INTERVIEW: As their spectacular panto run draws to a close, Brian Conley and Gok Wan talk to Total MK

This Sunday the curtain falls on Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre.

There will be no more glass slipper fittings, no more bullet-biting shenanigans and no more flying coaches, writes Sammy Jones.

And there will be no more Brian Conley and Gok Wan, who have been thrilling theatre-goers as Buttons and the Fairy GokMother.

The show has enjoyed amazing ticket-sales and magical reviews, and that's due in no small part to the cast as a whole. It's not just the Brian and Gok show.
“When you are putting on panto it has to be uplifting, and full of joy and happiness, and you have got to make sure that you have that backstage as well,” Gok says, “If you don't, it transcends onto the stage.

"You have to form a sense of family, and community backstage. You have got a responsibility on the stage to put on an amazing show, as much as you have got to look after one another. If you haven't got that, the whole thing falls apart.
“We've been really fortunate this year, in that everyone genuinely loves each other. Everyone will stay in touch...”


And everyone plays their part in the success of Cinders: “Everyone is really conscious of the show, right up until the last performance – every single member of the cast. Every single show is different – the intonation, the comedy, the corpsing," Gok says, "All of that stuff changes every single show because people are constantly wanting to make it better.
"It's a sign of a company that really loves what they are doing.
“You have to be quite careful about the type of pantomime you want to see – this is a really traditional one, far more than the ones that are out there at the moment.
“The most intelligent audience that we play out to are the kids – they will see through animosity, they will see through an argument, and with the panto it's really important that every single person gets on, otherwise the story is not being told. I think that's the success of this one...”
Gok pauses: “And everyone really likes working with me... that's the main thing!”


And Brian and Gok dissolve into giggles. Laughter is never far away from these two, on stage or off it.
But they can be serious. For a time. Panto plays to imaginations, and it also plays to all ages. It is famously tongue-in cheek, and double-entendres are standard. But we are living in hyper-sensitive times, and panto has its critics too.

But a bad review wouldn't dent the smiles of these two: “When you are on the stage and you've got 1400 people, and importantly kids, and you transport them to a fantasy world where they can laugh, they can feel sensitive and they can follow a story, and they can empathise and can create this magical world in their imagination, which is really hard to do nowadays, with computers and online stuff, when you do that, you know you've got a really good show,” Gok says.

“For one person to come in and write however many words he or she wants to write about this, I really couldn't give two s***s...
“Often those reviews are written before they've even arrived. We've all had bad press. Anyone in the public eye has had bad press and the easiest thing to do is not to read it.”
Brian takes up the issue: “I care about the audience, and they edit it and tell us what they want and don't want, and we get on with it.”

Brian is serious too, when he says “I'd rather be me than them. I make people laugh and that's the best job in the world...”

“We do try stuff that is risque, and that is quite edgy, just to see how it lands, and if it doesn't land properly, it goes out straight away, Gok admits.

“Some people think that just because the art form is panto that you have carte blanche, and can literally do or say what you want to. I think that's the problem with panto this year – some people did get carried away," he says, referencing problems elsewhere.

And there is an easy yardstick when deciding how much is too much: “We said all the way through that if there's anything on stage that my three year old god-daughter wouldn't appreciate, then it's not going on.”

This is the third time that Brian and Gok have come together to bring seasonal sparkle to the stage.
And fans of the warm double act will be thrilled to learn it won't be their last: “I just wouldn't do panto without Brian!” Gok say, resolutely, “The way I look at it, if I do seven weeks with Brian, it reduces the amount of charity work I have to do the rest of the year!”

Brian gives a hearty laugh: “This is our rapport! When we do panto, I am the cheeky little teenager and Gok is my mum!”

Post-panto, Brian is rushing headlong into a new television series, with just one day off in-between.
“I fought for more time off, but they can't so I'm doing TV which is similar, but not similar at all to Dragons Den, involving inventors...and he's doing telly as well,” he says, nodding over to Gok.

But that's all to come. If you are in need of a January pick-me-up, Cinderella still has some performances left, and this panto stuff isn't just for little kids, it's for big kids too: “The best thing everyone always says is 'I brought the kids, but I had such an amazing time...'

“That's what you want,” Brian says, “Everyone knows the story of Cinderella and that is the framework for us to hang an amazing amount of comedy and warmth on...”


To book tickets click here


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