WHEN James Weisz opens his pantomime at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts in a few weeks, he will have come full circle.

The director began his theatre career as part of the cast of Mike Carter’s Christmas productions at the Gardner Arts Centre, which ran every year until 2005. ACCA opened on the same site on the University of Sussex campus a few years ago. Weisz also participated in summer schools under Carter’s tutelage and eventually went on to tutor on the course.

He has a number of fond memories from taking part in shows at the Gardner; he was part of the chorus in a version of Pinocchio when he was 14 (finding that old script was the catalyst for this year’s show) and was spellbound by Fantastic Mr Fox as a toddler.

“I wanted to see it over and over again,” says Weisz of the latter production. “I remember thinking ‘I really want to do this one day – I’d like to tell my own stories’. I was excited and thrilled by it.” That lifelong ambition has come true, with Weisz having established himself as one of the most respected theatre makers in Brighton – largely for his work at the new closed 88 London Road. The director describes producing a panto at ACCA as a “dream” and adds that the venue was a big factor in his staging of the story of Pinocchio.

“It was definitely a sentimental decision, to do with my own history with the centre,” he says. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be brilliant to bring back a Christmas show to that same space’. We did ask around at a few other places but it felt like ACCA was a really nice fit. They’ve kept the essence of the old building alive – at times you still feel like you’re walking into the Gardner.”

ACCA and Weisz share a mission to subvert some traditional aspects of theatre; they are both forward-thinking in their own ways and this is manifest in The Amazing Adventures of Pinocchio. When asked if he wanted to mix convention with experimentalism, Weisz nods in agreement.

“Yes, absolutely. I have done five pantos [the others having been held at 88 London Road] and I always take out some of the more well-known tropes of panto; we don’t have a Dame, for instance.”

Instead, the production makes use of ACCA’s high ceilings to incorporate impressive feats of acrobatics, one of Weisz’s favoured devices. The high-spec nature of the building allows the director to employ projections too.

“We’ve been given the opportunity to have a bigger space and better equipment and we’ve taken advantage of that,” he says. For the show’s audience, the magic will begin before they’ve even stepped into the auditorium. Actors and puppets will greet families in the foyer, “bringing them into the theatre atmosphere before the show has begun”.

Weisz adds: “The story of Pinocchio – and especially the sub-plot of going to the circus – plays neatly into the whole experience of a child. Sometimes it’s hard to pull off something that is a big spectacle and balance it with storytelling, but we feel like we’ve done that.”

And despite Weisz’s unorthodox touches, his aims are fundamentally the same as any director or writer: to tell an interesting and exciting story.” In the “anything goes” world of panto, actors often speak of the liberation to be able to improvise and go where the mood – and audience – takes them. But surely this comes with a pressure, too. The crowd arrives knowing exactly what they want from a panto. Weisz agrees.

“Panto is always really interesting because it might be the only show some families see all year. The pressure is on to create a production that everyone enjoys and that appeals to a broad range of people. They come wanting to be entertained, though, so I feel like everyone’s on our side. And we’re on their side – we want them to be inspired by the story and want to see more of our work.”

Weisz has the benefit of a nine-year-old son who occasionally acts as a sounding board for his father’s plans. He isn’t in The Amazing Adventures of Pinocchio, but he’s pretty valuable to Weisz’s creative process.

“It’s always good to take him to the theatre and see what he thinks about shows, how he judges things,” says the director. In every walk of life you should be aware of your rivals, or counterparts if you want to be speak in less competitive terms. Weisz is friends with the organiser of the charity panto at The Windmill pub in Upper North Street and will be in attendance at some point this winter. “I’ll be going to a few pantos,” says Weisz, and you get the impression his intention comes from solidarity and support rather than surveillance.

The spirit of Christmas will be accentuated for Weisz as he returns to an institution that played a vital part in who he is today. He’ll be hoping his new bond with ACCA is a lasting one. As he says: “We look forward to having a relationship long into the future.”