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Shameless star goes to the ball at the Epstein Theatre

Lots of people have a favourite outfit – and Warren Donnelly is no exception.

It’s just that his is a favourite panto coat, which audiences at the Epstein Theatre will be able to enjoy in all its gold-trimmed glory this Christmas.

“Every time I’ve done a pantomime for Regal Entertainments, I’ve always ended up wearing this jacket and I really like it. It helps me overact and gurn,” explains the actor, deadpanning. “I’d wear it in the pub!

“I think I’d attract a lot of female attention - which I get a lot anyway, but with this jacket, and the tights and gold boots…”

While the 50-year-old’s usual role is as the king or the baddie, this year he’s playing Prince Charming’s sidekick Dandini, giving Donnelly the chance to be charming himself.

He did his first panto in 2011 and admits he wondered at the time if there was still an audience for the traditional seasonal theatricals. But any concerns were soon dispelled.

“Pantomime is alive and well and is as loved as it’s ever been; loved even more by the grown-ups I expect,” he says as we sit in the stalls at the Hanover Street theatre.

"I think it’s one of those truths that it doesn’t matter how things change, what people like, what children like, is a good story well told, with jokes and scary bits, jeopardy, a handsome hero and beautiful princess. All those things still apply.”

And while it may seem like a lark to those watching, he’s adamant panto certainly isn’t for the fainthearted.

“It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. The times I’ve met other actors who have made slightly disparaging comments about panto. The answer is – try doing one. Try doing three shows a day. Try doing two shows. One show.

Above: The cast of Cinderella at the Epstein Theatre with Warren Donnelly far right. Credit Dave Munn

Top: Warren Donnelly in his favourite panto costume playing the king in Sleeping Beauty

“Because you don’t act as such, you perform – it’s big and it’s loud. It’s like exercising. Everybody else puts on a few pounds over Christmas. If you’re in a panto you definitely lose weight.”

Growing up in 1970s Liverpool, Christmas shows were part of the Donnelly festive season. But for young Warren it wasn’t simply the show itself, it was the whole experience of coming in to the city centre and soaking up the festive atmosphere.

“So why I ended up doing this ridiculous career of acting I don’t know. I suspect the pantomime might have had something to do with it,” he laughs.

Donnelly studied at Sandown College – now Liverpool Community College – and while studying actually volunteered to work backstage at the theatre, then called the Neptune where, he says, he learned how to put up sets, hang lights and help with stage management.

A young Warren Donnelly volunteered backstage at the old Neptune

Over the past three decads he’s forged a busy career across both stage and screen, with TV roles including a range of shows from Basil Brush (he played a scientist) to Life on Mars, and Corrie, Cold Feet and Holby City to Shameless where he played PC Stan Waterman over seven series.

He’s recently been filming crime drama Tin Star in Liverpool.

“I’ve done a lot of theatre, I’ve done a lot of telly, I’ve done panto – and it’s all rewarding,” he says. “I really enjoy it. And it’s really nice to be working as well.

“Every time I get offered an acting job, I go wow, I’m still getting away with it and it’s still good!”

While Christmas in the Donnelly household of the 1970s was all about panto and presents (he recalls the year he got a Stretch Armstrong with particular fondness), now it’s about family – Donnelly has a new nephew, a good lunch, and then falling asleep!

Not surprising given that when everyone else is contemplating another segment of Chocolate Orange, Donnelly will be climbing into his favourite jacket and going on stage.

“The good thing is I only live a 10-minute walk away from the theatre, he says. “It’s 10 minutes walking here, but on the way back after the show it may take longer I suspect!”

Cinderella is at the Epstein Theatre from December 6 to January 5. Tickets HERE

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