Paul Merton and the New Wimbledon Theatre

Paul Merton comes to New Wimbledon Theatre

Paul Merton on coming back to his roots and headlining Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre

A star-studded cast is descending on the New Wimbledon Theatre (NWT) for this year’s must-see pantomime, Aladdin, which stars Have I Got News For You panellist Paul Merton as Widow Twankey, Strictly Come Dancing, Blue and EastEnders star Lee Ryan as Aladdin and TV magician Pete Firman as Wishee Washee. We caught up with the cast before curtains up…

“I’m so looking forward to doing the show at New Wimbledon Theatre,” explains Paul. “I grew up near Wimbledon so it’s nice to come back here. I saw Jack and the Beanstalk at NWT last year, which was fantastic and it had such great 3D effects. This year’s effects are going to be even better. The magic lamp appears in front of every child in the audience and all sorts of wonderful things – it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”

The high-octane, laugh-a-minute, singing, dancing, kaleidoscopic festive feast of theatre fun will feature special effects by The Twins FX including an eye-popping 3D sequence, which transports audiences on a magical carpet ride.

Paul spent his childhood in Merton, so this New Wimbledon Theatre panto marks a return to his roots. “We lived in Morden and I studied at Wimbledon College. On Saturdays Wimbledon was the place to go, you know… with Wimbledon Village, the Hand in Hand pub, and the Crooked Billet. I have memories of Wimbledon Broadway going back to the 1970s when The Broadway pub was still there,” Paul says. And today he’s still a fan… “There’s a lot going for Wimbledon. The common is such a beautiful place and Wimbledon’s proximity to central London is great, I mean you can get to Waterloo in 15 minutes.”

“Panto is probably the one element of show business that hasn’t changed for decades. It has evolved, of course, but there are still jokes and routines that were being done 50 years ago and I love being part of that tradition.”

Paul actually changed his name partly in homage to his childhood roots. “It’s true. So my real name is Paul Martin and I needed to join Equity in the 80s but there was already someone with my name. I lived in the Borough of Merton for a long time but I think the biggest reason I chose Merton was so I didn’t have to change my autograph that I’d been practising since I was a kid,” Paul laughs.

Paul Merton at New Wimbledon Theatre

Fresh from his samba-swivelling stint on Strictly Come Dancing, Paul’s panto co-star Lee Ryan is also eager to hit the Wimbledon stage. “It’s a great spectacle of a show and the kids will love it. I love doing pantos. I’m sure there’ll be more dance moves in store for me as I dance around Old Peking,” Lee says.

Like Paul, Lee is no stranger to south west London. “I live near Richmond and I used to live in Putney so know the area well. I used to go to Wimbledon Village a lot so I’ll be having my Ivy breakfasts again now that I’m back here! The panto is such a great run up to Christmas and the venue is perfect,” Lee adds.