From the stage front, looking in, it’s sparkly, bright and awe-inspiring – the stuff that special Christmas dreams are made of.
In the wings? It’s dark, full of props, scenery and cast members. But behind the scenes at Milton Keynes Theatre, panto is still a magical place to be.
As the cast manoeuvre into position before curtain up, star of the show Shane Richie is hoisted high ready for his big intro, and we know that the show is about to begin: ‘Shane doesn’t like it up there much, so he goes up at the last minute,’ we have been told.
Stage front, 1,400 seats are occupied by schoolchildren and their excited chatter, and then the music starts, the curtain rises, and Robin Hood is go.
This is a new panto for Milton Keynes, and with Shane playing comical tennis with Friar Tuck (played by the superb Peter Piper), it’s clear that this show couldn’t be in safer hands.
But there is also a whole backstage crew of class ensuring the cogs turn as they are supposed to, and it’s a finely tuned production, let me tell you.
Could you imagine the furore if the five toilet rolls weren’t ready for the obligatory 12 Days of Christmas giggle-along? It would be a wipe out!
As the ensemble step off stage and pass the babes (pupils of the MK based Dancebox studios) they exchange high-fives and big smiles; this is a cast clearly having fun with each other.
To our right, the children start laughing with the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. You most definitely don’t see that on stage.
There is a jurassic surprise in this show too. He is monstrously marvellous, super-sized and a real wow factor, in a show brimming with great moments.
“It has been going brilliantly,” Shane Richie tells me, catching his breath during the interval, “We had a few technical problems to begin with – but that was just me not knowing where I was supposed to be standing!” he says, wearing a cheeky broad grin.
As we join the cast and snake our way back along the corridors and into the wings ready for the second half, we bump into Merlin with Margaret the dove, one of several feathered friends featured in the production.
She is looking decidedly chirpy as she stretches her wings pre-performance.
And look, there is The Spirit of Sherwood on her mobile phone. We are surprised she could get a signal in Sherwood Forest!
Gina Murray is the lady with the spirit, and one of the best voices in an MK panto for many a year. Back on stage, the phone is replaced by her all-essential wand, of course.
It makes you go a wee bit dizzy just watching Robin’s Merry Men, The Acromaniacs in their terrific tumble sequence, and when the ensemble show their own fancy footwork on stage, off stage, the crew are getting jiggy with it too.
There is no ‘us and them’ mentality between this cast and crew, rather a feeling of unity, and togetherness.
Robin Hood is the perfect festive treat in the wings or seated in the auditorium – and we’ve done both, so we know!
Forget the mince pies and ditch the Christmas pudding – for a real taste of yuletide, Robin Hood is where it’s at.
n Robin Hood continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until January 13, 2019.
To book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes