ONE upon a time there was a teacher at Bure Park Primary School in Bicester who was passionate about theatre.

She was overjoyed to discover that the school literacy projects were planned around traditional pantomime stories and that her class would see all the shows at the Oxford Playhouse.

Fast forward five years and what do we find? That same enthusiastic teacher, Jennifer Wakefield is in this year’s pantomime, playing Jill in Jack and The Beanstalk.

It’s been a short but eventful journey leading from teacher to panto, almost as exciting as Jack’s, and one that Jennifer has relished every step of the way.

So what’s taken her so long?

“I always wanted to perform but I also wanted to be a teacher and teaching won. Bure Park was my first job after university and I loved it. I taught five- to six-year-olds, and whenever I could I would inject my passion for performance into the syllabus.

“The children loved the projects and the shows; it was a perfect marriage. And I found their reaction to live performance fascinating. For many of them it was their first time in a theatre, let alone in a ‘room’ of 600-odd people. We even went to see Jack and the Beanstalk while I was there, so I’ve come full circle.’

Moving to London to fulfill her dream she says: “I attended acting and comedy courses and co-wrote a sketch show which we, as Jiggle & Hyde, took to Edinburgh. And I was smitten, there was no going back.”

This year during her one-woman show in Edinburgh, Girl in Da Corner, she was introduced to Steve Marmion, artistic director of Soho Theatre, who writes and directs the Oxford Playhouse pantos “and here I am”.

Which means that Jack And The Beanstalk is not only Jennifer’s first proper panto but also her first proper paid acting job.

“It’s really nice to be a in a show as part of a company of people. It was a rare moment for me when the costumes arrived in Oxford and I realised that I didn’t have to buy mine on ebay. So it’s a real treat having other professionals taking care of the technical work so I can concentrate on my role.

“It’s fascinating working together, getting to know the unique quality of the company’s work and how they approach it. I am learning a lot. However I still can’t believe that that I’m being paid to sing and dance on stage.”

So how is she approaching her role of Jill, Jack’s love interest in the famous panto? “One thing that’s important to me is that Steve keeps the panto relevant to its time. Traditionally the female roles are often subservient to the men, they don’t usually get the gags or the stand-up bits. Not in Steve’s shows which means I can’t wait to get stuck in and get the show out in front of an audience.

“Because Jill is definitely a role model for young girls; she’s not a scared or demure creature and more headstrong than the usual damson in distress portrayed in traditional panto.

“Instead, my character is one edgy, sassy 21st century woman, an assertive team leader who wants to change things for the better.” You could say the same about Jennifer.

  • Jack And The Beanstalk runs at Oxford Playhouse from now until Sun Jan 7 2018. 01865 305305.