This year it was Cinderella with Keith Chegwin as Buttons. It was extra special for me as I’d had the privilege of interviewing Keith months before for Wiltshire Life magazine and found out more about him than I’d known previously. He’s an astute businessman, family man, entertainer, presenter – a man of many facets.
For people of a certain age Keith means Swap Shop as Noel Edmunds‘ sidekick, an associate of Mr Blobby and other childish fads for today’s grown-up children. But, of course, he’s much more than that. He’s a committed musician with his own studio, who often works under a pseudonym.
I think my favourite comment from him was that pantomime is not hard work and when he hears actors’ complaints about it, he reminds them that others work much harder for far less money. Keith has a perspective of life that’s real, he appreciates good fortune and understands that many don’t have it – at least not in terms of money.
So I came to the pantomime, excited to see it. And it was very, very entertaining. My measure for this is to look at my four-year-old and my ten-year-old to see how much they are joining in. They were mesmerised, shouting, waving those light stick thingies, and jumping up and down when required. When the Fairy Godmother (played by Alex Young) wanted us to do something rather too complex every time she came on stage, only a few got it every time and my daughter was one!
Buttons (Keith Chegwin of course) talked to the children all of the time and they loved him. Parents were peripheral (though he did tell me my pathetic attempt at a star jump was well, pathetic) and the little people lapped it up. I did feel a bit sorry for him, as he’d clearly lost his voice and was struggling to sing. But this is pantomime, where much can be forgiven. And he kept up a patter of jokes (much like he does on Twitter) so there was a stream of laughter all of the time.
The singing all round was exceptionally good this year – there was no sense of people who couldn’t deliver. Especially Cinderella and Prince Charming – played by Sasi Strallen & Adam King. Perhaps the slightly weaker singer was Jenny-Ann Topham who played the Wicked Step-mother but her acting more than made up for that. She was a fantastic baddie.
For me, the stars of the show were the Ugly Sisters Wendy & Gail – played wonderfully by David Ashley & Neal Wright. One about seven feet tall, one much, much smaller but both big in personality. When they first came on stage, for us adults, they commanded the audience, you just knew that every time they appeared it was going to be a scream. They were fantastic, funny and saucy – all that’s required of the pantomime dame. And their audience victim? The man they pick on throughout the show? My lovely husband Steve – who apparently was off to Old Town for a night out with them! He’d go too, if they were paying!…..