Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)

09 December 2020 (released)

09 December 2020

Theatre Royal Windsor announced their winter Panto while we were still basking in the heat of summer. Panto season always seems to start unseasonably early as it’s the most important time of the year for many regional theatres. However, this year, it felt extra bold and confident to be promising a show while many other theatres had withdrawn theirs, and all the theatres were still closed in the aftermath of our first lock down. However, ‘bold and confident’ is exactly what we need right now, and that’s what Panto is all about. After the second lockdown and the theatre closing again, it really did feel magical to be finally sitting in the auditorium, feeling the thrum of anticipation as we waited for the show to start.

Safety measures were in place with seating spaced out between the booked groups, the luxury of bar orders delivered to us in our seats and the audience all sporting face masks. Nevertheless, I was curious as to how Panto could work in our Covid-careful environment. How would the crew drum up the excitement they usually get from full audience participation?

I needn’t have worried. We were in the safe hands of Windsor’s perennial Panto professionals – script writer and Panto Dame Steven Blakeley and his comic partner Kevin Cruise. As soon as we heard their effusive voices warmly greeting us from behind the curtains, we knew we could relax back into our seats and get ready to be thoroughly entertained. The cast was smaller than in previous years but they made up for their reduced number with energy and vigour. Along with another annual Windsor favourite, Basil Brush, playing Cinderella’s father, we had Strictly Come Dancing star, Debbie McGee as Fairy Twinkletoes. Many of the other performers have been on stage at Theatre Royal Windsor before but the two leads, Cinderella (Alice Fillary) and Prince Charming (Dominic Sibanda) are treading the boards here for the first time this year.

Steven Blakeley certainly had his work cut out, having to make numerous alterations to the script to keep it topical and relevant. Last minute changes of cast didn’t throw him. Debbie McGee replaced the previously billed Britt Eckland but he tailored her lines brilliantly to draw on her career launching partnership as assistant to Magician Paul Daniels, and ongoing jokes about her Strictly experiences.

The stunning stage set, amazingly engineered props and glittering costumes gave us a banquet to feast our eyes on. Steven gamely modelled a wildly ridiculous range of eye watering Dame outfits which kept the laughter rolling. The musical score delivered something for everyone with a lively mix of numbers from golden oldies right up to contemporary pop, each given a fresh treatment and belted out with gusto by the performers.

Although the audience couldn’t shout or sing along, we were encouraged to clap or stamp for the ‘it’s behind you’ bits. The raucous rumbling of feet and hands gave audience participation a unique flavour of its own. There were a few inevitable slip ups and forgotten lines but the galloping pace of the tightly packed show kept us riding on a high to the end. Even Kevin skipped a line during the well-loved tradition of their “12 Days of Christmas” rendition but he laughed his way through his blunder, endearing himself to us even more. As ever, the shining Panto stars are Steven and Kevin, their infectious enthusiasm envelops us all in this foot-stamping delight of a show. In this of all years, this is a real tonic – don’t miss it – get your Christmas razzle dazzle on!

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