The Hawth, Crawley
Qdos Entertainment knows a thing or two about pantomimes and, with twenty-four productions around the UK this Christmas, it claims to be the largest producer of this style of entertainment in the world.
This year, it is sponsored by Skype, “a family-oriented organisation bringing people together to share in special moments” and this is exactly what it has here. Everyone, from the smallest dummy-sucking child to the oldest grandparent, seemed to be having the time of their lives and they let their appreciation be known in no uncertain manner.
Qdos has a bank of over 100,000 stunning costumes from which to choose, but even so it would seem that the Hawth has more than its fair share as almost every scene is a glorious spectacle of glittering colour, with Les Dennis’s Widow Twanky having the largest collection of outrageous frocks I’ve ever seen, complete with a German-made bra known as the ‘Deiselstoppinfloppin’.
There are the usual topical jokes and comments added to the story, some corny and some very funny and original. The Wicked Wizard Abanazar (a sinister Richard Grieve) was famous long before Merlin and Harry Potter, and Aladdin (handsome Welshman Noel Sullivan) will be locked in the cave until Crawley Town win the FA cup. (I don’t follow football but that appears to be a forlorn hope.) Every time Aladdin’s name is mentioned, the opening chords from The Simpsons is a little quirk which had everyone laughing as the cast looked around in surprise.
Being set in China, there is a very frisky Dragon kicking up its heels, a lumbering elephant leaving evidence of its visit on the stage and The Hawth seems to specialise in flying sequences. Last year, Peter Pan flitted over the audience just out of reach of the frantic pirates, this year it’s Aladdin on his magic flying carpet which had the audience gasping in amazement and my two young guests, Joe and Ryan, spellbound with wonder.
Something else which ‘flew’ was a string of five toilet rolls from the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song which landed each time far into the audience from where a gasping Wishee Washee had to run and retrieve them, throwing them back to lasso Twanky around the neck with amazing accuracy. This act seems to have become a staple of pantomimes recently as the audiences just love it. I imagine the cast have their own exhausted opinions.
Chris Jarman, as Emperor of China, has a clever way of making his autocratic “off with his head” speeches very funny just by intonation and expression, but it’s not until he sings “Love Changes Everything” that we realise he has a beautiful baritone voice too. The Genie of the Lamp is a very acrobatic streetwise rapper played by Miguel Angel, who is a joy to watch.
A tremendous amount of rehearsal time must have been spent in making Sheridan Nicol’s show so polished and well-timed, with choreographer Thomas Spratt providing slick routines for the talented dancers, and the Roshe School of Performing Arts again providing adorable children who perform as if seasoned professionals, with one little boy in particular putting his heart and soul into the dance.
All comes together to provide a wonderful entertainment but, as always, it is Jon Clegg as Wishee Washee who is the children’s favourite and Joe and Ryan couldn’t wait to rush up to him for autographs later. He and Dennis have a terrific double act with some tongue twisting and very fast dialogue, and with a great aid to memory if you happen to be going to buy a lot of different chocolate bars.
Spectacular, funny, exciting and with amazing special effects—what more could you wish for in the run up to Christmas.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor