Stephen Mulhern: ‘This is my 15th consecutive panto and I just absolutely love it’

Stephen Mulhern with Cat Sandion (left) and Hilary O'Neil (right)
Stephen Mulhern with Cat Sandion (left) and Hilary O'Neil (right)

Stephen Mulhern is one of the most in-demand television presenters around, but come Christmas, there’s only one place you will find him: on stage in panto.

“I just love it,” explains Stephen who will be filling the Muddles/Buttons role in pantomime this Christmas at the Hawth in Crawley in Sleeping Beauty.

“This is my 15th consecutive panto, and I just absolutely love it. If you didn’t, you just wouldn’t be able to do it. It would show through. People would realise. It can be difficult. You are away from your family, but more importantly you are away from your family at a really important time for everyone. You only get Christmas Day off and New Year’s Day, and it’s all quite intense, but actually if you are with the right people, it just flies by

“I remember the first panto I went to (in East London) when I was eight or nine. I remember it so well, and you have to remember that for many of the children that are seeing it, it is their first time in the theatre. That’s why it is so important that you get it right.

“And that’s why in pantomime, it is important that everything has to be first class. There is nothing worse when you see a backcloth that is a bit ripped or tatty. The sets have got to be amazing. And the scripts have got to be totally up to date. Kids are so high-tech now that if the scripts are not current, it just won’t work.

“That’s what I really love, the audience interaction, and it doesn’t matter how old they are, young or old. You have got to get them all together. It’s harmless entertainment. I promise you this. You will never see me doing rude. That kind of thing changes the whole feel of it.”

In the cheeky chappie role, Stephen will get the opening spot where he warms up the audience. Inevitably there will be a little latitude, but he believes in sticking to the script.

“I think it’s so important. If everybody went off at a tangent, it would end up four hours long. You would end up with something like Macbeth! But the flipside is that if something that happens is really funny, you can roll with it. You can go with it. But you have got to hit it and move on.”

There is no room for self-indulgence: “You look at the script, and you see that everyone has got their moment in the limelight. If something happens, great, you go with it, but not for long. You don’t want performers getting selfish. When you see that happen, you know that you have not got a happy cast. Panto is one of those things where if you are not all at ease with each other on stage, it does reflect. You just can’t have people that aren’t happy with each other. That’s not what it is all about!”

Sleeping Beauty is at The Hawth from December 12 to January 4. Tickets on 01293 553636 or click here.