Steve McFadden: 'Would Phil Mitchell go and see a pantomime? Definitely.'
As the EastEnders star opens as Captain Hook in Plymouth's annual panto, we give him 20 questions about the experience
1. Have you performed in Plymouth before?
I've not been there as a performer but I was here when the taskforce came back from the Falklands, and there was a big homecoming. I was out drinking with all the sailors, so this is really a trip down memory lane. This was about seven years before I even thought about becoming an actor.
2. How many pantomimes have you done so far?
This is the tenth I think, so reached a pretty big milestone.
3. Do you think Captain Hook and Phil Mitchell have a lot in common?
They're so different. It's lovely to have the live audience and it's a completely different skillset, so they're barely comparable. That said I do bring some Phil Mitchell onto the stage, and a bit of Steve and a bit of Hook as well, that's what people get! A bit of fear and a bit of fun.
4. Do you think Phil would ever go to a pantomime?
Definitely! It's a traditional British thing that you'd take your kids to, and Phil's a patriotic and spirited person who loves his family, so he'd love to do something that's part of a national identity.
5. Are there challenges working with the live audiences rather than in front of the camera? It's a completely different set of pressures. When you're on EastEnders you have 40 seasoned professionals looking at their watches waiting to go home. When you're in panto you have 1200 adults from Plymouth wanting to have a good time.
6. Do you do a lot of improv onstage?
I have a fantastic time working with Andy Ford and he'll probably go off onto one during the show; I normally stay on track but I'm sure he'll do his best to pull me off it!
7. Is it refreshing for you to do this for a month?
It's a huge break for me physically, just being in a different part of the country and working with new people. It's great.
8. What is it like having kids screaming at you?
It's very different but it's great – I was in Birmingham last year and made some great friends there. I actually came down to see the show in Plymouth with Matt Slack in 2016 so know that Plymouth are a great crowd.
9. Do you mind the booing?
I love it! It's a sign of success for me. Americans might be a bit confused but it's part of the contract for me.
10. What is it that keeps you coming back to pantomime every year?
It really is a break from doing what I normally do. It can get quite tiring staying in one place and playing one character. So it's great travelling to different cities, working with different companies and shaking things up. It's a breath of fresh air.
11. What roles have you previously played?
I was King Rat last year, and Abanazar the year before, and then I was Hook the year before that. So it's nice to come back to the same roles. I'm not the kind of actor that people expect to do pantomime, so it's good to challenge expectations.
12. Does it feel like you're stepping into a familiar set of shoes when you put the hook back on?
A little bit but I always like to play things a bit differently every year. I really want to go for the voice and character this time, whereas when I was a bit younger I used to get into the fighting! It's evolving!
13. Have you been practicing with the hook?
I have! I have a pretty cool one this year that used to belong to Darren Day.
14. Do you have a break after the pantomime before EastEnders?
No I'm straight back to work the next morning! So I like to think of pantomime as a holiday. I went to a nice Greek restaurant last night, which is something I wouldn't be doing if I was in London, I'd be up learning lines all night.
15. Do you get to celebrate Christmas in Plymouth?
I'm actually heading back to London to spend Christmas with my mum and dad, and then I'm bringing the kids down to Plymouth for the rest of the school holidays.
16. Do your kids come and see you perform?
Yeah they always come and they love laughing at me. It's part of their Christmas and they're part of the reason I keep coming back.
17. There's a lot of EastEnders guys out doing panto this time of year, do you all compare notes?
There's a pantomime grapevine so we all get the gossip that's going around, we can compare audiences and jokes.
18. Did you ever go to pantomime when you were younger?
Yeah I remember going when I was really young with my Gran and my Uncle (who was only a couple of years older than me so he was basically my brother). I don't remember where it was but the colours and shouting definitely made their mark.
19. Do you think this was when the acting bug struck?
Oh no not then! It took a while for me to come round to acting after doing a lot of odd jobs, but it's become a passion, which is why I'm now at number ten!
20. Do you have any pantomime highlights over the course of your ten shows?
I like to see it all as a gradual education at the university of pantomime. I'm working now with Andy and brushing up on what I've learned and it lets me develop and add new skills to my acting.
Peter Pan runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 13 January.