EastEnders star Adam Woodyatt takes a break from rehearsals to chat to SARAH SINGLETON

PERFORMING in pantomime is a serious undertaking, according to Adam Woodyatt – known to many as EastEnders’ Ian Beale.

For many youngsters, pantomime is their first experience of theatre, he explains. So it is important they enjoy it.

“There are actors who look down their noses at it, but I never will,” he says.

Adam, 49, is leaving the familiar surroundings of Albert Square for a spell in Neverland. He is playing swash-buckling pirate villain Captain Hook in the Wyvern Theatre’s largest production of the year – the pantomime, Peter Pan.

Indeed, he recalls his own first experience of pantomime, as a small boy, when he saw Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium – starring comedy legend Frankie Howerd.

Captain Hook is the enemy of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, and will be the villain the audience loves to hate. Adam says he will relish the role.

“It’s going to be good to be horrible,” he said.

“But it’s also great to have a good laugh. The character of Smee is hysterical.”

Smee is one of Hook’s pirate henchmen – not too bright but very entertaining.

Peter Pan opens at the Wyvern on Saturday and runs until Sunday, December 31, with two performances every day, six days a week.

But Adam is sanguine about the demands of such the run.

“I have learnt how to pace myself,” he says. “I know how to conserve my energy.”

Certainly, he has years of experience behind him with a hectic television schedule.

Adam is the longest-serving actor in EastEnders and the only one to have appeared in the soap since its very beginning, in 1985. His character has been married five times (to four different women), had three children, suffered a nervous breakdown and been shot. And of course, he has had a long-running feud with hard man Phil Mitchell.

This is Adam’s third pantomime in Swindon. He starred in Mother Goose at the Wyvern in 1989, then after a long gap appeared in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as the Wicked Queen’s henchman Chambers.

Two years on he is back again – and says he is very happy to be here.

“I love the theatre here, and the people who work here,” he enthuses.

“And the Swindon audience is great. They respond and join in and it’s always packed.”

Adam will spend some of December in Swindon and some in London but he is not going to have much spare time for sight-seeing.

“I am looking forward to a meal at Restaurant 56 – I went there last time,” he says.

Adam says his family — he is married with two children — will be making the trip to Swindon to see him in his new role.

“I expect they’ll be coming at some point – they’re already clamouring for tickets,” he says.

In 2016, Adam completed his 2,000th episode of Eastenders – a significant milestone. He says it is still a good place to work.

Finally, he reveals he has a new hobby; he has taken up gin-making.

Using a friend’s distillery he has concocted a new gin called NEAT.

Clearly passionate about his new venture, he shows us a picture of a beautiful copper still. He has just distilled a batch of 550 bottles.

“Obviously it has juniper berries and coriander it, but I can’t reveal the recipe. But it is quite spicy, citrusy, aromatic,” he says.

“It’s a really versatile gin. It’s from a 1495 recipe from Holland. Loosely based on it as the recipe talks about using a bit of this and a handful of that. We took out four of the ingredients and added one.”

The NEAT gin, which has a stylish art Deco label, will soon be available from neatgin.com. All being well, you will be able to buy some at the Wyvern Theatre during pantomime season too.

To book tickets for Peter Pan, call 01793 524481 or visit swindontheatres.co.uk.