Bras, leg waxing and high heels are all in a day’s work for J.J Henry, the latest Dame to grace the stage in Chipping Norton, as KATHERINE MACALISTER finds out
J.J Henry is having enormous problems with his bra when we speak. The 27 year-old says his G cups are so big he can’t see his fetching Dolly Parton skirt, which is proving rather troublesome. Add in his high heels, false eyelashes, an imminent leg wax and having to shave twice a day, and you can understand his conundrum.
But it’s all par for the course where the dame is concerned. And when you are playing Dame Trott in Jack and The Giant at The Theatre Chipping Norton, you do what it takes. “I’ve been practising in my heels. I tried walking on carpets at first and was a bit wobbly but when I tried on stage I was a natural and looked like I’d been wearing them all my life. I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” he laughs in a deep baritone.
“The leg hair is proving more of a problem because I get very hot and can’t wear thick tights, and as for the stubble,” the farmer’s son pauses in worry. “I had to go to Boots and buy myself a proper razor for the first time in my life.”
Five outfit changes and a cheeseboard hat to look forward to, and J.J has certainly got his work cut out for him, as well as getting to grips with doing his own hair and make-up, and says it’s a whole new world. “You’re not the first person I’ve had intimate chats about leg waxing with,” he laughs. “I’ll be going to the ladies in pairs soon.”
But despite his new beauty routine, nothing can detract from J.J’s excitement about his upcoming role. “It was only when I researched the Chippy panto that I discovered how famous it is – one of the top five in the country according to all the nationals,” he tells me proudly. “And by the first dress rehearsal we had sold over 12,000 of the 18,000 tickets already, so it’s selling really well.”
This year is a slight departure for the panto, because the actors do all the singing and play all the instruments as well, “multi-instrumentalists” as J.J calls them, but he remains entirely unfazed by the demands. “Some people want to play Hamlet but I’ve always aspired to playing the Dame, so I’m revelling in it,” he tells me.
So how’s he going to play it? “I’m just going to go for it because the dame is always on the audience’s side and always in on the gags and different to all the other characters. She has to be excitable but cheeky while making sure everything’s going to be okay. So if anything I will give it too much,” he promises.
Even so, with 88 shows to get through from November to January, it’s going to be a long run. “I think I’m ready. And while it may be tiring, there’s a whole new audience every show so it’s always an exciting time.”
And what will J.J’s parents think of their son running around in a Dolly Parton outfit and a large ladies bra? “Stunned but amused,” I should think, “a bit like the rest of the audience.”