Durban’s Ben as evil panto queen

Ben Voss is wicked queen Hildegonda Hurl-a-lot and Kiruna-Lind Devar is Snow White in Janice Honyeman’s new panto, Snow White, which runs in Johannesburg until December 23.

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BILLY SUTER chats to Durban comedian, actor, producer and scriptwriter BEN VOSS about his debut in a pantomime. Voss, whose alter ego is Beauty Ramapelelpele and who, with John van de Ruit, is the star of the Mamba theatre series, plays the hissing villain, wicked queen Hildegonda Hurl-a-lot, in Janice Honeyman’s lavish Snow White. It is running at Johannesburg’s Joburg Theatre until December 23. The show, widely regarded as one of Honeyman’s best pantomimes yet, also stars John Robbie, Kiruna-Lind Devar and Desmond Dube. Ticket prices range from R245 to R375.
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WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST DAUNTING ABOUT AGREEING TO BE IN YOUR FIRST PANTO – AND HOW DID THIS OPPORTUNITY ARISE?

The most daunting aspect was coming into a long tradition (31 pantos!), as an outsider from Durbs who is less established in the Joburg theatre community, and being given the responsibility of a principal role upfront.

The style was also new to me – but the cast made me feel so at home. An incredible group of directors, performers and musicians (also costume, lighting and sound designers, as well as back stage crew) settled me in quickly.

The opportunity arose from me having worked with Janice Honeyman on my Beauty and the BEE show. Also, Bernard Jay, the pantomime producer, had seen me in a few things.

WHAT WERE CHALLENGES DURING REHEARSALS FOR  “SNOW WHITE”? 

Singing. I have never sat at a piano and sung in my life. Ever. Next minute I find myself with a cast of 30 at my back, full band included, having to belt out Tina Turner’s Simply the Best.

Ben Voss in Johannesburg’s latest panto, Snow White,

ANY FUN ANCEDOTES YOU CAN SHARE FROM REHEARSALS?

Watching the Springbok test in the theatre canteen with ex-British Lions player and radio legend John Robbie was a real education in rugby. Especially with both of us in full panto makeup, in boots and underpants, and me in a bra. It’s a sight when two drag queens scream at a TV screen.

DESCRIBE YOUR CHARACTER AND WHAT YOU MOST ENJOY (AND LEAST ENJOY) ABOUT PLAYING HER. 

In this ultimate tale of good versus evil, Queen Hildagonda Hurl-a-lot is ‘The Evil’, which means I have to be as evil as the rest of the cast are good. I feel like it is me against the rest.

I love this evil queen. though. Yes, she is bad news, but within that she is self-possessed, playful, cheeky, petulant, impatient, outrageous and narcissistic. I love the variety of that.

What I hate is the toll it takes on my voice. Three shows a day in a flamboyant character like her really grinds the vocal chords.

HOW DOES YOUR VILLAIN COMPARE TO BEAUTY RAMAPELEPELE? ANY SIMILARITIES?

They both wear dresses… that’s about it. Beauty is a more real, rounded person. The Queen is the over-the-top stuff of fairytales.

WHAT SORT OF AUDIENCE MEMBER COMMENTS HAVE YOU HAD DURING PERFORMANCES AND AT MEET-AND-GREETS AFTER THE SHOW?

I have had the most incredible response. It really has been overwhelming. Both personally and, most importantly, for the show. People are convinced it is one of the best pantos for years and many are even going out on a limb to say it’s the best yet!

HOW ARE YOU SETTLING INTO THE ROLE AND WHAT ARE THE JOBURG AUDIENCES LIKE?

I love it. The audiences are alive, invested and very responsive. They know the panto tradition that the Joburg Theatre has incubated so they come ready to get involved.

Having a seven-year-old daughter, I am just loving all the children that come too. They get completely lost in the tale and it is wonderful to be a part of allowing their little imaginations to take a theatrical journey that pulls them from their chairs in excitement and wonder.

HOW DID YOUR DAUGHTER REACT?

She loved it. But also it was what it did for me. The person I wanted to impress the most on opening night was her. That was really weird for me. If she loved it we had done our jobs!

PLANS FOR CHRISTMAS DAY AND NEW YEAR’S EVE?

Family in Joburg for Christmas and it looks like my wife, Tracy, wants to go to Cape Town for New Year’s.

WHAT NEXT FOR YOU?

I’m working on a screenplay which is getting some traction with a company in Joeys. Theatrically, I am writing a one-man show with long-time second brain, John van de Ruit.

The work title is Bennie Bush-whackers Big Five. It’s about an over-exuberant Kruger Park game ranger looking to educate the world about the wonders of Africa.

Ben Voss in Snow White, written and directed by Janice Honeyman.

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