IF you haven’t been putting the pounds and pence away for that big day in December then now is the time to start as it’s quite clear the Christmas count-down is getting underway.

If ever we needed reminding the pubs and restaurants around the county are advertising their festive party nights, hotels nearby and further afield are offering Turkey and Tinsel holidays, and there was an ever more timely reminder this week when several of the stars of Malvern Theatres’ spectacular family pantomime rolled into town for a press launch and to begin early rehearsals.

Several of the cast of Cinderella were there including Cinders herself, Gemma Naylor, who will be making her second stage visit to the Festival Theatre having appeared before in Jackie.

Gemma, who is currently touring the UK in the musical Sunset Boulevard, has played Princess Jasmine in panto at Bath and says she is looking forward to playing the leading role this year and having the chance to see more of Malvern, the hills and the surrounding countryside.

She is still appearing on television in Go! Go! Go! on nickjr.

Another star of show who was there was the bubbly Alison Hammond, who is well known for her appearances over the past 15 years on ITV’s This Morning with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby.

Television viewers may also remember her joining the Big Brother team back in 2002 and she was also one of the contestants on Strictly Come Dancing.

She will be playing the role of Fairy Godmother for the fifth time! She says it’s one she enjoys because it is such good fun.

Playing Baron Hardup will be the hugely experienced Paul Hawkyard, who has appeared in a number of dramatic roles such as The Last Detective, The Coroner, Holby City and Doctors., and also had a spell in the popular soap series, Coronation Street.

In a more lighter vein on television he has appeared regularly on CBeebies’ Old Jack’s Boat, while on the musical front he has been in Les Miserables.

And he can also add to those skills that he is an immensely gifted and talented artist.

Other cast members visiting the theatre - which will virtually be their home from December 14 through to January 7, 2018, were Ben Harlow, who will play Prince Charming, and one of the Ugly Sisters, Paul Lawrence-Thomas.

Paul's panto sister will be David Ball.

Ben is no stranger to stage musicals and has toured with the production of Mama Mia!, and also played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. He also played the butler in Joseph.

The role of Buttons will be played by comedy star, Mark James who is definitely an all-rounder with his background of actor, comedian and magician. He was unable to attend, but is another of the cast looking forward to being in Malvern and returning to his passion of performing in panto.

He says he loves panto so much he would be happy to be in one 52 weeks of the year.

One ambition he has is one day to produce and direct his own pantomime with his own company.

Further details of show times can be found on the theatre website - malvern-theatres.co.uk or by ringing the box office on 01684 892277.