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 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.
(reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 6 December)
Tradition – a principal boy, the story set firmly in 1375, a slop scene – meets innovation in this version by Al Morley and Matt Crosby, directed by Carole Todd and choreographed by Kevan Allen. It has a strong cast with Holly Easterbrook as a dashing and boyish Dick and Paul Nicholas as a dominating King Rat, with wider than mere mayoral ambitions.
Our harassed merchant plagued with rats is Robert Duncan as Alderman Fitzwarren. Rhiannon Porter plays his daughter Alice; it is her birthday present from her father of a necklace which is stolen from his safe. Crosby has written a starring part for himself as Sarah and his son Idlle Jack (Robert Rees) lives up to his name by collapsing every time the word “work” is mentioned.
That slop scene mentioned above is in the ship’s galley, tilting ferociously in the storm – one could feel a trifle seasick watching it!. Act One ends with a spectacular white, gold and silver production number; no set designer is credited, but Sue Simmerling’s costumes and Mike Robertson’s lighting combine to fine effect.
King Rat’s main opponent is of course Fairy Bowbells (Dawn Hope). Hope’s slinky, glittering dress mirrors her brisk personality; this is a street-wise guardian for London. That also goes for Daniel Cummins as Tommy the Car. Here we have a moggie that talks as well, as miaous – not always effectively be it said. Catman indeed!
The adult ensemble do full justice to Allen’s choreography, supplemented by a well-rehearsed troupe of panto babes; they make excellent ratlings as well as young Londoners with perhaps just a hint of Fagin’s gang about their activities. Costumes for the dance numbers make a strong impact, so there’s plenty for the senior members of the audience to enjoy as well as their juniors.
Dick Whittington and His Cat runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 8 January. Check the theatre website (cambridgeartstheatre.com) for performance times.
(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 8 December 2015)
It my be one of the priciest Christmas shows on offer, but this year’s Cambridge Arts Theatre Cinderella gives you good value for your money. The script is by Al Morley and Matt Crosby and is directed by David Grindley with choreography by Kevan Allen, costume design by Sue Simmerling and musical direction by John Donovan.
The story follows the traditional path, with a strong pair of almost look-alike Principal Boys in the shape of Laura Barton’s Prince Charming and Jennifer Potts’ Dandini. Both have strong voices as well as playing with just the right source of masculine conviction; you can believe in their heir-to-the-throne and adopted-brother relationship.
Rosemary Ashe makes an engaging Fairy Godmother, a gold-glittering Edna Everage-spectacled fey on the brink of retirement, with a no-nonsense attitude to her magic and the operatically trained voice to go with it. Suzie Mathers is the sweet-voiced, pretty and gentle-natured heroine, though her kitchen-scene dismissal of the love declaration by Steven Butler’s Dandini suggests a streak of ruthlessness.
Her step-sisters are Jusin-Lee Jones (taking over from an indisposed Jonathan D Ellis) as Kim and Daniel Goode as Khloé. Jones is the tall, spiky one (with the longest legs in the business) while Goode plays the tubby would-be-beauty; both are thoroughly nasty, which is just as they should be. Butler, for my taste, never quite achieved the right degree of rapport with the audience which Buttons needs to have. Richard Earl is suitably harassed as Baron Hardup.
Both the adult dancers and the juvenile ones do justice to Allen’s choreography and look well in the colourful palette of Simmerling’s costumes. Cinderella goes to the ball in a shimmer of turquoise crinoline, riding in a coach drawn into the skies by a white winged Pegasus. The effect earned a well-deserved cheer. Magic, after all, is what a pantomime should give its audience – and this one succeeds.
Cinderella runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 17 |January.