Ruby Wax? Behind you!

The Notting Hill panto aims to unite local celebs and market traders. Easier said than done
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The Independent Culture
For most thesps, "doing panto" signals the first step down on the slippery ladder of success, writes Monique Roffey. No aspiring young actor would even consider a part in a panto as a chicken, a troll or the back end of a cow unless of course, they live in Notting Hill Gate.

London's glamorous W11 fairly bristles with the rich and famous. Like a pond in a carefully controlled bio-experiment, it has its own hierarchical celeb-eco-chain which stays in its celeb-eco-order. Except, supposedly, at the yearly panto.

Now in its fifth year, it was initially set up by locals as a means of bringing the diverse neighbourhood together for an end of year hoot - this year, Aladdin.

Big names in cameo roles include Ruby Wax, Martin Clunes and Michelle Collins. Alan Rickman, a longstanding W11-er, is rumoured to have accepted a quick run-on baddie part. Kevin (brother of Keith) Allen is directing it, local actress and infamous person Evie Doggit plays Aladdin, Baddass TV presenter Andrea Oliver (formerly of Rip, Rig and Panic), plays the Sultana, Chester Kamen (brother of Nick) is in the orchestra, as is Guy Pratt, bassist in Pink Floyd.

"Celebs love doing it because there are no cameras," says Kevin Allen. But the celebs and minor celebs aren't the only stars of the show. "We get loonies, drug addicts, old people, children, anyone."

"We've got a real belly dancer in it from the local Moroccan community, a guard from Ladbroke Grove Tube station, and some stallholders," says Shane Kenny, a producer and designer and one of the founding fathers of the panto.

It's true that John the Dog (a local pub regular) plays the Genie, and Eddie Caine, an actor with ancient Portobello stallholders' lineage, plays Jafar-I, but scratch the surface, and the eco-system shatters. Past pantos have exposed every kind of unspoken class and social sticking ground - most notably the contempt for the local Trustafarians. "The word we've got for them is the OK Yah-dies," admits Shane. "You know, public schoolboys with baseball hats turned backwards."

It gets up the locals' noses when banks of Bentleys bearing old duchesses pull up outside the panto in such big numbers that other people from the area can't get in. This, in an area so self-consciously street hip and tribal, was seen as a serious cramping of style.

However, the celeb and class clashes simply add kudos, intrigue and a great gossip factor. "Everyone, amateurs and professionals, has a laugh," Allen insists. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter who comes," says Shane. "Everyone's welcome." Even the OK Yah-dies? "Yeah," he laughs. Perhaps they'd do well though, to tell the family to come by Tube.

`Aladdin' is at St Helen's Hall, St Quintin Avenue, London W10, 10-14 December; pounds 7 (children pounds 3.50) from the Portobello Star, Portobello Road, W11 and the Westbourne, Westbourne Park Road, W11.