First Sunderland Empire panto casting

Peter Lathan

Sunderland Empire has announced the first casting for its 2017-2018 panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, which will run from Friday 15 December 2017 to Sunday 7 January 2018.

TV soap star Bill Ward will play the Giant’s villainous henchman Freshcreep, a part he particularly relishes.

“As a (slightly posh) Geordie born and bred in Newcastle,” he said, “I'm thoroughly looking forward to spending Xmas back home in my native North East, and am particularly looking forward to both working at the Sunderland Empire and being evil on a full-time professional basis for the entire festive period.”

In 2016, Ward finished three years and over 300 episodes in Emmerdale, playing the well-meaning but pretty hopeless farmer James Barton who sadly met a rather gruesome, if accidental, death at the hands of his emotionally volatile partner, Emma, in one of the soap's biggest storylines of the year.

Previously, he had played the rather nasty builder Charlie Stubbs in Coronation Street, also for three years and 300 episodes, who also remarkably met a rather gruesome, if accidental, death at the hands of his emotionally volatile partner, Tracy, in one of the soap's biggest storylines of the year.

As well as these two soaps, Ward has appeared on our television screens in Silent Witness, True Crime, Casualty, The Great Ghost Rescue, Doctors, The Bill, Robin Hood, Midsomer Murders, Heartbeat, Cold Blood, Fallen, Holby City, EastEnders, Swag, Seven Stories, Jonathan Creek, Footballers’ Wives, Rose and Maloney, In Deep and Make My Day.

On stage he has appeared at Bristol Old Vic, Manchester Royal Exchange, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, The National Theatre Studio and in the West End (where he played Lancelot in Spamalot).

His last appearance in the North East was in Look Back in Anger at Northern Stage in 2009, where he played Jimmy Porter.