You're Ivan A Laugh - Ivan Little Does Panto

Ivan Little finally gives in to the inevitable – playing a dame in panto. But has he got the singing and dancing chops to pull it off at the Waterfront?

Dressed in drag at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, Ivan Little sits at a table in the Waterfront Hall foyer and attempts to recall the last time he was obliged to sing and dance on stage.

The actor formerly known as UTV’s senior news reporter mulls it over – his pursed lips red as Christmas – but there’s no escaping Martin Lynch’s iconic play, The History of the Troubles (Accordin’ to My Da).

In the lead role of Gerry – a Belfast man with a penchant for ‘Satisfaction’ – Little famously prances around the stage in hilarious imitation of what can only be described as Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger’s ‘duck dance’.

It’s a scene that never fails to bring the house down, and Little admits that he is looking forward to reprising the role when The History of the Troubles returns to the Grand Opera House in May 2013, before touring the country to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, by now the soundtrack of the play has got old for Little – very old indeed. And once the Jagger comes out of the bottle, the cat calls begin. Little's fondness for the Mickey-taking Northern Irish audience is slowly wearing thin...

‘I used to be a Rolling Stones fan, but I could see them far enough now,’ explains the towering trouper. ‘Everyone expects me to do the Jagger dance at parties, but it always comes with that hint of Belfast sarcasm. ‘So you think you’re Mick Jagger, do you? You look like you ate him!’

Which brings us to his latest role as the dame in the Waterfront Hall’s 2012 pantomime, Sleeping Beauty. Little plays Lady Mama – ‘I’m literally a big fairy,’ he laughs, and the whole of the Waterfront Hall seems to shake with him. He admits that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sleeping Beauty

 

‘I’d never really thought about playing a dame before,’ says the 61-year-old, ‘because I’m 6 foot 4, I’ve got a beard and a very deep voice. I didn't think anyone would ever offer it to me, but when they did, about six months ago, I thought, “Well, why not?" It’s the last frontier. It’s another challenge.

'Now, sitting here talking to you with a skirt, leggings and a pink wig on, I wonder if I need my head looked at. Lady Mama is on stage most of the time, and we have 76 shows during the run. It’s going to be hard work. We did a read through yesterday and sang some of the songs, which are written by Mark Doherty, and are fantastic. But, as for the dancing, we’ll just have to wait and see.’

The last time I interviewed Little he was rehearsing for a Raw Life Theatre Company production of Patrick Marber's award-winning play, Dealer's Choice. A dark comedy featuring a cast of males, it was familiar ground for Little, who claims that he has since become typecast as 'a big Belfast hitman'.

Subsequent jobs have included Tinderbox's True North, Beano Niblock's A Reason to Believe and Pearse Elliot's The Christening. Little fits the bill perfectly. Born in Belfast, he can play intimidating hardmen and lumbering, fast-talking chancers in his sleep.

And yet he inhabits the role of a dame – the most larger than life character in any Christmas panto – quite comfortably. 'It must be the heels,' he ventures, as the photographer readies his shot. A big wink, a big smile, a big heaving bosom. Ivan Little is having a laugh, and Christmas 2012 will be all the better for it.

Sleeping Beauty runs in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, from November 24 to January 5.