Watching this year’s pantomime at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre was a revelation – I finally ‘got’ all those smutty jokes that went over my head as a child!
The 300-year-old English traditionis all about quips, japes, topical humour and gender-crossing characters – and this year’s production of Cinderella is no exception.
Coaches line Exchange Street as they deliver hundreds of excitable youngsters and their weary teachers to their end-of-term treat.
After I pass the throng of squealing schoolchildren,I’m whisked backstage and told to puton a black fleece to fit in with the crew uniform, ensuring I remain as inconspicuous as possible.
I made myself comfy in a strategically-placed chair, all ready to watch the show unfold from a different angle until I was turfed out by Baron Hardup himself – aka Russell Grant!
The bubbly astrologer said jokingly: “You’ve made yourself at home there, haven’t you!” before he flopped down and familiarised himself with his lines.
From my new vantage spot I spied the ‘front desk’, which is the nerve centre of the whole operation and has more buttons, knobs and switches than a NASA rocket control panel.
I’m told it looks after everything from the curtain moving up and down to the pyro fireworks which burst into life each time Fairy Godmother Suzanne Shaw makes her entrance on stage.
A mini screen on the desk displays the stage as the audience sees it and you can also spy on musical director Simon Pickering from his pew in the live orchestra ‘pit’.
The props tables is groaning under the weight of the funny items used during the show, including a fake leg, a giant stocking and a magic hat that makes you go ‘temporarily deaf’.
Despite its slapstick exterior, the pantomime has to be as slick as a high-brow London play behind the scenes and there is a dedicated team of around 20 people in the wings there to ensure the show runs like clockwork.
The paraphernalia for the adapted 12 days of Christmas tune performed by Buttons and the Ugly Sisters? All lined up in order, ready to be handed to the actors on cue.
The iconic glass slipper, which smashes into a million pieces on stage? One made out of ice is swapped with the sparkly one at the last moment, ready for the ‘trip’ scene – no guesses for what happens there!
One thing that struck me was the casual professionalism of the cast– even the youngest dancers were relaxed as they lined up, stretching their muscles, waiting to prance on and do their thing in front of the expectant audience.
It’s clear to see that they really adore what they do. It’s less of a job and more of a passion. They are at their happiest when performing under the lights and wearing the ostentatious outfits.
And the young audience clearly love it, judging from the piercing screams. As it goes, children are happier to ‘go for it’ when it comes to audience participation. It’s the adults that need prodding.
But Andy Collins gets them on board as loveable Buttons and soon teachers and parents are doing jazz hands with the best of them.
After watching the show from the stalls just days earlier, I was most interested in finding out how Cinderella, played by blonde beauty Holly Brewer, went from wearing her old rags to a stunning bejewelled ball gown in the blink of an eye – but I won’t ruin the magic, as some secrets are supposed to stay that way –secret.
Cinderella runs until January 4 with both matinee and early evening performances.
For tickets, visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/aylesbury-waterside-theatre/ or call the box office on 0844 871 7607.