Yes you read that right – Milton Keynes.
But Mickey Rooney! Yes, Mickey’s putting on the show right here in the barn that is the admirably prosaically titled Milton Keynes Theatre (aged 10). Because it is a bit of a barn, to be honest: three tiers and a capacity of 1,400.
This was an awfully big adventure for the Whingers: Phil (64) had never been to Milton Keynes; Andrew (16 going on 17) had visited once before but couldn’t for the life of him think why. But with MK only a £14, 30-minute Virgin train ride away (well, 45 minutes as it turned out) the Whingers thought, “what the hell!” Mickey Rooney!
The surprise on stepping out of the station was to find that Milton Keynes (aged 42) has an entire theatre district and that it’s a mere 20 minutes’ walk away. Andrew suggested a taxi but Phil berated him for his delusions of grandness and the pair set of at a pace through the deserted boulevards.
The first thing to strike the Whingers when they arrived huffing and puffing from their exertions was how deserted the theatre seemed to be. Where were all the people milling about trying to pick up tickets? Why no queues for the ladies toilets? The chilling prospect of an audience consisting of just eight 6 year olds and the Whingers presented itself.
But in fact the house was almost full. It turns out that this modern purpose-built theatre has employed the cunning ruse of building a huge front-of-house space that effortlessly absorbs the crowds, boasts multiple ticket windows and contains enough toilets for everyone! Brilliant.
So the Whingers took their seats excitedly and opened their large format glossy programmes (£3.50; not bad) and dipped into the bios. The first thing that caught their eye was the small type (4 point?) which had been employed for Mister Rooney’s column – understandable in order to cram in an overview of a legend who has been in show-business for 87 years (he first appeared at the age of two).
More surprising was the discovery that Anthea Turner’s biography was the same length and in the same tiny type. It begins:
Always in the spotlight, Anthea Turner has enjoyed a media career of over twenty years, and in this time has amassed an enviable portfolio of experiences and insight. Anthea now bring her unique, high profile brand to the corporate sector, adding value and impact to any enterprise’s event activities.
Bet you can’t wait to read the rest of it.
Turner’s Fairy Godmother kicks off the show with basically her CV set in rhyme Blue Peter, Perfect Housewife and GMTV all name-checked, in case anyone were in doubt who she was. But sadly Help me Anthea – I’m infested must have proved too tricky for the poet to scan.
Anyway, Cinderella tells the story of a young woman (Louise Dearman) who lives with her dear father Baron Hardup (Rooney) and her jealous and ugly sisters Britney and Whitney (Chris Dennis and David Langham). She meets a man in the forest who turns out to be one Prince Charming (Ben Adams aged 28, of the British/Norweigan boy band A1 who has been too busy to update his website since leaving the Celebrity Big Brother house). The Prince determines to hold a ball in the hope of meeting her again. But when Britney and Whitney tear up Cinderella’s ticket to prevent her from going, it looks as though her hopes of true love are dashed forever…
Oh well, you know the score but what you don’t know is that the Whingers had a whale of a time! The big revelation for them was Bobby Davro (50) who was served up a series of great, quick-fire gags (“For Christmas I got her a bag and belt to match. The Hoover works fine now”; “I went into PC World. You have to be careful what you say in there, don’t you?) and generally held the thing together.
Dennis and Langham are perfect as the suitably outlandishly attired ugly sisters and West End regular Dearman gives a charming and melodious Cinderella (and – Phil assures Andrew – she did a cracking impression of Stacey from X Factor).
All the panto requisites are there: a fine mix of corny old gags mixed with contemporary nods to Katie Price (3 references), swine flu (2 references), Jedward, and Susan Boyle plus glittery scenery, live Shetland Ponies and of course lots of audience participation.
This was only the second performance and hopefully they will get the sound sorted out soon because we couldn’t hear most of the lyrics and even some of the more quick-fire dialogue.
But who cares? It’s Mickey Rooney! He shuffles on several times and croons a couple of songs. The children seemed a bit non-plussed but the adults gave him the applause due to the old trouper.
Another plus was that this turned out not to be one of this year’s 22 pantos featuring Churchill the dog off that advert. Cinderella is actually sponsored by drinks manufacturer Robinsons (part of the Britvic empire) but all their marketing effort was wasted on the Whingers who stuck to wine during the interval.
Andrew was so in the panto spirit as they tumbled out of the theatre at the end that he insisted Phil starred in his own Panto as Cinderella (see below). Unfortunately there wasn’t a photo opportunity for the Whingers to appear more appropriately as the ugly sisters.
Footnote: Cinderella was written by Eric Potts who according to the programme, this year, “is writing a total of twelve pantomimes for venues across the country.” Aficionados of Coronation Street may be interested to learn he has fingers in many pies as he played baker Diggory Compton in the show and is giving his Widow Twankey at the Opera House, Manchester in Aladdin (also written and directed by him) opposite Gray O’Brien (Corrie‘s Tony Gordon). Phew! Corrie fan Phil is sorely tempted.