I’ve loved playing the ‘baddie’ says Lynn pantomime star

Shaun Williamson has been playing the Sheriff of Nottingham at the Lynn Corn Exchange pantomime
Shaun Williamson has been playing the Sheriff of Nottingham at the Lynn Corn Exchange pantomime
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After a successful run of 42 performances, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” at Lynn Corn Exchange will come to an end on Sunday when the cast will say their farewells. The show’s headline name, Shaun Williamson (Barry from EastEnders) has been playing the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham – and in this question-and-answer session with the Lynn News he explains why he likes being the villain, pantomimes in general and also talks about his time in West Norfolk.

Q: What’s it like being the bad guy?

A: I love it. I really love it. I must have played Abanazer at least 400 times, but this is the first time as the bad Sheriff. When I first left EastEnders, having played cuddly Barry, I played Buttons and Muddles and that type of character and I hated it with a passion. But now, I just love coming out on stage and screaming at people … legally.

Q: How do you feel when the audience boo at you?

A: That’s great. It means I’m doing something right. No, I don’t want to play the panto goodies, it’s too dull. Having said that the “goodies” in our show are just brilliant.

Q: Would you agree there’s a special magic about pantomime?

A: Yes there is. Actually I never got to see one as a child, but perhaps there are children in the audience here and it’s the first time they have come to a theatre and seen a live show. Hopefully they will remember it and want to come back. I do love it when I get people coming up and saying that the first time they came to a theatre was to see me. It’s nice to be part of someone’s collective memory.

I have done something like 15 pantomimes and I’ve only been in the business since 1994. When I first started in EastEnders they didn’t mind you doing them. Then, suddenly, they stopped everyone from doing anything and got very tight about it all, which is one of the reasons why I left the show. Ironically, now that people have different ways of watching television, such as laptops and so on, they are desperate for viewers and do not mind actors going on Strictly or into The Jungle.

Q: What about the Corn Exchange as a venue?

A: It’s a lovely theatre. The capacity is around 700 which is an ideal number for a party. You are not shouting out to a 2,500-seater auditorium. I’m really enjoying it here and the crew and the staff are really lovely. Okay it’s a bit tight back stage at times, but everyone mucks in.

Q: And the reactions of the audiences here?

A: Well, touch wood, it’s been great so far and I’ve not seen many empty seats. We did a whole week of schools shows and that was amazing. Even if you turn up here feeling a bit jaded at quarter-past nine in the morning when you hear 600 or so children screaming it soon galvanises you into action.

Q: Things sometimes happen unscripted in panto, so are you allowed to ad-lib?

A: Well, if something goes wrong there’s no point in letting it go by without a comment. You couldn’t do that in Chekhov when if something fell from the ceiling you’d just have to get on with it, but in panto the ad-lib is what it’s all about. In fact that’s often the funniest moment when something goes wrong in panto and you can join in with the audience in their laughter. We’ve had it here when guns haven’t gone off when they should. It’s just one particular stunt involving a gun and sometimes it goes off and next time it doesn’t. It’s very temperamental. The other night Robin and I messed up our sword fight which was rubbish … so I said I was being punished not so much for taxing people too much but for crimes against sword-fighting. It is a very professional production, but it is funny to celebrate things that go wrong.

Q: Tell us something about yourself and your time in King’s Lynn:

A: I live in the middle of Kent, but for this run here I’ve got a self-catering flat up here because I know that if I stay in a hotel I’ve got the palette of a child and would start the day with a fry-up and then eat a take-away, so I try to get into a flat and do a big shop so that at least at the start of the week you can get your fruit and veg and eat healthily at least once during the day!

But there are some lovely hotels up here. There’s the beautiful one opposite here and this market square, it’s lovely … it’s as if you were in Bruges.

Q: Have you had much time to look around King’s Lynn and the surrounding area?

A: Yeah, I’ve embraced the place, I’ve loved it. I’ve tried virtually every pub. The town’s great and there’s certainly a different pace of life here. Now, I’ll look on a map and find Weston Super Mare, Stevenage, King’s Lynn, wherever I’ve done a panto. You don’t just visit the place for one night and go home again, you’re here for a few weeks and get to know the place inside out.

I’d never been to King’s Lynn before, but that’s really because of it’s geographical location – but everyone should come here, by the way – and you are not going to drive through it by accident, are you?

I do know the Yarmouth coast well because I’ve done a lot of work in the holiday camps around there and also to Center Parks at Thetford as well. But I’d never been this far along the coast and it’s a shame I’ve not really had time to drive around to see places like Hunstanton and Downham Market.

Q: Have you found that you’re recognised here?

A: Yeah, yeah, everywhere. This is a small town and your face is everywhere on posters and banners, so really it’s not a surprise. But people are so friendly and I’ve had a brilliant time here.

Q: But you must have missed your family?

A: Well yes, of course, but they are used to it. My children are older now and they are used to Dad being out on the road. Ironically when I was in EastEnders as Barry, he either had a great story or he didn’t have one at all and I wasn’t in every episode so that meant I did all the Father’s Day races, swimming lessons and school runs, change nappies … I was very hands on. But you have to be out there on the road. I cannot stay fully employed in Kent.

Q: What memories will you take away with you from King’s Lynn and the Corn Exchange?

A: Firstly the camaraderie here is brilliant and the Corn Exchange is a small perfectly formed venue and so during the course of the day you bump into everyone and they are just so cheerful, the crew backstage and all the other people involved. I’d love to come back here, and I mean that.

Q: And, finally, what have you got planned for 2016?

A: As soon as this production finishes on Sunday 3rd (January), on Monday 4th I start in the Railway Children at Kings Cross Station as Mr Perks the stationmaster. That ends on April 10th and on April 11th I start rehearsals for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang playing the Baron. And then it will be time for another panto again.

Yes, we all think about television, but to really get back on to it you’ve got to put yourself out of work and wait for the phone to ring. But being out on the road is often the smart choice when there’s three months’ work at one place, or six months at another which means you can plan your finances and your life.