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)
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November 26-January 21
Beauty & The Beast
The Everyman Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto has long mastered the tricky art of balancing ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and coming up with something new, which always takes colossal liberties. The great thing about this is that both cast and audience relish the old favourites along with the latest innovations, the in jokes, the running gags and ad libs, including the ones which when you do take the time to think about it, make no sense at all… They all come thick and fast, exceedingly witty plus the full quota of groaning puns.
The stage is lavishly decorated as a palace (cum island), with the obligatory staircase and trapdoor. Costumes, on the one hand (and the rest of the body of course), are as sparkly and glamorous as you could wave a magic wand at, and on the other, garishly outlandish. All enhanced to the usual high standard by the music which the virtuoso cast produce with huge enthusiasm and talent.
As for the cast, some cracking cameos from Danny Burns as the Chat Show Host with the most extraordinary line of patter, all clichés and catchphrases. Mirror Antoinette, a name which in itself sums up the level of humour, is a dead ringer for Ruth Jones, and Emmy Stonelake also shines as Cobweb and Taboo.
Our heroine, the delightful, dear little Rose White, is played by Stephanie Hockley with trademark helpings of the ditsy and the feisty, although perhaps she should not be grinning quite so gleefully in the fight sequence. But again, all topped off by that powerful singing voice,She is up against the Everyman speciality, the captivating enchantress, although as villainess Narcissus McSissus, Lucy Thatcher went in rather more for massive tantrums than sinister deeds. Nonetheless, she, along with everybody else, simply kept everybody spellbound.
Newcomer Raj Paul as King Tyrell, the tall, dark and handsome…Beast (well, beneath the Phantom of the Opera mask – there’s a lot of cheating going on here as it were but all part of the fun) is a find, acting, singing and dancing flawlessly. By contrast, a welcome return for Tom Connor, an almost terrifying lookalike Paul McCartney, as quirky Sir Cyril of the Wirral, while Lauren Silver is in glittering form as Poppy, Queen of the Fairies. Speaking of which, though I don’t suppose we should in this day and age – ah well: a double helping, you lucky people: the toothsome twosome of camp, Adam Keast and Francis Tucker playing twins, no less. As always, they had the audience enthralled, up to their old tricks whilst making the most of new inventions, and fortuitous ad libs.
Such is the wonderful atmosphere, the simplest comment is greeted with great hilarity: ‘Awkward’, is Prince Cyril’s response to every kind of situation, trivial or disastrous. And if you want an excellent evening out, the simplest thing is to come along and join in the fun. Christmas starts here – oh yes it does.
December 9 – 24
Little Red and the Big, Bad Wolf
The Unity pantomime is always that little bit different, homely, and, to be honest, homilies – but at least no water (or innuendo) is used in the making of this production just the usual supply of jokes and puns of course. So the big, bad wolf is not really wicked, just hungry, and angry because the woodcutter, Little Red’s mum, is cutting down the trees. And our heroine learns you should always try not to stray from the straight and narrow, although it is forgiveable because everybody ends up doing it.
The set is as inventive as ever if rather basic (as are the costumes). The trees come from Dunsinane Wood while shovels are at the ready to mark out the path then to help create Grandma’s house. And there are lots of delightful and crafty touches; when Red gets lost in the wood, she encounters lots of other nursery rhyme characters. And the audience participation bit, it has to be said (oh yes it does) is a howling success. Naturally, the children lapped up the more gory bits, but also appreciated the entertaining scene where Wolfie and his two sidekicks play games with Little Red. All of which is enhanced by song and dance and a cunning use of sound.
Luca Rutherford is lively and endearing as Little Red, part of the trio of remarkable women, along with her cunning, grumpy Grandma (Simone Lewis) and stern mother (Natalia Campbell). Then comes a role reversal for the last two as the dozy, dumb and dumber wolves under the command of Wolfie,Harvey Robinson. He by turn is suave and menacing but manages to be sympathetic as well; quite a feat.
An Action Transport production in association with LIPA, it’s as charming and enchanting as ever, for children of all ages. What’s the time, Mr Wolf? Time you took your family for a heartwarming night out.
The Woman in Black
I too shall be haunted by ‘The Woman in Black’ – but the production from 20 years ago. Comparisons are odious, of course, and distracting, because of constantly trying to recall the similarities and the differences: the original was scary throughout. I’d taken my teenage daughter who insisted for the first time in years on holding my hand.
Apparently, the long running London production has considerable appeal for young people. Unfortunately, instead of being silenced, filled with terror, many of them burst out laughing from nervous tension, as did most of the audience. The special effects, those intended to scare, were more reminiscent of a pantomime, and how everybody resisted the temptation to shout out ‘She’s behind you’ remains a mystery.
According to the programme, playwright Stephen Mallatrait ‘developed and enhanced’ the book’ but if that means the framing device, it has you wondering why they can’t cut to the chase so that Kipps gets on with telling his tale. Instead, he seeks the assistance of an actor in order to perform a kind of excorcism and finally put the past behind him by regaling family and friends with the story. This all seems to drag on until finally, we reach the causeway leading to the haunted house, where Kipps must stay overnight to peruse the recently deceased’s papers. Thus, he discovers what happened to the Woman in Black. And the two actors cannot be faulted, in a neat irony which has Matthew Spencer as the actor playing Kipps while David Acton, the actual Kipps, plays all the other roles – they are the main reason for the star rating.
Leaving things to the imagination is one of the things which theatre should do best. Here, it proved a bit too demading; even mime often provoked giggles. Nonetheless, a large wicker basket serves admirably as desk, carriage, bed etc, and the backlit scenes revealing the house’s interior and exterior are quite creepy, with the locked door without a keyhole the most sinister. Similarly, the use of lighting and some of the sound effects; the first of which, the sudden thundering of a train through a station, made everybody jump, though again, resulted in laughter,
Humour may be the necessary counter-balance to tragedy, but not when mis-placed. There are plenty of laughs at the beginning, justifiably, when the Actor becomes so frustrated by the Acted as it were. But the hysterics which greeted every attempt at the spectral did not portend well. That said, the play was very well received by said audience, although it struck me as rather disappointing, particularly after last year’s exceptional ‘Haunting of Hill House’. However, if you are seeking something more atmospheric, attendance when the play can be fully appreciated is recommended.
May 31-June 4
There’s a kind of a quiz you may know: Mr White lives in the corner house
July 1 – August 21
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
Bit of a misnomer since this tale reveals that of the two friends, Valentine may be a gentleman; Proteus decidely is not. It’s something of a tangled
The Merry Wives
The plot thickens…so much so that it is really quite hard to describe this play but always very easy to appreciate Northern Broadsides as they make merry, putting heart and soul into the production. So here goes: along with suitors competing for the hand of Ann Page, Sir John Falstaff has set his