Hidden heroes of Waterside panto

The techincal team at the Waterside panto
The techincal team at the Waterside panto

The excitement in the air is palpable at the Waterside Theatre as staff prepare for this year’s panto, Sleeping Beauty, which opened on Friday.

More than 100 people are involved in the production including sound and light technicians, stage crew, carpenters, front of house, marketing, wardrobe, make-up, chaperones and of course the cast.

Four 40ft artic lorries have this week delivered 26 sparkling backdrop cloths, a 164 kilo black backcloth, stunning scenery, props and costumes.

Technicians are preparing the stage, sound and lights to ensure the production starring Anita Dobson as wicked fairy Carabosse runs smoothly without a glitch.

Ali Trimming, marketing and press assistant at the theatre, said: “I love every new performance we get in, each one is exciting in its own way. But the pantomime is the one we get most involved in because they are here the longest, four weeks of performances and two weeks of rehearsal. And because it’s Christmas there is an extra buzz.”

Although Ali hasn’t seen the cast rehearsals she has heard some of it through closed doors and definitely heard a Queen number. Anita Dobson is of course married to Queen guitarist Brian May and it’s a certainty he will visit during the run.

Whilst Bucks Herald photographer Derek Pelling and I were watching the technical preparations we heard snippets of the theme tunes to EasteEnders and Strictly Come Dancing - both shows that Anita has appeared in.

Sound engineer Matt Williams is responsible for mixing the show and operating all the different microphones. He therefore has to know the script very well so that he knows when to turn the volume up for any particular actor, but of course in panto land actors very often go off script. Matt said: “We just have to react very quickly when they do that. I think it’s going to be great, I can’t wait.”

A wardrobe mistress and her assistant are responsible for the multitude of costumes used during the show, which includes a chorus of 24 children aged from seven to 17. At the end of each day the ladies will wash every single item of clothing and check for alterations and repairs.

Lucy Westnidge the company stage manager has taken up residence in Aylesbury with her pet rabbit Angela Lansbury for the final week of prep. Living in the neighbouring Travel Lodge she also has an office, complete with playpen for said rabbit, in the theatre. Her job is to keep the panto running smoothly and everyone happy. If a member of the cast is ill and therefore will miss a show, it’s her job to substitute the understudy.

There are 12 dressing rooms at the theatre of varying sizes. They all have loudspeaker intercoms so that cast memebrs can be called directly when they are needed on stage. There are also viewing monitors so that they can see what is going on, on stage.

Anita Dobson is expected to travel home to London each evening. Andy Collins (Chester the Jester) and Holly Brewer (Sleeping Beauty) will also travel home as they both live close by in Buckinghamshire. Christian Lund who plays the Prince and Graham Kent who plays Nurse Molly Coddle are lodging together in town.

Ali said that all the cast eat in the theatre restaurant which is open to the public, so there is always a chance of seeing them inbetween performances if you want to pop down to the theatre for a quick photograph or autograph.

Deputy technical manager Matt Rogers has worked at the theatre since it opened and this is his fourth panto. His job is to work with the panto production company First Family Entertainment and coordinate the sound, lights and stage crew. He said: “There is a lot of work involved in the pantomime but all the guys enjoy it, it’s good fun.

“Everything is going to plan and it’s going to be fantastic. Everybody will love it.”