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Reporter, Jessica Earnshaw, takes a peek behind the scenes at Ilford’s panto, Cinderella

11:30 21 December 2012

The panto cast at the Kenneth More theatre

The panto cast at the Kenneth More theatre

Archant

On crossing the boundary from audience member to volunteer and walking through the stage door at Ilford’s theatre, my eyes are drawn to a wig-less ugly sister relaxing backstage.

It was at that moment that my concerns grew that all the fun and magic of pantomime, which has become a Christmas institution for so many, could be ruined for me forever, but how wrong I would be.

Cinderella, the Kenneth More Theatre’s 38th pantomime, is a truly lavish affair featuring a cast which I would soon realise is like one big family who dedicate every waking moment to getting the performance right.

After resisting the urge to try on the glass slippers, I was led backstage to a world of giant pumpkins, outrageous outfits and smoke machines to discover what it was really like behind-the-scenes.

The theatre, in Oakfield Road, has prided itself on its annual pantomime since its doors first opened in 1975 and this year’s will certainly not disappoint.

As a life-size glittery carriage is wheeled past, I am introduced to technical manager Rob Mitchell-Gears, who would be showing me the ropes and, after 22 years at the theatre, he was probably the best one to make sure I wasn’t a hindrance backstage.

The show opens to the public tomorrow (Friday) and was being performed for the borough’s schoolchildren last week, so the cast had been putting in long hours to make sure it was perfect.

Rob tells me: “It is definitely a family affair here. I just love the Kenneth More and to work here you must love it.

“We regularly do 16 hour days and you can only prepare so much in advance. Everything you see, apart from the carriage, is made by us.”

Within minutes of arriving in the wings, the show begins and as soon as the cast step out under the lights they are the characters from the well-known fairytale.

Rob said: “The biggest challenge with Cinderella has been trying to make it look visually stunning and I am thrilled with how its turned out.

“We are very proud of the panto, especially as we have such a small budget. There’s always extra pressure to make it better than the last and to make a good profit, as it keeps the theatre going throughout the following year. It is our survival.”

As the crew run around backstage carrying heavy costumes and making the relevant scene changes, their hard work and dedication is clear to see.

The striking and often unusual costumes are among the highlights, and Ugly Sister, Christopher Marlowe, tells me the giant wigs are “solid”.

As the cast perform Act 1 without any hiccups, and the half time finale goes off in true panto style, I am left in awe at the beautiful show and am in no doubt of its successful reception.

Theatre manager and panto director Steven Day added: “The panto is all I live and breathe for six weeks. It is such a British tradition, and I’ve been coming to see it here since 1981.

“It is the theatre’s only in-house professional show and it seems to have a huge following. For a theatre of this size, you will not get another production like it.”

n Book your tickets by calling 020 8553 4466 or visit www.kmtheatre.co.uk. The show will run until January 19.

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