How Anna made career moove to play a talking panto cow at York Theatre Royal

Mooving and grooving: Anna Soden’s Dave the Talking Cow in Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal. Picture: SR Taylor Photography

YORK actress, musician, comedian and writer Anna Soden is playing not only Dave the Talking Cow but Dave the Trumpet-Playing Cow too in the Walking On Sunshine finale to Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal.

“Acting comes first; I trained in straight acting at Mountview [in Peckham, London], but I’ve explored writing and music and comedy too,” says Anna, on her return to her home-city pantomime after starring as a rapping, funky, blue and pink-haired, multi-tasking Fairy, more likely to hit the bass line than wave a wand, in The Travelling Pantomime, toured by York Theatre Royal to community venues in the Covid winter of 2020.

“I play bass guitar and trumpet mostly and love it when I can incorporate singing or playing instruments into a job, and it’s ace to put on my own work, but I’m an actor first and foremost.”

In a first for the Theatre Royal pantomime, Patricia the cow, with its front and rear-end actors, fluttering eyes and nodding head, has made way for Anna’s Dave, the female Friesian with the male name and plenty to say, delivered not so much on the hoof as upright on two hooves in a pantomime variation on the “Four legs, two legs better”mantra in Orwell’s Animal Farm.

“I’m playing the front and back because of the cost-of living crisis” says Anna. “There were whispering throughout the year that they needed someone who would dress up as a cow. I think Hayley [choreographer Hayley Del Harrison] was thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be fun if Anna played it’, and hopefully it’s exactly that – fun – and not, ‘oh, that woman’s having a mental breakdown!”

Before attending the pantomime launch in September, she had been expecting to play Caroline the Cow. “To be honest, I had no idea [about the role]; I hadn’t read the script. I just heard ‘cow’, and that I’d be working again with Juliet [director Juliet Forster], Hayley and Robin [dame Robin Simpson], and my new pal James Mackenzie [after doing CBeebies’ Shakespeare together], and I thought, that sounds fun and said ‘yes’,” recalls Anna.

Anna Soden’s Dave the Talking Cow with James Mackenzie’s villain, Luke Backinanger, left, Giant Blunderbore, right, and surly teenage son Darren in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: S R Taylor Photography

“But big news, I’m going to be Dave the Talking Cow,” she announced that day. How did she react to writer Paul Hendy’s change of plan? “In terms of my panto career, Dave the Talking Cow is a big step forward! I feel like going from a Genie to a talking cow is a progression: it’s a great career moove!

“My first pantomime was the rock’n’roll panto at Liverpool Everyman, where everyone played instruments, It was Sleeping Beauty and I was the fairy and got to fly – and sing Golden Slumbers, a Beatles song, in Liverpool!

“Then I did Chipping Norton; they have a brilliant traditional show there, with original songs. I played a Boy Scout and a Weasel in Rapunzel – you know, the famous weasel in Rapunzel! – and that was gloriously silly. Last year I was at Derby Arena, which was a totally different vibe again, as it was massive! I played the Genie and a lot of other roles in Aladdin; it was a spectacle, I had a ball! Every city and town does panto so differently, so it’s really interesting experiencing them all.”

None was more “interesting” than the one-off Travelling Pantomime tour under Covid rules in York. “It was a really special thing. It kind of felt like a fever dream; it was a little explosion of glitter in an apocalypse,” says Anna. “Working in that cast of five with a skeleton creative team was a unique bonding experience. I really made such dear friends on that show, and I’m so happy to be reunited with lovely Robin [Simpson] this year.

“Performing on that little pop-up stage, our dressing rooms being disabled toilets or storage cupboards, touring to hotels, schools, churches, village halls… it felt like a really gorgeous way to do panto. It was bursting with a sense of community and local identity. I’d love to see more theatre being made like that, not just when there’s a deadly pandemic (although I’ll take a dressing room over a disabled toilet this year).”

Raised in York, Anna cut her stage teeth over a decade of York Youth Theatre shows. “I was in the young people’s ensemble for loads of York Theatre Royal shows growing up, including The Railway Children twice, The Wind In The Willows, Peter Pan and King Arthur, and the Cinderella pantomime in 2006,” she says.

Anna Soden’s bass guitar-playing funky Fairy in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime in 2020. Picture: Anthony Robling

“I moved away at 18, so it’s lovely to sporadically come home to York Theatre Royal. In the pandemic, the theatre partnered with me, with the support of Arts Council England, to make my one-person family adaptation of Five Children And It, set on Scarborough beach.”

Presented in association with Scarborough community producing company Arcade, this collaboration marked the formation of Anna’s theatre-making company, Strawberry Lion, whose online premiere of her storytelling, puppetry and musical account of E Nesbit’s 1902 children’s novel was streamed on Explore York libraries’ You Tube channel in April 2021.

As well as playing Feste in CBeebies’ Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe, with Theatre Royal panto villain James Mackenzie as Duke Orsino and choreography by Hayley Del Harrison, Anna has taken to making “stupid videos”.

“I love to make online sketches,” she says. “Digital comedy is at a really exciting place where it’s so easily accessed, so I make a lot of silly stuff for TikTok and Instagram. It’s also easier than persuading the BBC to give me my own sketch show/sitcom.

“I’ve started doing stand-up comedy, mostly gigging in Brighton and London, which I’m loving, but making video sketches is my favourite format. They are very stupid but I did win the British Comedy Guide sketch competition last year, and Harry Hill said they were ‘very funny’, so there’s definitely merit in stupid!

“My comedy is pretty absurd, more alternative, but not particularly child-friendly! All my digital comedy is not necessarily rude but quite scary. I’ll be interested to see if the kids like a talking panto cow!”

Anna Soden in rehearsal for her adaptation of E Nesbit’s Five Children And It

Since graduating from Mountview in 2017, Anna has spent only the Covid Christmas of 2020 at home in York. “That was lovely but keeping sopcially distanced of course, but it’s part of an actor’s job that you work at Christmas and won’t be at home, so it’s great that this Christmas I get to see my family” says Anna.

“It’s also super exciting to be performing at York Theatre Royal because I used to chaperone here while I was at training at drama school, when I was doing my serious roles and played Juliet twice.

“When I graduated, I thought, ‘that’s enough for me, I’m going to be silly now’, but if you’d said back then I’d be playing a talking pantomime cow…”

Jack And The Beanstalk, co-produced by Evolution Productions, runs at York Theatre Royal until January 7 2024. Box office: 01904 623568 or

One final question for Anna

Do you have any unusual interests or hobbies away from the stage?

“Lying on the floor when it’s about to rain, producing dairy products, eating grass…” she says, slipping into Dave the Talking Cow mode. “…and tarot reading.”

Copyright of The Press, York

“I’m playing the front and back of the cow because of the cost-of living crisis,” jokes Anna

Let the challenge begin for James Mackenzie as Raven turns into Theatre Royal panto baddie Luke Backinanger

Evil versus good: James Mackenzie’s pantomime villain Luke Backinanger with Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap Fairy in Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal. Picture: S R Taylor Photography

GOODIE or baddie. Which is the better to play? Let’s ask James Mackenzie, CBeebies star and now revelling in his role as Luke Backinanger in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk.

“Baddie,” he says. “I’ve been a jobbing actor for 25 years, doing pantomimes where I’ve played everything from Prince Charming to Abanazar. The only roles I haven’t done are the silly billy and the dame, but I’ve always loved playing the baddie, getting the audience to boo you, and getting the kids screaming with a mixture of fear and excitement is priceless. It’s a whole lot of fun.”

It turns out that Scotsman James is keeping it in the family. “The first panto I saw was at the age of four; Babes In The Wood in Inverness. My dad [Michael Mackenzie] is an actor and he was playing the baddie, the Sheriff of Nottingham,” he recalls.

“I loved it! It was a bit strange that my dad was on stage and people were booing him, but I forgot all that as soon as I got asked to come up on the stage to meet the comic. ‘So, what does your Daddy do?’, asked the comic. ‘He works,’ I replied. It got a huge laugh. That was it, I was hooked!”

Doing the zombie dance: James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger and the ensemble in a clash of red and green in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: S R Taylor Photography

Now Dundee-born James is playing Luke Backinger, a villain with a name that nods to Oasis’s 1996 chart-topper Don’t Look Back In Anger, a name that surely no-one can take seriously? “That’s the point, right? No-one ever really takes a panto baddie too seriously, as they always have to be redeemed by the end and find their inner goodness,” says James. “For this reason, I think Luke is a 7.5 [out of ten] on the baddie scale.

“Traditionally, the baddie in this pantomime is Fleshcreep, but Luke Backinger is a more contemporary take on the baddie’s role, so there’s no Fleshcreep in the show, but Luke still has a baddie bond with the Giant.”

Was it inevitable that James would follow father Michael into the “family business”? “I think it probably was,” he says. “It felt familiar, and to be honest it was the only thing I was really ever good at. I was always adequately academic, however acting and performing was my happy place, the only thing I seemed to excel at. Well, when I say ‘excel’, I mean, I was better than adequate.”

James’s father once auditioned to play James Bond, missing out to George Lazenby for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “How cool would it have been to say ‘my dad is James Bond’?! I’d love to play him, absolute career goal. However I think that ship has definitely sailed, and a middle-aged bearded Scotsman is probably not what the Bond producers have in mind for their eponymous hero.”

James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger finds his failed dream career becoming a reality as he belatedly forms a boy band with Matthew Curnier’s Billy, left, Mia Overfield’s Jack Trott and Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott in a glorious send-up in Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: S R Taylor Photography

Instead, James is most associated with his role as mysterious, leather-clad, immortal warlord Raven in the BAFTA award-winning CBBC show of the same name, but was he a good guy or bad guy? “Oh he was definitely a good guy,” he asserts. “He was there to guide the young warriors, to teach them the path of the good and true, to be a reassuring presence when facing the forces of evil, but he was a stern teacher.”

James once described himself as a “feathery Obi Wan-Kenobi”. “Who wouldn’t want to call themselves that?!” he says. “When Raven was recommissioned in 2017 after a seven-year break, my character was brought back as a guide to the new young Raven. He was there as a sage and a confidante to help the new immortal warrior defeat the forces of evil.”

The 15 series of Raven were screened worldwide. “I still do get recognised for Raven,” says James, who hosted the children’s game show with his catchphrase of “Let the challenge…begin”. “Raven became a bit of a cult with that Lord Of The Rings medieval fantasy vibe, garnering that cult status amongst the late-20 somethings.

“Of course, now I get recognised just as much by little ones for Molly & Mack [the CBeebies drama series  that ran for five seasons from 2018 to 2022 with James ‘Mack’ Mackenzie playing James, Molly and Mack’s father].

James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger in the show poster for York Theatre Royal’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk

“The thing that makes me feel really old [he is 44] is when someone says, ‘Oh, I used to watch you in Raven; I loved it. And now my kids love watching you in Molly & Mack’. That’s when my grey hair feels particularly apparent.”

James is working with York choreographer Hayley Del Harrison for the third time this year. “We did CBeebies’ Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe, then the CBeebies’ Panto, where I’m playing Alan, the singing squirrel, that really famous character from Robin Hood [showing at cinemas from December 1], and now, of course, the panto here,” he says.

Playing Luke Backinger marks several firsts for James. “This is my first Evolution Productions pantomime, my first time at the Theatre Royal and my first time in York. I’ve only ever been through York when the train stopped at the station. It’s a beautiful place and everyone told me it’s particularly magical at Christmas.”

James retains his Scottish accent for the climate-changing, weather-making villainous Luke. “Quite often it doesn’t feel as though it will be as much fun to use your own accent, as you want to take a part further, and it’s not common to take the Scottish accent south of the border,” he says. “But we felt we would have fun with Luke as a Scottish baddie in a York show.”

James Mackenzie appears in Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal until January 7. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Scottish actor James Mackenzie

James Mackenzie: the back story

BEST known for his role as Raven, the children’s game show host in the multi-BAFTA award-winning CBBC series of the same name that first ran from 2002 to 2010 and was re-commissioned from 2017. Garnered cult status over 15 series, filmed in far-flung exotic locations such as India. Aired from Canada to Australia and multiple places in between.

Worked for many theatre companies, including National Theatre of Scotland. Performed all over the UK in everything from Macbeth to Sunshine On Leith The Musical.

Regular role as Gary Trenton in BBC Scotland soap opera River City. Guest appearances in Still Game and Outlander. Introduced to a new generation from 2018 to 2022 in CBeebies series Molly & Mack, playing James.

Takes “immense pleasure” from being part of CBeebies’ Christmas shows for the past few years and performing at Shakespeare’s Globe in CBeebies’ Shakespeare shows. Among the plays was Twelfth Night, playing Duke Orsino, with Jack And The Beanstalk co-star Anna Soden as Feste.

Like most Scottish actors, he has appeared in Taggart more than once!

REVIEW: Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until January 7 2024

Can you teach an old dame new tricks? Ask Zeus the border collie, working in tandem with Robin Simpson’s lead actor (ho ho), Dame Trott, in Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal. All pictures: S R Taylor Photography

YORK Theatre Royal’s pantomime partnership with Evolution Productions is one of gradual evolution, rather than revolution.

A first year under Covid social distancing in 2020 had daft sausage Josh Benson, fellow York actor Anna Soden’s Fairy and Robin Simpson’s dame leading the Travelling Pantomime cast to community centres and village halls and laid the foundations for the fruitful axis of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster and Evolution writer-producer Paul Hendy.

It is to be dearly hoped magician Benson’s time will come again in a York panto – you will have to head to Darlington Hippodrome to see his Muddles in Snow White this winter – but Forster and Hendy are in tandem once more and Simpson’s dame has become the Theatre Royal panto’s affable, quick-thinking, fleet-footed fulcrum, already signed up for Aladdin next winter.

Mia Overfield’s Jack with the giant Blunderbore…or Boris for short in Jack And The Beanstalk

Very welcome too is Strawberry Lion theatre-maker Soden’s first Theatre Royal panto appearance since those 2020 travels, cast as – pull the udder one – the groundbreaking character of Dave the Talking Cow, male by name, but very definitely female and a triple threat to boot as feisty bovine performer/hoofer, fabulous singer and trumpet player in the Walking On Sunshine finale.

Her startling version of I’m Just Dave, borrowed from this year’s biggest, pinkest movie, Barbie’s I’m Just Ken, is typical of the topical cultural antennae under Forster-Hendy’s control.

But let’s go back to the beginning, the only slow section of a show whose momentum builds and builds. Artichoke wand in hand, Nina Wadia’s cajoling Fairy Sugarsnap opens the curtain to a stage empty but for two tech team staff removing equipment. That’s novel! 

Wanderful: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap

Commanding scenery to appear, with the powers of a Prospero, she introduces the audience to the wonders of pantomime, character by character, in the setting of Giggleswick, a funny name that does what it says on the tin: make you giggle, like Wadia herself.

For first timers, reflecting the new, younger age of the Theatre Royal pantomime post-Berwick Kaler, this is a gentle stepping stone, if a little laboured for the serial panto-goer. Plot is somewhat put on hold, but then it is little more than bean there, done that anyway, and enjoyment rises quickly.

Especially once James “Raven” Mackenzie’s blackbearded Scottish baddie Luke Backinanger (cue an Oasis lyric gag later on), Soden’s loquacious Friesian and Simpson’s Dame Trott make their entries. The latter attired in a fortified Clifford’s Tower dress beneath a balloon headgear, the first in a fashion parade of fabulous, off-the-wall dame costumes by Michael J Batchelor and Hazel Fall (complemented throughout by Ella Neal and Amy Chamberlain’s cast costumes and Helga Wood and Michelle Marden’s sets, especially for Cloudland). 

CBeebies star James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger leading a zombie dance with the ensemble

Former chief executive Tom Bird was loathe to build up too many returnees after the years of Dame Berwick’s Infamous Five, but continuity combined with innovation is the way forward. Simpson’s knowing, ever game dame, so appealing to children and adults alike, is the key, here playing with a new toy, the Drone of Love, a piece of camera kit that lets Simpson home in on men in the audience as the same’s potential new beau/victim for the rest of the show.

This is the moment of lift-off for Jack And The Beanstalk, rather more than the misbehaving beanstalk-inflating transformation scene that has Simpson ad-libbing deliciously in surprise.

All the while Mia Overfield’s Jack – short for Jacqueline – Trott and her daft brother Billy (Matthew Curnier) grow into their roles, especially once Overfield moves more to the fore as the story demands and Curnier inserts himself in a bouncing ball (ostensibly a giant tomato), only his head sticking out, and somehow changes costume (in a new development on debuting this physical comedy last winter).

Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott, in the Clifford’s Tower frock designed by Hazel Fall, with Matthew Curnier’s Billy Trott, left, Mia Overfield’s Jack Trott and the ensemble

Continuity? The return of the Trolley of Puns, turning pantomime into puntomime, this time on the theme of dog breeds on picture boards, that is all the better for a Simpson slip-up. The inevitable ghost scene, but with a new finale, typical of Forster’s determination never to settle for the conventional.

Look out, here come the perennial digs at “desolate, desperate, depressed” Hull; political putdowns aplenty, for Braverman and Sunak, and Blunderbore the giant being re-named Boris, while Wadia adlibs a Cop28 quip when fluffing a line.

Then add Hayley Del Harrison’s choreography, as joyous for the ensemble of Villagers and Zombies as it is for the lead shakers and moovers (in the case of Dave the Talking Cow). On song too is Robert Louden’s musical direction, playful (listen out for the entry for EastEnders star Wadia), vibrant and varied, topped off by Mackenzie and Soden duetting on trumpet at the close.

All the right mooves: Anna Soden hoofing it as Dave the Talking Cow

Innovations? Dame Berwick introduced film to pantomime, and now Juliet Forster reinvigorates it with the aid of Ed Sunman’s video production wizardry, peaking with a send-up of boy band tropes (Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger is so called after being turned down for a boy band  in younger days). By this point, Jack And The Beanstalk has become by far the best of the Evolution shows so far.

Luke Backinanger’s weather-making machine – for his plans for world domination via climate change – lends itself to revamping the dame’s water slapstick scene. Long may it rain, unexpected final flourish et al.

The surprises and delights keep coming, from the Giant being joined by a grumpy teenage son, Darren (who “hates sleeping”), to Simpson’s costume as a piano-playing Elton John, so clever that it requires a double-take before another fiesta of song title puns.

Giant steps are what you take: James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger and Anna Soden’s Dave the Talking Cow with Blunderbore and grouchy teenage son Darren

One more talking point: Dave the Talking Cow is not the only animal to tread the boards. Making his stage debut is a scene and headgear-stealing border collie by the name of Zeus – from god to dog in one step!

This three-time Young Kennel Club Crufts champion is trained by Anna Auster (whose mum goes to the same York art class as Forster’s husband, leading to a conversation about Zeus appearing in the show). 

The dame and dog partnership – each negotiating an obstacle course with very differing results – is as unpredictable to Simpson, canine and audience alike. Best in Show winner, no question, in a panto that, like Jack’s beans, will grow and grow.

Box office: 01904 623568 or

Only stools and farces: Matthew Curnier, left, James Mackenzie, Mia Overfield and Robin Simpson send up boy band tropes in With A Little Help From My Friends with more than a little help from Ed Sunman’s video wizardry

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

Raven alert! CBeebies’ James Mackenzie to play the villain in York Theatre Royal pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk

On the dark side: James Mackenzie, alias CBeebies’ Raven, is to play the villain in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

JAMES Mackenzie follows in the CBeebies’ footsteps of Maddie Moate last winter and Andy Day in 2021 in being signed up for the York Theatre Royal pantomime.

The Scottish actor and game show host, 44, will play the villainous Luke Backinanger in the “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fun family pantomime” Jack And The Beanstalkfrom December 8 2023 to January 7 2024.

Moate appeared as Tinkerbell in All New Adventures Of Peter Pan, preceded by Day’s Dandini in Cinderella.

Mackenzie will turn to the dark side in the fourth panto collaboration between the Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions, having played the immortal, leather-clad warrior in CBBC’s fantasy adventure game show Raven. 

James Mackenzie: “Strutting his stuff as the bad boy of panto” at York Theatre Royal this winter

He was the original lead character in the multi-Bafta award-winning show Raven from 2002 to 2010. This mysterious warlord led young warriors on a quest to test their skills and win their heart’s desire in a show that garnered cult status, spanning 15 series filmed in far-flung exotic locations such as India. Its popularity saw it air from Canada to Australia and places aplenty in between.

Mackenzie has worked for many theatre companies, such as the National Theatre of Scotland, and has performed all over Britain in everything from Macbeth to the Proclaimers’ musical Sunshine On Leith. He has been a regular in BBC Scotland’s soap opera River City and made guest appearances in Still Game and Outlander.

Over the past few years, he has been introduced to a new CBeebies’ generation as James in Molly And Mack. He has been part of the CBeebies Christmas shows and performed on stage at Shakespeare’s  Globe for CBeebies Shakespeare. Like most Scottish actors, he has appeared in Taggart more than once.

Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster, who will be directing Jack And The Beanstalk, says: “We are delighted to welcome James Mackenzie to the cast for this year’s panto.  James is such a well-loved children’s TV personality and we can’t wait to see him strut his stuff as the bad boy of panto.”

Robin Simpson: Returning to the dame’s role in Jack And The Beanstalk

Mackenzie will perform alongside the already announced Robin Simpson in his fourth Theatre Royal panto. Simpson played the dame in The Travelling Pantomime in 2020, the British Pantomime Award-nominated Ugly Sister Manky in Cinderella in 2021 and Mrs Smee in All New Adventures of Peter Pan last winter.

He will be on dame duty in Jack And The Beanstalk, with further casting to be announced for a show that promises “stunning sets, lavish costumes, breath-taking special effects and lots of pantomime magic”.

Evolution’s co-founder Paul Hendy is writing the script once more, as he did for the past three pantos.  

Tickets are “proving popular”, with a special family ticket offer available for all performances: £75 for bookings with three tickets, including at least one adult and one child, saving up to £52, or £100 for bookings with four tickets, including at least one adult and one child, saving up to £68. Box office: 01904 623568 or

If you have loved cooking in lockdown, send pictures to this book project…

Hope, painted stone, by Anthony Hodgson

MEANWHILE, away from the world of arts…

Food lovers across the world are invited to contribute to a new book to raise funds for global charity Action Against Hunger.

The Life In Lockdown Project has been created by Face Publications, Yorkshire publishers of cookery books by chefs Andrew Pern, James Mackenzie Sat Bains, Galton Blackiston and Ben Tish.

Wild Garlic, by Anthony Hodgson

The new book, to be published next year, will document the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on the world through food.

Ambitious and focused on a diverse society, it will feature stories of people living through the pandemic, capturing the mood, spirit, hopes and fears of their lockdown lives.

“We’re inviting you to submit a snapshot of your life during the pandemic to highlight the food that has made your time in isolation more enjoyable,” says Face Publications managing director Anthony Hodgson, who runs the Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass at South Dalton, near Beverley.

Ten per cent of profits from book sales will go to Action Against Hunger

“Throughout lockdown, we’ve all had to deal with the challenges of being confined to our homes. Many of us have derived pleasure from activities we don’t usually have as much time for, often taking comfort from food…

“…From simply cooking and eating at home every day, either with family or alone, through baking with our children, making bread for the first time or making delicious pizzas, preserves and pickles, and even recreating our favourite fast food, to generally experimenting a lot more with what we eat.”

The book will combine photography captured by contributors with memorable moments and anecdotes from their life during lockdown, along with recipes or food stories. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies, by Anthony Hodgson

The Life In Lockdown Project will focus on a broad spectrum of people, stories and food, whether healthcare workers who have had daily food deliveries from a restaurant; politicians or painters finding relaxation in the kitchen; bus drivers or grounded airline pilots just discovering sous vide [low temperature long-time cooking]; or those who have retired or are unable to attend school but love baking.

One hundred of the shortlisted entries will feature in the book, and each published entrant will receive a complimentary copy before it goes on general release next year.

Ten per cent of the profits from book sales will go towards Action Against Hunger’s Coronavirus Appeal.

Rainbow Cake, by Anthony Hodgson

For almost 40 years, across nearly 50 countries, Action Against Hunger has led the global fight against hunger. The charity saves the lives of children and works with their communities before and after disasters strike, enabling people to provide for themselves, see their children grow up strong, and build prosperous communities.

The project is free to enter and open to all ages. Each entry will be assessed on what it conveys and photographic quality, rather than culinary expertise. The closing date for submissions is August 31 2020.

For further information on the entry procedure and selection process, go to:

Volunteers have provided meals to healthcare workers on the frontline through