AS the son of one of the country’s favourite actors, Edmund Kingsley is no stranger to theatrical life. But he admits his latest role is the toughest of his life.

Ed is currently treading the boards as Slick Rick – sidekick to the wicked Witch Kardashia – in the Oxford Playhouse panto Beauty and the Beast.

“This is my first pantomime and it’s probably the hardest I’ve ever worked,” says the classically-trained actor, a graduate of RADA, a Royal Shakespeare Company regular and a familiar face in cinema and television. His father is Oxfordshire’s Sir Ben Kingsley, of Gandhi, Schindler’s List and Sexy Beast fame.

“There is some sniffiness about playing panto but it’s a real challenge,” he adds. “There are 12 shows a week and there’s so much to get right, not least the dancing and singing!”

The Oxford Playhouse panto is the county’s biggest and best, and the venue’s most important production. The annual celebration of storytelling, music, comedy and bawdy innuendo is a major money-spinner, helping to keep the lights on at the theatre year-round.

Its production of Beauty and the Beast has already earned rave reviews with audiences loving the thoroughly modern twist given to the fairytale favourite.

It stars Roseanna Frascona as the heroine Belle. Like Ed, the panto is a change of pace for Roseanna, who has previously starred in Macbeth and the gritty Netflix show Top Boy.

The twin roles of Beast and Prince are played by Matthew Staite, who played Wilfred Owen in the film The Burying Party.

For Ed, the show is a return to his childhood roots. As a boy, a visit to the panto at Chipping Norton Theatre was a much-loved Kingsley family tradition.

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“I grew up in Stratford and and used to go to Chipping Norton panto, so I’d seen it a couple of times,” he says.

Yet, he admits, he hadn’t been prepared for the sheer hard work involved in taking part. “It’s as technically demanding, if not more, than anything I’ve done. I was gobsmacked by the schedule.

“And you certainly don’t get as much answering back when you’re doing Shakespeare... hopefully!”

“Panto beats everything.”

Oxford Mail:

Dev Joshi as Witch Kardashia and Ed Kingsley as Slick Rik

He adds: “Part of the fun of acting is you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’ve been on spaceships and been shot and blown up a lot as a soldier – now I’m upsetting a witch, annoying the Beast and being booed! I didn’t exactly expect this but I’m all for it. And I’d rather keep doing different things.”

What does he feel is the appeal of panto? “It’s one of the few things you can go to as a whole family,” he says.

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“Everyone gets something out of it – whether children, teenagers, parents or grandparents. As well as being part of tradition, it’s a shared family experience.”

And can he see his father appearing in panto anytime soon? “I don’t think he’s going to play the Dame!” he laughs. “I don’t know how light on his feet he is, but one can never be sure.

“It would be extraordinary... never say never!”

He adds: “Being a baddie, with everyone booing you is brilliant! I am going to enjoy it more and more.”

The theatre’s director and chief executive Louise Chantal said: “The panto is the best of us: a fun-loving, joyful, gorgeous two-hour escape from the daily horrors of work and election campaigns, where good triumphs over evil and the girl always gets her prince.

“It’s as colourful as Christmas trees and as silly as trifle. It’s all that’s good about Britain, based on stories from all around the world.

“Here in Oxford we like to do panto a little differently, with all the traditional silliness and set pieces (‘he’s behind you!’) wrapped up in a cracking good story, and characters who always come out alright in the end.

Oxford Mail:

“Here in Pantoland, you’ll usually find it’s the ladies you can rely on to save the day, the unlikeliest of underdogs come out on top, and even a Beast can learn a lesson or three.”

She added: “This is a show which takes us a year to produce, and is arguably the thing which also keeps us running all year.

“Because the Playhouse relies on the ticket sales during the five-week panto run to subsidise the rest of the year, we can afford to take risks and put on shows which might not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea.

Oxford Mail:

“This range of shows means we’re a Playhouse for everyone at some point in the year, whether you want to see the best drama, comedy, ballet or hip-hop musical.

“The income we derive from ice cream sales, sparkly toys and a festive tipple or three also ensures we can pay for education projects and work with young artists to help them gain confidence and experience and in turn, contribute to the future of theatre for us all.”

  • Beauty and the Beast is at Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street, Oxford until January 12. Go to