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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Dick Whittington director Sarah Langley

It’s that time of the year again. Music lovers have begun reaching for their Michael Bublé album, shoppers are rushing to buy their last Christmas presents and the pantos are back on stage.

With Dick Whittington set to get under way at Diss Corn Hall this week, reporter Victoria Scheer spoke to director and former dancer Sarah Langley about the show and how her job has taken her all around the globe ...

BACK FOR MORE: Sarah Langley is the creative force behind Dick Whittington.
BACK FOR MORE: Sarah Langley is the creative force behind Dick Whittington.

How did you start your career?

I have always wanted to be a dancer, that was my dream. I trained at Performers College in Essex for three years and worked with a professional dancer for 10 years before having my children.

What was your first job like after graduating?

I performed all around the UK and across the world on cruise ships, as part of world tours.

I went to Taiwan, Norway, Sweden. I’ve nearly been to every country in the world twice – apart from America.

Once I had my children, I was given the opportunity to move across to the creative team, to choreograph shows, which I am still doing now.

Then LP Creatives asked me to direct one of its productions.

Do you find it a tough industry to work in?

It’s the only career where you cannot get a job because you’ve got blond hair.

Equally, for every 20 auditions you don’t get, the one you do get is brilliant and it’s well worth it.

You get hardened to rejections and learn to not take them personally. It is hard when you’ve done six rounds of auditions and then you don’t get the part, but you know that, if you keep going, you will eventually be right for a job.

It is tough, but it’s the best industry, because you’re doing a job you love.

What does your job as a director entail?

You have the freedom to be creative. To put a show on, you are in charge of all the actors and dancers on stage, the juvenile ensemble, the lights and the technical side of it, so that the whole thing comes together and creates what the audience will watch in the end.

That takes a long time and it’s a very slow process. I think that is the beauty of my job: every day is different. You work with different performers, they bring fresh ideas, different dancers and actors all the time and in different venues. So, the variety of that is so lovely and always keeps it fresh.

Are you looking forward to performing in Diss?

We live in Shimpling, just three miles from Diss, so it’s perfect. It means that I will be able to spend every night at home with my two sons while my husband Ben is working on his own pantomime in Norwich.

What is the Diss audience like?

The Diss audience is really good. I knew a lot of the people who came last year and they really enjoyed it.

Last year’s panto was Diss’ first professional panto and everyone seemed to love it, which is why we are back again.

The Corn Hall is a beautiful venue and we’ve already performed there once, so it will be much more straightforward.

What has been your favourite job?

That’s so difficult. I love being on the creative side now and I love choreographing shows. I loved choreographing Cinderella but, when I was performing, I did a tour with Michael Flatley and that was probably my favourite job.

We performed in massive arenas, like Wembley Arena, in front of 50,000 people and it was a world tour, so that was probably my favourite.

What’s your favourite part of being a director?

You are not doing that job to get the applause. I don’t ever feel like the audience should be applauding me. It’s the actors on stage that do the hard work.

I always feel very happy once I’ve done a full dress-run and everybody feels confident and knows what they are doing. That’s my pay-off.

I quite like it when I can just walk away and can say ‘I’ve done everything here’. I love the opening night and for the audience to see it.

To see their reaction and to find out what works and what doesn’t.

What does an average day in your job look like?

A typical days starts with a warm-up, physically and vocally. Then we start going through the show, making sure everybody knows what they are doing and working across different scenes.

On days where there are technical rehearsals, the hours are much longer, so from 9am to 10pm.

It is intense, but as long as everyone is prepared, it’s fine. Every day is different and you get to work with different performers, dancers and actors all the time and in different venues – and they all bring fresh ideas.

Is there anything about your job that you don’t like?

I don’t get paid enough (laughs). But no, that’s why I do it. I go to work and I absolutely love it. I am very lucky.

Do you have an idol?

I have always loved the American dancer, choreographer and director Bob Fosse.

What’s your favourite panto, play, film or musical?

My all-time favourite at the minute is The Greatest Showman. It’s incredible. It had everything I love, like musical theatre, great acting, great choreography and amazing songs.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I’m doing the most important job there is: I’m a mummy. Loxley is five and Elwood is eight.

Those are quite unusual names – what made you choose them?

I have always loved the name Elwood. I knew that, if I had a boy, that’s what I would like to call him.

And when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband was writing a play at the time based on Robin Hood. And we really liked the name Robin of Loxley.

How do you balance your work and family life?

Well, that’s why I don’t do too much. I have my set contracts doing pantos and little jobs every now and then.

I don’t want to miss my boys growing up, that is the absolutely most important thing. I do love my job, but I also need to be there for my children.

What are your long-term goals?

Just to be happy. To keep doing what I love doing and be happy. I have a really great balance between work and family life.

The next project will be to take a show abroad, but we don’t know where yet.

Dick Whittington is at Diss Corn Hall until December 30. For more details, visit the Corn Hall's website.

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