It's September - most of the kids have just gone back to school, there was a heatwave last week, and spotting Christmas wares out in shops will send a chill of "it gets closer and closer every year" down the spine.  

But for the actors involved in Darlington's annual pantomime - this year featuring 2001 teen heartthrob Gareth Gates and The Vixen off The Chase - it's all hands on the festive deck. 

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The five main actors for this year's panto, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, have just been announced, and with big names joining the cast, tickets are selling like hotcakes. 

Jenny Ryan, better known to the public as the ruthlessly clever Vixen, from The Chase, is no stranger to playing the baddie. Although she is more used to crushing the dreams of earnest but unprepared quiz show contestants, this is not Jenny's first time treading the 'pantomime villain' boards. 

The Northern Echo: Jenny Ryan as Wicked Queen.

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She will don a spiky headdress, sweeping dress, and oodles of black feathers, to frighten and delight panto audiences in equal measure this December. 

"It's brilliant when you come on stage and hear a baby start to cry, and then a door opens and close again. You know that that child has had to be taken out because you're so scary - it's fantastic stuff.

"It's such a privilege being part of people's Christmas traditions - even when they're booing you. It's just very Christmas to me now." 

Between them, the cast has done hundreds of pantomime performances all over the country - but the Christmas one is always the big event.

Despite having career highs of touring the world, and four chart-topping songs, Gareth Gates is "thrilled to be in Darlington", and is expecting to have "really great fun" in the pantomime this year.

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Having done around 13 panto seasons before, he is well-versed in what it takes to be the charming prince in a Chrimbo production. 

"I'm just happy that they still asking me to be a prince -  I'll know I'm old when they ask me to be the villain," he said.

The Northern Echo: Gareth Gates as the Prince.

Gareth Gates has publically suffered with a speech impediment since his early noughties days on Pop Idol - but has found relief on stage. 

"I was thrown into the public eye through Pop Idol. When I was first asked to do theatre a few years later, it scared me to death because of my speech, but adopting a different personality and getting on stage really helped. 

The Northern Echo: Jamie Jones as Mrs Nelly Nightnurse.

It's a cliche, but every actor involved in Darlington's 2023 pantomime says that "the audience really is the last member of the production."

Josh Benson, self-styled as 'Josh of all trades, master of none',  is set to play Muddles this year - alongside his passion as entertainments manager at York Maze. 

The Northern Echo: Marina Lawrence-Mahrra as Snow White

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A professional at the "silly billy" roles that are made "for the kids especially", Josh has been involved with all things panto, theatre and entertainment for years. He "can't wait" to get out in front of an audience this winter. 

The Northern Echo: Josh Benson as Muddles.

"I've been in theatre and pantos since I was a kid - always in the North. I've got a very northern sense of humour, and though it's there a bit, it's just not the same in the south. There's plenty of self-depreciation and sarcasm up here. 

"I think I'm playing my dream role as the panto comic. Maybe one day I'd like to play the villain, but look at me; I'm not very threatening!"

Snow White runs at Darlington Hippodrome from Friday, December 8 to Sunday, December 31, 2023. For more details, or to book, call 01325-405405 or visit