9th November 2023

Ben Roddy is synonymous with pantomime in Canterbury. He moved here from London after three seasons at The Marlowe and will celebrate his 1000th performance with the theatre during this season’s spectacular production of Aladdin.

We caught up with him for a chat about his passion for pantomime, scary stunts, audience appreciation and the legacy of Dave Lee...

Congratulations on your nomination for Best Dame at this year’s Pantomime Awards for Sleeping Beauty 2022/3. 

It was a surreal experience. It was nice, I didn't win but it was my third nomination and I did win it back in 2018. It’s a lovely celebration of the form. Ian McKellan was there, he did Mother Goose in the West End. It was lovely to see everyone – I’ve got hundreds of mates who do pantomime, but of course we never get to see each other!

Marlowe Theatre Aladdin

Tell us about this year’s pantomime.

Paul Hendy is the best writer – he’s always determined to give Canterbury something different. The Marlowe is really good at pantomime that’s rooted in tradition but also cutting-edge and forward-looking – creating some new traditions.

We’ve got Phil Gallagher back, he’s one of my best mates – so on a selfish level I’m delighted to be spending Christmas with him again, because I’m always very jealous when he goes off elsewhere. Kevin Clifton, is going to be a fantastic Abanazar. Courtney Bowman is award-winning, a great actor. We’ve got Zain Abrahams, Lauren Chia, Alistair So, Shannon Farrell – not to mention The Black Diamonds and an amazing ensemble. It’s a big cast this year. 

This year’s pantomime production will see your 1000th performance at The Marlowe – how does this feel?

I feel very honoured to play dame at The Marlowe. I don’t take it for granted and I’m always delighted to come back. My first pantomime in Canterbury was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and in that run it was Dave Lee’s 1000th performance. I can’t quite believe I’m there, it feels like five minutes ago. And I’m only 23!

What keeps you coming back to the role of the Pantomime Dame at The Marlowe?

They keep asking me! It’s a privilege to work in such a beautiful theatre. And Canterbury audiences are the best in the world. Pantomime is the original immersive experience. The audience knows they’ve got a part to play. It’s about the shared experience, families looking at each other and laughing – it’s life-affirming.

Can you share some memorable moments from your career in pantomime?

For Snow White, I was suspended 30 metres above the audience. On my cue – flitter thrown in my face and a loud pyrotechnic – I had to fall backwards into the auditorium. Dress caught in the ropes, deaf from the bang and blind without my glasses. It was pretty scary!.

In Sleeping Beauty, a few years ago, we had a bath, sink and toilet prop with water that came out everywhere to get us drenched. One day the heater tripped. You can imagine how cold it was, it was ICY. To make up for it, the heater was turned up full the next day – absolutely boiling. Almost as bad.

You worked with local legend Dave Lee, how was that?

He was brilliant, lovely – a mate. What I remember most is how generous Dave was. He was fun to work with – hilarious. I’d watch him, to learn. We were all devastated when he died. I’m not filling his shoes – because no-one could do that – I’m following in his footsteps. I feel very proud to be carrying on his tradition. I still mention him when we do the bench routine every year. We move forward but also remember what’s gone, and I think that’s really important. 

What would you say are the essential ingredients of a good pantomime dame?

There are loads of ways of doing it. Mine is: ‘he’s clearly a man.’ Drag is a wonderful art form that I respect immensely, but my dame is closer to clowning. Most important is your connection with the audience. They have to trust you. It’s chaotic, it’s anarchic, it’s subversive but they need to know it’s going to be alright, that we’re all going to have a nice time.

If you had a magic carpet that could take you anywhere, where would it be?

That’s easy – a beach in Sounion in Greece, where we went as children. It’s a
beautiful bay overlooked by the Temple of Poseidon. So I’m going to say go there, with my wife Kate and boys Stan and Rudy.

If you could have three wishes, what would they be?

My first wish would be to eat what I like and not get fat. My second would be to learn lines instantly, like a little chip that uploads a script. For my third, I’d wish for another 1000 shows at The Marlowe.


“I am very lucky when I'm on a stage with Ben - I'm not only standing next to a sensational Actor, but also my friend. And even when he inevitably pushes a custard pie in my face, it will be my honour to be there supporting him on his 1000th show!”

Phil Gallagher (Mister Maker)

“1000 performances in one theatre is a wonderful achievement. Ben Roddy is undoubtedly one of the best and funniest Dames in the country and the people of Kent love him. Like a fine wine, he gets better every year. It’s a genuine pleasure to work with Ben and I’m incredibly proud to call him a friend’. Here’s to the next 1000 performances!”

Paul Hendy, Producer, Writer & Director, Evolution Productions

Book your ticket to see Aladdin at the Marlowe Theatre - running from 24 November 2023 - 7 January 2024.