"A pantomime needs to be unnecessarily over-the-top. Of course we could do things cheaper and easier, and far less complicated and elaborate, but that’s what the Chippy panto is known for – the extraordinary lengths we go to,” artistic director John Terry tells me, up to his ears in rehearsals for the opening night of Aladdin this week.

Which is why his hero finds himself in Egypt with an Indiana Jones-style theme, rather than following the more traditional route.

“I was unhappy with the Chinese laundry slant and have been wondering how to stage it in a way that I was comfortable with for a while now. And then I watched the old Indiana Jones films and found my way in,” he tells me.

“So this year you will find us in 1930s Cairo in a very stylish, elegant, colonial world, with a few twists and turns along the way. It’s a nice world to be spending time in.”

With 18,000 people expected through the doors of the 200 seater theatre between now and January, the production needs to be watertight, but with eight pantos under his belt there, John is nothing if not a pro.

And with a full flight of audience participation programmed in, the crowds can expect flying carpets, mummies and “lots of other nonsense”.

“It is quite an event,” John says proudly. “And a suitable chaotic experience. But that’s what a pantomime should be.

“I want the audience and the cast to feel they are tumbling onwards together from the beginning to the end, riding out the story, learning the routines and songs, always teetering on the edge of control, holding on by their fingertips.

“It makes the whole experience more energetic and surprising. You just can’t be casual about it. The only way with panto is to jump on board and give it 100 per cent.”

Which is exactly what John Terry does every year, beginning with the premise in February, designing everything by June, casting by the end of spring and then come October, everything and everyone is in house, going full throttle until opening night.

So what else can we expect? “The Dame is Andrew Pepper, who is back with us again and a much loved favourite. He is a cabaret MC by trade so a brilliant performer.

“And, of course, we have an original script, original music, original songs. And the Pippins are all local school children. Everything is home-made, from the costumes to the set. So it’s nice to have finally got cracking, to see where my ideas would take us.”

“We are just eager to get started now and get out there on stage, because you have to be hungry to do this,” he adds.

Which is lucky, because the pantomime run this year is longer than ever before with 99 performances planned order the next three months, and crucial to the theatre’s very existence.

“It’s an enormous undertaking, pulling everything together, and uses up an awful lot of creative energy,” says John. “But it’s the best connection you can have between a cast and their audience – and I absolutely love it.”


The Theatre, Chipping Norton, Until January 13


01608 642350