Interview: Paul Hawkyard & Robin Simpson Talk Returning to York Theatre Royal for Panto Season

Panto time in York? Oh yes it is! Well, almost. York Theatre Royal’s “All New Adventures of Peter Pan” opens this week (oh yes it does…okay, I’ll stop) and some familiar faces will be returning. Paul Hawkyard and Robin Simpson were nominated as Best Uglys in the British Pantomime Awards for their performances in “Cinderella” at York Theatre Royal last year and they return this year to play Mrs Smee (Robin) and Captain Hook (Paul). Here, the comic duo talk work past and present and what they value in each other (all together now: ahhh!).

Who do you play and describe them in three words

Paul: Captain Hook. He’s Smart (clothes-wise), Evil, Childish. He’s quite childish – he just won’t let go.

Robin: Mrs Smee, henchperson to the evil Captain Hook. She’s not evil herself. She’s misguided and has fallen in with the wrong crowd but she’ll redeem herself. She’s silly, very silly. She’s very mothering. A sort of Nanny McSmee.

Have you appeared in any other production of Peter Pan?

Paul: I’ve been in a Peter Pan musical at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank in London. There was an amazing cast – Susannah York.. ‘I don’t believe it’ – what’s his name, Richard Wilson and Claire Moore, whom you may not know but is like Mrs Musical Theatre. Laurence Llewelyn Bowen designed the set and costumes. That was about 18 years ago.

Robin: I was in an alternative Peter Pan called Neverland which was done at the Lakeside Theatre in Nottingham. It was a Christmas show – a modernised version of Peter Pan. That was lots of fun.

Do you get to fly in the show?

Robin: I do fly but not in magic fairy dust kind of way. Mrs Smee abseils in a James Bond kind of way. I’m terrified, I don’t like heights.

Paul: I don’t fly but have done in the past when playing Bottom at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre. I was flown up into the air on a platform. It gets into your head, you just sit there gauging how much it would hurt if you fell.

What was the best thing about playing Ugly Sister last year?

Paul: I used to enjoy the stuff with the ‘most handsome man in the audience’.

Robin: The Strictly Come Dancing ballroom scene. Every night without fail it slayed everybody. I loved performing that, never got bored with it.

What was the worst thing about playing Ugly Sister last year?

Paul & Robin: The beginning when the Uglies first come on. You start with a number, then you’ve got a comic routine, then meeting lots of characters and chatting to them. Then finish off with a song. It was full on for about 10 minutes.

How was being nominated as Best Ugly Sisters at the British Pantomime Awards?

Paul: We had a good night out at the awards with our other halves. The Uglies award was the first to be announced. We’d just sat down, they announced the winners – not us – and then we had to sit there for the entire awards. It would have been rude to leave as York Theatre Royal’s Cinderella was up for Best Pantomime

Robin: It was great to be nominated and was a really nice evening. I met a lot of people I know from pantos that I’d been in around the country. It was nice catching up. We were pleased to be nominated and recognised in that way.

You appeared together in Cinderella last year, then in the Harrogate Theatre Rep season in 2022 and now you’re back together in the York Theatre Royal pantomime – are you becoming a double act?

Paul: I feel safe when I’m on stage with Robin. I know that whatever happens, even if my brain falls apart, he’ll be there to catch me. I do think he’s really funny and I love working with him. We’re so different – he massages and strokes scripts but I have a tendency to bully things out. That difference is nice. Both plays at Harrogate were comedies but we did have some heavy scenes including a big face-off where it threatens to get physical. He’s not just a comedy actor but a great straight actor as well. It’s good to work with the same people in different things. That’s one of the pleasures of the job really, and if you work with the same people again and again, it makes it safer.

Robin: As an actor you do all these different type of jobs and it’s always great when you are working with people that you’ve worked with before and know will get on with the job, do it really well and won’t be stupid. That’s what you want. The cast I’ve just worked with on Guy Fawkes (at York Theatre Royal) we’re just lovely.

Paul: Seeing each other from morning to night you’ve got to have good working relationships on and off the stage. We’ve probably seen more of each other this year than we have our other halves.

Robin: Acting is a collaborative process, then at the end of the day you wave goodbye. Occasionally you say ‘working with this person is something special’. It’s like that with Paul.

So there you have it! “All New Adventures of Peter Pan” is at York Theatre Royal from December 2nd 2022 to January 2nd 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

Q&A courtesy of Steve Pratt.

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