Written by Paul Hendy, directed and choreographed by Gerry Tebbit
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Production photo

Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t care for pantomime. Yes, that was me, but that was before I had seen what Guildford had to offer, and now I wouldn’t miss my yearly treat of the Big Family Party, which their ‘Traditional Family Pantomime’ provides each year. I use the term ‘family’ loosely, as a large proportion of the audience was composed of teenagers, and plenty of older adults were having a great time, without the excuse of an accompanying child, but this is definitely not an ‘adult’ panto with smutty innuendoes and the children were having a wonderful time too.

They don’t rely on the drawing power of familiar faces ‘off the Telly’, but then they don’t need to with a glamorous Genie – in the shape of comedienne/impressionist Hilary O’Neil giving us more than a few, including Cilla Black, Dame Edna Everage and Hyacinth Bucket as well as a superb rendition of Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds are Forever” --- and Is She Bovvered? Not a bit! In fact, so full of confidence she has no hesitation in deflating the pomposity of ‘The greatest Shakespearean actor that ever lived’, which is stage and screen star Nigel Havers (now known as ‘Nige’) hamming it up like crazy and thoroughly enjoying his role as the wicked uncle Abanazar. He also manages an ‘Evil’ impression of Elvis, accompanied by dancing Egyptian mummies, suitably shrouded in bandages.

Lloyd Hollett is a hilarious Wishee Washee – sometimes the comedy was unintentional when he accidentally landed in the audience, or sat on the end of a bench before the ample curves of Widow Twankey had provided ballast. (“Tubby or not Tubby – Fat is the Question”) -- you get the gist of the humorous Shakespearean references, but overall Hendy has provided a very witty and comical script with some tricky tongue twisters for the versatile Hollett to enunciate – at high speed too. Hendy played Wishee Washee in a previous Aladdin with similar tricky speech, so proved he could do it too!

Widow Twankey is, of course, Royce Mills, here again playing the Dame in his seventh Yvonne Arnaud panto, and it would not be the same without him and his outrageous frocks - excellent costumes and sets as usual by Helga Wood. Lighting and Sound are John Harris and Chris Whelan again – it’s not just me who goes back year after year - and the audience too prove their familiarity with the format by anticipating much of the action and helpfully giving advice.

Eight of the GSA students provide an enthusiastic, energetic and accomplished ensemble. They will be a force to be reckoned with when they launch themselves into the professional world, while Jamie Brook, playing P.C.Pongo, is already making his professional debut having graduated only this summer. He is learning the hard way what show business can throw at you, literally, being the butt of custard pies in the face, a helmet full of cream, as well as being put through a mangle and having a cluster of tin cans fall on his head - perhaps retaliation for his liberal use of truncheon in an earlier scene? He survived some impressive vanishing tricks too, as well as being tested with Hendy’s tongue twister.

Another one making a professional debut is third year student Faye Brookes as Princess Jasmine – sweetly pretty as befits a Princess and with a beautiful singing voice, and of course she falls in love with Aladdin, played with panache, perfect enunciation and magnificent singing by Emma Thornett – and her magic carpet really flies!

Only a few topical references – the most pertinent being from local boy Peter Gordon as the imposingly regal Emperor of China. Being threatened with death from a thousand cuts, he remarks “It sounds like the Arts Council!” Don’t forget the YA shopping website where all purchases help the theatre at no extra cost to the consumer.

Open auditions produced thirty Panto Babes, whittled down from the three hundred who applied – and they are all extremely talented and delightful young children. All in all this is a thoroughly enjoyable and fun-packed evening – just get your magic flashing wands (swords for the boys) and enjoy!

Until Sunday, 11th January 2009

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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