reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 4 December
It’s billed as a traditional pantomime, and to a large extent that’s precisely what Al Morley’s script and Phil Clark’s direction deliver. Sue Simmerling’s costumes look well and there’s a particularly effective turquoise and glitter combination for the walk-down.
So, what’s the twist? The answer is show-stealer Wayne Sleep as Abanazer; picked as a favourite by one of the four children brought on stage for the singalong – I think this is the first time in all my panto-going experience that the villain trumps the comics or the young hero and heroine.
Why is obvious. Swirling his magical cloak and decorating his characterisation with just the subtlest hint of high camp, Sleep punctuates his exits with capsule dance sequences before the full-scale tap production number “Putting on the Ritz”. Widow Twankey (Matt Cosby) and Wishy-Washy (Max Fulham) don’t stand a chance.
Fulham in particular engages the audience very well, especially with his ventriloquist companion Gordon (the monkey). Crosby throws off topical and political gags in proper “blink and you miss it” style and is energetic (to put it mildly) in the second-act slop scene.
Aladdin himself is played by Holly Easterbrook in proper principal boy fashion. Liza Goddard is the Empress, trying – and failing – to keep her adventurous daughter Waterlily (Suzie Mathers) confined by imperial protocol. The other immortals are Rosalind James as the Spirit of the Ring and Andy Abraham as the Genie of the Lamp.
Kevan Allen’s choreography makes the most of talented adult and juvenile ensembles with crisp footwork and groupings. Richard John is the musical director, making the most of Will Stuart’s eclectic sequence of arrangements.
Four and a half-star rating.
Aladdin runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 6 January. Performance dates and times vary: check the box office 01223 503 333 and www.cambridgeartstheatre.com for details.
reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 December
Writer Andrew Pollard and director Martin Berry, abetted by designer Richard Foxton, have worked one of the now-fashionable variations into this year’s pantomime. For most of the action, the setting is the somewhat run-down funfair operated by Frank Furter (Richard Emerson).
He’s a loud-mouthed, tartan-suited leftover from the glory days of rock’n’roll. His daughter Jill (Elizabeth Rowe) has just returned from “finishing school” – and is fly enough to know a financial sinking ship when it passes under her nose. Still clinging on (just) is ice-cream vendor Dotty Trott (John Barr).
Her amiable but not very bright or co-ordinated son Jack (James William-Pattison) has made a pet of their one remaining cow Pat (Claire Greenway). Their main trouble is that Pat refuses to be milked by either Trott. Then there’s the thoroughly nasty Hurricane (Taylor Rettke) who blows in demanding rent arrears.
A well-established Hornchurch tradition is to use actors who are also accomplished instrumentalists. Hollie Cassie is the on-stage musical director and also plays Fortuna, trapped in her booth until Jack’s innate kindness releases her. The second half takes everyone to Cloudland, reigned over by Celia Cruwys-Finnigan and Sheldon Greenland.
The latter is also the giant Big Dipper in an effective combination of monster puppet and actor. Barr is an experienced Dame, taking a wig malfunction in his-her stride. There are enough of the traditional gags, including a slop scene and the bench routine, to keep the story grounded in pantomime convention.
Three and a half-star rating.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 6 January. Performance dates and times vary, check the box office: 01708 443 333 or www.queens-theatre.co.uk for details.
reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 30 November
Daniel Buckroyd’s take on this popular pantomime theme might be described as traditional, but with twists. So Jack (Craig Mather) is a likeable but not brilliantly intelligent village lad and Princess Jill (Madeleine Leslay) is a girl who’s not afraid to step in when the men are making a mess of things.
Then there’s Day-Z (Dale Superville), the Trott family’s pet bullock. Yes, that’s right – but, given Superville’s superb comedy timing and mime skills, I suspect that he’s the one the audience really wants to take home. The part-projected, part-manipulated Giant is a clever device of director Abigail Anderson and designer David Shields.
If Carli Norris’ Fairy Gladys is a bumbler on the side of good (she’s failed her Fairy Godmother examination yet again – a concept I seem to recall being introduced in last year’s crop of pantos), then Ignatius Anthony’s Fleshcreep is the epitome of power-hungry evil. It’s a well-balanced performance with some neat touches.
If Superville and Mather contribute much of the comedy, then Antony Stuart-Hicks’ Dotty Trott (gorgeously costumed bewigged) takes the lioness’ share. Lots of double entendres for the grown-ups, but plenty of more accessible earthy humour for the young’uns. her sidekick is Phil Sealey’s King Norbert.
Choreographer Charlie Morgan has devised some sparkling and energetic routines, with a particularly effective one in a stratosphere peopled by robots and space-travel paraphernalia. The score devised by composer Richard Reeday under musical director Dan de Cruz mixes original with audience-familiar tunes; Callum Harrower and Harrison White occupy the pit.
Four star rating.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 20 January. Performance dates and times vary – check the box office (01206 573 948, www.mercurytheatre.co.uk) for details.