Nina Wadia finds the kooky in Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk pantomime at York Theatre Royal

Wanderful: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap with her arty joke of an artichoke wand in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

NINA Wadia was confused. Growing up in India and Hong Kong, pantomime was a foreign country to her.

“When I came to the UK from Honk Kong to study classical theatre at the London Theatre School in Wandsworth, I was new to this country,” recalls the EastEnders and Good Gracious Me star.

“I went for an audition for my first ever professional job in Robin Hood at Theatre Royal Stratford East, but I thought pantomime was some form of mime! I auditioned like all the other actors, and when they said, ‘have you got a song?’, I blagged it and said ‘of course’. ‘Do you dance?’. ‘Yes, I tap,’ I said, but I was thinking, ‘why do I need to do this when it’s a mime show?’, as I just didn’t know the pantomime tradition.”

Song and dance? “What kind of mime is that,” she asked. Explanation forthcoming, she was cast as Friar Tuck, and now, more than 30 years later, she will be making her York Theatre Royal tonight (8/12/2023) as the poster face of Jack And The Beanstalk, playing Fairy Sugarsnap.

In the box seating: Nina Wadia at York Theatre Royal

She is forever grateful to Theatre Royal Stratford East, in particular Philip Hedley, artistic director from 1979 to 2004, and his associate director, Jeff Teare. “It’s the most incredible theatre that opens the door for ethnic actors,” says Nina, who will turn 55 during the panto run on December 18.

“It was very hard being an ethnic actor, and if you think of pantomime, I don’t think you’d go to a brown actor in those days. I loved that it was such an open theatre to look at actors regardless of their colour and think if you have potential, they will help develop that.

“Jeff saw something in me, the kind of thing that has made my career: the kind of energy I have, but also the willingness to learn, which I still have, whereas a lot of young actors seem overly confident now.

“I really want to express that to young people coming into the business, where they can stand out at drama school and think they know it all, by I always find that by the end of playing a role I know more than when I started.”

Nina Wadia: Mother, actress, comedian, producer, presenter and charity campaigner

Nina points to her role as Zainab Masood in the BBC’s London soap opera EastEnders from 2007 to February 2013. “I never watched EastEnders before being in it,” she admits. “I signed up for six months but ended up staying on and on, and I got to knowZainab over those six and a half years – and I really liked her.

“They hired me to bring some comedy to EastEnders, and I was the first actor to win an award for best comedy performance in EastEnders. What was really interesting was I was told they wanted me to create a character like Wendy Richards’ Pauline Fowler but funny, so I watched her, and she was so grumpy that I found her funny! Anyway, I found the way to make Zainab funny was to make her very blunt.”

Nina’s gift for her comedy had marked her out from her pantomime bow as Friar Tuck, the beginning of a seven-year involvement with Theatre Royal Stratford East.  “The show was brilliant and the writer Patrick Prior was the real thing. Playing Friar Tuck, I was one of the four ‘merry men’, with a pillow at the front, a pillow at the back and a skull cap put on top of my very long hair. Very glamorous!” she says.

“I had the best actresses to work with straightaway, sharing the dressing room with all the ‘merry men’, all played by women.”

Fairy versus villain: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap with pantomime baddie James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger in Jack And The Beanstalk

She loved the pantomime humour. “I laughed so much, having grown up with British humour in Hong Kong: Blackadder, Morecambe & Wise and Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em. On. On the American side, there was the stand-up of Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, so I was drawn to the combination of crazy antics and really raw, rude comedy that I wasn’t supposed to watch but I loved, especially Eddie Murphy.”

Nina’s subsequent career has embraced everything, from radio drama company regular to soap opera , BBC Asian sketch comedy in Goodness Gracious Me to 2021 Strictly Come Dancing contestant, TV roles as Aunty Noor in Citizen Khan and Mrs Hussein in Still Open All Hours to video game voiceover artist and narrator for the animated series Tweedy And Fluff on Channel 5’s Milkshake. Charity campaigner too, honoured with an OBE.

Profiling herself on social media as Mother, Actress, Producer and Presenter, Nina loves to embrace every medium, her latest addition being her online satirical political character, the Conservative councillor and constituency candidate Annie Stone. “She’s a mixture of Suella Braverman and Priti Patel: vile but believable. She’s on TikTok, Instagram and X and she now has proper followers at #VoteAnnieStone!”

From tonight, Nina will be delivering rhymes, mirth and magic as Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk. “I was expecting a silly costume. I described it to my husband [Raimond Mirza] and said they’ve dressed me as an aubergine pretending to be an artichoke,” she says. “I’ve made her more kooky than usual, given her more depth, as much as you can give her depth!”

Nina Wadia waves a wand over Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal from today (8/12/2023) until January 7 2024. Box office: 01904 623568 or