HAL CRUTTENDEN is most often found offering scathing comments on TV’s Mock The Week or Have I Got News For You, so what exactly is the stand-up comic doing in panto?
“It’s my first time but I’m loving it!” insists the man who plays Dandini alongside former Blue Peter presenter Zöe Salmon as Cinderella and CBeebies stars Justin Fletcher as Prince Charming in this year’s panto at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre.
“There’s a general spring in everyone’s step, it’s so much fun,” he explains. “I started as an actor as well as a stand-up and I thought I really want to spend Christmas doing fun stuff.
“For most comics Christmas is a lot of corporate dos, dealing with drunk adults, so it’s lovely to be dealing with excited children. They’re like drunk adults but with less violence and nastiness…”
As for his usual scathing humour, will the young theatre visitors be subject to any swearing?
“Yeah, thanks for bringing that up and panicking me,” laughs Hal. “There’s enough suggestive stuff anyway. I’ll be trying to slip stuff in for the adults that the children won’t understand – I’m pretty good when I have to be. I just did the Royal Variety Show and there’s no swearing allowed there. It’s not so much for the royals – I’m sure they don’t care – but everyone else is so panicky.
“I’m already in the mood, I’m trying not to swear at home, which is difficult with a teenage daughter…”
In any case Hal insists that the theatre is in his blood, although he’s the only member of his family to turn his hand to comedy.
“I grew up in London but my parents did a lot of am-dram and that was an introduction to the theatre for me,” he recalls. “I went to a lot of local productions – I saw my dad playing King Lear when I was five!
“I got quite a lot of serious theatre quite early in my life and now I’m doing panto – I’m doing life the wrong way round. But I was such a good kid I’ll be down on the children like a ton of bricks if they don’t behave at the panto!”
There is a sad side to Hal’s thespian heritage though. He says: “Dad spent his life wanting to be an actor. He died very suddenly at 50 and had just become a professional actor seven months before.
“But he inspired me – and my sisters. I have two older sisters and the middle sister is a full-time actress. She’s doing a serious play about the partition of India, so I don’t think I want her to come and see what I’m up to because I’m just messing about!
“Panto is so silly and fun and nonsense, it’s celebratory and it’s very freeing. I can be as camp as I want but I’ll never be as camp as the ugly sisters!
“Stand-up’s a bit ‘Give us a joke right now’ whereas panto is more anarchic.”
Hal and the rest of the cast get just one day off – Christmas Day – during the run but he says that suits him fine.
“I’ll spend Christmas Day with the people I really want to and then panto will get me out of going to see all the people you’re meant to go and see but don’t really want to!” he jokes.
Hal Cruttenden stars as Dandini in Cinderella which runs until Sunday, January 5.