Shaun Williamson talks about life after Albert Square as he prepares to star in Aladdin at The Alban Arena, by Melanie Dakin and Rosy Moorhead

Times Series: Shaun Williamson stars as the evil Abanazar in Aladdin at The Alban Arena this Christmas Shaun Williamson stars as the evil Abanazar in Aladdin at The Alban Arena this Christmas

When Barry Evans was pushed backwards off a cliff by the scheming Janine Butcher in EastEnders, many viewers couldn’t help but think that poor old Bazza sort of had it coming – he was so sappy, so hapless, such a pushover. Nothing he did ever worked and everybody walked all over him, including his wives. Couldn’t he see Janine was only after him for his money?

In real life, actor Shaun Williamson couldn’t be more different from his on-screen creation. Where Barry stayed down, Shaun is a fighter. Where Barry would come up with half-baked schemes, Shaun throws himself whole-heartedly into everything he does. And that includes starring as Abanazar in Aladdin at The Alban Arena this Christmas.

“Barry,” Shaun laughs, “the public still like him even after eight years. On TV, he’s a fat, cuddly loser and a safe pair of hands but on stage I can prove people wrong. So many leave EastEnders and they’re such good actors but you never see them again. It’s terrifying.”

Shaun’s career, too, plateaued somewhat after EastEnders – until Ricky Gervais picked him up for Extras.

“The phone went when I was gardening,” Shaun remembers. “I thought it was a DJ prankster but it was Ricky Gervais offering me the job, it was the most bizarre thing. I thought they wanted me just so they could take the mickey but then I realised everybody got sent up – even David Bowie.”

Shaun starred in series one and two of Extras and then in Gervais’ Life’s Too Short, with Warwick Davis, in 2011.

As well as his TV work, Shaun has also been enjoying a great deal of success on the stage, having recently starred in the West End hit Saturday Night Fever as DJ Monty, a role he also revived on a nationwide tour, in the play The Road to Nirvana, and in The Rocky Horror Show as the narrator. He has been in demand for pantos since the early 2000s.

In Aladdin this year, Shaun plays the evil villain Abanazar. “Bob Golding, the director, wrote the part for me as I’m a frustrated Shakespearean actor,” Shaun says. “After EastEnders and Ricky Gervais, you don’t tend to get offered a lot of costume dramas or serious TV, so this is my chance.

“Every time I come on stage I’m spouting some lines from Shakespeare but people are always cutting me off – that’s where my evil frustration comes from.”

Shaun recalls going to the pantomime as a child. “My first panto was watching Hayley Mills in Peter Pan in 1970 at the London Palladium. I remember being frightened by the cannons.

“When you’re a kid, you’d leave the auditorium and you were aware that something magical had just happened. You’d come out into a diminished space. Panto helps you remember that.”

As Shaun says, St Albans’ very own Bob Golding returns this year not only to play the hilarious PC Pongo but as the show’s director too. The star of the Olivier Award-winning West End comedy Morecambe is certainly no stranger to laughs after receiving rave reviews in last year’s performance. Joining him is the beautiful Jemma Carlisle (Snow White from last year) as Jasmine and taking on the hero’s role is Phil Gallagher (CBeebies’ favourite Mister Maker).

  • Aladdin is at The Alban Arena, Civic Centre, St Albans from Friday, December 14 to Sunday, January 6 at various times. Details: 01727 844488, www.alban-arena.co.uk

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