Life's No Drag for William Caulfield

The Lurgan comic reflects on 10 years as Derry's favourite Dame ahead of this year's Millennium Forum panto

This is your fifteenth year performing in panto, and your tenth at the Millennium Forum. What is it that’s drawn you back to the medium year after year?

William: Panto is so much fun to do it's a no brainer for me, plus when I spend all year doing stand up I am on my own with the success of the show resting on me alone, it's great to have a full cast to have fun with both on and off the stage.

In many of those shows you’ve been the Dame, and this year play arguably the most famous in Widow Twankey. Do you feel like the role has evolved at all in your time or is it as traditional as ever?

Thankfully pantomime as a genre is very traditional, indeed that is why it's so successful and the role of the dame is as it has been for many many years.

A few years ago it was said to be an endangered species over fears of political correctness. Do you think it still warrants a place in modern panto?

As far as I'm concerned the political incorrectness of panto is what makes it what it is, and with the huge numbers of well known people queuing up to get cast in a panto I reckon it will long continue.

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Can you talk us through the transformation into Widow Twankey?

Well obviously it's mainly down to make up and costume. The make up of my face I have down to a fine art and I'm a great believer that less is more. To my mind a Dame should be easily recognisable as a man dressed as a woman as opposed to a drag queen. After the dress (with false bosoms) is on I'm still not Twankey. That comes only when the wig and hat is on and once they are Widow Twankey is ready for action.

Have the costume changes and larger than life performances gotten any easier over the years?

The costume changes are never easy. Thankfully I have others to have them ready for me when I rush off stage and help me into them. I think the more I play Dame the more comfortable I am with the persona and I relax into it.

Is panto still as ingrained in the holiday period as ever? What do think its enduring appeal is down to?

Oh yes it is! The appeal is the different levels of humour for each generation. The slightly naughty jokes are always above the heads of the kids and enjoyed by mums and dads. It's a night out for all the family safe in the knowledge that no one will be offended or embarrassed.

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What would you say to those who look down on it as a lesser form of theatre?

I think Sir Ian McKellen put to rest that idea when he played Widow Twankey just a few years ago.

Is there something in particular about the Derry audiences that keeps you a fixture at the Forum?

Thankfully the producer keeps asking me back! Though I do enjoy the audience here, especially when I leave the stage and go in amongst them. They enjoy a good laugh and are up for laughing at themselves.

At this point is it fair to say panto is firmly a part of Christmas culture in Northern Ireland?

I'm not sure if it's part of the culture but it's certainly a family favourite judging by the increasing ticket sales each year.

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Can you see yourself still relishing the role for the length of time the likes of John Linehan has as May McFettridge, or will there be a point you think you’d like to concentrate on other things at this time of year?

I absolutely love the role, love panto and have a great creative team and marketing team at the Millennium Forum so I would think that as long as they want me and all the terms are agreeable I will be there.

What sets Aladdin apart from the plethora of other productions on offer elsewhere throughout the country?

Well each panto is unique in its own way and Aladdin is no exception. The flying magic carpet and the much anticipated Genie make it very special.

What have been your highlights from performing at the Forum over the past decade?

You've certainly left the hardest question to the last! Each year really has its own. When we do Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs obviously it is the fun working with such talented actors that those seven have been on each occasion.

With Cinderella it has been the real live pony on stage each day. A couple of years ago I had an absolute ball playing Captain Hook, my first time as a baddie. On reflection I think it has been meeting so many great cast members some of which who without doubt will be friends for life.

Aladdin runs at the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry from Friday, December 4 until Sunday, January 3. Tickets are on sale now via the venue website and box office.