Ex-EastEnders actress Rita Simons relishes playing a baddie in Derbyshire panto
Actress Rita Simon made her name as the playful mischievous character Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders, a part which set her up to play a wicked role on stage in Derbyshire this festive season.
After landing in the TV soap’s Albert Square from the nightclub capital Ibiza, feisty Roxy married twice, got engaged three times, set tongues wagging about who her daughter’s dad was and frittered away a million-pound inheritance.
The role landed Rita a best newcomer award and a decade later the soap’s favourite party girl went out in dramatic style when Roxy and her sister Ronnie drowned in a swimming pool during an episode which screened on New Year’s Day 2017.
Four years on actress Rita reckons that she can just about get away with not being clocked by fans of the popular BBC1 series.
Rita said: "Now that I'm brunette I probably won't get noticed as much, people are used to Roxy being peroxide. Now that we have facemasks I don't get recognised at all so I can saunter around the supermarket at my leisure."
Whether she will escape being recognised when she's out and about in Derbyshire this festive season is anyone’s guess.
Rita has been cast as the villain of the piece in Derby Arena's panto Sleeping Beauty, which opens this weekend. She is starring as the bad fairy Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty for the third year, having previously played the character in St Albans and Bournemouth. Rita said: “I always bring a slight sense of insanity to Carabosse and play her with crazy comedy!"
Her previous incarnations over six panto seasons include Snow White's wicked stepmother and the Spirit of the Ring in Aladdin. Rita said: "I love the audience participation and the pure joy that panto brings to families every Christmas.”
Playing a baddie is Rita’s favourite role in panto. She said: “You get to interact with the audience and get them to boo at you and insult them which makes me happy (only joking mwhahaha!)."
A massive fan of walking and nature, Rita is looking forward to exploring the Peak District with her dog during days off from the busy panto schedule.
Rita, who has twin teenage daughters, said she did a lot of walking and became the queen of DIY when theatres went dark during Covid lockdowns.
The highlight of 2021 for her was playing Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray at the London Colosseum. Rita said: "We were the first West End show back after the pandemic and working with Michael (Ball) and Les (Dennis) was a dream.”
Best friend Samantha Womack, who played Roxie's sister Ronnie in EastEnders, came to her pal's press night for Hairspray during the summer. Rita said: "Sadly we haven't worked together since leaving EastEnders as we're both off doing musical theatre shows.
"I miss my friends at EastEnders but I still get to speak to them regularly. I played Roxy for ten years so you become attached to a character."
If Rita was granted a wish for 2022, what would it be? She said: "My hopes are no more lockdowns, Covid to disappear and for us all to get back to normal."
Sleeping Beauty runs from December 10, 2021, to January 8. Tickets from £13, go to www.derbylive.co.uk