INTERVIEW// William Caulfield the Panto King

The Lurgan Comic returns to the Millennium Forum in Cinderella

A Millennium Forum Panto wouldn’t be the same without William Caulfield walking those boards so it’s great to see the Lugan comic back for the eleventh time this year.

The city has become like a second home to William over the years “whenever it comes to November, I always think it’s time to pack up and head up to Derry” he said. “I open the boot, make sure the make-up’s in there, which I take out from my special Panto cupboard. I love it, but I must love it, I keep coming back!” He laughs.

Upon making my way to the Forum for my chat with William, I passed line upon line of happy bouncing school kids, all freshly hyper and energised from the matinee performance of this year’s panto, Cinderella which was mainly thanks to William as his role as Buttons entices the energy and screams from the audience. “I love getting the schools to be as loud as they can” he said. “I’m the first person that has the interaction with them, so it’s my job to get them on my side and be as loud as they can be. Some days the roar that comes back from that audience is unbelievable!

“I actually saw the guys in the band put their fingers in their ears for one of the shows because it was so loud. The noise comes up like an explosion wave right up onto the stage. I love all that, that’s all part of panto.”

With over 25,000 tickets already sold for this year’s event, Cinderella is already one of the most popular Millennium Forum pantos to date. “It seems to be getting more and more popular every year but that was the long-term vision of the Millennium Forum management when they had decided to start a professional Panto back in 2001. Now they are getting the just rewards from it as it has been building through the years,

“They put on a very professional pantomime, very lavish with lots of money spent on costumes, sets and all the rest and special effects and in regards to Cinderella, big transformation scenes!

“The public are voting with their feet by coming back every year. While it’s the North-West’s biggest pantomime, it’s still great value for money with family tickets available too.”

Speaking to William in his dressing room with the Hollywood Mirrors shining bright, it was clear that panto is something that he is passionate about, you could still feel the energy throughout the building from the lunchtime performance.

William plays the role of Buttons, Cinderella’s best friend and servant to her father, but it is also a part that he finds more challenging than his previous roles. “I find Buttons a difficult character to play simply because that when I play the dame, I get to hide behind the wigs, the glasses, the makeup, the frocks and William Caulfield disappears. But with Buttons, I’m very much exposed. It’s me, I can’t hide as much as I can with the Dame, but comic greats have played Buttons.

“It’s the role the Bradley Walsh plays every year, Brian Connolly, Joe Pasquale, Jimmy Osmond, they all play it every year, so it’s the role that the comic wants in Cinderella. I just come out and have fun with it.”

Cinderella is the most performed pantomime each year and has topped many a poll finding which is the nation’s favourite, but what is it that makes Cinderella so special? “I think that it’s because, it is every little girl’s dream, this rags to riches story” William said.

“They feel on the side of Cinderella, she’s being bullied so it deals with bullying, and yet she overcomes everything with the help best friends, the fairy godmother and Buttons. She beats the bullies and ends up being a princess.”

“Cinderella is billed all around the world as the most magical pantomime of them all and it definitely is because of one big magical transformation scene where the fairy godmother’s involved. The Millennium Forum audiences are definitely in for the wow factor, and they will gasp in total amazement at what happens in-front of their eyes.”

You would think that after one month full of screaming kids, a holiday may on the cards for the panto king… and you would be right, well, to an extent. “Next year I will be travelling all over the world performing on luxury cruiselines, which I am not complaining about!” He laughs.

“As soon as Panto finishes, I’ll be flying to Antigua, onto a ship and then we visit all the Carribean Islands, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. So next year I’ll be busy with all the cruises. The reason that I’m not touring next year in the traditional sense however is that the following year, 2018, I will be performing a tribute show to the late great James Young. It’s a show that I used to do, but 2018 is the centenary of his birth so I will be doing a huge theatre tour to celebrate that.”

You can catch Buttons aka William Caulfield in Cinderella which is on show at the Millennium Forum until December 31st with tickets from £9.75.

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