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EastEnders star Steve McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell, in panto at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford

EastEnders star Steve McFadden will be playing the baddie for laughs this Christmas, as he joins the cast of Peter Pan in panto.

As the show's run begins in Dartford this weekend, we talk to him about why he wanted to return to the town, fitting it all in, and enjoying making people laugh.

Steve McFadden cracking a smile as Captain Hook Picture: Chris Davey
Steve McFadden cracking a smile as Captain Hook Picture: Chris Davey

We know him as the hard man of Albert Square, but there might be a flicker of light heartedness to Steve McFadden this Christmas, if you look hard enough.

He’ll be stepping on stage as baddie Captain Hook in the Orchard Theatre’s production of Peter Pan this weekend, and it means a little break from EastEnders - but by no means a break in general. So how does he plan to fit it all in?

“Have a scooter. Go to work by helicopter. Stay up late and learn lines. It’s a discipline. I’ve got time out of EastEnders but I will be learning the script for this when I’m at the show. And when I’m finishing this off, I’ll be learning the lines for EastEnders. It’s about getting up early and going to bed late and doing the homework.”

Captain Hook (Steve McFadden) meets the crocodile at the Orchard Theatre
Captain Hook (Steve McFadden) meets the crocodile at the Orchard Theatre

So is it all work and no play for Steve? Far from it.

“I discovered, when I first did panto, that I wasn’t sure what it was all about. Am I supposed to be funny? Am I supposed to be singing? What am I doing? I was stood outside thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ and I could hear the noise of the audience. I was nervous and then I heard the audience come out and it was a completely different change of tone. The fun. The laughter. The chit-chat,” he said.

“People were just having a shared experience. And that’s when I realised what I was doing. It’s a family experience for everyone with people they love. When I worked out what I was doing, that’s when I realised I wanted to do it again. I enjoyed that aspect of it, which is making people happy and having a good laugh.

Steve as Phil Mitchell in EastEnders Picture: BBC/Adam Pensotti
Steve as Phil Mitchell in EastEnders Picture: BBC/Adam Pensotti

"You don’t get that in EastEnders. The studio gate opens up, you do your scenes, you come out and you go home. There’s a disconnect between doing the work and the end result. With this, you do it and everyone enjoys it and you really feel that.”

Steve is making a return to the Orchard Theatre, after appearing in Aladdin in 2012. So why did he decide to make a return?

“They’ve asked me back! Every theatre has an energy; it’s what you bring to the place. It’s a really nice theatre and I had a really good time the last time I was here.”

So, as Peter Pan’s arch nemesis, how much of Phil Mitchell are we likely to see in Steve’s performance this Christmas? “He’ll speak a bit like me: a bit growly, a bit gruff. But I’ve always thought that you do take it back to the elements.

Keisha Marina Atwell as Tiger Lily, Andy Ford as Smee, Joe Sleight as Peter Pan and Steve McFadden as Captain Hook are in Peter Pan at the Orchard Theatre
Keisha Marina Atwell as Tiger Lily, Andy Ford as Smee, Joe Sleight as Peter Pan and Steve McFadden as Captain Hook are in Peter Pan at the Orchard Theatre

"He’s a handicapped man on a ship full of pirates. You’re not going to sleep easily at night, are you? You’re going to lock the door. I mean, Henry VIII used to brick himself into his bedroom. I don’t know what Captain Hook does to his door but it must be quite a tenuous to hold.

"He’s the captain of cut throat bunch of rogues so he’s got to be a fairly strong individual.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be lighter moments. For instance, he will be singing a bit.

“The crowd won’t enjoy it but I will,” he laughed.

So as an advocate of the benefits of panto, might there be more, varied roles, for him down the line? A dame, perhaps?

“No, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “It just doesn’t work. When I was at RADA, I did all sorts of things. And I did clowning. I dressed up as a clown at my friend’s daughter’s birthday party.

"Kids ran screaming from the room. His daughter cried her eyes out. I emptied the room and all I did was walk in with a chef’s hat on and a big red nose. I didn’t even open my mouth or have a chance to say anything. I gathered, at that point, to stick to the villains.”

He is joined by comedian Andy Ford, (Mr Smee), Joe Sleight (Peter Pan) and Keisha Atwell (Tiger-Lily) and Bill the Croc, a giant special effects crocodile.

* The show runs until Sunday, January 5. Book tickets at orchardtheatre.co.uk or by calling 01322 220000.

To find out what’s going on in the county and for all the latest entertainment news click here.

For our full guide to pantos across the county click here.


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