No soft soap as star says panto is easier than Neighbours

TOADFISH in Neighbours is a laidback kind of guy, and evidently so is Ryan Moloney who reckons coming over to Sheffield to appear in panto twice a day is a form of relaxation.

"Neighbours is one of those jobs where you are in for 10 hours," he explains, "you film a show and go home and learn another 10 hours' worth of stuff for the show the next day.

"By the end of the week you are absolutely bushed. I'm working pretty constantly over here but for me it's a mental break. The script doesn't change and it's a fun medium. It would be different if we were doing some high drama but it's really quite relaxing."

Moloney is appearing at the Lyceum in Cinderella alongside alongside Emmerdale's Hayley Tamaddon, Blue Peter's Matt Baker, comic Bobby Knutt and Any Dream Will Do contestant Rob McVeigh.

"Neighbours is a 48-week-a-year job, although they will give you extra time off to go over and do pantomime. At the same time they won't allow you to do back to back pantos so it's two years since I did one. But our daughter, Erin, was born last October so I wouldn't have wanted to come anyway."

Erin and wife Alison, his business manager, are here with him, settled in an apartment a short walk away from the theatre.

This is his third English pantomime. "I get asked why there isn't panto in Australia and the answer is pretty obvious. Panto comes with Christmas and winter and you don't get them together back home," he says.

He did the same part in Cinderella in Canterbury two years ago with the same Ugly Sisters. "It's good to be working with Jack (Edwards) and Phil (Holden) again, they are really funny guys."

Part of the fun, he says, is when things go wrong and on press night he took in his stride a potentially awkward moment when a prop failed to appear in the wings at the right time. It probably owes something to his background in musical theatre before he started Neighbours.

"I grew up doing comedies in a small theatre so close you would be face to face with the audience," he says. "It was like a dinner theatre and we would go out into the audience and sometimes sit on their laps. That's where I learned about comic timing and how to entertain audiences. It was a little children's theatre in Melbourne."

Pantomime may be mentally relaxing but Moloney is prepared to allow it's physically demanding.

"My character is pretty high energy and runs around the stage. There's a lot of physical stuff," he says.

But then Moloney is a keen runner and completed three marathons last year, although he doesn't intend to do much jogging around the streets of Sheffield, it is his holiday after all. But once he gets back Down Under he will start training for a 100-kilometre event in aid of Oxfam in April.

Ryan Moloney is one of the longest-surviving actors on the Australian soap.

Toadfish is a member of the Rebecchi family who all had fish nicknames (full name Jarrod Vincenzo Rebecchi) and the character has developed from schoolkid to troublesome teenager to qualified lawyer.

He has a sufficient cult following to have spent his first week in Britain touring the country doing personal appearances in front of mostly student audiences.

It is true that Neighbours, about to move from the BBC to Five, is more popular over here than in its homeland, but he says there are more viewers simply because there are more people over here.

"Even so, I am more likely to be recognised around Melbourne by tourists than by locals," he says.

And he will be continuing for the foreseeable future. "I am in my 14th year in Neighbours and I have just signed on for the next two or three years. It's good fun and it pays the mortgage which is important now I have a daughter."

Still in his late twenties, does he have any ambitions to leave the soap and pursue a career in the wider world of acting?

"I looked at the numbers, how many have made it and how many haven't. The number of friends who have said they wished they had stayed on in Neighbours and I listened to them."

He has found himself recognised everywhere he goes in Sheffield but that's something he is used to. "Toady is the kind of character people feel close to and friendly towards and normally people's reaction is overtly friendly," he says.

Cinderella runs at the Lyceum until January 12. .