Stephen Mangan has played some iconic roles in his career, but can you top Postman Pat? Mark Kebble grills him about the role, living in North London and why he’s supporting the Little Angel Theatre’s latest campaign
Adrian Mole, Dirk Gently, Bertie Wooster… North London actor Stephen Mangan has tackled some meaty literary characters, but can you top playing Postman Pat? ‘Well, with Postman Pat at least I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like,’ he laughs about the animated film, which is out now in cinemas. ‘What I was keen to do is make him sound like the Postman Pat from the TV – I thought if kids went along and he didn’t sound like he did on the TV then they would be confused and horrified. But he is an iconic figure. Funny – you think you will be James Bond and you end up playing Postman Pat and Adrian Mole!’
Looking back at his successful career to date, Stephen doesn’t need 007. From his breakout performance in zany comedy Green Wing, he has made a name for himself cropping up in a host of TV’s most amusing shows, from I’m Alan Partridge to Episodes (currently back on our screens for a third series). Now, though, he’s getting in touch with his younger self, not only bringing Postman Pat to life on screen, but also fronting the Little Angel Theatre’s 2013/14 campaign.
The Islington-based puppet theatre – known the world over – is a registered charity and relies on donations and grants to keep their doors open and their puppets working. By the end of June 2014 they have a target of £60,000 to raise to help improve access, sustain the structure of the theatre and improve their environmental impact. ‘I have been coming here for a long time,’ says Stephen, chatting to me in the theatre’s magical main room. ‘I have got a six-year-old and a three-year-old and I am really keen for them to enjoy the arts as much as I do. As an audience member, there is something magical about live performance from humans or puppets that you don’t get from watching a screen.’
Considering what this theatre brings not just to Islington locals, but people and families who flock here from all over the world, the £60,000 target is a must hit. ‘It’s not easy to run a place like this,’ Stephen reflects. ‘Money is difficult especially in times like this, but it’s so important that places like this exist and are allowed to do the work they want to do, as well as they can do it. There are dozens of multiplex cinemas, every house has two or three TVs in it, but places like this are really rare and need to be looked after. My children can come here and have an experience they can’t get anywhere else.’
The stage has been an important medium to Stephen ever since he starred in his school play. ‘There’s a sense of anticipation in the theatre,’ he says, looking around. ‘It’s something about being in the dark and closed in and all concentrated on this one little area. It always gives me a thrill. For me, when I am rehearsing a play, the first moment you go into the theatre is the most exciting moment of the whole process.’
It’s something he’s had fresh experience of, having just come out of a six month stint in the West End starring in Jeeves & Wooster. ‘I am pleased we did justice to Wodehouse because he’s such a great writer,’ he says on the hit show. ‘I also worked with one of my oldest friends, Matthew Macfadyen. Theatre is always a bit of a gamble – if it doesn’t work out you are stuck in this Groundhog Day situation for weeks on end and it can be tough. You take that leap of faith, but when it does come off it’s fantastic.’
He says it was ‘lovely to go home’ after each performance, which is in Primrose Hill, an area he has lived in for over two decades. ‘It used to be very different,’ he grins. ‘We had a laundrette, a chippy, and a couple of pubs you’d think twice about going into on a Saturday night – now you only think twice if they have run out of ciabatta or the avocados aren’t fresh. It’s changed a huge amount. It’s interesting living in it as a man in his 20s, then living there as a father in his 40s, how differently you use your bit of London. It’s a great place to bring up the kids: we are in the zoo once a week, we have got two parks, the canal… I love it.’
At the time of meeting Stephen, it was all about Postman Pat as the premiere was fast approaching. ‘It’s a weird process doing animated work,’ he reveals. ‘I was the first one in, did the entire part on my own in a recording studio, and you come back 18 months later and there’s a film. There’s a great cast [including David Tennant and Jim Broadbent], but I didn’t work with any of them. I was having one half of a conversation with not a clue how the other person is going to speak, so you heavily rely on the director to have a vision.
‘But,’ he adds with a big smile, ‘I am excited for my boys to see it – it’s pretty much the only stuff I’ve done they can see as most of my stuff is filthy! They didn’t believe me though when I told them I was going to be Postman Pat…’
Stephen Mangan is supporting the Little Angel Theatre’s campaign for 2013/14 to help finance essential works. To get involved, call 020 7226 1787 or visit littleangeltheatre.com