Colin Babb writing in London
Singing pop-rap songs to encourage children to have fun with numbers. Sharing his infectious enthusiasm for making colourful paper plates. Dressing up as a fun-loving astronaut.
It’s all in a week’s work for the British children’s television presenter Sid Sloane.
For the past 11 years, Sid has been one of the popular faces of CBeebies, the BBC’s UK pre-school television channel.
But in addition to his busy schedule as a presenter, Sid has also been performing across the UK in his one-man show and working as a voice-over artist.
Now, taking a break from his solo slots, Sid has launched himself into this year’s pantomime season by playing the role of Jack Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk.
For those not in the know about Britain’s weird and wonderful seasonal tradition, pantomime is a popular theatre show staged around Christmas time.
Pantomimes are full of music, song, dancing, comedy, magic and plenty of audience participation.
The shows are loosely based on children’s stories, nursery rhymes, traditional folk stories and fairy tales.
Today’s modern pantomimes often feature popular TV personalities.
That is to say, if you’re invited to do mainstream pantomime, you are considered a household name.
In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is a boy whose adventures include selling a cow for some magic beans, hiding from a vengeful giant and discovering a hen that lays golden eggs!
Caribbean Intelligence© caught up with Sid in the middle of this most British of traditions and asked him the obvious question – how much does he feel a part of the society he lives in and just how Caribbean does he feel.
That was Sid, not Jack.....
South London and Guyana
“When I go back to Wimbledon in South London, and go through the [housing] estate where I grew up, there is a feeling that this is my home,” Sid told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“I really feel that a part of me relaxes when I go back there.
“But there is nothing that compares with the feeling I got when I first went to Guyana 10 years ago.
In a way, Guyana seems to be more of a home than Wimbledon could ever be. So it must be something to do with my DNA!
“I went to Guyana with my sister to visit my family and connect with stories we heard about Guyana when we lived at home [in London] with our parents. My mother is from Bartica and my father is from Georgetown.
“My Dad went over a couple of weeks before us and organised lots of trips.
“There was a big family gathering happening in Georgetown at the time, including people who had travelled to Guyana from New York.”
Sid spent a lot of time in Guyana recording the family event and some informal interviews.
He also wanted to find out more about the media and television output in Guyana and “compare it to what we have here [in Britain].”
Life in Brighton
Although Sid grew up in a Guyanese family in south London, he has lived for the last several years in Brighton, a town on England’s south coast.
It was an advert in a Brighton newspaper promoting a drama school course that encouraged Sid to pursue his acting ambitions.
He applied, got a place on the course and began carefully studying his craft.
Sid often visits his local Caribbean barber shop in Brighton, to keep in touch with the town’s Caribbean community.
“It’s right in the heart of Brighton in Queens Road and, like a lot of black barbers, it’s the hub of Caribbean life in the area.
“It’s a really proactive place and the owners organise events, groups, meetings and support various charities.”
Sid is keen to point out that before he became a television presenter, he spent several years doing what he describes as “proper jobs in the real world!”
These included working “all the hours that God sent” as a postman.
“I did a lot of jobs,” he recalls, “but I always talked about being an actor.”
It was at a gathering with family and friends in a restaurant where Sid remembers announcing to everyone around him that he wanted to become an actor, “just like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.”
The aim to become the new Guyanese South London Pacino and De Niro may have been Sid’s ambition.
However, he was also hugely inspired at drama school by the actor David Harewood, who is British-born of Barbadian parentage.
David Harewood was honoured in the 2012 UK New Year Honours list for his services to drama.
“At drama school, I started to become very interested in the art of performance in a much more detailed way,” Sid explains.
“I began to look around and take in some performances to see what people were doing, and I saw a TV programme with David Harewood talking with insight about the world of an actor.
“I then saw him pop up here and there in various TV dramas. To me, David Harewood is a very strong black British actor and someone who I can try and emulate and look up to.”
After drama school, Sid’s agent got him an audition for CBeebies, which was then a new BBC children’s television channel.
As Sid reflects, “I was there at the beginning when they were looking for some new faces. CBeebies then, instantly, became the number one children’s television channel and a phenomenon!”
Spreading his wings
Sid plans to leave CBeebies in 2013 after more than a decade with the channel that gave him his big break.
“I’ve been at CBeebies for a while and I think it’s time for me to move on,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“I don’t have any big ideas yet. I’m one of those people who always wants to spread his wings and jump and hope a net suddenly appears!”
While he doesn’t have any concrete plans for the future, Sid will continue to perform his one-man show around the UK.
“My show will be touring well into 2013. So that will sustain me as long I need it to.”
He describes the show as “a fun, high-energy, interactive journey to search for Sid’s socks and shoes!”
Sid was described in a recent review as a “confident and generous stage performer” .
This is an accolade that he is proud of, because he views live performing as “more my thing”.
When Caribbean Intelligence© spoke to Sid, he was busy preparing for his appearances in pantomime at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, south London. As always, he filled the room with his warm and engaging personality.
Sid was keen to share his passion for entertaining families during the festive period.
“I love doing panto at Christmas, because it’s fun for all the family and everyone can get into it. You can be four years old or 94 and still enjoy it.
Our script for Jack and the Beanstalk is extremely funny, so it will be a spectacular show!”
Jack is just one of several characters that Sid has played on stage in pantomime.
“I played a character called the Slave of the Ring in Aladdin. He was a kind of MC Hammer-type character who came on stage and did a lot of rapping.
“I’ve also been in Robin Hood and in Sleeping Beauty [where] I played the role of the storyteller.”
A day in the life
Thanks to his track record, Sid was able to give Caribbean Intelligence© some insights into the life of an actor during the pantomime season.
“We have two shows a day, which is normally a two o’clock show followed by a seven o’clock show in the evening. Each show runs for two to two-and-a-half hours and includes an interval.
“We usually have a half-an-hour call before the curtain goes up and the show starts.
“Pantomimes are usually the biggest theatre productions that a theatre will have each year. So they sell a hell of a lot of tickets.
“The theatre I’ll be performing at this year has sold more tickets for this panto than they have for the last 10 years.”
Costumes and make-up
Traditionally in pantomime, most of the performers wear colourful clothes and make-up.
The lead “dame” characters, habitually performed by male actors, often wear the most colourful outfits, huge wigs and plenty of make-up.
“When it comes to costumes and make-up, it really depends on what character you’re playing,” Sid explained.
“My character in Jack and the Beanstalk is a straightforward storytelling hero-type. For me, playing Jack, I’ll just be slipping into a simple costume.
“The dame characters might have some fabulous costumes and the fairy will always have some make-up.
“The ‘baddie’ character in our production of Jack and The Beanstalk is called Fleshcreep.
He’ll be wearing some heavy metal music-style black-and-white make-up and a costume just like Marilyn Manson [the American rock musician]!”
Going back to Guyana
Although no dates have been confirmed, Sid plans to return to Guyana soon to see his family and share the experience of the trip with his son.
“I really want to go back to Guyana soon, because I want to take my son there,” he said.
“I think it’s important to let him be aware of where he’s coming from, and also give him a sense of where I’m coming from as well.”
Sid Sloane’s website: http://www.sidsloane.org/