Above, Keith Lynch (right) as Muddles, and William Caulfield (left) as Nurse Molly Coddle.
The Millennium Forum have gained a reputation for putting on the biggest and most spectacular pantos in the North West, and it’s safe to say this year is bigger and better than ever.
Since Hi Ho-ing onto the stage at the start of the month, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs have been wowing audiences and earning rave reviews.
Local actor and Forum panto regular Keith Lynch returns once again for more festive fun, however this time in a slightly different role than before and is enjoying every minute of it. “It’s been absolutely fantastic. This is my first year in the comedy sidekick role. I have always been the baddie so it’s a fantastic change to getting cheered than actually getting booed” joked Keith.
“It is such a magical spectacle this year for everyone and you can feel it with the audience that there’s something special. We have a big finish that leaves everyone feeling amazing and gets them up onto their feet dancing and singing. It’s an incredible feeling.
“The panto has progressively got better each year, they are always striving to make it bigger and better. It’s the biggest panto in the north west and they’ll make it as big as pantolly possible.”
Keith takes on the role of Muddles, the fool with a heart of gold and the comedy sidekick of Nurse Molly Coddle, performed by panto legend William Caulfield. Their onstage chemistry is evident and contagiously funny.
“I’ve known William for a couple of years now” explained Keith. “This is actually my fourth panto in Derry, but I’m usually on the other end of the spectrum getting booed and made fun of by him. William is just the utmost professional and so funny, and has great off-the-cuff comedy. We’re good friends outside of pantoland as well, so I think that then comes across onstage.”
But having experienced both sides of the spectrum, I was interested to know which he enjoyed most, being the goodie or the badie. “Oh, that’s a tough one” admitted Keith. “I’ve always had so much fun being the baddie but it’s better to be loved than booed. But I think that I prefer to have the comedy part. It’s just so much fun. I’m having great fun doing it and hopefully that is coming across onstage too.”
Even the thought of Muddles makes Keith laugh as he tries to describe the loveable character. “Ah, Muddles stepped out of his front door one day, turned left and just kept going. That’s pretty much it. Muddles just takes life as it comes. He gets a bit muddled up at times but has never lost his goodness or his spark.
“Muddles’ big dream has always been to sing a solo and I love that throughout the show I am always trying to get that moment, and when that moment finally comes it’s a special feeling.”
Sometimes there are sacrifices that actors are asked to make for their craft, and this season Keith has sadly had to say goodbye to one of his most recognisable features - his beard. “My finance wasn’t too happy about that one now” laughed Keith. “It just suited the character though. It was tough, but it came from the top and the beard was given its marching orders. My face has been freezing now all winter. As soon as the very last show is done I’ll be sitting in trying to squeeze the hairs out as hard as I can” joked the local actor.
The annual Christmas panto is not only great family fun, but also provides an opportunity to showcase local talent. Over the years much of the cast have come through the ranks of youth theatre organisations such as the Londonderry Musical Society and Millennium Forum Youth Theatre, both of which Keith had been a member of. “I was quite late to acting really. I must have been about 17 or 18” explained Keith.
“I actually started as a musician. I played trumpet in the orchestra for shows and would have been sat in the pit looking up onto the stage thinking that maybe I could do that someday. Then the Londonderry Musical Society and Millennium Forum Youth Theatre gave me the platform to do musicals. I had been involved in Sweeney Todd with the Youth Theatre at the Millennium Forum and that was where I got noticed and was approached to do some professional work and it just snowballed from there.
“I think that means a lot to people as well [homegrown talent on stage] because Panto is traditional, familiar, it’s family based and Derry folks, we love Derry and we love to support what we have got” said Keith.
You can catch Keith Lynch, aka Muddles, in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which runs at the Millennium Forum until 29 December. Book tickets here