First Family Entertainment
From 02 December 2016 to 08 January 2017
Review by Simon Sladen
Back for his third year at the centre of Richmond panto, Chris Jarvis is the life and soul of the party. Star of CBeebies and experienced pantomime performer Jarvis knows exactly what is required from pantomime performance, especially in the role of Comic where audience interaction and the establishment of a shared community is key.
Jarvis is a natural with the audience, injecting energy into every scene and ensuring all quarters of the audience, young and old alike, join in to greet Chester the Jester each time he appears. Nowhere is his skill more evident than in the songsheet, where he makes the children on stage the stars of the show and with conductor-like precision ensures that even the star-jumping, scene-stealing Solomon is permitted his limelight whilst being introduced to the wonder of pantomime.
Last seen on the pantomime stage alongside Sir Ian McKellen's Twankey at the Old Vic, Maureen Lipman gives a fine Carabosse complete with political payoff when losing her powers. A wailing warbler of wickedness, Lipman's Carabosse snarls and sneers, owning the stage and enforcing her superiority through comedy putdowns and more than a little flash of leg.
Allusions to her career are peppered throughout and, whilst an ode to Joyce Grenfall may fall on deaf ears for younger audience members, Eric Potts's script effectively interweaves many references to the local surroundings and year's trends with some delicious innuendo courtesy of Pokémon Go.
Resembling Grimaldi's clown in the make-up stakes, Matt Rixon's Nursie receives the best number of the night when, having hidden away for 100 years ashamed of not delivering the all important invitation to Carabosse, she is chanced upon by Chester in his quest to reunite the Prince with his Princess.
Aged, old and haggard, it falls on the Lilac Fairy to rewind Nursie's ticking clock and, with a little help from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Nursie is revitalised. Putting the exclamation into exclamation mark, Rixon's gurning Dame delivers her "Oh What A Night!" decibels with great gusto, honouring the comedy patter songs of yore. Nursie's blonde walnut whip of a wig and candyfloss sequin-encrusted dress takes us back to the sixties whilst the ensemble engage in some comedy choreography complete with zimmer frames and blue rinses.
Music is an integral aspect of any pantomime and, whilst Dan Partridge's Prince and Lauren Hood's Beauty have fine voices, their presentational acting style leaves the lovers two-dimensional and lacking any depth.
There is also a lack of key pantomime components. No transformation sequence greets the end of act one and, although set up, the comedy School Room sequence complete with slapstick bench never materialises.
Carabosse's final battle with the Prince, courtesy of her fire-breathing dragon, is also disappointing as the same scene seen in 2010's production at the theatre is used. Back then, I wrote of the form being superior to other companies' 3D sequences, but in 2016, the technology looks tired, worn and unimpressive given advances in the field.
First Family Entertainment has been in the business for over a decade now, but in order to survive another with full houses and happy customers they must be prepared to invest to drive the genre forward and keep the artform fresh.