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Weekend: Robert Lindsay on why he’s finally been Hooked by panto

Hooked: Robert always thought he'd 'grow out of' acting', but the work keeps coming; and (below) with Peter Pan castmates PHOTO: CRAIG SUGDEN

ACTOR Robert Lindsay, 68, is an acclaimed star of stage and screen — winning Olivier Awards for his performances in Oliver! and Me And My Girl, and a BAFTA for gritty 1990s TV drama GBH — but in a career spanning half a century he has never appeared in a pantomime. Until now, that is.

He is about to whack on a wig and claw, and star as moustache-twirling baddie Captain Hook in Richmond Theatre’s production of Peter Pan.

‘Hook is one of the true villains of the season,’ says Robert. ‘It’s a part I’ve always wanted to play. And I wasn’t doing anything else this Christmas so now I’m Captain Hook.

‘I’ve never done a pantomime before. I’ve got no idea what to expect, but I spoke to Bradley Walsh and Joe Pasquale at a party and they gave me a few tips about how to be a villain, and how to play an audience.’

Is he nervous about the reaction he’ll get? Some American stars who came over to do pantos a few years ago were reportedly shocked to be booed and heckled by the audience. ‘I think I’ll be fine with that,’ Robert laughs. ‘Getting booed is part and parcel of the fun of the event. Every play gets a reaction, and theatre is theatre, whatever it is.’

We spoke before Robert had started rehearsals and was yet to work with co-stars including Harry Francis as Peter Pan; Jon Clegg, an impressionist from Britain’s Got Talent who plays Hook’s sidekick Smee; and whichever dog will be portraying heroic pet Nana, who chaperones the Darling family children during their excursion to Neverland.

Has Robert ever worked with a dog before? ‘I worked with a dog on the TV adaptation of Oliver Twist,’ he says. ‘I was playing Fagin, Andy Serkis was playing Bill Sikes, and there was a scene where we climbed on to a roof. Bullseye, the dog, followed us and I kicked him off. I got a lot of nasty mail about that.’

There is also a personal reason why Robert is so happy to be starring in Peter Pan. ‘Money from any production of Peter Pan goes to Great Ormond Street Hospital,’ he explains. ‘I have done a lot of work with them over the years as they saved my daughter’s life.’

Robert’s daughter Sydney, then aged four, contracted amoebic dysentery from a dirty swimming pool while on holiday. ‘We had come back and were sitting in Pizza Express having lunch on a Saturday afternoon, and her face suddenly swelled up alarmingly,’ he recalls.

She was sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where an emergency brain scan was administered. After two weeks of treatment Sydney was eventually discharged.

Interestingly, there is another connection between Robert’s show and Great Ormond Street. JM Barrie wrote Peter Pan in 1904, with a novelisation following in 1911, and he signed his copyright of the works over to the hospital in 1929, which has benefited from his generosity ever since.

Peter Pan marks the end of a busy year for Robert, who spent several months this summer filming the sequel to fairy tale drama Maleficent.

‘I play King John and Michelle Pfeiffer plays the Queen. We got on like a house on fire,’ says Robert.

‘Our son marries Maleficent’s daughter, and there’s a curse that’s put upon me. I’m not allowed to say any more.’

He can also be seen as Oberon in a forthcoming big screen adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There certainly seems to be a lot of magic flying around in his recent workload.

‘Maybe that’s something to do with my mother,’ says Robert. ‘She was a bit of a magician and told fortunes. She hid her crystal ball from my father, who was a trade unionist and didn’t approve of all that weird stuff.

‘But she told you amazing things about when you should buy a house and who had lived there before. She was very observant about who meant you well and who meant you harm.’

Robert gets one day off over the festive period for Christmas Day, but is already focusing on work opportunities for early next year — roles that potentially include a TV musical, and a top-secret project he can’t discuss.

‘I can’t talk about it. I wish I could. It’s such a stupid profession, it really is,’ he says.

‘I keep thinking, “One day I’ll grow up and get a proper job.” I always thought I would grow out of it at some point, but fortunately, and touch wood, I still keep being offered work. So I’m not complaining…’

Peter Pan is at Richmond Theatre from December 8 to January 6, 2019, atgtickets.com/richmond