On a wet Tuesday night, with children limp from school and begging for pizza and the sofa, not even this enthusiastic reviewer had much energy for a trip to the panto. But OMG, can I just tell you that Aylesbury Waterside Theatre’s Cinderella production is one of the funniest pantos I’ve seen in years. Anywhere.
A few years back (is it four now, maybe five?) AWT clocked the unlikely alchemy that occurred between Britain’s Got Talent’s La Voix, and ‘local funnyman’ Andy Collins, and the duo have become the mainstay of the Aylesbury panto ever since. Kind of like turkey on Christmas Day, or a circling of the Radio Times on Boxing Day (oh come on, it’s not just me) it’s familiar, comforting, just not something you want to mess with. Clearly La Voix lives for the spotlight (and looks great in it) but has the kind of down-to-earth northern charm that has you on side from the get-go, while Collins, now host at BBC Three Counties Radio, is a seasoned warm up act for Saturday Night Take Away, Britain’s Got Talent, Masked Singer, The X Factor and Jonathan Ross and knows how to get an audience onside, fast.
La Voix (left) and Andy Collins (right)
So what’s made it work particularly well this year? I think in previous years, the supporting cast around the pair has, at times, been a bit limp, but for Cinderella it feels like there’s been a massive jump in quality and it’s super-charged the panto.
Mark Rhodes (of CBBC’s Sam and Mark fame – ask your kids) is a charismatic, warm and confident Dandini, with excellent comic timing and a surprisingly fine pair of tonsils. But his star power is challenged by an excellent Prince Charming, written cleverly into the script as dim and entitled but ultimately a good sort, and brought to life by the relatively inexperienced Regan Burke with great comedic chops and even better vocals. Together Rhodes and Burke created literal whoops of enjoyment amongst the audience and even a seasoned old hack like me found myself smiling like a simpleton while they were singing Take That’s Shine. They just seemed so damned happy to be performing, and it swept the whole audience along in a sort of pure panto joy. It was pretty amazing.
Regan Burke (left) and Mark Rhodes (right)Kristopher Milnes (left) and Chris Nelson (right)
The boos in this show were aimed at the Ugly Sisters, played by the director himself Chris Nelson (as Gemma) and, my favourite, Kristopher Milnes (as Stacey) – hamming it up to the hilt, hilarious at times, borderline frightening at others, and quick with a quip.
The surprise of the night was when Cinderella (Gemma Naylor) ran off stage midway through the first half and, um, never came back. La Voix and Andy Collins bantered as best they could before finally having to bring down the curtain, lifting it again ten minutes later with a Cinderella understudy, Shannon Rothwell, plucked from the dance troupe! Though clearly nervous at times, particularly where she was singing solos alone on stage (she was a little pitchy), it sort of felt in keeping with the show – she was really having her own Cinderella moment and we were all on her side. At the curtain call, when she shed a tear, it was very moving.
Worth mentioning the script too, which undoubtedly had a huge impact on this show’s success. Apart from some terrible fairy jokes that started off proceedings (La Voix struggling valiantly to make them funny), there was a particularly large quotient of adult jokes this year, which my 12 year old found hilarious. As he said, he’s now at peak panto watching age – young enough to like the willy jokes, and old enough to know what rhymes with Danny. But my 14 year old daughter, too cool for school, absolutely loved it too – particularly the water pistols, ghost sequence and now legendary annual 12 Days of Christmas routine.
Trust me when I say this panto is a total winner. Book it, and enjoy.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families of all ages – brilliant for littlies, hilarious for teens. The relatively short running time made it feel like every scene counted.
Not for: More prudish temperaments might want to steer clear – the adult jokes come thick and fast. See what I mean?
Cinderella, 3 Dec – 2 Jan. Tickets from £13. Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Exchange Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 1UG.
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