Gavin Jon Wright, aka Buttons, promises plenty of laughs at this year’s panto
Who doesn’t love a panto at Christmastime? These musical comedy stage productions have entertained families for decades – oh yes they have!
This year’s pantomime at Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre is Cinderella, and who better to tell us what to expect than Buttons himself, actor Gavin Jon Wright?
“We have a read-through before we hit rehearsals,” Gavin begins. “There’s a scene between the step-mother and Cinderella which is like, a proper get-your-teeth-into drama… and the two actors performing it are amazing.”
He’s referring to Melanie Bell and Bethany Tennick, who play Lady Loco Chanel McClatchy and Cinderella, respectively.
“It’s really, really engaging,” Gavin continues. “Full of spirit, full of character and viguour. And the sisters are next level funny.”
The ugly sisters are played by Fraser Boyle and Ali Cleland.
“They’ve known each other for a very long time,” Gavin says of the two actors, “so there’s chemistry there. The pair of them are really outrageously funny!”
Fraser Boyle actually co-wrote the production with Ken Alexander, the duo putting their own unique spin on his traditional tale. It was written specifically for The Gaiety, the local references undoubtedly adding to its appeal.
“Because the show is written specifically for The Gaiety it means that it’s been created with the area in mind and so it has all of these local references that people will recognise and associate with. Add in the natural chemistry that some of the actors have got with each other, it’s really good and exceptionally funny.”
I can’t help but notice that Gavin has omitted to mention his own character while singing the praises of the show.
“That’s not for me to say!” he laughs, before modestly revealing Buttons’ characteristics. “Some people call him the comic but I think he’s more of the panto pal. His role is to be Cinderella’s friend and the audience’s friend. Buttons is very much full of heart and spirit. He’s always trying to make a joke but ultimately, at the heart of it, is his care for his friend, Cinderella, who he more than fancies a bit!”
With humour very much at the heart of the story, is it fair to say it’s not just for kids?
“No, it’s not! There’s one joke that genuinely had me in tears. I had to stop reading the script because the joke was too funny. Essentially, there’s enough heart, story and humour for the adults, but the same for kids as well. They’ve written a really well-balanced script. Families will really enjoy it.”
As for Gavin, he’s looking forward to being back on stage at The Gaiety.
“This will be my fifth year at The Gaiety since 2019. It’s nice to get in at the start of something new… an old building and a lovely old theatre, but a new team and a new approach.”
Originally from Glasgow, Gavin spent much of his youth in Penrith, but returned to Scotland to attend college in Coatbridge. He also has family in Ayr so performing at The Gaiety is always a treat. However, he didn’t necessarily envisage a career in acting.
“I always enjoyed doing school plays and stuff,” he tells me, “but I never really thought it would be my job, simply because it didn’t feel like it was an option. I didn’t even know it was something that you could do.”
He admits he ‘fell into acting’ when he saw a brochure for a drama school in a careers office.
“I was due to go to uni to do a degree in business studies or something. I can’t remember exactly what, but I got a bit frightened of going… the whole idea of the big city and whatever. I happened to see a brochure for a drama school in Glasgow. I was like, what’s a drama school?”
Needless to say, the degree didn’t happen and Gavin went on to pursue a career in acting after leaving Coatbridge with a Higher National Diploma. He remembers his first paid role in 2003.
“It was the seminal production of Sleeping Beauty for Hopscotch Theatre Company. They’re a brilliant company and take shows into schools. I was playing the jester for six weeks. I was on £250 a week and I thought I was earning the world and worth a fortune! I was 23, I had no agent then.”
Since then, his list of theatre credits has grown considerably, with roles in productions such as Trainspotting, Ulysses, Jack & The Beanstalk and Snow White. He’s also appeared in numerous TV serious including River City, Shetland and Still Game.
I ask if he prefers stage or screen.
“I don’t want to sound like a cliché but… I don’t really have a preference. I’ve been really lucky to have done a decent chunk of stuff but I feel like because I’ve done more theatre the natural thing to say is, I’d love to do a bit more screen. It’s one of those things, you’re never really happy. But to be completely honest, I’d love to do some more screen stuff, simply because it would be nice to add a few credits that way in terms of stuff that I’ve done.”
He admits, though, that the two disciplines are very different and that he would miss the instant audience response.
“That’s one of the really fun things about panto… the audience is on your side and they want to experience something together and have a good time. People are there to enjoy themselves and that live experience is really prevalent, it’s lovely.”
He continues to compare screen and stage acting: “You’re still essentially trying to make someone believe that you’re someone you’re not, but the way it’s done and the techniques used… it’s such a different way of working. Stage is obviously live and it’s a shared experience between you and whoever’s in the audience. The spontaneity of an audience reaction is really lovely. It’s nice to know that you’ve helped to create that immediate, honest response.”
Cinderella begins at The Gaiety on 1st December with dates right through to 7th January. Beyond that, Gavin has other stage ambitions.
“One character I’d love to have played, bizarrely, is the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. It was the first main stage show that I did and I was understudy. I went on as the tin man, but I’d love to do the scarecrow. I think the opportunity has probably passed me by now, though.”
And the small screen?
“In terms of series, I’d kind of love to do something set in Scotland, maybe set in wartime. Something along those lines… I don’t know if anything is getting made, but if somebody wants to make one… “
Writers, take note!
In the meantime, Buttons and the rest of the Cinderella cast are waiting to entertain you at The Gaiety Theatre in Ayr. For tickets, visit www.thegaiety.co.uk