DICK Whittington finally opens at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this week, with Jonathon Wilkes being hailed as ‘the funniest panto front man in the business’ and Gillian Wright admitting that behind the scenes things are hectic but the cast has ‘high hopes’ for the show.
The much publicised panto runs from Friday until the end of the month, and is loosely based on a true British story – there actually was a Richard Whittington, and he did become Lord Mayor of London in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.
Soap-star favourite Gillian Wright, best known for her role as Jean Slater in EastEnders, plays the quirky fairy Bow Bells.
Backstage she describes the atmosphere as ‘wonderful’, saying: “It is very friendly, very light, very happy and I couldn’t ask for more – but it is a pantomime of course and it is meant to be fun.”
Wright might be best known for her TV work, but is also an established theatre actress.
She says: “I have done a lot of panto before, it is a lovely welcome break. You have to change your mindset, but it is what I was brought up doing.
“The audience reacts differently and every show is different.
“It’s different, because there is no rehearsal for EastEnders.”
Wright explains that cast members rarely get to rehearse during the TV soap, and are expected to turn up knowing their lines and be ready to go.
She said: “That is why when anyone is touched or moved by one of the scenes no-one can know how much of a compliment that is.”
Despite this, she describes the last two and a half weeks of rehearsals for the Aylesbury panto as ‘intense’.
Wright explains that rehearsals are ‘going well’ – although admits as an actress it would be impossible not to be a little nervous about how well she will perform on opening night.
It is not just the professionals with last minute nerves. Tina-Louise and the Bellyrinas, the winners of the Waterside Theatre’s first birthday talent competition, will get to perform on stage during one of the shows.
Judge and show co director Christian Patterson says that writing them into the panto has been quite straightforward.
He said: “Actually the place to put the winners was obvious, and that is the same whoever won, because we have a scene that is set in Morocco where the Sultan of Morocco puts on a lavish reception.
“Because the scene is set in the Sultan’s palace Tina-Louise and the Bellyrinas are amazingly perfect.”
He stresses: “It was anyone’s game on the night, Jacob Cole or the girl acts they were all amazing and could have all been easily slotted in.”
With just days to go until the curtain goes up, Patterson admits that the rehearsal schedule is ‘tight’.
At one point the show has around 30 actors on stage.
Patterson said: “It is the equivalent of putting on a big West End musical and you only having to two and a half weeks.
“You have the funniest panto front man in the business in Jonathan Wilkes – people won’t be disappointed.”