Georgian Theatre Royal
Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond
I often wonder whether I’m just too old to be reviewing panto - it's for children after all, isn’t it? But Christmas offerings with star spangled soap stars strutting their stuff is not what it's about as far as I’m concerned. Those shows, whilst popular as well as being expensive to mount, veer away from the real traditional fayre of slapstick and a good storyline.
Panto is the last refuge of the old variety performances when music hall was king. Where better to put the nation’s favourite, and the oldest traditional Christmas pantomime, than in this beautiful little gem of a theatre?
You most certainly don’t need to be a child to enjoy Tony Lidington’s pantolicious production of Cinderella; I’d go as far as saying you don’t even need to to find a child to take to excuse yourself for attending. I’m even going to stick my neck out and say that this is the best panto I’ve ever seen; and I’ve seen a few as you can well imagine.
Director Tony Lidington knows a thing or three about theatre and it shows. He uses shadow puppetry to cover the early scene setting storyline to great effect and some of the oldest jokes that rival anything modern-day crackers can produce. He knows a thing or two about music hall too, but what he knows best of all is how to make people laugh. And I mean big people and little people, young or old. I mean, let’s face it, the real joy of proper panto is double entendre and this show is full to bursting with it. Naming the prince’s broom handled hobby horse with a big nose Nigela went so sweetly over the heads of the children, as did so many other superbly snide digs at current affairs.
There are no famous stars to get in the way here, just a band of talented actors thoroughly enjoying themselves. Penny McDonald is fabulous as both the Fairy Godmother and Baroness boo hiss Parker-Knowles. Gary Bridgens, an excellent spooneristic Dandini, had some of the hardest lines in the show to remember and his glass slopper (sic) fitting scene was memorably funny. Claire Marie Seddon’s Cinderella was a perfect foil to Nathaniel Priestley’s Prince Charming and this girl can play the trumpet too; great acting ability from both. Seddon also managed an impressive rendition of "Skyfall". Buttons was fab too and Jake England-Johns made the most of his juggling skills as well as, eventually, treating us to a performance on the didgery doo. Ugly sister comedy duo Andy Burton and James McClean with their restoration hair and almost clown like make up strutted their stuff with magnificent aplomb.
The use of the historical woodland scene backcloth was a masterstroke from designer Kelly Jago, even though the copy cloth is probably more tatty than the original, she complimented it with some extraordinary painted scenery in the kitchen and I think Jago has probably got glitter in her veins - I bet she glued glitter to macaroni as a child. Naomi Parker’s costumes were inspired, layered and luscious with even more glitter. Multi-talented musician Jack Burton managed some fine music as well as some rather unusual sound effects and the local children all performed with great professionalism. Even Charlie the little shetland pony seemed to be pleased to be involved. He was all dressed up in a sparkly coat, and even though the wheel fell off his carriage, which was hilarious, he did very well.
It’s always nice to spot famous folk in the audience and I was chuffed to bits to catch up with the extraordinary story-telling laureate, Taffy Thomas MBE, and his wife Chrissy, both shouting “It’s behind you!.’ with great gusto. When I asked him later what he thought of the show, he said looking at me over steel rimmed glasses with those story-telling eyes. "Lidington is old enough and daft enough to know exactly what he’s doing now. Brilliant!”
He said it - Brilliant - I agree, wholeheartedly!
Reviewer: Helen Brown