Michael brings Danny and Clive back to the Theatre in November in Robin Hood, so another sure fire hit is on the cards. However this year’s show, which was a new version of Cinderella, was undoubtedly the best pantomime I have ever seen, fast, furious and most of all fun all the way.
As regular readers will know, Michael Harrison kindly allows us access not only to the rehearsals, and press nights, but for the past three years to watch the panto from the wings and this year was no exception.
So, with only a few performances of Cinderella left I positioned myself next to DSM, Faith Butler, in the wings, as the audience heard the three minute call for the show to begin. From my position I could see the computers counting down cues, Faith issuing instructions over her headset and watch monitor showing not only the production from the audiences point a view, but a close up of the Musical Director and behind him the front row of the stalls. Next to me was the Little Waster, the raven that talks to the ugly sisters and glides out on to the stage when required. At times, I was surrounded by the children waiting to make their entrances on the musical numbers, cast and chorus members awaiting their cues and custard pies ready to hit the members of the audience who had “volunteered”.
Soon the curtain rose and Donna Steele as the Fairy, was gliding out from the stage without wires and across the orchestra pit towards a stunned audience (no I am not going to reveal how it’s done). From my position in the wings I could see the dancers preparing for their entrance and Chris Hayward, as Baroness Rita taking his place high above the stage for his entrance by hot air balloon.
Being sure not to get in anyone’s way, I remained firmly in my position, but the cast smiled and said hello as they waited for their entrances next to me, while straight across the stage in the opposite wings I could see the back stage crew prepare scenery. Not that far behind me was a beautiful real horse quietly waiting for its entrance. There is a flying horse, chorus line of tap dancing penguins and live pony also in the show.
What is notable is how all the props have their place and after being used are carefully returned to the correct position to wait the next performance. Notably the huge flying Pegasus which transports Cinderella to the ball, is stored carefully during the interval just moments after it has flown out across the front stalls, with Cinderella and Buttons in the carriage behind.
When Danny makes his entrance a Buttons, the audience reaction is phenomenal and just shows how much the North East have taken him and his real life father, Clive Webb to their hearts. Danny is not a familiar face from TV, but has become the heart of the Newcastle pantomimes who audiences respond to as they know he will deliver a brilliant performance. His definitive laugh has only to ring out across the darkened theatre for the audience to immediately react, with laughter and applause.
It is worth mentioning that off stage Danny is also a really nice guy, he spotted me waiting in the Green Room and immediately shot in to shake hand and have a few words before preparing for the performance. Recently by chance, my family and I ended up sitting near Danny and Clive in a theatre in their home town of Blackpool and they immediately stopped for a chat.
During the performance, the unseen back stage crew worked with the cast like a well-oiled machine to ensure the production runs smoothly. Props, scenery and even the slosh for scene where Danny and Clive get soaked to the skin, is all prepared and in place exactly where and when it is needed. In one scene as Danny hurtles off stage towards me on roller skates the crew are waiting to catch him and propel him backwards across the stage, where he passes Clive coming the other way.
Of course, when you work with real animals things do not always go smoothly and the horse decided not to perform as per the script, much to the delight of the audience and backstage crew, as they watched Danny try to keep control of the scene on stage.
What is notable is the fact the backstage crew and actors in the wings, sing along with the songs being performed on stage and react to anything out of the ordinary happening, as no two performances are ever the same. Under the watchful eye of Company Manager, Nigel Pentland, the cast and crew seemed like one large family all working extremely hard to ensure that for two and a half hours the audience see a fantastic show.
Over 80,000 people have seen Cinderella and not surprisingly, demand is extremely high for Robin Hood, I am already marking off the days until the boys are back in town.