Comedian Paul Merton will star in Wimbledon’s pantomime this Christmas — and said Have I Got News for You was easy in comparison.
The 61-year-old has starred in the BBC political panel show for 28 years, alongside Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.
But this Christmas he will play a very different kind of role as Widow Twankey in Wimbledon New Theatre’s production of Aladdin, alongside Blue’s Lee Ryan and magician Pete Firman.
He said: “Have I Got News for You is easier in this in that there’s no rehearsals; you turn up an hour and a half before the recording, you sit there while they ask you questions about Jacob Rees-Mogg and you try and look interested, and then you’re done.
“It’s a piece of cake because you’re just sitting there waiting for your turn to talk whereas here you’ve got entrances, exits, props, costumes, physical jokes, visual jokes, and there’s a lot to get the show up and running and making it work.
“Every show is a challenge.”
Mr Merton volunteered to put on heels and a noodle-soup-can-themed dress as Widow Twankey, after initially being offered a narrator role.
He said: “It’s one the great roles in pantomime. It was first created in 1860.
“Being somebody who’s very interested in the history of comedy I jumped at the chance to do it really.”
The role is a little different to what Merton is used to. He said: “Dressing up, props, slapstick, it’s the sort of stuff I don’t normally do.
“On Have I Got News for You I’m sitting behind a desk and if I’m wearing funny clothes it’s not deliberate.”
He added: “Nobody will be convinced I’m a woman for a moment but I will be convinced, I will think I am.”
The panto is something of a homecoming to Mr Merton, who attended Wimbledon College and visited the New Wimbledon Theatre as a child to see comedian Arthur Askey.
He said: “It’s been about 30 years since I really was in this area; Wimbledon High Street’s changed a bit but it hasn’t changed that much.
“If this was Birmingham or Manchester I probably wouldn’t do it because it would mean moving there essentially, and I think that might be a bit lonely.”
Aladdin premieres on 8 December and runs until 6 January. Tickets can be bought here.
Feature image shows Paul Merton with the rest of the cast. Photoncredit: Craig Sugden