THE Alhambra panto ends this weekend and actress Sarah Goggin, who stars alongside Billy Pearce and TV's Dr Ranj, says the cast has been grateful that every performance has gone ahead.

Sleeping Beauty was meant to be the 2020/2021 panto but was postponed due to Covid. This year's production opened in December without some traditional elements, such as the Sunbeams and audience interaction, but Sarah, who has been in several Alhambra pantos, says it's been good to be back.

"It’s strange without the Sunbeams but just getting to be on a stage has been special. We're all so grateful for each performance as we didn't know when it could be our last," she said.

With the theatre industry hit hard in lockdown, Sarah sought work elsewhere in 2020. "I got a job in Tesco and I’m also a casting assistant so did that from home, then I trained as a Covid officer in theatres, trying to keep the industry safe in the pandemic," she said. "It was a crazy time but I kept busy."

Sarah plays Princess Narcissa in Sleeping Beauty and, with her Doc Martens and red hair, has more ‘attitude’ than the usual panto princess. "She’s definitely different, it’s fun, and it’s nice to be in Docs not heels," she laughed. "We’re very lucky with our director, Ed Curtis. The roles are written so well but there's room to add your own stamp and develop, which is super important doing a show twice a day six times a week. Finding a little character ark helps you bring so much more to each performance."

A panto run can be gruelling. How does she keep it fresh? "It does feel a little like Groundhog Day at times but the best kinda Groundhog Day, we love it so much," said Sarah. "And the audience really is the other cast member - their reactions change what we do all the time and that keeps it fresh.

"You also never know what Billy is going to do! He's incredible and genuinely one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. That’s what’s terrifying being on stage with him; he can make you burst out laughing and corpse at the drop of a hat."

The Alhambra panto blends spectacular special effects with traditional family fun. "It's the perfect mix of old school pantomime comedy and showbiz but with things flying over the audience. It’s magical!" said Sarah, whose first experience of panto was when she was in one, four years ago. "I'm from Ireland and it isn’t as big a thing there, but I'm a fan now.

"The Alhambra is a beautiful building, from the stage to all the people who work there. It’s a special theatre. The panto team is great, from stage management to sound, choreography and our director, and I adore working with Billy!"

Sarah met Dame Helen Mirren when the Oscar-winning actress went to 2019/20 Alhambra panto, Snow White, while filming her movie The Duke in Bradford. "She was so lovely and complimentary to the cast and even wore a flashing tiara!" recalled Sarah.

* Sleeping Beauty runs at the Alhambra until Sunday, January 16.