellent. Being made Artistic Director of Real Deal Comedy Jam was just like “wow!” because they were saying “we respect what you do as an artiste and respect your vision, so however you want this comedy tour to work you tell us and we’ll make it happen.”

We do at least four or five tours a year, but this one I’ve had to pull out from because I’m doing panto. This year they’re doing it at Alton Towers and I can’t be there! They’re closing it down just for this comedy weekend and I’m not there!

LC: So what’s next?

KB: Whatever the world throws at me! I’m ready to do it. Every performance is seasonal: from panto to comedy tour, comedy into carnivals, carnivals back into pantos. So I know what I’m doing all the time. Then all the little days in between: the Hackney gigs with young children, the Hackney sports awards, turning up and doing a chat with the Met Police and young people about crime and stuff. All of those things just fit in nicely – the little bits of icing on the cake.

Puss in Boots plays at the Hackney Empire from 23rd November until 5th January. Tickets and further information available here.

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