Seen one panto, seen them all – it can sometimes feel like that, particularly when you’re on to your umpteenth Cinderella or
(photo: Mark McNulty)
yet another Aladdin. However, this one is actually a first for me, and even if the title is missing a little something, how refreshing to enjoy a traditional pantomime. After all, this is one genre which should pay no heed whatsoever to the politically correct. Indeed not, with so much excellence in all areas. The entire cast dances up a storm, performing songs with great relish, and there are ample helpings of humour, from topical to tongue in cheek, with the bonus of the inevitable yet often surprising ad libs..
The Empire certainly pulls out all the stops to provide entertainment for the whole family: beautifully designed sceneery, especially the cottage, and the sumptuous castle glittering away, along with the costumes. Apart from opting for orange: the wedding in the final scene. On the other hand, the outfits for the chorus as insects were clever and colourful – rather like that of the Evil Stepmother, Queen Morgiana (Leanne Campbell). Well, she’s rather more wicked, in both senses of the word, relishing every moment; for example, switching from posh to Scouse in the twinkling of an eye. Jorgie Porter as the eponymous heroine does not have as meaty a role but makes a fine job of being a delightful, dotty character and as pretty as a picture.
That’s the distaff side; somewhat outnumbered by the gentlemen – and no dame, which is a major departure, although the audience happily laps up Panto stalwart Pete Price as the Magic Mirror. As for Liam Mellor, the energetic Muddles, he follows in Les Dennis’s footsteps with a real knack for whipping up the audience, particularly in that other Panto staple, the running gag: flinging himself and everything else into ‘The 12 Days of Christimas’, along with the charming Prince Brian (of Birkenhead: Stephen Fletcher) and Herman the Henchman; Colin Connor also excels as a foil for the Queen. But it was the seven dwarves who most enchanted the audience (albeit under new nom-de-plumes), particularly Craig Salisbury as Grumbly and Scott English as Prof, their leader.
Yes, once again, The Empire has sprinkled all the star dust necessary to create a fantastic atmosphere for an amazing night out. It’s a marvellous way to keep its main audience thoroughly contented whilst introducing newcomers to the delights of theatre-going.