“I always use the word lucky because I know it could change at any time, and I am lucky to be here,” chuckles Michael Fletcher. “If this is my last job though, I’ve had a ball.”
Michael, who plays Buttons in the latest Royal Court panto, Scouse Cinderella, could not be more happy to be here. This year’s production has just only just begun and is already receiving rave reviews.
The incredibly NSWF show is, as usual, made up of him and all his closest friends (and family) and he’s having a blast doing it, he tells Jamie Tichborne.
How is it to be back at the Royal Court for another panto with a very well established cast?
I always feel very lucky to be working here. There’s something very special about this place. It’s a relationship with the audience that you never get with anywhere else. They’re like the other cast member. Luckily because it’s the exact same cast as last year we all know each other inside out; I’m related to one of them and did the wedding for another! It’s like a family.
Tell us a bit about the show and the Royal Court’s spin on it?
Everyone knows the story of Cinderella but our version switches it on its head. Without giving the game away too much; Cinderella’s love is so strong that she has a curse on it. She’s lost her mum and the curse has had a very big impact on her life, wherein she can find love until the curse is broken. The two ugly sisters are played by Drew Schofield and Paul Duckworth, who are great at what they do. Lindsay Germain multi-roles with wicked Auntie Lil and Cinderella’s mum.
Expect loads of gags, a ton of political references with its pulse on a lot of the stuff going on in the city at the moment – for instance we touch on the selling of woods to build more houses, and the budget cuts. Lots of Christmas songs as well!
Will it appeal more to the locals then?
Yes and no. It’s in the title; the Scouse Cinderella. What I love about the Royal Court is you see the same faces year after year. I recently got chatting to two people who have come all the way from Coventry every year to see the show. People come down from Scotland and Ireland as well.
Although it is a Scouse-tastic thing, some people are coming to see that rather than just a generic panto. You’re coming to see the Scouse version of a well established piece. It’s a positive and a negative because some gags may go over people’s heads but there are enough jokes to cover all bases.
It seems like it would be a lot of fun to perform, is this the case?
We have an absolute ball! Because we all know each other, we can make eachother laugh even with just a stupid little look. We end up laughing on stage but the audience seem to love that more; when it all goes wrong! Every night it’s different, every audience is different, the heckles are different and they add to the show.
For instance, I play Buttons, and I have to get a member of the audience involved for a very important task. Every night it’s different and the audience have to get involved. Afterwards all of us go for a drink next door with the audience and it’s lovely. You don’t get that with other theatres, the audience are a real part of the show. I wish they could see it from the stage.
The last song we do, Time of Our Life – which feels like it goes on for ten hours! – has everyone on their feet joining in.
“We know each other inside out, and we can get away with murder!”
How do you manage to keep up the energy for the full six weeks?
Good question – ask me in five weeks! Our job is to make people laugh and have a good time. Playing Buttons I’ve been running around like a headless chicken half the time, so that’s been an interesting one. When you have the energy from 800 people though, celebrating Christmas, there’s lots of encouragement.
This year’s production was more political. Was this a conscious decision?
We were given a very political script from day one, and it was the obvious the avenue we were going to go through. In my opinion as much as escapism is brilliant in theatre, there’s a way of doing it cleverly, which is what I think and hope we’re doing.
An example is that the mayor has got strong references to mayors in general – I don’t want to give the game away! – and as I say it references selling off green spaces, the roles of women in society, and the current government. That’s the good thing about having the platform of theatre.
How much is ad-libbed?
Every night there’s ad-libs. Because we’ve all known each other for so long, some people as long as 12 years, we know each other inside out, and we can get away with murder!
We’re best mates so we can give each other a little look, and if that ends up making one of us laugh, trying to hide that in front of 800 people is the game. Putting each other off in a brilliant way and saying “Go on then, deal with that!”. We don’t stick to the script 100%.
While you’re writing it are there any parts that get cut for being too ‘rude’?
Yeah. We’re all clever enough to know that you can go too far. We don’t want it to be crass. This panto is not billed for kids though. The language is… interesting in parts, but we try to be clever with it.
It does get to a point sometimes where we feel we don’t need to swear again though. We don’t want it to be too self-indulgent. Some ideas rightly get rejected, so you can’t be too precious about it. They don’t necessarily get rejected for being to rude, it’s just if there’s something better we can say.
Looking back, you got to the last 20 of ITV’s Superstar. Did that help your career?
It was weird actually, because I did that while I was still at drama school. It was brilliant and I made loads of industry connections, but looking back, I was initially disappointed I didn’t get into the finals.
In hindsight I’m quite glad though. There were points where I sat in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s house thinking; “I’m severely overdrawn, sat in Majorca, what in God’s name has happened?”.
But I’m glad I didn’t get it, because you need to graft as an actor. Had I have got that straight from drama school it would’ve given me an unrealistic view of the game. It’s all about the filler jobs and it shouldn’t be easy, although I did have a ball.
“I saw a review earlier that called the Royal Court ‘The People’s Theatre’ and for me that summed it up…”
Your brother Stephen, who is also in the cast, has written and directed a play here. Do you have any similar aspirations?
So he did ‘Mam I’m ‘Ere’ and I was lucky enough to paint the set, and I love that type of involvement. I’d like to leave the rest to him. I can do it but I love the creative side. The desire for me is either to perform on stage or help make it.
The Royal Court celebrated its 80th birthday recently. What’s your sense of its place within Liverpool theatre scene and the audience it attracts?
I saw a review earlier that called it The People’s Theatre and for me that summed it up. It gives a voice to people who might have missed what it is to go to the theatre. Usually you end up seeing something like Shakespeare or a West End show. The Royal Court, in my opinion, caters for everyone in the middle.
When you meet people afterwards and they say “I’ve never been to the theatre before, is it always like this?” the answer is ‘yes’. There’s element of putting a finger on the pulse of Liverpool. It very cleverly caters for the people and doesn’t try to stifle them. It’s very much like that Carry On films in the sense that it’s the same people each year, but you’re wondering “What will they do this year?”.
What’s planned next for you?
Next year I’m going to the circus actually. I’m going to be doing a show in London called Gifted Circus, where I’ll be singing. It’s a bit of 60’s music, I’ll be playing sax as well. I’ve seen it before and it’s brilliant. There’s loads of animals all well looked after. I’ll be getting involved with that from April next year onwards and, hopefully, back here for Christmas!
Finally, what’s your favourite part of the show?
The last song is great, because everybody’s up for it, and when you’re looking out to three levels of people on their feet, clapping and singing, it’s just amazing. It really takes off. I also love the part where I work with someone from the audience, just because I can see the horror on that person’s face! But they are loving it really.
The Scouse Cinderella
Until 19 January