Member Spotlight February 2024 - Peter Dayson

Member Spotlight February 2024 - Peter Dayson (BIFF Speech & Drama Adjudicator)

Peter Dayson has been a producer, director, writer and actor for the last 50 years. Working for Disney as an executive producer, an artistic director at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre and having once had a record deal with EMI, Peter’s experience has taken him to all corners of the industry.


Peter has now been a BIFF adjudicator for the last 5 years, adjudicating in Hong Kong, Canada and across the UK. He spoke to BIFF about his time adjudicating, his plans to get more hip-hop performers at BIFF festivals and why pantomime is just as important to the UK’s art scene as other forms of theatre.


What was your first experience of getting inspired by the world of art?

I played Oliver when I was 12 and it gave me a taste of the industry and it’s been something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. I started off, as lots of actors do, as an amateur actor. I did a lot of shows at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford. I also worked in a solicitors’ office and did my legal qualifications, but I woke up one morning and thought ‘This is not for me!’ so I knocked on a lot of doors and became very annoying until I got my first panto.

Tell me why you wanted to get involved with BIFF?

It’s just lovely to give something back. It’s about life skills as well. I’m a Dad with three kids and all my kids are theatre babies. They’ve always enjoyed it and my youngest is keen on going to drama school. It’s given me a passion to work with students, which is something I really enjoy. I have a lot of private pupils; the youngest is 5 and the oldest is 82. I’m blessed with working with the whole spectrum of students. I’ve just finished adjudicating in Hong Kong and been to Canada and Sri Lanka. I’ve been very lucky.

You’ve discussed the connection between hip hop and Shakespeare. Tell me how those two art forms intersect.

I was working in a music department in Essex and one of the lovely things about working there is that it’s very diverse.

A lot of students would come in with demo tapes and because of the way the industry has changed, a lot of that was rap demos. One of the things that hit me a few years ago was a lot of them rap in the iambic pentameter but they aren’t necessarily aware of it.

I gave a lecture on 2pac and Biggie, two mainstream hip-hop artists. I listened to a 2Pac track and it suddenly dawned on me that 2Pac was rapping in the iambic pentameter. I did some research, and it was very apparent 2Pac and Biggie were taught by a Harvard Professor who was very steeped in the tradition of Shakespeare. I also looked at Ed Sheeran and a lot of his songs are written in the iambic petameter.

That made me look at new artists to see what they were doing. If you look at their educational background, they’re all taught by people steeped in the Shakespearean tradition. They’re not necessarily aware of it.  My student rappers were not aware of the fact that when they were writing in this way, they were writing in what’s known as the flow.

What would allowing hip hop and rap performances at speech and drama festivals do for the diversity of the participants?

I think it would be fantastic to open up the festivals to students who wouldn’t usually come to a festival and have the opportunity to rap. It dawned on me that we could open this up.

I’ve spoken to about 3 festivals, and they’ve gone mad for it because they’ve said, “That’s exactly what we need!  We need to open the festival up to other artists and other students who do things that we don’t do”.

I think it will open up a whole section of students that, at present, don’t enter the festival. I’ve not had a conversation with the music department, but I think they’ll bite the festivals’ hands off.

You do a lot of performing in pantomime. Tell me why is pantomime just as important to the world of arts as anything else you would see in the theatre?

It’s often the first-time kids go to the theatre and it’s a lovely thing. If they enjoy it then that’s our future theatre audience. That’s also our future festival entrants because if they go on to perform, they experience the opportunity to be on stage too. It’s vital.

I worked with Charlie Drake in one of my first pantos. I ended up writing for it and it was utopia. My second one was Frankie Howerd, so I had a baptism of comedic fire! I’ve still got books of their gags and material.

As an actor, I always wanted to play a dame and I’ve particularly enjoyed doing that. I’ve retired from that now. I have hung the eyelashes and the bras up, but love working with young dames.

Panto helps to keep theatres open all over the country. The panto shows take thousands of pounds at the box office and that sets the theatre up for the whole year.

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