The art of panto is relaxing into it, says Bognor's Buttons!
Henry Roadnight is playing Buttons. And yes, that really is his real name. Roadnight, not Buttons.
Henry suspects there might once have been a k in the name, night as in knight.
But it will be as Buttons that the audience will get to know him in Bognor Regis this Christmas when he takes to the stage in Cinderella at the Regis Centre.
“Buttons is a great part to play,” Henry says. “Buttons is the person of the people. He is there to try to get everybody involved, and he is everybody’s best friend. And also, he just loves Cinderella. He cares about her so much and wants to be with her forever. Thankfully he hasn’t read ahead in the script and discovered that that’s not going to happen!
“But he is a hopeless romantic, and the nice thing about Buttons is that he never seems to get down. He always finds a way of getting back to being positive. He is a hopeless romantic but in a way that is never desperate. He just loves Cinderella and doesn’t want her to be downtrodden by the ugly sisters.
“I have done pantomime before,” says Henry who hails from Ramsbottom – or Upper Ramsbottom as he cheekily and rather inventively prefers to call it.
“I played Wishee Washee in North Wales two years ago, and it was great. I really loved it. I had the best time doing it. It is such great fun making people laugh and seeing their reactions. Without an audience a pantomime would obviously just be nothing. They are so vital to it, and because the audience is so much part of it, it is almost like you are doing a different show every night. You can just never get bored. Everybody is involved and so it is always changing. It is almost like new audience and new plot every time.
“But yes, you can get a few kids getting a bit rowdy and shouting out inappropriate things.”
Also you can get youngsters wanting to be rather too involved in the action that is unfurling in front of them.
There was one night when a child crawled onto the stage in an effort to prevent Abanazar from locking up Aladdin. The cast just cracked up: “We just couldn’t hold it together!”
As Henry says, it’s terrifying, but it is also the thrill of pantomime, and you have got to be able to turn the unexpected to your advantage. The seasoned panto performer will make use of every opportunity that comes along – all part of learning to relax on stage.
That’s one of the most important lessons that Henry learnt on his pantomime debut: “I learnt that in the first couple of shows I just wasn’t ready for the amount of ad libs you have to do. It was my first-ever performing job, and I had learnt the script right off, but hadn’t learnt that you don’t do the script exactly as it is. You just have to learn to work off the script according to what is happening. At first I was thinking ‘Oh no! What I am going to say!’ when something happened, but you have just got to learn to relax into the show and the more you relax into it, the more you enjoy it and the more the audience enjoys it.”
Cinderella will be at Bognor’s Regis Centre from Tuesday, December 11 to Wednesday, January 2. Tickets on http://alexandratheatre.co.uk.