In this year’s pantomime of Cinderella at Marina Theatre Lowestoft, John Lyons will be playing Baron Hardup, with performances running from 14th December to 2nd January, alongside Anna Morgan as Cinderella and Jaymi Hensley as Prince Charming. When theatres could reopen during the pandemic, John played Father Brown in Father Brown – The Murderer in the Mirror and, after leaving theatre school in 1964, he toured the UK and Europe with Oh! What a Lovely War and amongst his long-established theatre career, he has appeared in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap as Major Metcalf in the West End on a number of occasions. On screen, John spent over 17 years as Detective Sergeant George Toolan in A Touch of Frost opposite Sir David Jason, and he released his autobiography Not Just George in May this year. John answers our questions about playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella, touring with Father Brown – The Murderer in the Mirror and releasing his autobiography Not Just George.
This month, you open in Cinderella at Marina Theatre in Lowestoft, what are you looking forward to for playing Baron Hardup over the Christmas period?
This will be my twenty-sixth panto over many years. It will be great fun to get back to it again after the last two years. I do enjoy it so.
What can audiences expect from your portrayal of the character and have you played the role previously?
Yes, this will be the fifth time I have played Baron Hardup. I hope there will be laughs, fun and enjoyment.
Why do you think families will enjoy this production of Cinderella?
Cinderella is probably the panto all the family love best. It contains a little something for everybody.
How is it interacting with pantomime audiences and seeing families getting involved?
Panto, for me, is all about the audience. They are very much part of the show. Without their interaction, it wouldn`t be panto.
What do you enjoy most about being part of a pantomime?
For me, most of my year is taken up touring in serious plays. So, come Christmas, I can let my hair down and have fun. And we do have fun.
How is it reading a pantomime script for the first time and how different do you find these shows to your other stage work?
Reading the script for the first time is always lovely. We are all encouraged to have our own input. And, for me, I always have a few little bits of business I like to put in. I also like that freedom of interacting with the audience. You never know what will happen next.
What was it like returning to theatre for the first time after the pandemic in Father Brown – The Murderer in the Mirror?
Getting back on stage for an actor was a wonderful feeling. Not only for us up on the stage, but the audience who were, at long last, able to go to a live show after so long in lockdown. At my age, it makes me realise just how lucky I am to still be able to do it.
Can you tell us about the show and what are you looking forward to for returning to the tour next year?
Father Brown is, I think, a well-written murder mystery with quite a few twists and turns. I have played him once before, four years ago, and I do enjoy playing the old chap.
Do you have a favourite aspect of working in theatre and what are some of the other shows you’ve appeared in most recently?
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is: what do you prefer, TV or theatre? It’s theatre every time. I’m sure most actors will give the same answer. A performance on TV is over, done, finished, in one go. In a theatre performance, you have the luxury of trying it out over and over again, night after night, and hopefully improving your performance. Then, of course, the added bonus of a live audience. It makes so much difference.
On leaving drama school in 1964, I went out on tour both in this country, and all over Europe with the musical Oh! What A Lovely War. Since then, I have been very busy in what used to be Repertory Theatre, four different West End musicals, tours of plays and also on three separate occasions, playing the part of the Major Metcalf in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in the West End.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Detective Sergeant George Toolan in A Touch of Frost for over 17 years?
Yes indeed. I played dear George Toolan for 17-and-a-half years, alongside the great Sir David Jason. That was a great joy. We both got on so well together and I think that shows on screen. He made it very easy to work with, and was very generous in sharing the limelight. In other words, he didn’t want it to be all about him. A great time in my acting career.
This year, you released your autobiography Not Just George, how was the experience working on it and can you say more about the release?
Over the last ten or so years, I have worked quite a bit for P&O Cruise ships, as a guest speaker. On many occasions, people would ask if I have written my book? I always answered, NO, I don’t think I have the patience. Well, along came lockdown, and with the prompting of my agent, I sat down and began. Of course, once I started, I couldn’t stop. Lots of wonderful memories came flooding back. Some good, some not so good. To my great surprise, it was taken up straight away by the publisher, and came out in May of this year. It’s called Not Just George, if you wish to find out more about me and my life, you will find it on Amazon.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
When not working, I do enjoy reading. Always with a book on the go. All of my life I have played sports, all kinds, but now the only one I play is golf. Great exercise. Keeps me going and fit for panto. And believe me, you need to be fit for panto. Hope to see you there. God bless.
CINDERELLA starts 14th December and runs until 2nd January at Marina Theatre in Lowestoft.