Category Archives: Pantomimes & Christmas season shows

Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance

reviewed at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge on 16 December

Common Ground’s creative team of Julian Harries and Pat Whymark have a good like in spoof shows, both for their own company and others. This year we are treated to a Sherlock Holmes adventure which I don’t think you’ll find in the official Conan Doyle canon. Five actors share some 18 parts between them.

Dick Mainwaring as Watson is the exception to the quick changes of costume and gender. He and Holmes (Harries) are broke in Baker Street with Mrs Hudson (Emily Bennett)’s Christmas fare receding faster than well-paid sleuthing. It’s fortuitous that Inspector Le’Opard (Joe Leat) comes calling with a problem.

The music which Whymark has composed and her dance routines are as usual well-conceived (she and Alfie Harries) accompany hese. Noteworthy are Bennett’s ballad as Miss Claypole, a department store employee stuck in a deadend job and only staying in it for the pension, the chorus numbers (which have considerable satirical bite) and Watson’s second-act lament.

Theatrical in-jokes as well as political ones flow through the dialogue; this is not really a show for small children. The ins and outs of the plot are sufficiently complex to keep the laughter coming; puppets (juggling with cats, anyone?) supplement the cast. Patrick Neyman  has the chance to switch accents as well as clothes as Mycroft and half of the store’s ownership.

Six other theatres are included in the Christmas tour, and I suspect that the whole thing will have tightened and speeded up once it is run-in. Common Ground, like many other smaller-scale regional companies, has learned that make-do-and-improvise can be a dramatic advantage as well as a drawback. This is a clever show, but somehow not quite clever enough.

Three and a half-star rating.

Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance plays at the John Peel Centre, Stowmarket between 18 an 20 December, at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh from 1 to 3 January, at the Corn Hall, Diss on 5 January, and at the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich between 8 and 13 January. Peformance times and seat availability vary, so check the company’s website: www.commongroundtc.co.uk for details.

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Dick Whittington

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 14 December

Chris Hannon’s script and the co-direction of Karen Simpson and David Whitney have really found the formula for a Theatre Royal pantomime. Their version of the story of Dick Whittington is replete with local touches which seem natural rather than afterthoughts and the whole show has a subtly period edge which suits this Georgian playhouse perfectly, including Julia Cave’s choreography.

We have a Principal Boy Dick (Jessica Spalis) who brings just the right teenage gawkiness to the part. Her trusty companion Tommy the cat is mimed by Corey Cross whose costume and acrobatics have elements of an hommage to Grimaldi; his excursions into the auditorium have the children competing to pet him.

Indeed a delicate whiff of Trelawny of the Wells imbues the entire production. The Fitzwarren emporium is a failing bookshop with bespectacled Alice (Tessa Kadler) as its liveliest item. Her father Francis (Nigel Lister) is ineffectual and in the shadow of his millionnaire expatriate brother Ferdnando. Winona Whittington arrives in London in search of her wayward son, rather than being the Fitzwarrens’ cook.

Chris Clarkson makes this Dame part into a real three-dimensional character, thus helping the often disparate elements of the pantomime to coalesce. Sparkly help is at hand in the shape of Sarah Lawn’s Fairy Pearl while Tom Roberts’ Sir Reginald Ratfiend twirls his tail as an alternative to moustaches with villainous effect and directs his troupe of ratlings to do their worst.

He’s the current Lord Mayor London, so has a double layer of power, and his appetite gnaws through books as well as foodstuffs. When he manages to shipwreck the Fitzwarren party however it is on Ferdnando’s paradise island (cue a u/v light sequence). Not even Nerine Skinner’s Nibbles, Ratfiend’s resourceful sidekick, can now alter the triumph of good over evil.

Dawn Allsopp is the designer for the deliberately quirky sets and costumes. The musical director is Ward Baker, tucked with Luke Petitt into a stage-left corner of the pit; a couple of toy theatre musician figures have been painted to the side of them. That’s just the sort of touch which gives this show the edge of some of its more lavish competitors.

Five star rating.

Dick Whittington continues at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 14 January. Performance dates and times vary, so check with the theatre’s website: www.theatreroyal.org for details and seat availability.

 

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Jack and the Beanstalk

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Ipswich on 10 December

This Chris Jordan pantomime is a traditional one in many ways. There’s a Principal Boy as Jack (Lisa Mathieson) and a scene-stealing Dame Trott (Paul Laidlaw). The multi-named cow (Dulcie? Clarabelle? Daisy?) deserves a programme credit in her own right and the beanstalk is sufficiently spectacular.

Cliff Parisi’s Fleshcreep rather lets it all down. He doesn’t really convince as the villain – too prone to lollop on and off stage  and Melanie Masson’s Fairy Fuschiaa too easily dominates him. Mathieson makes an attractive hero who deserves to win Victoria Farley’s Princess Jill.

Of the two main comics, Laidlaw has the audience in the palm of his hand from first entrance, and Aidan O’Neill’s Simple Simon doesn’t take long to recruit us all in his gang. Siôn Tudor Owen plays King Custard and Matt Lee-Steer doubles the Town Crier and the ferocious, ravening Giant Blunderbore.

The choreography of Ashley Glazebrook and Glen Murphy (aka Twist and Pulse) at times taxes the female dancers of the ensemble, though the men have some eye-riveting leaps and turns to compensate. James Cleeve’s band is ensconced at audience level stage left and the standard of singing throughout is good; Laidlaw’s farewell to her cow stills the house.

Three and a half-star rating.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre until 28 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre’s box office at :www.gordon-craig.co.uk for availability.

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The Elves and the Shoemaker

reviewed at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich on 9 December

“When she is good…” Red Rose Chain tends to run to the extremes of the little girl in the rhyme, but this Christmas show deserves high marks. The Grimm Brothers’ story of the elves who come to the rescue of an old shoemaker is adapted and updated by director Joanna Carrick and has an imagination-stirring set by Carrick and David Newborn.

We are in the small town of Elvedon (which does actually exist on the Suffolk-Norfolk border).  The central character is Elvira (Emma Swan), who yearns to update her father (Ryan Penny)’s outdated styles and stock, which scarcely attract a single customer.

Her best friend is Frank (Darren Latham), a baker by trade, though one much exploited by his employer Mrs Battenberg. She is also pursued by the brash, know-the-cost-of-everything son of the ruthless Esmeralda Overdrive. Between the Overdrive shopping Mall and fashionistas, Lovelace Shoes is on its last legs.

That’s until the titular elves arrive and overnight make up one of Elvira’s designs. Then the shop bell starts ringing again – and so do the tills. Penny and Latham play the elves and all the grind’em’down characters, which necessitates some very quick costume changes.

Of the “nasties”, Esmeralda and her imitation pop-star son rival Battenberg in the unpleasant stakes. Never were custard-pies more properly placed! The elves too receive their just reward in the shape of new outfits which will enable them to train as Santa Claus’ helpers.

It’s not too long for the smaller audience members and has a script which makes literate sense for the older ones. There’s a gentle bit of audience participation but that (and the custard pies apart) it’s all mercifully free and pantomime gags. As I said – top marks!

Five star rating.

The Elves and the Shoemaker runs at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich until 31 December. Performance times vary, so check with the theatre’s website:www.redrosechain.com for seat availability.

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The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane

reviewed at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 8 December

Be warned! Eastern Angles’ seasonal offering changes name when it reaches Peterborough’s Key Theatre for the final week of its three-venue run. There it becomes The Ladykillers of Orton Brambles – both are areas which  actually exist in their respective cities.

But one never expects everyday logic in on of these variations on a popular literary or dramatic themes. Harry Long’s script is (very loosely) based on the Ealing Films comedy – and of course there has recently been a very successful stage version at the nearby New Wolsey Theatre. Our band of robbers, newly sprung from gaol, here masquerade as thespians rather than musicians to hilarious effect.

Dominic Conway has provided some catchy tunes for the cast of five to sing and play. Designer Sean Turner makes a small acting-area with the audience on two sides and the necessity for a bewildering number of costume changes seem as natural as Laura Keefe’s production allows.

The gang is masterminded by Todd Heppenstall as Left Eye with Emma Barclay’s Cow Crusher as his right-hand person. Barclay also doubles as Binkie Blaine, a landlady whose crush (to put it politely) on Michal Ball provides a running joke throughout.

Also involved is slow-witted Scar Feet (Daniel Copeland) and thwarted dancer Smithy; Alex Prescot’s interpretation of the menservants in the production of The Importance of Being Earnest and Keshini Misha’s Method-soaked Kim are ponted reminders of performers who drive their directors  to drink.

We also meet the policemen whose boring desk-duty is scarcely enlivend by Binkie’s regular reporting on conspiracies; she’s an up-to-date old lady, for her suspecisions are well nurtured by Facebook and Twitter.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Ladykillers of Humble Doucy Lane/of Orton Brambles runs at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipwich until 6 January. It transfers to the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge between 9 and 20 January and (with the alternative title) to the Key Theatre Studio from 23 to 27 January. Performnce dates and times vary. Check the Eastern Angles website:www.easternagnles.co.uk for details and seat availability.

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Aladdin

reviewed at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon on 8 December

Home-grown pantomimes have the edge on commercial ones. Thy are tailored for a local audiences and the smaller theatres which house them add a special intimacy. Take Aladdin, Brad Pitt’s Christmas season show for Simon Fielding (who directs and plays Wishee Washee) at the Towngate.

It provides a couple of interesting variations on the story. Forget Abanazar – instead, we meet Aunty Banazar, a slightly ambiguous person as to gender once s/he travels to China. Sophie Ladds doubles the character with the Slave of the Ring in the prologue.

Again, this often downtrodden  slave isn’t what you expect. Rather she’s a single mother with a gob full of Estuary English and, like many another woman in her situation, she has perfected the art of delegation. She never answers her mistress’ summons but send her brood of children, the Ringlets, in her place.

Marianna Neofitou’s Princess Jasmin is a bright young lady, running circles around her father the Emperor (Nigel Peever). Under Matthew Reeves’ musical direction, the songs come over very well. Sam Ebenezer makes a likeable hero, though it might have been better if the script had made him Wishee’s younger (not elder) brother.

Widow Twankey is in the safe hands of Daniel Stockton, a Dame with attitude as well as a way with the audience. Visually, the ostumes lookgood and so does the well-varied choreography of Aisling Duffy and Ebony Clarke. Dominating the dance sequences from the Cave f Wonders scene onwards is Wade Lewin’s energetic Slave of the Lamp.

Flying by Foy does the magic carpet sequences proud; even the most cynical youngster in the audience didn’t fail to have been impressed, as Aladdin’s journey took him high into the auditorium over our heads.

Four and a half-star rating.

Aladdin runs at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon until 2 January. Performance dates and times vary, so check the theatre’s website www.towngatetheatre.co.uk for availability.

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Jack and the Beanstalk

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 5 December

One of the favourite pantomime stories bustles onto the Cambridge stage this Christmas with considerable panache. It’s written by  Matt Crosby (who plays Dame Trott) and Al Morley and directed by Carole Todd with choreography by Kevan Allen.

Costume designer Sue Simmerling has devised costumes in what might be termed “musical-comedy 18th century”. They look good, have considerable sparkle where required and come into their own for the apricot and orange coloured walk-down. Jane Marlow is the musical director.

Making a thoroughly nasty, slightly Dickensian villain is Stephen Becket as Fleshcreep; the boos start before he’s emerged fully from his stage-left green haze. Opposing him is the Fairy Beansprout of Liza Goddard and her troupe of five-a-day vegetable fairies – athlete Spinach (Tamsin January), French Ratatouille (Charlotte Blenkinsop) and slightly gormless American Princess Sweetcorn (Tiffany Wells).

Trying to ward off the Giant’s demands are the King (Tony Christie), whose thwarted efforts to break into song form a running joke, his sparky daughter Kate (Alexandra Waite-Roberts) and the Trott family. Holly Easterbrook plays Jack, who is fa too sure he can’t possibly be a hero, but has the voice and the presence to contradict that.

Daft younger brother Simon is Robert Rees, an excellent foil to Crosby’s audience-wooing Dame; their slop-scene in the ice-cream parlour which is the Trotts’ final bid to avoid losing their dairy is very funny. Of course, nothing remains for them but o sell their prized and beloved cow Daisy, a mischievious-eyed bovine who’s another scene stealer.

Four star rating.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 7 January. Performance dates and times vary; check the theatre’s website: www.cambridgeartstheatre.com for details and seat availability.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 2 December

One From The Heart has been the Civic Theatre’s pantomime partner for a number of years and always produces a traditional show. This year it’s the Grimm story of Snow White with the dwarfs who come to her aid in the forest played by extremely well-rehearsed members of the juvenile chorus.

Where Simon Aylin’s script and Kerris Peeling’s direction diverge from the usual story is by making the Man in the Mirror a major character. Louie Westwood plays him as a subtly camp pop-star, all silver lamé and high kicks, who has been enslaved by Queen Grizelda (Jenny-Ann Topham), a ferocious Brünnhilde-type swathed in black and crimson and topped with a bull-horned headdress.

Abigail Carter Simpson is a likeable heroine who deserves her prince (Dominic Sibanda), though she is a better singer than dancer. Comedy is in the hands of Andrew Fettes as Nurse Nelly – a Dame of the old school – and Dickie Wood as Muddles – an instant audience favourite. Chris Whittaker’s choreography is enjoyable to watch as performed by the eight ensemble chorus.

No designer is directly credited, but the settings are pleasantly fairy-tale bookish and the costumes, especially for the predominantly muted crimson and gold walk-down, look well. James Doughty is the musical director with the numbers arranged by Ben Kennedy.

Three and a half-star rating.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 7 January. Performance dates and times vary; check the theatre website www.chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres for availability.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 1 December

Daniel Buckroyd’s pantomime for the 2017-18 Christmas season at the Mercury Theatre  manages to avoid all the Disneyfied traps which so often make stage versions of this story pallid film clones. He tells the legend straightforwardly enough, but there are sufficient plot tricks to keep the audience fully alert.

Visually it is sumptuous with court costumes of the late Middle Ages and the Dame (Antony Stuart-Hicks), her son Muddles (Dale Superville) and the small chorus in what might best be described as theatrical late 18th century. David Shields’ settings, like his costumes, are cleverly created to catch the eye, move effortlessly from one scene to another and – through the use of a central bridge over the orchestra pit – using the forestage to its best advantage.

The immortals are Ghemisola Ikumelo as the cuddly Fairy Blossom and Carli Norris as the most slinky of evil Enchantresses. Norris revels in the audience’s instant dislike of this insinuating creature and plays it for all it’s worth. The King, Snow White’s bereaved father (James Dinsmore) doesn’t stand a chance once she has taken his late wife’s place.

Megan Bancroft’s Snow White charms the audience from her first appearance and sings as well as acts very well. it is not a prince who awakens her once she has tasted the poisoned apple but Rupert (Alex Green), the bookish younger brother of Simon Pontin’s Lord Chamberlain.

The dwarves are human-sized rod puppets, a sort of EU/UK nationality mix, and very well manipulated. Comedy is safe in the hands of Stuart-Hicks and Superville; the former’s deceptively dainty even when working the audience and the latter is a theatre favourite, for very good reason. The mirror scene where Nurse and Muddles alternate as the new Queen’s reflexion is hilarious – and not just for the quick changes required of them.

Richard Reeday s the musical director, letting the pleasant if not memorable score make its own impact, often involving Charlie Morgan’s choreography. Those forest animals – field mice, squirrels and hares –which come to Snow White’s aid once she is left in the woods are particularly well handled. The associate puppetry director is Abigail Bing.

Five star rating.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 14 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre website www.mercurytheatre.co.uk for availability.

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Red Riding Hood

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 28 November

This yea’s pantomime season kicks off for East Anglia in Ipswich with a new Peter Rowe rock’n’roll show. So far, so familiar. However, over the past few years Rowe has begun using stories which – though familiar one – are not usually thought of as part of the traditional; pantomime canon.

So the Arthurian The Sword in the Stone and last year’s Sinbad the Sailor are now succeeded by Red Riding Hood, no longer a little girl but a feisty teenager called Maisy Merry (Lucy Wells). Familiar elements are there – a contrasted pair of immortals to set the plot spinning, a hissable double villain(Rob Falconer), his thoroughly incompetent henchmen Adam Longstaff and Daniel Carter Hope), a dashing prince in search of true love (Max Runham) and the Dame (Simon Nock).

This being the New Wolsey Theatre, the score by musical director Ben Goddard is packed full of rock’n’roll numbers. The mischievous puppet animals by Entify which are audience favourites make more appearance this year; Prince Florizel has a whole farmyard as well as a fox and a squirrel as his Privy Council. Barney George’s set is deceptively simple with clever use of gauzes and sliding flats as well as grave-traps and a central mobile platform.

All the cast take turns as instrumentalists behind one of these gauzes which shrouds the back half of the stage. Most of the action takes place on the forestage – when it doesn’t spill out into the auditorium. Elizabeth Rowe’s spring fairy Cherry Blossom contrasts well with James Haggie’s icicle-fingered Jack Frost and Red Riding Hood has Little Miss Moffet and Goldilocks (Lana Walker) and Bo Peep (Isobel Bates) to support her.

Singing honours go to Falconer when the dastardly Sir Jasper metamorphoses into his werewolf alter-ego. Nock is of the school of slightly raucous Dames with a distinctly masculine edge. Haggie doubles as the Prince’s aide, rewarded by his choice of village maidens by the end. Wells and Runham make a thoroughly engaging central couple; Rowe allows them much more personality than is sometimes the case with more traditional pantomime scripts.

Four star rating.

Red Riding Hood runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 27 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre’s website www.wolseytheatre.co.uk for availability.

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