You’ve been in all sorts of plays- Shakespeare, farces, musicals etc. What is it that keeps drawing you back to the pantomime after 14 consecutive years?
I love it is the bottom line, I absolutely love it. Yes, it's hard work and you do two shows on the 10th January and you think "Oh, what am I still doing, Christmas has gone!', but at the end of each show you look out and see the kids and families who have had a great time and you think "Yeh, yeh that's why.'
You’re in high demand to be the panto dame- what do you think makes you so popular to take on the challenging role?
It's something that I was taught very well by a great dame, Kenneth Alan Taylor, and I just soaked up everything that he could teach me. I always think that, as the dame, if I stand at the front of the theatre as the audience are going out, all the kids should want to come and give me a hug (not me, the dame!). I should be their third granny- when I'm on, they should know that everything is going to be alright!
What do you most enjoy about playing the part of the dame?
I always think for me personally it's a bit of an honour to play dame- it's a great comedic part and I just relish it. I look back at the list of people who have played the part of dame over the years- Les Dawson, Norman Evans- and I think just to be such a tiny part of that is fantastic.
You’re obviously familiar with the Mancunian air after playing Diggory the baker in Corrie. What do you enjoy most about performing here?
Well apart from anything else the Opera House is such a beautiful venue. I did Aladdin here last year and had such a good time. I've come to see so many shows here over the years, and have done a lot at the Colisieum in Oldham, and there' s a real sense of ownership round here- especially if you put on a show that is relevant to Manchester. You get the same thing here that you do at Oldham, and I've tried to explain it to other actors. You get it right, you get this wall of sound and laughter that I have yet to experience anywhere else.
As this panto is not for kids, how risqué can we expect your character to be?
She's always a bit of a flirt, but this maybe takes it a bit further! She's still fun and this is the great thing about working with Paddy and Jonny on this. We're all coming at it from the same viewpoint- we want to take these characters, we want to give it an adult twist, but we in no way want to belittle pantomine. Yes, it's an adult show, and yes it does have the 18 on the poster, but it's not just rudeness, smutten, swearing for the sake of it. It follows the same rules I have when I'm writing any panto. The top of my pinboard at home in my office reads 'Adventure Story'. Every panto has to be an Adventure Story and Panto's On Strike is the same thing. It's an adventure... for adults!
You’re known as a writer, director and actor, so what can we expect from you in 2011?
Im going back to work for First Family Entertainment, which is the pantomime company that I work for. I've got lots more writing to do for them next year. There is a possibility I may go out on tour as Nicely Nicely from Guys and Dolls in the Spring. Possibly, I may go back to Stafford Castle for another open air Shakespeare, which I've done for the past couple of years.
Finally, why do you think people should come and watch Pantos On Strike?
You know what, it's actually going to be such a fun night out. We're taking longer to write the script than we thought because we're spending a lot of time laughing. We've got a great song written by Robbie Williams and I have to say we have spent an absolute fortune on the set. It's going to look fantastic, we've got a five piece band, we've got one of the countries top lighting designers, a huge sound rink- it's going be very, very funny and I promise you, you are going to have a great night out!
Paddy McGuinness and Jonathan Wilkes
What inspired you to create a pantomime for the adults?
Jonathan: It's not like a panto, as in Cinderella-this is an original story based around pantomime characters.
Paddy: I watched a panto for the first time a few years ago. I was sat there, a 35 year old, in a theatre full of kids. I loved seeing how excited they got and how they believed it, and you get swept up in that. Jonny was saying about this Pantos On Strike and I loved the name and I loved the idea. You're not doing, like Jonny said, a Cinderella or a Peter Pan, but they're in it. You're not coming along seeing a panto you've seen before, just with some adult jokes in it, it's not like that.
Can you tell us a bit about the narrative and your roles within it?
Jonathan: The panto land as we know it, such as Peter Pan, Snow White and Dick Whittington, has had to go on strike because an evil King has taken over the Panto world. It's up to me and Paddy to go and save Panto world because if it doesn't get saved, kids will never see Panto again. I have to get Paddy along to help me, but really he doesn't care less about panto. It's a great and original fairytale story.
Paddy: It starts off now in the real world, in my flat. Jonny comes in and tries to persuade me to help him (I'm cutting it down for you now, obviously!), but basically 'boomph', we're in Panto Land. I start off very cynical and really don't like it, and as it goes on I eventually get a costume, and after a while I'll do a song and by the end I'm like 'slap my thigh- he's behind you!' All the characters are doing different jobs now and it is that journey of getting them back to what they should be doing, so that all the kids will be happy.
How long have you two been friends and where did you meet?
Jonathan: Last week. No, seven or eight years ago.
Paddy: Yeh, we did. You meet people in this job and you go 'oh, their nice', but you don't see them again, and we just stayed in touch because we got on really well. It just went from there. We've done a few things together since, not work as such- more things like Soccer Aid. This is the first time we have actually worked together.
I hear your friend, Robbie Williams, has written a song for the production. Who has the privilege of singing the number and (although a long shot) is there any chance at all we can expect a special guest appearance from the Take That star?
Jonathan: Not only Robbie now, Gary Barlow as well! You have to come and watch it to see who has the privilege of singing it.
Paddy: And, wink wink, they will be there on the night when we preview the song, wink wink.
Jonathan: It should be called Pantos On Strike: Wink Wink.
How are you both finding working with the rest of the cast?
Jonathon: Absolutely shocking, the lack of professionalism is astounding. No, seriously, we are all there for each other in this, we all have to trust one another. What we try to do is build a family around us and Eric was a massive part of that, because he's possibly one of the best pantomime performers there is.
Paddy: Although I've done stand up on stage and I've acted in front of a camera, I've never done anything like this. The fact that Eric, Brian and Jonny are around me, makes me feel better.
Not having the younger target audience in mind, can we still expect all the typical pantomime clichés- the ‘he’s behind you's’ etc?
Paddy: This show is about the audience getting involved, so there are plenty of 'he's behind you's', 'oh no he isn't's!', but it is for grown up boys and girls. On the night, it is a chance for the audience to act like kids and have a bit of fun.
Jonathan: We want people to come along and enjoy themselves.
Finally, what 2011 plans have you both made thus far?
Paddy: My Sky Plus is heaving with stuff I've not had chance to watch! January 1st, I will be going through the back catalogue of Lost.
Jonathan: I'll be working. You start getting offers now and I'll have to weigh things up. You never know, we might go out with this again...
Although you are most famous for your television role of villain Richard in Corrie, you have also become a familiar face on the stage, starring in shows such as Stepping Out and Rocky Horror. What is it about the theatre that you prefer to screen to work?
Well a question that I am often asked is, 'Do you prefer theatre or television or film?', and I always say, I love it all. I feel very fortunate to do the job I do, and it's very exciting moving from one medium to another. The advantage of theatre is that you get a good rehearsal process, which is obviously very enjoyable (you don't really get that in television or film) and you get a lot of audience, which really keeps you on your toes! There's nothing like an audience laughing or applauding, or the warm feeling that you get from them. Sometimes you even get boos, which is great as well!
Will we be seeing more screen or stage work in 2011, or a bit of both?
I've been involved a lot in the Coronation Street 50th birthday celebrations, so I'm giving my spoof cameo role of Dicky, who is a distant cousin of Richard's, in a one off DVD. It's very funny and has already been filmed. Yesterday- this is the mad life I have at the moment- I was actually recording Richard Hillman's song for the musical of Coronation Street, which was just fantastic. The music is, I have to say, very good- they have been working on it for about a year and a half and they asked me to do this song and I've got the Royal Philharmonic backing me! There's lots of other things to do with Coronation Street- there's a big documentary coming up and there is a chance I will be doing a musical, if not of Coronation Street, then of something else. As regards film and television, I've really been concentrating on doing theatre. I'm doing this and then I go straight on to be Captain Hook at the Lowry, which is a part I have always wanted to play. In a sense it's great because it's extremes of the genre! We've got Pantos On Strike, which is very rude and very sexy (I hope!) and then very traditional, family entertainment.
Having been a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing can we expect any moves from you in this production?
Well the funny thing is it did do me a lot of good, because I did fail quite miserably and it was quite humiliating, horrible and embarrassing! I've just done a tour of Stepping Out, which actually did come to the Opera House last year and very kindly somebody nominated me for the MEN awards, which was fantastic. In a sense, I had to learn to tap dance and do very fiercely difficult choreography. I figure that if I can do that, I can do anything! It's a question of remembering things, and on Strictly I was actually quite ill- I had the really horrible flu that was going round- and I just about got through the first part OK and then lost it in the dance off.
You have already starred in a traditional pantomime, playing Abanazar in Aladdin. How are you finding working in a panto written specifically for adults and how does your role fit into the piece?
Johnny Wilkes rang me up. We're great mates because we did Guys and Dolls together and we got on almost too well I think! Mad! He rang me up and said he would love for me to be in this project that he has been working on for a long time and that was close to his heart and I said, yeh go on! I'll tell you what I love- the fact Eric Potts is associated with it, because Eric knows all about a pantomime. The thing about Johnny Wilkes and Eric is that they love pantomime and their hearts are in it. I think what we'll get is some true iconic pantomime, with Paddy McGuinness destroying it all! It's a good combination and I have a lot of faith in Johnny and Eric- it will be very rude, it will be very sexy, but why not, it's something a bit different.
What is it about the part of a villain that you most enjoy?
Since playing Richard Hillman seven and a half years ago, I have been in Where the Heart Is, a rehearsed reading the RSC, Stepping Out (which was a shy character, who had trouble finishing his sentences!) and lots more different things and now I can let rip again. I love playing the villain!
How are you enjoying being back in Manchester and what do you like most about performing here at the Opera House?
I always like coming to Manchester. The first time I worked here was in 1975 and that was doing Crown Court, and then I came up here and played a social worker called Donald Worthington in Coronation Street. I've done lots of other things for Granada and I've just grown to like Manchester. Although it's a big city, it's almost like a village, and to me it is a very warm place and there's a lovely atmosphere here. It's always been a great city, but it's getting a lot better-it's got a great buzz about it, a fabulous University, and it is very important to the North of England to have Manchester as a very vibrant place. I know that when I did lots of personal appearances around the country to do with Coronation Street, you realise how important it is to the North. Everything's London centric, and that's why it's important that Corrie thrives and Manchester thrives, and it is thriving!
Finally, what do you think audiences will most enjoy about Pantos On Strike?
It's a toss up between the sexiness and the rudeness! Hopefully the audience will see us having a lot of fun and they will enjoy being a part of it.
Paddy McGuiness, Jonathan Wilkes, Eric Potts and Brian Capron were speaking to Rebecca Cohen.
Pantos On Strike runs at the Manchester Opera House from 12 - 27 November.