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You are in: Beds Herts and Bucks > Entertainment > Theatre and Art > Panto-time > "I'm not Buttons, but Velcro"

Brian Conley with Michelle Potter (Cinderella)

Brian with Michelle Potter (Cinderella)

"I'm not Buttons, but Velcro"

Top entertainer Brian Conley tells us why he's looking forward to reprising a favourite role in High Wycombe this Christmas.

Cinderella

Swan Theatre, High Wycombe

7 December 2007 - 6 January 2008

Starring Brian Conley, Nigel Ellacott, Peter Robbins, Dawson Chance and Michelle Potter

"I'm not Buttons, but Velcro" jokes the multi-talented Brian Conley, "I'm trying to take Buttons into the 21st century!"

And audiences can see the results of his efforts when the Buckinghamshire entertainer brings his comedy and vocal talents to High Wycombe's Swan Theatre this Christmas,
heading the cast in Cinderella, as the bell boy whose love for Cinders remains unrequited.

It's the same production which last year broke all Box Office records in Birmingham and became the biggest grossing pantomime in the history of pantomime - taking over £2 million in five weeks with over 100,000 people seeing it!

Appearing on stage with Brian this year are Michelle Potter in the title role, Ugly Sisters Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins who have been together in these roles for some 28 years, and Dawson Chance, a ventriloquist, who will play Baron Hardup along with his tortoise friend Willy.

Brian as Buttons

Brian as Buttons

Awards

Brian Conley has won numerous awards in his career including The National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performer and Show Business Personality of the Year. The man who began his career as a warm-up man for Terry Wogan and Kenny Everett became a household name thanks to characters as diverse as Dangerous Brian, Doug Digby and Al Jolson, and his recent credits include 'Let Me Entertain You' and 'Dirty Rotten Cheater' both for the BBC.

But Brian, who says that he has lost count of the number of times he has played Buttons ("the best part in pantomime") in his 25 years of doing panto, says that taking part in this uniquely British Christmas event satisfies all his entertainment needs.

"I love it" he reveals.

"It plays to all my strengths and ticks all the boxes. People say I'm just doing it for the money and yes - I'm not doing it for nothing, I'm not running a charity, I've got a mortgage and kids and it's Christmas, but I really honestly enjoy it.

"And I still have a choice" he adds.

"Do I want to do panto? Do I want to go to High Wycombe which is only 15 minutes up the road from where I live - of course I do!"

Freedom

And despite the gruelling schedule, he admits that if he didn't do panto, he wouldn't know what to do with himself, so working over Christmas is not a bind for him.

"I wouldn't have it any other way" he explains.

"I love this role - I have to get my little fix from it every year!"

Brian Conley

"I wouldn't know what to do on Boxing Day - I'd be scratching around. A few years ago I did a film and had Christmas off and I really missed doing panto because it satisfies my need as an entertainer - I love going out and making people laugh."

But he also admits that it's not just the jokes that he loves, there's the fact that there's a certain freedom, where you can talk about anything topical, and also because there are poignant moments as well, especially in this show, when Cinderella goes off with the Prince, leaving her friend Buttons behind.

"There's being funny and playing to the whole crowd" he says, "but also when you get to the pathos, there's playing it for real so that you get that light and shade.

"We can get them all shouting and booing and hissing but when you've got them silent, when you can hear a pin drop when Cinderella says [to Buttons] "I love you, but as a brother" and they don't laugh, and they are really genuinely upset - then I like that light and shade.

"I've learnt that over the years" he continues.

"I remember working with John Inman and I said, 'you can get a great laugh here if you do this John' and he said 'No Brian, you can get a laugh anywhere, but that is a moment that should be done right'.

Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins

Ugly Sisters Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins

"But we have a nice tie-up and we have a nice finish to [this show] in the end" he adds quickly, "and the Fairy Godmother helps me as well, so the kids aren't too distraught!"

Art

As a seasoned pantomime performer, Brian admits that the genre has changed over the years but not in a bad way. Political correctness has kicked in but he doesn't necessarily think this is wrong. As a father, he says that there are some things that he wouldn't want his children to hear, and you can still be a bit naughty, although it has to be done properly, something which he says is a real skill.

"People say 'how can you have a good show that pleases the whole audience, that isn't a bit cheeky'" he explains, "but there's an art to it.

"Ian McKellen did pantomime a couple of years ago and he really appreciated that to do it well, it's a real art, and one of the key aspects is energy - just grab them and say 'right - you're coming with me!'"

And this is another way that panto has changed over the years.

"There needs to be an energy" he explains, "and in the old days the famous person would come on about 20 minutes after everyone else had done a little warm up bit. Now I'm on the stage within about two minutes and I grab the audience by the proverbials and say 'come on this journey'."

Brian on Parkinson in 1998

Brian on Parkinson in 1998

Fun

It's clear that Brian loves his annual foray into pantoland, but as a comedian, singer, actor, writer and TV host, where does his heart really lie?

"My father's a great opera singer" he reveals, "and if I'm honest, I wouldn't say opera's my first love but singing, I love singing.

"But as I've got older I must say that the comedy is very special to me and being in panto ticks all the boxes with the relaxedness and the fun you can have with it.

"I did a play in the West End called 'Elton John's Glasses' where I played an agoraphobic recluse and I hated it, with all the polite little applause. I just thought I want to go out there for another hour and take them somewhere.

"I love this role - I have to get my little fix from it every year. I have a choice, being at home this year was important to me, and I'm not here just because I'm getting paid for it - although it helps!"

last updated: 20/12/2007 at 11:34
created: 13/11/2007

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