Being a panto star still gives Hackney Empire’s Alix Ross goose bumps
- Credit: Robert Workman Photographer
When you are just 5’3”, it is no mean feat putting on on a heavy, towering seven foot goose costume – but Alix Ross goes as far as trying to imagine she isn’t wearing the unwieldy contraption to bring Princess Priscilla to life.
This year is the second time the 29-year old has taken on the part of the kind, sweet goose in Hackney Empire’s Christmas panto, starring alongside Clive Rowe’s Mother Goose.
Priscilla, an impressive long-lashed avian, was made by model maker Jonathan Saville for director and writer Susie McKenna’s 2008 production of the same story, when the costume was actually built around Alix, and the stage stairs rebuilt for her long webbed feet.
Alix, an actress and dancer, does not have the power of speech to relay Priscilla’s character to the audience, but manipulates the outfit so well that she is many youngster’s favourite character.
She said: “When you are in the goose you have to act, otherwise she looks mechanical, as though she has no soul.
“Whenever she is sad you are sad. As an actress you have to forget there is something covering your entire body, you have to imagine the audience can see you.
“Even though no-one can see that, it reads through the costume, the primal thing is to forget you are in it.”
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Priscilla’s tinkling voice comes from Danny on the keyboards, and Alix has two stage managers with her at all times because the costume is so heavy and her vision - through mesh at the front - is limited.
While there is plenty of room to read a book inside, the costume can be sweltering and Alix has water and a fan to hand.
Alix said: “She’s a challenge because of the size of her but I’m quite proud with myself for the way I can manipulate her, and the actors are so generous I feel safe on stage with them.
“There is an element that you could fall or topple, but when you have actors like Clive Rowe you know things will be ok. I’m never going to walk off stage into the music pit, they will never let anything like that happen to me.
“It’s an intense job, I jump and I can dance in here because I’m used to the weight. I can only describe it as if you are going travelling for a year and you are wearing a back pack.”
Alix uses rods and levers built into the fabric of the costume allowing her to move Priscilla’s head to the right and left, to blink, open her mouth, and to raise her head. The movements have become like “learning lines” for Alix, while everything else happens “organically”.
It is the only time in her career she has been in a puppet but she said she would like to pursue it further.
“It’s a craft in itself, it’s not something that comes easily, it takes understanding of what you are doing,” she said.
“It sounds bizarre, but it’s about having a relationship with the puppet you are working with. I do think she is adorable to look at.
“She’s a princess, she’s sweet and kind but she’s also no-one’s fool. I adore playing her, she is one of my favourite parts I have ever played in my professional career.
“The bonus is I don’t have to put any stage make up on whatsoever. I can be ready in five minutes.”