‘It was a baptism of fire for all of us,’ admitted Communications Manager, Kate Raines, reflecting upon hiring former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for this year’s pantomime Aladdin at the Theatre Royal, in Winchester. ‘We’ve always had a policy of hiring newsworthy names, so we didn’t hesitate when we heard that Dr Williams would be out of contract when his last role reached the end of its run.’
There had been problems right from the start. ‘We’d hired him to play the genie of the lamp, we thought we’d get a few laughs by getting him to turn water into coca cola and that sort of thing, but he was dead against it saying that it the miracles weren’t literal. He didn’t seem to appreciate that he would only have to pretend. From the fuss made, you’d think we were actually asking him to walk on water!’
‘Eventually we decided to cast him as one of the ugly sisters; after all, he’s no looker with that wispy beard thing so was perfect for the part. Dr Williams struggled with the concept of cross dressing at first and asked if he could go into retreat to contemplate, but once we’d assured him that it was a celibate role, he took to it like a duck to holy water. Fortunately, the actor cast as his fellow ugly sister said he would be quite happy working with the former primate provided that religion was left out of it; but that’s the sort of theatrical trooper Richard Dawkins is.’
Divisions in the cast were largely created by Dr Williams’ misguided interpretation of the story of Aladdin. Ms Raines continued: ‘At one point he insisted upon preaching a sermon on trying to see the good in Cinderella’s evil step mother after the kids in the audience hissed and booed her, but he eventually climbed down when we agreed that he could organise a collection for Baron Hardup for each performance.’
‘Things settled down after that and, I have to be honest, the closing scene where Dr Williams and Professor Dawkins do “The Lambeth Walk” is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. However, I don’t think we will be hiring any members of the clergy in the near future.’
After his panto run, Dr Williams is understood to be appearing in the Cambridge revival of ‘No Sex Please, We’re Church of England’.