Reviews in the section
Rotherham Civic - Dick Whittington
Wyvern Theatre, Swindon - Aladdin
Bristol Hippodrome - Cinderella
Wycombe Swan - Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
London Palladium - Snow White
The Beck Theatre, Hayes - Peter Pan
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton Dick Whittington
Birmingham Hippodrome - Peter Pan
ROTHERHAM CIVIC - DICK WHITTINGTON
Reviewer: Tim Foers
This is Imagine’s first season at Rotherham and although I had my doubts about this show, it didn’t disappoint at all.
Eric Potts’ script has Dick (Nathan Guy) his cat Tommy (Alexis Canning) and mother Sarah (Ian Hallard) travel from Rotherham to London on foot… no wonder she’s ‘knickered’ as Sarah put it!
We are familiar with the story of how Dick falls in love with Alice (Ashley Andrew) but first he has to convince the Alderman (David Lonsdale) to give him a job at his store.
Dick soon finds out about a rat infestation led by King Rat (Paul Stirrat) and finds himself victim of his devious plan, but with Ann Mickelwaite as Fairy Bow-bells on hand, all is well.
This is a fast-paced, lively panto with slosh galore, musical numbers, exquisite costumes and scenery, not too risqué jokes (lemon drizzle is possibly the closest – but extremely funny), pyrotechnics and of course audience participation.
Best feature is the UV Light scene. For just over 2hrs, jump aboard the Good Ship Lollipop today!
Rating 5 stars.
WYVERN THEATRE, SWINDON - ALADDIN
Producer: Daryl Back in association with HQ Theatres
Reviewer: Caroline Morrell
This year the Wyvern brings us the popular panto tale of Aladdin, set as it should be in Old Peking (With a quick trip to Egypt thrown in), which in itself may be a surprise to those people more familiar with the Disney Middle East set film version. Characters such as the Chinese policeman are long gone as they often are as panto cast sizes generally appear to be scaled down. The script itself is well written with no unexpected surprises, albeit with possibly more nudge, nudge, wink, wink jokes targeted at the adults in the audience that should just go over the heads of the younger visitors than there has been previously, references to rubbing Abanazar’s ring come in abundance. The arrival of the Genie (played fantastically and with enthusiasm by Richard J Hunt) towards the end of act 1 is very welcomed to mix things up a little, he makes a dynamic entrance with a show stopping musical number. Adam Bailey gives a strong performance in the title role, his west end roots serve him well and he demonstrates real stage presence and a strong singing voice to boot. Swindon audience were left without a dame last year as Peter Pan did not call for that part and prior to that for many years they had been treated to town favourite David Ashley in that role but this year it was the turn of Neil Bromley to frock up and don the dames wig. Neil’s dame is possibly a bit gruffer and rougher round the edges but he shines in the role and makes for a fantastic and comical Dame, he won me over. This marks the 4th panto appearance for Adam Woodyatt in Swindon and the local audiences really seem to have adopted him as their own and this year he plays the villainous Abanzar, true he may not have the terrifying menace of other actors to have played the role but he is villain enough to carry it off without having children trembling with fear too scared to watch, will you ever forget the site of Eastenders’ Ian Beale dressed as a Cheer Leader though! Yes it really does happen. The mix of songs works really well and as I suspect as with many pantos this year, The Greatest Showman gets a good look in with two songs from the smash hit film being featured here. The show ends on a terrific high, but having whipped the audience into a frenzy with a few rounds of Baby Shark and following that with a panto megamix the crowds couldn’t help but depart with a smile on their face and the feeling that Christmas had really begun.
Rating 3.5 stars.
BRISTOL HIPPODROME - CINDERELLA
Reviewer: Darren Chivers
The Bristol Hippodrome never fails to deliver and it's done it yet again with this year's magical and enchanting pantomime offering. Borrowing heavily on the Qdos production of Cinderella from the London Palladium 3 years ago this shows sparkles and shines in every aspect from the colourful sets and costumes to some stunning lighting and sound. A lot of other pantos could really learn from the high production values that this show oozes. Brian Conley is the stand out star of the show and a lot of the plot, particularly in act 1, gives way to Brian's routines, but that's not a complaint, the audience loved him. This is a refreshing retelling of the Cinderella tale and the music and song choices really make this show, at times you could easily think you are watching a west end show. There is not a weak link in the cast, they work together well and they seem to be having a blast with great genuine chemistry. Ben Stock and Neal Wright are perfectly cast as Tess and Claudia the 'identical' ugly sisters and play off each other well. Lauren Hill portrays the most perfect Cinderella, what a voice this lady has with the stage presence to match, she is an asset to the Qdos family and someone to really look out for in the future. The transformation scene at the end of act 1 provides pure memorable magic guaranteed to astonish children as Cinderella takes flight over the heads of the audience in her enchanted carriage and flying white horses, a wonderful visual effect which can be credited to those talented people at The Twins FX. Bristol has achieved panto perfection once again, if we were to sum it up in just one word we could 'wow!'
Rating 5 stars.
WYCOMBE SWAN - SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Reviewer: Darren Chivers
This is a tough review, I wanted to enjoy this production more than any other having not been bowled over by last year’s offering but sadly once again I was left underwhelmed by this year’s Wycombe Swan panto. The headline signing Brendan Cole appears as Brendan the Dancing Huntsman, a very strange role that seems very shoe horned in to the proceedings with very little thought and sadly the character is lost and brings nothing to the story and Brendan himself did not look at ease in his role, at points almost embarrassed which made for difficult watching. Kieran Powell sadly failed to impress in the comedy role Muddles, he simply was not funny, certainly not ‘one of the World’s top ventriloquists’ as described in the programme, his style also lacked the fun factor that panto requires, he was simply going through the motions. At one point Kieran missed his cue leading to an awkward and unplanned pause on stage with a flustered Snow White and her Prince left standing in silence for what seemed like an age, this was part of the problem with this production, there was no chemistry between any of the cast and they seemed to stick rigidly to the script and were lost when things didn’t go quite to plan. Whilst on the subject of Kieran, on the poster it was billed as ‘Kieran Powell and Friends’ alongside a picture of him and one of his puppets, it should have said and ‘Friend’ not plural, as it was just the one puppet that appeared, I had been expecting an array of puppet characters but that was not the case. The script was lacking in any substance, there was no wow moment, no memorable panto magic, no surprises, this was a very basic panto that has failed to move with the times as many other pantos have had to do and have done well, even the song choices were odd and totally forgettable. On positive note the production was visually stunning, the set was beautiful and really did shine and dazzle. Jason Sutton is a very capable dame but was a victim to the script with no real material and very little comedy whilst Naomi Cowe made for an adequate Snow White but her singing voice grated at times. Sorry Wycombe, truly sorry, this just did not work on any level for me and I was not alone, the departing crowd almost seemed downbeat, I heard several conversations along the lines of ‘well what did you think?’ and the answer ‘It was ok’ sadly OK just doesn’t cut it.
Rating 1 star
SNOW WHITE AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM
Production company: Qdos
Reviewed by: Olly Webb
Bawdy and gaudy, the Palladium’s offering this year to Pantoland is an extravaganza of excess.
Starting off the show with a kabuki drop revealing the magic mirror there were audible gasps in the packed auditorium. A mixture of projection and clever lighting start this spectacular performance with a bang.
However, there were a few sizzles...
Dawn French is a national treasure, this cannot be denied. She has the energy and wit that very few can pull off. However in this pantomime as evil queen Dragonella she is given very few shining moments. A maddening cackle unlike any heard before, aggressively forward with princes, and downright nasty to the Dwarves, she was superb - when she was utilised - which to the detriment of the script was not as often as one would have hoped.
The real star of the show was of course Julian Clary, embodying pantomime with every waking step. As ever, in traditional Palladium style, he flounces across the stage in ever more ridiculous costumes as the Man in the Mirror. Quite literally dazzling in his opening number with shards of mirror exploding out he was as sharp and pointed as his wit. Fashionably filthy and causing west end alumnus Charlie Stemp to corpse on multiple occasions he truly kept the spirit of pantomime alive and kicking.
Paul Zerdin seemed to flourish this year. Previous outings in Pantoland he has appeared nervous and on occasion uncomfortable without his trusty puppet Sam by his side. This year however that has all changed. He arrives on stage as the mischievous Muddles full of life and promise. And he kept that promise right till the end.
Muddles yummy mummy, Mrs Crumble, played by Gary Wilmot was a new take on the dame archetype. The role of innuendo and high camp comedy was completely taken by Clary, so instead Wilmot had a genuinely lovely character. Maternal through and through, singing songs of motherhood and love he acts as the familial spirit of Christmas. Of course, he must have his tongue-twisting tirade of talent this year as he lists the greatest stars to have graced the Palladium stage to an evermore fervent can-can. Riotous applause and standing ovations abound for this feat, for good reason too. As ever with pantomime, as the years go by the actual storyline goes out the door. One cannot help but feel sorry for Charlie Stemp and Danielle Hope for playing the thankless roles of Prince Harry and Snow White that they both played well. The ‘Poor mans Jeremy Irons’, Nigel Havers, onstage for a maximum of 15 minutes seemed to relish every fleeting second. He has somewhat become the butt of all jokes in the past few years, this year playing ‘The Understudy’. Dressing and attempting to impersonate Julian Clary he floundered at points. Interestingly he was absent from the walkdown at the very end of the performance. This year the show felt overall more self aware and adult. When all the children in the house were asked to cheer it was clear this wasn’t a children’s show as a meagre mutter responded. With this knowledge the show can become filthier, more intellectual, but also more fun for the adults.
Characters on stage were consistently referencing the prices of tickets and programmes. Which are of course expensive, this is a west end show after all. Ultimately this year’s foray by the Palladium is a highly skilled, beautifully choreographed, and intelligently produced performance. With the likes of Clary, Zerdin, and Wilmot the piece is held together.
Rating 4.5 stars
THE BECK THEATRE, HAYES - PETER PAN
Production company: Daryl Back in association with HQ Theatres
Reviewer: Tanya Cutting
Peter Pan at The Beck has a strong story line with a well written script that flowed perfectly from scene to scene. Complete with plenty of catchy songs and well placed jokes. Former Coronation Street and Celebrity Bigger Brother star Ryan Thomas has vastly improved since his first appearance in panto land a couple of years ago, he even attempted a song and dance routine.! He seems much more at ease on the stage now in his 3rd panto. Abigail Matthews, a firm favourite for me, even managed to “floss” to the occasion! Ben Watson had the audience on their feet going this way that way forwards backwards over the ocean sea in a joyous crowd pleasing sing along. This year certainly felt more polished than the previous year and I found myself laughing to the usual jokes that get repeated every year in a pantomime, but it's all part of the panto charm. They even managed to make the comedy sketch even funnier than I have seen in previous years at other venues. Well done to all involved, this is one to see this year, I enjoyed my Beck panto visit greatly.
Rating 4 stars
THE MAYFLOWER THEATRE, SOUTHAMPTON - DICK WHITTINGTON
Production company: Qdos
Reviewer: Ryan O'Neil
Dick Whittington at Southampton’s newly refurbished Mayflower was an absolute joy from start to end. This brilliant cast created a great production which had something for everyone. Even though the poster mentions that it is the London Palladium production, there were a few differences therefore I will not compare. Steve McFadden, best known from Eastenders started the show brilliantly as the evil King Rat, emerging from beneath the stage he had the audience booing from the word go which set a great atmosphere for the rest of the show. During the first scene he introduced the audience to a large rat, a magnificent piece by The Twins FX which even had a voice! Sheila Ferguson joined the scene as the Spirit of Bow Bells to set things straight and very quickly made reference to how she was best known, of course from the Three Degrees. During an impressive and original opening number we were taken to the outside of the sweet shop owned by Sarah the Cook, played very well by Andrew Ryan. Taking the earliest opportunity to pick on someone from the audience, they got a mention every time he came onto stage and with each appearance came a brand new costume, there was even a routine where he had a lot of costumes on at once. The title character, played by X Factor Winner Joe McElderry was probably my least favourite star of the show. Whilst he was very good when it came to the script and the role in general, he did quite a few solo numbers which I didn’t think were that necessary with renditions of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and ‘A Million Dreams’ from the hit film The Greatest Showman. Of course that is what he is best known for but the solo sections he had in the big group numbers would have been more than enough to show off his voice as there were plenty of those. Alice Fitzwarren, played by Hear’Say’s Suzanne Shaw was divine. Even though she didn’t have any big solo numbers like Joe, the chances she did get to sing she used very well. The star of the show was the brilliant Bobby Davro. Entering as a donkey to begin with and a kangaroo in the penultimate scene, he also treated us to many impressions, a tonne of laughs and even sang all the countries of the world to the tune of the can-can. Bobby of course tested all the other stars to see how much he could do before he had them laughing and he succeeded in making them laugh with every one of them, Joe and Suzanne usually being the ones that could hold a straight face for the shortest time! Josh Baker played the role of Kitty Kat which was doing leaps, kicks and tricks throughout as he helped to fight those rats. It was a distraction when at one point he was doing tricks and all sorts whilst there was a scene going on that needed focus on Dick and Alice, there was only one point where he could have stopped. Jamal Crawford played the Sultan Vinegar and during his very short time on stage, he had a big pop number which showed off a great voice and dance skills. In-between all of this we had a sweet shop routine and a comedy version of The 12 Days of Christmas (with some items I have never seen in this routine before) as well as a flying bus to close Act 1, regular appearances from both King Rat and Spirit of Bow Bells, a big song and dance spectacular aboard the Saint Mary ship, a great ensemble of 9 and a local children’s dance school which Andrew Wright’s choreography showed off brilliantly. Lots of jokes for the grown-ups featured as you would expect with this particular title and a heckle came from the sound technician at the back of the stalls. If you’re looking for a colourful production that has both original and well-known songs (including a brief floss and baby shark to get it out the system!), stunning costumes and sets with a very talented cast then Southampton is the place to visit this season. Only half a star knocked off for the singing from Joe that didn’t really need to be there which didn’t put us off massively as he does have a great voice but it didn’t flow with a script that had a very strong plot and for the cat that was moving around during an important part of the plot but it’s very safe to say that I loved it and could easily see it again and enjoy it just as much, if not more!
Rating 4.5 stars
BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME, PETER PAN
Production company: Qdos
Reviewer: Ryan O'Neil
What an incredible production Birmingham Hippodrome had this season. They have had a tough run with a total of 3 Captain Hooks in 6 weeks and all of us at Panto Archive continue to wish Jimmy Osmond a speedy recovery. Darren Day was a great choice for replacement and did a magnificent job with just 2 days rehearsal after finishing a production of Peter Pan in Northampton. The commitment and confidence he showed was second to none and the audience reacted incredibly well when he first came onto stage. Meera Syal played the Magical Mermaid with a very short memory as every time she came onto stage she introduced herself in the same way but all the others on stage interrupted as they didn’t want to hear it more than once either! Saying that she did however remember a brilliant tongue twister routine about Shirley and the Sushi Store. Jaymi Hensley, best known for being a part of boyband Union J was a brilliant Peter Pan. He had a brilliant energy throughout and as you would expect, a superb singing voice. Kellie Gnauck played Tinkerbell with an attitude which I thought was great! Imogen Brooke made a great Tiger Lily and Cassie Compton was a very caring Wendy Darling. The cast was completed by a very talented adult ensemble as well as two young boys in the roles of Michael and John and the Birmingham Stage School dancers were also very good. Oh yes, and there was one other, the absolute star of the show had to be the hilarious Matt Slack. This year in the role of Mr Smee, he cared for the Darling children in the opening as there was no Mr or Mrs Darling in this production (nor was there a dame but I quite liked not having one this year) and then travelled with them to Neverland although he took the method of a flying motorcycle as he went through space and then over the first few rows (even upside down at one point). The character was used to be on the good side, looking out for the children and Peter but also to get involved with Hook’s plan so that he could see what Hook was going to do. Matt provided a lot of the comedy including a story using the flags of the world, a section with Hook where they were trying to sing a duet of ‘I Believe in Miracles’ and also came in as the Matrix during the big fight sequence. We were also treated to many of his impressions including Trump, Paddy McGuiness and a hilarious Gordon Ramsay! It would not be a Birmingham Hippodrome without some variety acts and this year we had two in the form of the fantastic Timbuktu Tumblers as the Neverlanders who were doing limbos under fire and creating human towers as well as flips and tricks, usually I don’t tend to like acts like this but I was very impressed with this one. The second was a more familiar face to some people and that was Sascha Williams who appeared in this year’s series of Britain’s Got Talent who was assisted by Stephanie Nock. He is a Rola-Rola artist who has you on the edge of your seat. Performing on a really high platform makes it even more nerve wrecking to watch, especially when he was being thrown extra things to balance on and he couldn’t catch them! This production had everything you wanted, some incredible projection sequences, great original songs and re-worded classic songs, variety acts to appeal to all, a great comedy routine of ‘If I Were Not in Neverland’, a giant crocodile, a moving ship, shooting star effect pyros, fire, flying, baby shark, a brief floss, a new version of YMCA, a super talented cast and just fun for all for a full two and a half hours and I feel very lucky to have witnessed it, that’s why it is a super easy full 5 stars. Before the show I booked for next year’s so now looking forward to going to Birmingham for the 7th year in a row in 2020.
Rating 5 stars