Stephen was the main member of the cast that I got to speak to and to pose questions to. The process goes like this: local journalists sit in a circle and then the actors come to join us. There is the moment of awkward quiet after the smiles and the hello, when we all halt in the very British way so as not to be the first to speak or seem self-important.
At this moment I saw the first evidence of what a confident, professional Stephen Mulhern is. He took charge and started to talk first. He told us that he was in pantomime in Croydon in 2010, playing Buttons then, as he is now. He said that in a bizarre way he loved Croydon and it was a shame that he hadn’t been back before. He said that the venue (the Fairfield Halls) is amazing and that for him, Cinderella is the best pantomime, with Aladdin his second favourite.
This is Stephen’s twelfth year in panto and so he returns as a seasoned veteran of the art! During our round-table interview with Stephen we asked him about how his very experienced role as a presenter fed into his performances in pantomime and how his well documented time as a Butlins Redcoat had added to his toolkit. He told us that he is able to ad lib with confidence, to be on-script or off-script and still be comfortable. I asked if he had always had this high level of confidence or if he had been more anxious about performing/ presenting in the early days of his career. It’s hard to imagine that he may not have had this solid confidence at some point, and some people do have this just as a part of them. He kind of laughed at my question though, saying that of course he had been afraid when he first started out. He said that he had learnt from being thrown in at the deep end as a young Redcoat, quickly working out what made the difference between a crowd pleasing performance and it’s much more uncomfortable opposite! Stephen told us that he likes to mess with his fellow cast members a little, throwing in changed or unexpected lines, so I hope they are as good at the ad lib as he is! He learnt to cope with whatever was thrown at him on stage and whilst performing.
In his 2014 pantomime season playing in Aladdin in Crawley, it was Ant and Dec that were thrown at him on the stage! In one of the most ambitious and complicated pranks they have ever devised, they took over one performance of the show to send Stephen into a world of chaos. The backstage crew, the cast and the audience knew that mischief was afoot, but amazingly, the secret was kept from Stephen. With a steely glint in his eye, Stephen told us in no uncertain terms that he would get the tricky pair back one day! I look forward to that piece of television gold whenever it arises!
The bleeding heart part of me always feels a bit sad for people working so hard and putting on so many performances over the many weeks of pantomime season. I’m gradually adjusting my thoughts on this though, as in lots of ways it seems like a good gig and as if there’s lot of fun to balance out the hard work. Stephen said that he really enjoys pantomime and that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be doing it. The cast that I’ve spoken to as I’ve reviewed the shows over the last 4 years have often done pantomime for many consecutive years. There seems to be great camaraderie and affection amongst the cast members, and they seem to build their Christmas around it. Stephen Mulhern said that he always spends Christmas Day itself with his family and pantomime doesn’t get in the way of that.
When Paul Hendy introduced us to the actors and their characters, he said that he felt that this production of Cinderella was going to be the best pantomime that he has brought to Fairfield to date, that each year he likes to build on the spectacle and the great show of the previous year. Stephen Mulhern told us that Paul Is open to the cast bringing in and using special skills and talents. Given that Stephen is a magician amongst his other skills, it seems as if magic will almost certainly feature in the show.