Anatomy of an anti-panto | Steve Hili

As he preps for the third edition of the ‘Adult Panto’, Steve Hili talks to us about remixing Beauty and the Beast to allow for… additional appendages

Steve Hili
Steve Hili

How would you describe the ‘Adult Panto’ to a complete newbie? 
I think of it as an ‘anti-panto’. It is in summer not in winter, it is for grown-ups not for kiddies and it is naughty instead of nice. You know how in theatre there are usually lines that cannot or should not be crossed? In this show we always know where the line is: about 20 kilometres behind us. 
We parody the idea of a panto but at the same time, we are just having a bit of mad fun. Everyone and everything is ‘fair game’ for this show – from politics, to current affairs, to the cast and crew and the show itself – all bound up in naughty in-your face humour. Which this year includes ping-pong balls and a monster dressed up as a penis! At this point I would expect the newbie to be buying his ticket or running away. Fast. 

Would you say that the crude humour that characterises your productions is born out of a desire to inject some in-yer-face humour to the local theatre scene, or are you basically just an overgrown child desperate for a comical vent to match your sensibilities?
Both! I do think that theatre in Malta sometimes takes itself a bit too seriously – and I like to think that my shows offer a bit of relief for that. There is nothing wrong with just being silly. At the same time everything in the show makes me laugh, so it definitely reflects my sensibilities – of course it does. Writing it is so liberating, and directing it even more so. It is amazing to let your inner 14-year-old (with all the disgusting habits and thoughts that the 14-year-old Steve had) run riot! 

Why did you choose Beauty and the Beast in particular this time around, and how does it compare to your previous shows?
Beauty and the Beast is a classic story – and that is important in our shows – we need to have stories that everyone knows in order to parody them. Also the idea of a beast being a massive appendage was so tantalizing that once it popped into my head… there was no going back. 
I think this year’s show is a bit naughtier than previous ones – and obviously the constant material thrown up by life in Malta has given us lots of things to play with (ahem).
As well as that, because we are now in our third year, we have started to develop little traditions of our own that evolve quite a bit in this show. And we are very excited to be welcoming the hilarious Malcolm Galea to the cast this year. Basically: it’s going to be awesome! 

How do you think your cast views their excursions into the adult panto? A welcome break from the strait-laced mainstream theatre scene? A bit of crazy fun? Career suicide?
The cast is amazing. Every year I anticipate a tiny bit of resistance to some lines or jokes, and every year it never comes. Instead they take it on themselves to try to make the show even madder!
For me, choosing the cast is a big deal. I need cast members who not only fit the bill character-wise but more importantly, ‘get it’. A lot of actors I would never have thought would have wanted to be part of a show like this actually ask to get involved – I think it might be a bit of a vent for them. 
Getting involved in shows like this is also, I think, a sign of maturity in the local theatre scene (this is a weird thing to say about an immature show like this, but hear me out). If you can do a mad show, show your flexibility, laugh at yourself and have fun whilst doing it I think that means you are more of a fully fledged person, actor and performer. 
Which is incidentally a great line to use when trying to convince actors to wear a penis costume.  

What do you make of the local theatre scene, actually? And do you think your production elevate it to greater heights?
I love the local theatre scene – it is buzzing and has been for a few years. I would love there to be more ‘alternative’, fringe-style shows, but that kind of thing seems to slowly be happening too.
I think the adult panto offers something different. We have no pretensions about being anything other than silly, naughty and cheeky. So I am not sure if we are taking Maltese theatre to greater heights. We more likely to be sinking it to lower depths!

What’s next for you? Is it legal? 

I am only in Malta till the show is over and then it is back to London and back on the stand-up road. I recently did a one man stand-up show at the Brighton fringe (got a five star review, thanks for asking) which I hope to do more with – perhaps in Malta late this year or early next. But before that I have got a month at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, which I am really looking forward to. I am also working on a couple of very exciting projects including some radio and TV work in the UK. It is still early days, but fingers crossed!

Beauty and the Beast – The Adult Panto, an AntsinPants production, will be staged at the Temi Zammit Hall, University of Malta June 3-5 at 20:00. Cast includes: Maxine Aquilina, Stefan Farrugia, Chiara Hyzler, Kris Spiteri, Luke Mercieca, Naomi Said, Chantelle Micallef Grimaud and Malcolm Galea. Tickets are at €12. Bookings: