WOKING (Reuters) - Starsky and The Fonz are having the time of their lives being hissed and booed every night by hundreds of screaming children.
The Hollywood stars of the two U.S. cult TV series are reveling in their roles for pantomime, a rumbustious British theatrical tradition with deafening audience participation.
In the run-up to Christmas every year, theatres across Britain are packed with kids often enjoying their first taste of the stage — classic fairy tales given slapstick treatment.
Pantomime is all about joining in. Everyone shouts “Look Out Behind You” as the villain creeps up on the unsuspecting hero, ancient jokes are recycled, audience singalongs are compulsory.
Paul Michael Glaser, who played Detective Dave Starsky in the 1970s hit TV show “Starsky and Hutch” and Henry Winkler, the leather-coated Fonz from U.S. sitcom “Happy Days,” have both abandoned sunny California for chilly provincial England to play Captain Hook in two different “Peter Pan” productions.
“I like to play silly and Captain Hook is such a wonderful baddie isn’t he,” Glaser told Reuters.
“It’s great that Britain has this tradition of pantomime. It’s great that audience participation — which is at least as old as Shakespeare — still continues here today.”
In sharp contrast to life behind the camera, Winkler said: “Here there is an audience of nearly 2,000 all screaming and yelling. The Americans don’t understand the phenomenal give and take, the phenomenal interaction.”
Winkler is strutting his stuff in the genteel southern English town of Woking while Glaser is over-acting like mad on the other side of London in suburban Bromley.
They tread the boards twice a day six times a week so stamina is vital.
Asked what the secret was to playing pantomime, Winkler said “There are three secrets — one is stay healthy, two is stay healthy and three is have the most fun you can possibly have with your clothes on.”
On Peter Pan’s press night, Woking’s New Victoria Theatre had to be evacuated after a smoke alarm went off.
On return after the all-clear, Winkler brought the house down as he quipped “I just want to know who wanted to pee that badly” before bounding back into action.
For Glaser, playing the villainous Hook at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre is a chance to go back to his roots.
“Coming from a theatre background, I think the energy of it all is a blast,” he said.
“It’s a completely different craft to acting in front of a camera. There’s an immediacy to film but it’s not as gratifying as theatre,” he said.
And Winkler clearly loves the nightly battle to get his lines out amid all the good-natured booing: “The interactiveness of live theatre is more potent than the best Malt Scotch.”
Editing by Paul Casciato