It’s a south-coast panto Christmas for Neighbours star Jason Donovan

Actor, singer and television star Jason Donovan will be doing panto for just the second time ever when he heads to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre this Christmas.

Sharing the stage with Coronation Street and musical theatre star Faye Brookes and Richard Cadell & Sooty in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jason will be the villain from December 10-31.

“I hadn't done one before last year,” Jason says. “My first one was in Birmingham and I loved it. I don't really know why I hadn’t done one before. I had children and I was just wanting to keep my Christmas to being with them and being with the family but then Michael Harrison, who puts these things on, lured me in. He offered me a wonderful opportunity and experience that I couldn't turn down. And I said I would do it as long as I could be the villain. It was just something that I wanted to do. I just didn't really want to play the hero. I just felt that if I was going to go into that genre then that's the way that was going to work for me.

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“And last year was fantastic. It was a long six weeks doing two shows a day six days a week. It was tiring but it was exciting and I think it was the people that made it. I love the audiences that we had.

“I've done a lot of theatre over the years and I think with any theatre there is that repetition that you get but you also get to go off piste a little bit in panto which is lovely. There is more freedom but there is also discipline. It is still an art form. But I'm not somebody who has spent a long time studying the medium. I had been to pantos over the years. But I'm not someone that got involved in trying to analyse what it was all about but it's just somewhere you can let your inhibitions go. One thing about the panto for me was that I was at the Palladium doing Joseph and Dawn French came to see a show. Dawn had done a few pantomimes and I said ‘What do you think about doing panto?’ and she said ‘Well, the great thing about doing pantos that Christmas comes to you!’”

Panto doesn't really exist back in Australia where Jason comes from originally “for the reason that Australians tend to be outside at Christmas in the summer.

"But the UK has a wonderful theatre tradition and wonderful theatres around the country and it's great to be able to do this. I love the Mayflower. Apart from the incredible audience and the size of the theatre what I love about it is that it is the only theatre that has a bath in the dressing room!”

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Since Jason’s debut panto last Christmas, of course we have had all the excitement of the big Neighbours farewell this year: “I'm very lucky that I was part of its 37-year history. There are a lot more people that have spent a lot more years on it than I did but I think I was there at a very pivotal time for the show, 1985-88 or 89. Nostalgia plays a big part in our lives and as you get older it plays an even bigger part and I think for me the whole Neighbours experience may be bigger now than it was at the time. I'm just grateful for it. We had the farewell for the fans, for people who love the show, just a chance to show where people are now or where they are not! It is sad that Neighbours is no longer there but it was great while it lasted. I was very young when I did it and it was an incredible learning ground for me. What made the show the success it was, who knows. There are so many factors but it was the energy and youth, I think, of the cast but it wasn't just about the cast. It was also about the timing and the scripts and so many other things but I guess for me it's also because it was Australian and it was telling Australian stories and that's a huge part of it as far as I'm concerned.”