For the third year running, crack panto writing team Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm have been beavering away at the Lyric Hammersmith to create another family Christmas offering with more silliness, banter and innuendo then you could shake even the most festive of sticks at.
With Aladdin starting previews this week, Official London Theatre was curious to discover just how they feel about working as a team, so we turned the tables and asked the pair to interview each other, with fittingly silly results.
Joel Horwood interviews Morgan Lloyd Malcolm:
How did co-writing Aladdin work? Was it different from previous years?
The structure is worked out by the group of us in a loose sense, then Steve [Marmion, the director] goes away and creates a kind of master document that lays out all the scenes and what needs to happen in each one. We then all get allocated scenes to flesh out. These then get passed round and we all massively re-write each other’s work but in doing so hopefully make it better and better.
What we’ve done this year is learn from last year which was that having a read through early on in the process is massively helpful for finding the flaws – so this time we did it twice. And we started way earlier than we did with the other two (February), which has not only made the script stronger earlier but also meant the three of us now feel like Christmas is a year-round event that we’ve been celebrating in our own special way without anyone else. Which is, frankly, weird.
Do you actually just wait for Joel to write it all then tick, cross or draw smiley faces on the scenes he gives you?
Yes. Though this year I bought ‘Good Work’ and ‘Great Job’ stickers from WH Smith and used them liberally. He needs encouragement bless him. His school days were tough.
This is the third panto you and Joel have worked on together, have you learned many wise lessons from him?
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from him this year is how at the first whiff of hard work he ups and leaves the country for Berlin to ‘live as a writer’. I genuinely think he believes that writing is all about sitting in a cold attic, wearing fingerless gloves and crying enough to make the ink from his quill run all over the page. Thankfully he’s returned for some panto so we can remind him that not all writing needs to be masochistic. Again; bless him. He’s a sensitive soul.
Why do you keep coming back for more panto?
It’s as simple as this; we sit in a room at the start of the process laughing and thinking of silly things we’d like to make happen on stage. We then go and write silly things and laugh at what we’ve written and then laugh some more. We then do some read throughs and, between the awkward pauses, where the jokes don’t get the laughs we expected, we laugh about how awkward it was and then go away and rewrite and laugh some more. Then we get in a room with some amazing performers who make the jokes even funnier than they deserve to be and then add more of their own jokes so we can just sit there laughing and not do any more writing. Then we put it on a stage and sit at the back and laugh at the response from everyone and laugh some more. Why would I not want to come back for more?
Is Joel really as attractive as they say he is?
You’re pregnant this year. Does it feel all weird growing a whole human in your tummy?
Currently I’m 32 weeks and two days pregnant. And yes it does feel weird. Joel, is this a relevant question for a panto interview?
What would your three wishes be?
To have infinity wishes, to wish someone dead and to wish someone to fall in love with me. And don’t tell me I can’t wish that.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm interviews Joel Horwood:
It has been three years worth of pantos. What would you say now to the Joel back in time about to start writing Jack And The Beanstalk?
I’d tell him: pull your trousers up, have a shave and check your ego in at the laptop. There’s nothing funnier than whatever happens on the night. I’ve learned that we provide a kind of a framework and maybe the occasional funny, but when you get a cast like ours, you let them do what they’re best at and entertain. I’d tell the younger, prettier me to get the hell out of the way of the panto, because it’s happening whether you write alliteratively or not.
Which bits of the panto do you most like to write and why?
Boringly my favourite thing is structuring character’s journeys. It’s geeky, I know, but audiences love a good story and I love trying to give them one.
I like the dame speeches but I’m just not as good as Shaun Prendergast [playing Widow Twanky], I like the lyrics we write but Steve Marmion has a super power for it – not the best super power in the pot but… – and I like trying to be funny but, irritatingly, Morgan brings the funnies. (I also really like writing the love bits but I’m not saying that, so… SHUT UP!)
Is it hard to write when you know that Morgan’s always going to be that little bit better than you in everything you do, not just panto?
It’s something I have learned to live with. Morgan owns a house and is really happily married. All I want for Christmas is Krysten Ritter off telly.
If you had your way what would you call Morgan’s unborn child, male and female names required…
Joel if it’s a boy and Joel if it’s a girl. If it’s neither of those, call it Joel.
Looking back, what has been your favourite moment so far working on the pantos?
Meeting the giant for the first time in Jack And The Beanstalk was brilliant. As was Steve Marmion’s one-man show version of Dick Whittington before we had a cast. But nothing tops getting off the worst flight in history and stumbling into rehearsals this year. We have such a brilliant cast with infectious energy; I couldn’t help but feel Christmassy.
Why do you think panto is still so loved?
It’s a family event, it’s a Christmas party and it’s one of the most joyously communal and weirdly British things we have. I think it’s an opportunity to partake in all the traditions whilst also enjoying whatever new things the cast and creative can bring, [such as] topical jokes and Stevie Webb dressed as a blue monkey. I also think that people love panto because you can spend a day with your friends and family, singing, drinking mulled wine and yelling at people in funny clothes… A bit like watching a sport.
Why isn’t panto as big in other countries like America?
They don’t get it.
Can you believe people pay us to have so much fun?
Are you getting paid? No one’s told me about this.
Catch Aladdin at the Lyric Hammersmith from 19 November until 31 December.