Roll up, Roll up – The Mercury Theatre presents it’s first ever Big Top Panto

Something unique is happening in Colchester soon. While the main building is being renovated and developed, the Mercury Theatre have pitched their theatrical magic under canvas at Abbey Fields, and this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, will be the first, and the last, to be performed in the Big Top! So what can audiences look forward to from this very special company and occasion? Paul T. Davies got a sneak preview of rehearsals, and chatted to director Ryan McBryde about that special mix of glitter, glamour, naughtiness and talent that makes up a good Panto.

Cinderella Mercury Theatre Colchester
The company of Cinderella. Photo: Pamela Raith

RYAN: First of all, Paul, I have to stress that what is seen in the rehearsal room stays in the rehearsal room!

PAUL: Well I’ve seen many bizarre sights as a Panto goer- probably the most bizarre being John Barrowman as Jack crooning to his cow in Jack and The Beanstalk, “Moo Moo Moo Moo Moo Moo Baby Please Don’t Go”, but I wouldn’t even know how to describe what I have just watched! Except to say it’s hilarious and the audience is going to love it!

Antony Stuart Hicks
Antony Stuart Hicks. Photo: Pamela Raith

RYAN: Good, we’ve been working on it all morning, so it was great to hear you laugh! We are basically drilling the routine, getting the timing set in.

PAUL: So how much a difference will being in the Big Top make, or will it?

RYAN: In many ways, none, as you’re still going to get the same Mercury Theatre extravaganza you’re always going to get, but we’re pulling, even more, stops out!  We are in the middle of a field, so we’re making the whole area leading up to the tent special, and the design incorporates all aspects of coming to Pantoland and seeing the show. It also means our fabulous cast will be playing to 800 people, so expect some special surprises- the fantastic crew are currently putting it all together as we speak!

Big Top Panto
The company of Cinderella. Photo: Pamela Raith

PAUL: What are the specific challenges in directing Panto?

RYAN: Most importantly, casting. You’re not just looking for triple threats, performers who can sing, dance and act, but you also need them to be able to do comedy. So you’re looking for quadruple threats! Then it’s bringing all the elements together- Panto should be like Saturday night TV, a show that will appeal to 4- 80-year-olds that the whole family can watch together. Then you have to drill the comedy! It’s week three of rehearsals now, and we spent two weeks falling about with glee and laughter. Now, we have to drill what works, really take all the pieces apart and make sure it hits the funny bone at every single performance.  Then you have to bring all the technical elements together, and we have a few surprises this year!

Mercury Theatre Big Top

PAUL: You’re also doing adult-only performances- how do you prepare for them?

RYAN: Everyone loves an innuendo, so we have been logging away the ones that are a bit too risqué for a family performance and saving them up! The rule is that when the young company is on stage, we stick totally to the script. But when they are safely out of earshot, then the cast can really let loose! It will be archaic and fun! We’re also doing relaxed performances; audio described performance and touch tours and captioned performances- we want to be as inclusive as possible.

Mercury Colchester Panto
The company of Mercury’s Cinderella. Photo: Pamela Raith

PAUL: What are you looking forward to the audience seeing?

RYAN: Not just our wonderful Ugly Sisters, Dale Superville and Antony Stuart-Hicks returning once more to Colchester, first time as the Uglies, but all our quadruple threats! I can’t wait for the transformation sequences – we even have a magic advisor, so I’m very excited to reveal those moments! Mainly, we working on three laughs a minute, a chortle, chuckle and guffaw, and we are determined to get there!

Mercury Theatre Big Top

PAUL: What’s your favourite Panto moments?

RYAN: Always the word play, the word routines that are repeated, misheard and get faster! But when it works, every aspect of Panto is so enjoyable that I’ll end up with many favourite moments!

Cinderella runs at Mercury Theatre, Colchester until Jan 5th, 2020

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