There's a predictability to Christmas panto which is sometimes charming but can also be rather tiresome.
Frances Richmond's production of Cinderella at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall for Richmond Ward Productions finds a delightful and inventive middle ground in this thoroughly entertaining tweak of an old classic.
It's panto that'll pull in the punters but pulls some surprises out of the bag too.
Katy Gaskin is charming as the show's leading lady and belts out each number with an elegance and ease beyond her years. Opposite her, Daniel Roberts is a suitably dashing and attractively foppish Prince Charming, while Brad Walwyn is refreshingly natural and funny on stage as his sidekick Dandini.
The action moves with pace and clarity, if a little clumsily at times with a couple of particularly long blackouts. But these didn't detract from the show and were often followed by Niko Adilypour heaping on light relief. Adilypour gives a commendable and engaging performance as the hapless Buttons with stage presence, comedy timing and appearance reminiscent of a young Joe Pasquale.
Some well-executed, impromptu puppetry provided neat interludes, appreciated particularly vocally by the younger members of the audience.
Special mention must go to Andy James Michel, who wrote this version, and Jamie Jones who combine to create a strikingly gruesome, hilarious and utterly memorable drag-style double act as Cinderella's ugly sisters Coco and Chanel. Jones as Chanel, making his debut with RWP, produced show-stealing delivery with magnificent poise and an outstanding stage presence. Elsewhere Patrick Richmond-Ward had the air of an old pro with his effortless delivery of Cindy's stingy father Baron Hard-up and Maura Judges had the audience tittering as her rather dotty Fairy Godmother.
Christmas panto is primarily about fun and RWP's production undoubtedly puts a big old tick in that box. It was, though, particularly refreshing to see a company take an old classic and add a few new touches in the form of some clever modern musical interludes, puppetry and other subtle touches.
Richmond and Michel can rest assured this witty, funny and thoroughly entertaining version of a familiar tale will have everyone leaving with a smile on their face.
What do you expect when you go and see a Panto at a large regional theatre? Great family entertainment, excellent singing and dancing, loads of laughs, a large slice of magic, and a hero you can cheer, and a villain you can hiss.
Last night we got most of that from QDOS’ Peter Pan at The Grand. And yet I, and my 7 and 9 year old co-reviewers, came away from the theatre feeling a little short-changed.
There was certainly laughs. Barry & Paul Elliot aka The Chuckle Brothers were in top form, storming through a series of set piece comic routines, the best being an X Factor spoof that sees Barry end up wearing…. Well, best not spoil the fun! But none of their routines actually had anything to do with Peter Pan…
There was certainly magic, with some well-balanced flying by the cast, and by the Chuckle’s car, in a spectacular act 1 closer. And there was certainly excellent dancing (choreography from Steven Harris) from the ensemble doubling energetically as Pirates and Indians.
So why do I feel slightly empty after the show? Because it wasn’t really Peter Pan. The script barely paid lip service to the classic story, the best sequence being when Tinkerbell (a feisty Lucy Evans) is banished by Peter Pan. There was no time to develop a relationship with Peter (an engaging Ross Carpenter), Wendy (a sweet, if rather nasal, Hannah Nicholas), and the Lost Boys hardly appeared at all.
The songs, apart from one number in act 2 for Evans, Nicholas and Kimmy Edwards (Tiger Lily), were instantly forgettable, terrible sound making the lyrics inaudible and the 5 piece live band sound anything but live. And John Altman as Captain Hook worked gamely but was never menacing enough. When he was finally dispatched into the sea, his departure hardly raised a cheer from the audience. We didn’t care.
The young cast worked hard, and the old hands demonstrated their well-worn comic skills. But the balance of the show was all wrong. When your 7 year old reaches for the programme mid-way through act 2 and starts doing the wordsearch you know the show hasn’t got all the required magic to really start the Christmas season with a sparkle. Shame, as I really liked a lot of the performers. I just wanted to see more of them. And I wanted to boo more. A lot more.
Peter Pan runs at Wolverhampton Grand until 24 January 2016.
With an auditorium packed to the rafters with hundreds of excited children, there was always going to be a great atmosphere for Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s rock and roll production of Jack and the Beanstalk. This was taken to an entirely different level, however by the supremely talented company of actor-musicians who fed off the audience wonderfully and had the whole house in stitches the entire night.
As far as the story went, there was very little diversion from the traditional version we have seen so many times before. This was extremely effective however and the simple narrative allowed the cast to extract the maximum enjoyment from each superbly-sung number and each hilarious gag, including a gag about a gag. The young hero, Jack (Ned Rudkins-Stow) and his bride-to-be Jill (Laura Stillet) are happily planning their wedding, until the Giant’s evil henchman Fleshcreep (Gregory Clarke) tells them they have to give him a bag of gold or he will take Jill to be eaten by the Giant (Craig Anderson). Furthermore, Squire Snuffbox (Joshua Meredith) tells Jack he cannot marry his daughter and his mother, Dame Dolly Dumplings (TJ Holmes) needs to pay her overdue rent or she will be evicted. They are forced to take their last remaining cow to the market and sell her to save the farm. He is approached by a mysterious stranger who buys the cow for 5 “magic beans”, which turn out to be normal beans. It is thanks to the Fairy Aubergine (Isobel Baites) and her magic leek that the beans grow into a never-ending beanstalk and Jack has no alternative to climb the beanstalk and seek the giant’s treasure. His adventures then take him on a (rock and) rollercoaster, including a money-crazy mother, a daring rescue mission to save his beloved, and a not-so-tall giantess called Gemima (Katie Pritchard). This story is every bit as magic as that leek.
There is really so much to love about this production. Firstly, the very talented cast would be worthy of any professional theatre in the land, with genuinely hilarious performances, especially from Dame Dolly and the local village idiot, Billy No-Mates (Robert Wade). Holmes was particularly funny and made what some would call cringeworthy puns a highlight of his performance. The vocals were also on point all night across the entire company, with Isobel Baites as the Aubergine Fairy being especially strong. However, the most impressive aspect of the show was the fact that these actors and singers were also the only source of accompaniment. They blended seamlessly from actor to musician, and the 11 piece band blasted out the rock and roll hits with a fantastic energy and great balance.
The production and set were also extremely clever, and the costumes were a riot of colour which added to the occasion further. Overall this is a wonderful production which will have you and your kids laughing from start to finish, and is a great way to kick off your Christmas celebrations.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre until 10 January.
Vampomime is a quirky, tongue-in-cheek alternative to your traditional Christmas panto. Armed with our holy water, we wander into the lovely B2 Studio having been warned about the potential chance of being maimed or gored. From the outset you know it’s going to be an anarchic hour of fun, I mean, we’re about to watch Vampires attempt to perform Beauty and the Beast…
An accomplished cast of 4 steer the story, opening with some traditional audience participation. It’s a little bit silly, but who cares? The audience are enjoying themselves. We are quickly introduced to Alan, played excellently by Graeme Rose; he’s hatched a plan that will turn their Vampire ensemble back into human form. He’s paired with accomplished actress Katy Stephens, who makes for a fabulously quirky Karen, the diva of Vampires who has just been ousted as Beauty. As she feuds with her lover, who’s unfortunately turned into smoke, they fight about the pretty new human actress on the scene. Impressively switching accents part way through, Miriam Grace Edwards displayed her versatility, as she took on the role of the only ‘human’, Denise.
Vladimir, the youngest of the vampires, causes the most problems. He’s young and he’s bloodthirsty. The audience are forewarned about his desire for blood and you could see people holding onto their holy water as he ventured into the audience. Played with prowess by Jack Trow there was a delightfully hilarious moment near to the end, mirroring an iconic scene from James Cameron’s Titanic.
The use of shadows and puppetry resulted in many a laugh throughout, with a lot of references to Coventry’s ongoing road works and iconic landmarks that resonated well with the audience. With witty one-liners and shockingly awful (but hilarious none-the-less) puns, the show is a great alternative Christmas offering and, running at just an hour, it is a great substitute to pre-drinks.
Cinderella is a pantomime favourite and the festive season is now well and truly in full swing in Theatreland.
Youth Onstage have once again proved what a talented group they are, as bundles of energy and enthusiasm are thrown into this production. Beaming faces on a packed-out stage make the opening number, I Gotta Feeling, a delight.
Sometimes one of the most challenging jobs is the audience participation, but Matt Brook instantly drew us in as the adorable and endearing Buttons.
We are quickly introduced to the title character, Cinderella, who is played gracefully by Jessie Miah. With a beautiful voice to match, she delivers an accomplished performance. Excellently paired with Kia Gates as Prince Charming, their harmonies in Sam Smith's Stay With Me and Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud impressed.
It is ugly sisters, Grizelda and Gertrude, who predominantly provide the comic relief. Played scarily well by 15 year olds Tom Ashen and Gibsa Bah, they work brilliantly together, with confident ad libs and a hilarious rendition of Beyonce's Single Ladies. Their mother, Baroness Rubella, is played by Jay Alves - his first principal role. A daunting task, especially in heels. Though slightly nervy at the outset, his confidence grew through the show and his dancing and characterisation were mightily impressive.
Georgia Sheward provides an assured performance as the Prince's sidekick Dandini and there is a pun-tastic double act from Alicia Flint and Emma Collis. Plus support from Thomas Brandon as Cinderella's father, Baron Hardup.
Particular music highlights of the show included Colour My World and Uptown Funk. The entire group harmoniously sang through the songs, proving what a talented bunch of people they are.
Although running slightly long at just under 3 hours, it was clear that the whole audience enjoyed the show. With a fantastic creative team behind the scenes - including Director, Deb Brook and Musical Director, Andy Johnson - this really is a whole group achievement and well and truly sets the mood for the festive season. Congratulations Youth Onstage, you've done it again!
It may have been the first cold and grey day of December, but when the doors of the Grand Theatre swung open the audience were greeted with a warm welcome with the latest offering from South Staffs Musical Theatre Company.
Based on the much-loved Paramount Pictures film, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is a tale of mischief and misunderstandings, an unlikely romance and the hope of a snow-covered happy ending - all, of course, told through some of the most legendary songs.
The show follows WW2 soldiers Bob Wallace and Phil Davies as they transition from barrack life to the Broadway stage, and “happen” upon two beautiful, undiscovered starlets in the form of sisters Judy and Betty Haynes who are in search of the limelight and on their way to spend Christmas performing in Vermont.
Instantly smitten with Judy, Phil plots a scheme to derail the soldier’s plans to ensure that the festive season is spent as a foursome, but an unseasonable heat wave in Vermont means that the slopes are out of order and the tourists are exiting in droves. In an attempt to rescue the girls’ gig, Wallace, played by Simon McGee, and Luke Renwick as Davies rally their company to pull off a show-stopper and draw in the crowds, but a misunderstanding with headstrong love-interest Betty jeopardises the act.
McGee and Renwick were well matched and had clearly worked hard to create the onstage chemistry needed to fill the giant showbiz shoes of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye from the original motion picture. Equally their relationships with Judy, played by Rebecca Haynes, and Lexie Bennett as Betty respectively had dynamic and heart – with particular highlights being Bob and Betty’s Count Your Blessings and Phil and Judy in I Love A Piano.
Supporting roles were also of a good standard, with Roger Stokes as General Waverly and Maria Shee as Martha Watson, with special mention having to go to Abi Hathaway as Susan Waverly who – despite her young age – gave an engaging and comedic performance beyond her years, and rivalling any adult for centre stage.
The chorus too should be praised, as they entered and exited with purpose and flew into numerous dance numbers with unbridled enthusiasm. Throughout the singing was good if somewhat inconsistent in these bigger dance numbers, but moved at pace through the many lovable numbers.
South Staffs Musical Theatre Company pitched this brilliantly, offering an alternative to the traditional panto family outing. Despite a few opening night technical set-backs it certainly delivered a festive treat – get yourself a ticket if you still can!
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