in this section....
Wyvern Theatre, Swindon - Sleeping Beauty
Milton Keynes Theatre, Aladdin

Bristol Hippodrome, Dick Whittington

Beck Theatre, Hayes - Sleeping Beauty
London Palladium - Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Southampton Mayflower - Peter Pan
Swansea Grand - Peter Pan

2019/20

Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

Sleeping Beauty

The Wyvern Theatre have reset the clock on tradition for this outing of Sleeping Beauty with a fresh family friendly script that has all the elements you expect and yes that includes the 12 Day of Christmas, the ghost gag, an abundance of local references and the welcome return of having children on stage for the obligatory song sheet section, something that the Wyvern have been lacking for the last few years.

 

Who knew Cbeebies favourite Chris Jarvis could do such good impressions, look out for his Donald Trump! It really is spot on. Chris has many hats on for this production as he serves as Writer, Director and of course star and he has the perfect audience rapport and comedy timing. He certainly brings energy and a sense of fun to proceedings, a pure panto professional through and through. Chris knows his craft well and keeps the script pacey and tight, some pantomimes seem to drag proceedings out and ultimately lose the interest of the younger audience members not the case here!

 

Michelle Collins embraces her past inner Cindy Beale to bring a wicked and sassy evilness to the production as the brilliantly seductive Carabosse. Every panto needs a good villain and there were  boo’s a plenty every time she made an entrance. Michelle is a welcome addition to the Wyvern cast being the first star female lead at the venue since Lorraine Chase last took on the same roll back in 2009.

 

Matthew Rixon dons the frock as Nanny Nutkins in the production, a fabulous performer in his own right but I defy anyone not to see elements of his father (Matthew Kelly) in his performance. Matt plays a strong and manly dame with genius comedy timing and he towers over the rest of the cast giving some great visual comedy. If anything I was left wanting a little bit more Dame, I would have liked him to have his own musical number, possibly that was the only element missing for me here.

 

The song choices were perfect, a particular favourite being the Gary Barlow’s show opener ‘Something About This Night’ which sets the tone for a great couple of hours of entertainment. Another musical highlight is the act 1 closing as our heroic (and quite posh) Fairy Flora belts out a rousing version of ‘Once upon a Time’ showcasing an amazing and faultless voice from Julie Yamanee.

 

This is a great ensemble piece with each cast member getting their time to shine. We enjoyed Julian Quijanon‘ performance as the pretty wet and animated American Prince, he does not take himself seriously and provides the traditional thigh slap on several occasions much to the delight of the audience. We were treated a preview performance, well it was really the final dress rehearsal with an invited audience but you would never have known this was not opening night, it had all the energy and slickness of a mid run performance. Be proud guys!

 

It’s panto time folks and the Wyvern production will not disappoint with it's 2 hours of signing, dancing and fairy tale magic...oh and there's a ferocious dragon thrown in for good measure. Sleeping Beauty runs through to the 5th January 2020.

Reviewed by Darren Chivers

4

Milton Keynes Theatre - Aladdin

Reviewed by Ryan O'Neil

What a fantastic 2hrs of entertainment at the Milton Keynes Theatre. This year's title was Aladdin, with Lee Mead in the title role and Joe Pasquale as his brother Wishee.

 

The show started with a big crash of thunder and a brilliant opening from Phil Corbitt as Abanazar before we were taken to Peking with a great original opening number. That was one of many things I loved about this show, the fact that the majority of songs were all original and if they were well-known songs, then the lyrics were changed to fit the story. Whilst on the subject of songs we were treated to amazing vocals from Tegan Bannister as Princess Jasmine, Debra Michaels as the Empress and Sarah Earnshaw as the Slave of the Ring. Of course the comedy primarily came from Joe Pasquale, lots of brilliant sketches including a Short Sleeve Shirt tongue twister, the 'If I Were Not in Pantomime' routine and ensuring that no scene he was in went to script trying to get everyone to break into laughter. David Robbins was a fantastic dame, had a few costume malfunctions but I think that added to the comedy of the show.

 

The work of The Twins FX also featured with a brilliant Magic Carpet, Snake & Genie that absolutely stunned the audience. I would have loved to have given this show 5 stars but the reason it is 4 is because it was far too loud for everyone. We were in the circle so dread to think what it would have been like if we were in the stalls and also because we felt there were quite a few moments of pause that stopped the flow of the show but overall, a brilliant panto.

4

Bristol Hippodrome
Dick Whittington

Reviewed by Darren Chivers

If you can rest assured of one thing with a Bristol Hippodrome panto it is that you are getting the very highest of production values, the lighting and sound is always second to none, as it was in this production. The set, as previously used in the London Palladium production was beautiful, and still carried a couple of nods to Andrew Lloyd Webber as it had previously been used in his venue. I always get excited when I see the name Gary Hind attached to a production, he is at the top of his game when it comes to pantomime music, I adore his work and he never disappoints.

This production achieves a perfect blend of a pantomime crossed with a full scale musical and it really does have a magical feel about it. With any production that has a big name entertainer at the heart of it you know the show is going to be tailored to that person, in this case it was Shane Ritchie, so a little of the story was lost to make way for Shane to do his thing and this Dick was a bit rugged and rough around the edges with the feel he had just stumbled out of the Queen Vic, but did anyone care? Nope of course not, he is Shane Ritchie ( a double BAFTA winner by the way! As he may remind you once or twice!) and he can get away with it and delight audiences, they were on his side instantly.

Jennie Dale makes for a deliciously evil Queen Rat and she can certainly belt out a musical number! Love the use of her tale as a whip too! She delivers her lines with perfect diction, no lines are thrown away of lost, she makes herself heard above the boo’s with ease.

The role of Captain has been extended here, at the cost of no Alderman Fitzwarren, and Peter Piper does a grand job in the role even if he did seem to forget a few of his vocals. Dick jokes come thick and fast as you might expect but it does not cross the line into smut at any point…oh and my favourite gag of the night ‘Where’s your Buccaneers’ the reply ‘On the side of my head and don’t speak to me like that!’

There is an element of ‘The Play That Goes Wong’ in this show, in all honesty at times the many ‘corpses’ which of course are planned, seem a little strained and far too staged but I can forgive that all things considered.

David O’Reilly is a newcomer to the role of Dame, for his first outing he has done exceptionally well and I think he will only get better and better with each production, at the moment he plays a slightly understated Dame, he just needs to et himself go a little bit more. But I did enjoy his performance.

I have to mention the ensemble who were perfectly in time and tight with great choreography, a shoddy ensemble drags any performance down but these guys were on top form, as were The Acromaniacs who gave us a lovey interlude with their comedy acrobatics.

The performance zooms by, with an hour for each act there is never a dull or slow moment. The 12 days of Christmas is here and has a nautical theme to it which gives it a nice twist. A couple of jaw dropping special effects come courtesy of those talented folk at The Twins FX, if you saw the Palladium version you will already know about the Giant Rat and the Flying Bus, they are both here and leave the audience gasping in amazement.

You have done it again Bristol! I am already excited for next year’s offering of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

4.5

Beck Theatre, Hayes
Sleeping Beauty

Reviewed by Tanya Cutting

This performance of Sleeping Beauty had great energy, every member of the cast looked to be enjoying themselves which really shone through in their performance and that makes the world of difference to the audience. The ensemble felt much more structured and synchronised compared to previous years which is good to see, a definite improvement which all adds to the overall feel of a great panto. The generic gags and 12 days of Christmas were as ever present but still didn’t fail to impress, some traditions really are meant to last forever.

 

Turning my attentions to the cast and a special mention I feel is warranted for Stephen Webb who gave a memorable performance as Carabosse, what a voice! and a true showman. Jamie Cruttenden makes a wonderful Happy Harry, getting the kids excited with his energy and keeping things flowing. This is not taking anything away from the rest of the cast who exceeded expectations with their performance. You are always in safe hands with Neil Bromley as Dame, you cant't go wrong there! So Debbie McGee made a few mistakes (which she always had a good laugh at herself over) but it's panto and she just about got away with it, I have a feeling this production will get slicker as the run progresses. There were a couple of mishaps, which maybe is to be expected in the early stages, they handled them well and raised a few laughs with the audience too.

 

All in all it’s an enjoyable show with high energy through out with a great script by Chris Jarvis.Well done to all involved

4

London Palladium
Goldilocks & The Three Bears

Reviewed by Scott Ritchie

‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ is not a cheap ticket, but this is a jaw-dropping extravaganza which is visually stunning. One could be mistaken for being present at the Lido de Paris, when you consider all the plumes and international acts which are featured in this glitzy affair. No expense has been spared in this punchy, no holds barred feast of glitter, high camp and energetic offering. 

 

The plot - for what it is, is thin but who goes to panto for a storyline? By all accounts, not many of the audience members at The Palladium last night. We are in the company of Dame Betty Barnum and the 'story' is set within her Big Top. Enter Julian Clary (as The Ringmaster), and air for an extended set of references to his 'ring'. Need I say more? This isn't a family-friendly pantomime.

 

It would appear pantomime giants Qdos have thrown a monumental budget at this production. In terms of 'bang for your buck' you are not left feeling disappointed. The audience are treated to a giant elephant, stunt motorcyclists, a huge animated gorilla, acrobatic roller skaters, a magician, a beautiful lineup of dancers who deliver some fantastic numbers, a delightful sound coming from the orchestra pit and a supernova light show. Who could ask for anything more?!

 

This in essence is a quality variety show, delivered with exceptionally strong production values. Gary Wilmot gives a star performance as Dame Betty Barnum, delivering class and a true sense of knowledge towards the art form. Paul Zerdin, Paul O'Grady, a pleasantly enthusiastic Matt Baker and the rest of the company kept things on the move. 

 

If you are a panto purist, you may be disappointed at the lack of 'set pieces'. However, I doubt you would find a more lavish pantomime this season that lets you see where all the pennies from your ticket price have been spent! 

3

Southampton Mayflower
Peter Pan

Reviewed by Ryan O'Neil

I don't have one negative thing to say about this year's Mayflower production of Peter Pan, it was absolutely faultless from start to finish.
The main headliner this year was ex Wet Wet Wet front man Marti Pellow who  starred as the wicked Captain Hook and credit where it's due he also wrote some of the original songs that featured in the show. It was so refreshing to hear original songs and also popular songs but all words changed to fit the story, my favourite one was 'Brave Like You' which was sung brilliantly by Micha Richardson as Tiger Lily to the tune of 'Shape of You'. Kellie Gnauck was a great modern Tinkerbell, this was one sassy fairy complete with glittery trainers and mobile phone to hand which was lucky as she received a few important texts that moved the plot along nicely.  She was definitely my favourite character in the show

West end star and all round entertainer Darren Day was as Mr Smee in this version which saw the character expanded greatly, far from just being a pirate, he also cared for the Darling Children before we reached  Neverland, then went undercover for Hook to capture Peter, a very good twist I thought.

Peter Pan was played excellently by Union J's Jaymi Hensley. Flying across the stage and plenty of sword fights included which the kids loved. The cast was completed by Cassie Compton as Wendy, The Grumbleweeds as the Pirates and also The Timbuktu Tumblers. Oh, and a flying motorbike, moving pirate ship and giant crocodile featured too courtesy of The Twins FX which were used really well! I thoroughly enjoyed this show and the whole cast and crew did an incredible job, wish I could sit and watch it all over again.

5

Swansea Grand
Peter Pan

Reviewed by Ryan O'Neil

 I don't want to be overly negative about this production but sadly it's also not one that I feel I can rave about either. Tristan Gemmill (London's Burning, Coronation Street) led the cast in his panto debut as Captain Hook and he was possibly the poshest Captain Hook I have ever seen! He was certainly one of the nicest as well, I personally would have liked to have seen a bit more of an evil side appear, a bit more menace and cunning, attributes  that I think could come later in his panto career with a build in his panto confidence. The comedy  came from panto regular Kevin Johns in the role of Mrs Smee and Britain's Got Talent contestant Ricky K as Starkey, both of which had great comic timing and worked well. The usual supply of expected panto gags were present and a favourite point saw a few hand picked children head up on stage halfway through act 2 to join Starkey, usually this bit of business covers costume changes for the finale but not in this case, for that we had the glorious  sea shanty 'A Sailor went to Sea' performed by a few of the cast, it was a mash up/mix of the classic routines 'If I Were Not in Pantomime' and 'The 12 Days of Christmas', I really enjoyed this stand out section of the show and loved that it kept a nautical theme going. In a male heavy cast Samantha Thomas shone as Tinkerbell.... on roller skates!. Millie Davies was a very sweet and caring Wendy Darling and Aoife Kenny was a great Tiger Lily, both with spectacular voices. Ben Stacey had a very strong stage presence in the title role with lots of flying, it just took away slightly from the magical illusion at times where he'd land mid stage and then we would just see the wires swinging about clumsily as they brought them offstage. Some of the actual direction seemed a bit odd with quite a lot of the action taking place towards the back of the stage, it made the audience feel one step removed from the action at times and there were also quite a few moments of silence while we waited for someone to speak their next line, it was a nit disjointed which ultimately meant that the production started to lose pace and energy. All in all not a terrible production bit I did not come away feeling particularly wowed. 

3