Review – Sleeping Beauty, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 2nd January 2022

Sleeping BeautyJust short of two years since I booked the tickets – they do say good things are worth waiting for but that kinda takes the biscuit – eight of us finally managed to get up to Sheffield for one of the year’s most important traditions – the Sheffield panto. There is no better way to end/start the year (delete as appropriate), and at Christmas time the Lyceum Sheffield is the only theatre that comes close to the Palladium for that expectant buzz in the lobby and bar, and that frisson of excitement in the auditorium as the show is about to begin. If they could capture that thrill and bottle it, well, they’d have a bottle-full of really good thrill.

The full castHaving missed out on the joys of Damian’s Pop-up Panto last year, it was great to see a proper panto again with a recognisable story, a good fairy, two young lovers, a kid’s gang leader, an evil baddie and a bloke in a dress. Even before it starts, the band members, tucked away in the side boxes, exude massive energy as they bash out the traditional Bring Me Sunshine, and from the moment National Treasure (I’ve decided that’s what she is, deny it at your peril) Janine Duvitski came on stage as Fairy Moonbeam and gave us a proper excited Ello?! we knew we were in for a treat.

Damian_Williams_and_Ben_ThorntonBen Thornton was a great favourite as court jester Jangles, who not only required us to shout Hiya Jangles! every time we met but also insisted on the secret gang sign, a noisy wibbly-wobbly flickering hand behind your head which I’d swear was an homage to Lithuanian Eurovision band The Roop (Google them).  Hannah Everest was a charming Beauty (that’s Princess Caroline) and together she and Dominic Sibanda as the Prince (that’s Prince Michael of Moravia Oooooh) made an excellent romantic couple. One of the most entertaining aspects of the whole show was watching Mr Sibanda try to keep a straight face during nearly every interaction he had with nearly every cast member. He certainly had a lot of fun up there.

Lucas_RushLucas Rush was a brilliant baddie in the form of Carabosse, reinvented as a gender-fluid bad fairy who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Rocky Horror Show or Cabaret. Fantastic interaction with the audience, really goading us to jeer at him (we obliged) and he mocked us for it (very well). It was a delightful twist that at the end of the show Carabosse seeks our forgiveness and ends up in a relationship with Nurse Nellie, explaining well, it is the 15th century you know.

Sleeping Beauty at schoolBut it wouldn’t be the Sheffield panto without our Damian. This is Mr Williams’ fourteenth year of playing the Dame at the Lyceum, but every year he brings fresh, larger than life, inventive fun to the role. Nurse Nellie’s boyfriend for the night was Jordan in the second row, who becomes the butt of some predictable, some not-so-predictable jokes throughout the evening. He is given the job of choosing the moment when he can press a button that will set off a huge confetti explosion; and in a truly hilarious coup-de-theatre, the explosion goes off just as we’re mourning the apparent death of the Princess, thus annihilating the pathos and gloom of the moment in a stroke that’s part Ayckbourn and part sheer theatrical anarchy. Poor Jordan.

Prince and PrincessI also particularly enjoyed the schoolroom scene, where Carabosse turns up as a teenage mother, and there was a brilliant joke about Robbie Williams selling insurance; and the introduction of the mystic Golden Axe which will enable the Damian WilliamsPrince to fight his way to the Princess’ bedchamber – only it’s hidden away so he has to use his Silver Chopper instead.

It’s a laugh a minute – more often that in fact, your face hurts from laughter from start to finish. We’ve already booked for Jack and the Beanstalk next December. Have you?

Production photos by Pamela Raith

Five Alive Let Theatre Thrive!

Review – Cinderella, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 4th January 2020

81793069_472196653727224_2577297917417095168_nHaving been spoilt with a fantastic Guys and Dolls in the afternoon, eight of us came out again in the evening to relive our childhood with our annual visit to the Sheffield panto – this year, Cinderella. There is nothing quite like the Sheffield panto to cast off your worries for a couple of hours – and let’s face it, the country’s facing more than enough troubles at the moment, so we really need a stressbuster! Legend (it says so in the programme so it must be true) Damian Williams has returned for his twelfth season (we’ve seen nine of them) and I wondered how well it would work with him as an Ugly Sister, sharing the stage with another fat bloke in a frock.

Matt Daines and Damian WilliamsAnswer: it worked like a dream, because his partner in crime, Matt Daines, isn’t a fat bloke in a frock at all. Whilst he (she) was also vile and grotesque, his Melania was a very different kettle of fish from Mr Williams’ Donaldina, and they played off each other beautifully, leaving Mr Williams to do more of the interaction with the audience and Mr Daines to do more of the plot progression (such as it is.) He truly came into his own in the Strictly Come Dancing scene as Twice Daly – a very funny but obviously affectionate parody of The Great Tess. And we also had a very vibrant Buttons, in the form of children’s tv presenter Phil Gallagher, terrific with the kids and the adults alike, and a beautiful and extremely talented Fairy in the form of Joanne Clifton, who gave a display of dancing that’s rarely been seen at the Sheffield panto. As a result, there was hardly a moment to catch your breath between each hilarious or exhilarating scene.

CastAll the usual Lyceum Panto elements were there – the patter sketch, the Lyceum bench ghost singalong sketch, as well as some first-rate jokes – my favourite involved a photo taken in an Indian restaurant with the group REM, with the punchline: “that’s me in the korma”. There’s also a decent Baron Hardup (great work by Mark Faith), a proper “you can’t get your foot in the Crystal Palace” (I always miss it if that line’s not used) and a stunning aerial display act – Duo Fusion UK (Qdos take note, they were more magical and exciting than the aerial act in their highly expensive Goldilocks).

E HoskinsEvelyn Hoskins was superb as Cinderella, making the role slightly less wishy-washy than usual, a girl with gumption who could put her foot down if she wanted to. She had great duets with the gently self-effacing Prince Charming played by Oliver Watton, and Ben Thornton was a spirited Dandini, helping to keep everything moving along at the sharpest of paces.

Phil GallagherPlus over-enthusiastic dancer Lewis who kept having to be reined in, and the hilarious creation of Mildred, the extremely confident 8 year old, who kept stopping the show with her feminist observations about the plot – terrifically performed on our night by Darcy Beech (I think) of the Blue Team. And the poor chap in the third row who was nominated as Most Handsome Man in the Audience and had to wear a T-shirt bearing that same epithet for the rest of the evening. All enhanced by the fantastic musical support from the side boxes led by wildman James Harrison.

M Daines and D WilliamsBut as always, the evening belonged to Damian Williams, whose energy, irreverence, and willingness to make himself look as ridiculous as possible makes the Sheffield panto what it is. Already booked for Sleeping Beauty next year!

Production photos by Pamela Raith

Review – Peter Pan, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 5th January 2018

Peter PanHaving had a wonderful afternoon in the company of Fred and Lilli, Mrs Chrisparkle, Lord and Lady Prosecco and I regrouped after a brief rest to see Peter Pan at the Lyceum. Our annual visit to Sheffield would not be complete without the usual two and a half hours of the sheer joyful childishness of feeling ten years old again. As usual, Damian Williams returned as the fat bloke in a dress (his words), this time as Mrs Smee – we never found out what happened to Smee; I can only assume he suffocated.

damian-williamsWhat sets the Sheffield panto apart from all the rest is its pure energy. There may well be (indeed there are) pantos that are more lavishly produced, with starrier names and with bigger song and dance numbers. But when I’m in the Lyceum, laughing along with a thousand other souls, there’s simply nowhere else I’d rather be. There are, of course, all the usual running gags – the patter sketch which is just an excuse to make puns out of fruit and vegetables, the-castthe constant comparison with the Rotherham panto, and, naturally, the famous Lyceum bench scene, where we constantly shout out It’s Behind You as a ghostie picks off members of the cast one by one till only Mr Williams is left – and we all join in with Well! We’ll have to do it again, then, won’t we? Mrs C and I continue to use that phrase at appropriate moments the whole year long.

damian-williams-and-gemma-huntAs usual Mr Williams is just sensational. His constant asides, his stupid laugh, his magical connection with the audience, his infectious sense of fun, and his determination that every show should be even more enjoyable than the last, means that he is simply the best in the business. That’s why we have to keep coming back!

shaun-williamsonOur baddie this year was Shaun Williamson, who’ll never lose his association with a certain well-known soap opera; indeed, at one point Mr Williams turns to the audience and said You didn’t expect to see Barry from Eastenders doing Taylor Swift, did you? We certainly didn’t. Other things we didn’t expect to see were Mr Williams emerging from the Tardis dressed like the Jodie Whitaker Doctor Who (well, it is Sheffield, after all); Wendi Peters as Mrs Darling singing Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd, wendi-petersallegedly as a lullaby but forgetting that it’s originally when Mrs Lovett is trying to track Tobias down so he can be made into a meat pie; or two new characters – Ethel the Overacting Pirate (I don’t know how Emily Watkins kept up that hearty performance for the entire show), and Dave the Don’t Care Pirate (fantastic sulking from Emily McAvoy until Mr Williams deliberately made her giggle).

shaun-williamson-and-damian-williamsMr Williamson grabbed the baddie role with both hands (well, one hand and one hook) and revelled in it completely. He gave a delightfully stagey performance, whilst still being the perfect straight man foil to Mr Williams’ never-ending one-liners. emily-watkinsHe also has a surprisingly good singing voice! Ms Peters, of course, has a fantastic vocal range and enjoyed playing with her characterisations of a very posh Mrs Darling, an Estuary (appropriately) Mermaid and a right-northern Big Chief Squatting Cow.

gemma-huntNot being a CBBC or Channel 5 Milkshake watcher, I’d never seen Gemma Hunt (Tiger Lily) or David Ribi (Peter Pan) before, but they both threw themselves into the fun of the role; Ms Hunt in particular has a very warm and entertaining stage presence, and I was very pleased to be on her side of the auditorium when it came to the traditional out-singing the other lot number towards the end of the show. (For the record, it was a draw between the two sides. Yet again! How does that always happen?) Jo Osmond was a very punchy Tinkerbell – samantha-dorrance-and-david-ribiI bet she could get you into all sorts of trouble if she was your best friend – and Samantha Dorrance perfect as a very sweet and lovable Wendy; as usual, her enhanced affections for Peter went right over his head. Boys, eh, what are we like? For added thrills and spills this year, we had the very entertaining Diamond Acrobats, all the way from Tanzania; and our children on stage were the Red Team – full of fun and some extremely good acting too!

jo-osmondWith lively music, a cheerful ensemble, a very funny script (of course) and that fathomless energy that the Sheffield panto always inspires, this was another fantastic end to our Christmas season. Cinderella awaits this December – we’ve already booked!

Production photos by Robert Day

Review – Mother Goose, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 6th January 2018

Mother GooseFor the second show of our Sheffield weekend we made our annual pilgrimage to the Lyceum Theatre for the unmissable Lyceum panto. This year, Mother Goose; and – as every year for the last ten years – it starred Damian Williams. Mr Williams’ tenth anniversary as the city’s favourite dame did not go uncelebrated; and quite right too, as he has carved out for himself a dream of a niche position – he is Mr Panto.

Jill, Mother Goose and CharlieWhy would you want to see the same actor every year performing more or less the same role? It’s a fair question, but the answer’s simple; he’s the best in the business. His instant rapport with the audience is a true thing of beauty. You know he will spend the whole two and a half hours taking the mickey out of himself, and of us, and of his fellow cast members, and of the show itself, and of Rotherham, and of the band, and so on and so on. Going back to the Sheffield panto itself every year is like the most self-indulgent comfort eating. Fairy GoodfeatherIt’s returning to something that you love, that nourishes you, that makes you feel all warm and safe, and that never lets you down. You know it will begin with the boys and girls of the ensemble running into the auditorium singing Bring Me Sunshine. You know the wooden bench will come out to a great fanfare and that Mr Williams and others of the cast will sit on it and sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life whilst ghoulies appear behind them, then we shout It’s Behind You? What is? A Ghost? Is there? The other Mother Goose and the villagersWell! We’ll have to do it again then won’t we! as the ghosts pick off the cast members one by one till only Mr W is left which makes the ghosts run off in terror instead. If that didn’t happen, you’d be entitled to your money back. You know there’ll be a spurious patter sketch where they punfully mention the names of either perfumes or aftershave, board games, pop groups, local towns and villages, newspapers and magazines, or as it was this year, shop names. Every year the same. Every year a winner.

Mother Goose and Demon VanityMother Goose isn’t among the most popular of pantos and this is only the second time I’ve seen it – the first being back in 1980 with the late John Inman as the dame. There’s something much funnier and totally ridiculous about having the dame as a “fat bloke in a dress” (their words, not mine) rather than a slim, camp man who actually looks rather good in a dress; nothing against Mr Inman of course, who was a fine comedy actor. But Mr Williams delights in his grotesquerie and really doesn’t care quite how preposterous he looks. This was particularly appropriate for this panto, as Mother Goose (the character) has decided she’s fed up with being teased for her looks and wants to be thought of as beautiful. Fat chance, love. But as she tries to be more beautiful, her personality becomes more ugly. Eventually all her friends and family say she’s not the MG they used to know and love anymore. MG gives in, stops all the vanity lark, and everyone’s happy again. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

Demon VanityThe story of Mother Goose is so slight you could tell it in less than a sentence, which enables the creative team in this show to go to town on the characterisations and the interplay between the characters and the audience. Who cares about the story, when you’ve got Mateo from Benidorm getting the hots for himself in a mirror, with Mr Williams as his mirror reflection puckering back at him. There’s always one killer comedy scene in the panto, and that was it for this year. Jake Canuso, as “Demon Vanity” (who?), is playing his first pantomime (I think) and was a terrific sport, with the script absolutely playing up to his foolish and vain TV Lothario persona; never missing an opportunity to pout provocatively at anything passing by or to languish lavishly at the foot of the stage, always demanding the attention of the laydeez (and doubtless some of the gentz too). Mr Canuso impressed with his early dance training and is suprisingly nimble on his toes.

SquireElsewhere, Mr Williams was merciless with Adam Price, who played the Squire; Mr Price was giving some extra characterisation to his role with a bit of vocal trickery, and Mr Williams was like a dog with a bone. Teasing him to the nth degree, he did not let go until his prey was fully vanquished. He joked with Andy Day about he looks like Fatima Whitbread, and OMG he does; he constantly referred to one of the male dancer/villagers as Barbara – although he really didn’t look like a Barbara to me. I don’t think any of the cast got through the show completely unscathed, but it was all totally hilarious. Mr Williams picked on the hapless man at the end of the front row for a bit of audience participation, including naming the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs. The song that was introducing her firmly suggested the name Faith would be perfect to fit in with the lyrics. His choice? Wilbur. For a female goose. You couldn’t make it up.

Fairy Goodfeather againThis year’s two best lines: 1) when dressed as a mobile phone Mr Williams said he was going off for a rest as he’d downloaded an app (a nap, geddit?) and 2) when Mother Goose was told to lose weight, she thought the advice was “Don’t eat anything fatty” whereas in fact it was “Don’t eat anything, Fatty”. There was a 3D sequence in the second half, where we all had to don our special glasses. I always get muddled up trying to put them on over my own glasses, but fortunately Mrs Chrisparkle has had special training from Help The Aged to help me put them on. In the sequence, we accompanied MG flying through the air, and at once stage through a snow storm, during which, through some clever technology, rain came down upon as all and I got thoroughly soaked! Fortunately I have a terrific sense of humour.

Jill, Billy and CharlieMy other favourite feature of the show was the regular appearances of Lisa Davina Philip as Fairy Goodfeather. I loved her characterisation as a truly well-urban street-Jamaican fairy. It was a brilliantly modern and inventive take on an old format and Ms Philip was side-splittingly hilarious all the way through. I’m sure her fairy dust would be littered with rice ‘n’ peas. Definitely the funniest fairy I’ve seen in many a year!

The castThe kids we saw were the Red Team and they gave it everything – some really good dancers too! Cara Dudgeon and Dylan Craig were suitably cute together as Jill and Charlie Goose, and were pretty damn good at the singing and dancing too. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the dame. There’s nothing like a dame, and there’s no other dame like this one.

Booking has already started for Peter Pan next Christmas – Mr Williams’ eleventh season. Can’t wait!

Production photos by Robert Day

Review – La Strada, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 27th May 2017

La StradaHow come I’d never heard of Fellini’s film La Strada? According to Wikipedia, so it must be true, it has become “one of the most influential films ever made”, according to the American Film Institute. It won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957 and it was placed fourth in the 1992 British Film Institute directors’ list of cinema’s top 10 films. And I’ve never heard of it.

Audrey BrissonI’m wondering if I’m not alone in this ignorance, because I understand this touring production has been blighted by very poor audiences wherever it goes, and for last Saturday’s matinee at the vast Lyceum theatre in Sheffield, we were two among – I would guess – about 60 people? At least it meant no queue at the bar. I’m also guessing that the majority of that 60 were definitely fans of the film as they had no hesitation in giving it a standing ovation come curtain call time, so the production is definitely doing something right.

La Strada castBut I confess, I had no real interest in seeing it beyond mild curiosity, apart from the fact that I wanted to go to Sheffield to see Julius Caesar (of which, more soon) and I always like to pack two shows into a Sheffield Saturday if possible. I had, however, seen that it had received some good reviews; so, we defaulted into seeing La Strada.

Bart Soroczynski and castIt’s a simple story. A gullible girl is sold by her impoverished mother to a circus strongman named Zampano for 10,000 lire, and she goes on the road with him as his personal assitant, ostensibly to help him with his act. But he is a bully, is well known for getting into scrapes wherever he goes, and frequently will inflict corporal punishment on the girl for not obeying or supporting him. Along the way they meet another street entertainer/circus type Il Matto (the Fool). He’s kind to the girl, but obviously has some unfinished history with Zampano, and he does whatever he can to ridicule or discredit the old beast. Can the three of them all get along together, or will one of them crack under the pressure?

Its in the airIt’s a smart looking production, with a busy set and effective costumes by Katie Sykes; it also sounds great, with the musical instruments being played by the majority of the on-stage performers; and there are even some circus tricks to appreciate. Whilst cradling our interval Sauvignon Blancs, Bart Soroczynski (playing Il Matto) nipped into the bar with his accordion and had a chat to everyone, which was a nice touch. Mr Soroczynski cuts a very good fool; one of those very sorrowful looking clowns for whom life never seems to have much going for it – nevertheless they struggle on. He blends very well into the stylised background for this show – which is an overwhelming air of sadness, of resignation, of expectation of doom. In the other major roles, Stuart Goodwin certainly looks the part as the bully strongman Zampano, and Audrey Brisson is charmingly naïve as Gelsomina the girl, and she plays a mean trumpet.

Audrey Brisson and Stuart GoodwinBut right from the start it all felt very introverted, almost as though one were stumbling upon someone else’s private grief, and you were just an intruding onlooker and not a participant. One of the problems with the show that we found was that neither Mrs Chrisparkle nor I cared two hoots about what would happen to the protagonists. And I think that’s at least in part because, for whatever reason, we did not get under the characters’ skins. If Miss Brisson was meant to tear at our heartstrings with her vulnerability and purity, it didn’t happen; if Mr Goodwin was meant to menace us with his swagger and intimidation, that didn’t happen either. And I certainly didn’t believe any sense of regret from Mr Goodwin at the end, despite his wailings.

Bart SoroczynskiIn short, it was all just a bit bland; generally well performed but not exactly interesting. The second half is massively more entertaining than the first, so if you make it to the interval, do stay till the end. The show left us totally unmoved and totally unrewarded; but I can imagine if you’re a fan of the film, it will be a whole lot more fascinating to you than it was to us. It’s now finished its UK tour but is playing at the new Other Palace Theatre in Victoria until 8th July.

Stuart GoodwinP. S. The programme advises that the show’s running time is 2 hrs 15 minutes. However, our show came in at a much niftier 1 hr 50 minutes. I can only assume that they’ve excised a big chunk out of it during the course of the run; to which I say, very good call.

Production photos by Robert Day

Review – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Lyceum Theatre, 7th January 2017

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsIt’s that time of the year again when Mrs Chrisparkle and I take Lady Duncansby and her butler Sir William for our annual Sheffield shindig, comprising of panto in the afternoon and Crucible show in the evening. It’s never failed yet. Of course, the main attraction of seeing the Sheffield panto is one’s annual fix of Damian Williams as Pantomime Dame. No one can do it quite like him. And it will come as no surprise that, as always, this season’s Sheffield panto was a laugh-a-minute engaging delight.

sw1So then, Snow White. We all know the story. Poor girl and prince fall in love but wicked queen gets her to eat a bad apple and falls into a coma. Should’ve gone to Waitrose. Prince wakes her up with a kiss and they live happily ever after (Sondheim’s Into The Woods notwithstanding.) So what’s different about this Snow White? Two of the villagers are performed by circus artistes, so there are some balancing acts and roller skating to enjoy. And, naturally, it features some Sheffield-only specialities. The voice (and indeed disembodied face) of the voice in the Mirror (who tells the queen who is the fairest of them all, keep up) is none other than Broomhill’s own Michael Palin, delivering his wisdom with a thick South Yorkshire accent and saying “Up the Blades” a little too often. This year, the famous returning Lyceum Theatre bench/ghost scene has been up-spec’d, as we are called on to don 3-D glasses to see real ghosties – not just actors covered with sheets – looming at the back of the set. This works really well – they interact with the audience with alarming dexterity, and the whole thrilling scene is worthy of its own spot at Disneyland.

sw2And of course, you have Damian Williams as Nurse Nellie, in a series of preposterous outfits, including as the biggest Brownie you ever saw (outfit was good value – 50% off Guide price, boom, boom). His interplay with the boys and girls of the ensemble is as wicked as ever, with sideswipes like “three years at RADA for this”. The ensemble, by the way, are really excellent this year, full of fun and really good singers and dancers. When Prince Charming first arrives, everyone believes he is looking for a wife. At the very thought of it, one of the village girls swoons. When the Prince clarifies that that might not necessarily be the case, one of the village boys swoons. Very nicely done!

sw3But the absolute highlight of the panto was the sequence towards the end when Herman the Henchman, played with great enthusiasm by Richard Franks, finally gets to realise his dream of singing to a live audience, as he turns into Freddie Mercury and presents a sequence of Queen numbers with full backing cast all Mercury-moustachioed. Damian Williams came on for no more than a few seconds looking the spitting image of Mercury in the I Want To Break Free video. The Bohemian Rhapsody element was best of all, as the stage went black and the lights just picked out the seven moustachioed dwarfs in formation giving it the full Scaramouche Fandango treatment. Inspired and brilliant.

sw4Without getting into awkward pitfalls on the subject, I was pleased to see that the seven dwarfs were really that, rather than seven uncomfortable actors hobbling around on their knees. It’s patronising and it looks ridiculous. Our seven chaps brought loads of character to the show, and I particularly enjoyed Deano Whatton as trendy Groover, Graham Hughes as the cynical Brian, and Craig Garner as Cheeky, who sings an overly sentimental song to Snow White yet manages to stay on the right side of mawkish. We’d seen Mr Garner a couple of years ago when he played Dick Whittington’s rather loveable cat, and it’s good to see him back. I loved Jite Ighorodje’s (Brains) game with the audience where he randomly multiplies any set of numbers they threw at him – he’s one smart cookie. And big up to Andrew Martin, who plays Sarge, for his incredible sporting achievements – he’s currently the world number two ranked singles player in Para-Badminton.

sw5Snow White also presents an opportunity for a feisty, larger than life lady to get her teeth into the villainous role of the wicked queen – in this show she’s named Ivannah, which, surprisingly, isn’t used for a series of puns. Wendi Peters takes the role with great gusto; she’s a fantastic singer and the production really uses that strength to great effect. Phil Gallagher is excellent as the friendly and engaging Muddles, and I actually felt sorry for him when his kiss didn’t wake Snow White up. I know, I’m getting very soft in my dotage. Oliver Watton sang well and looked the part of Prince Charming whilst fending off Nurse Nellie’s passionate kisses; and Joanna Sawyer’s powerful voice made for quite a forceful Snow White. They looked great together and will have beautiful babies.

img_8471One final unusual twist – we were encouraged to take photos of the final scene and post them on social media! I guess everyone always wants to see pictures of a Royal Wedding. So here are a few of mine! 2017’s panto willimg_8473 be Mother Goose and will be Damian Williams’ tenth anniversary of playing the dame at the Lyceum. I trust they present him with his own bench, engraved with the words: well! We’ll have to do it again then, won’t we! I have no doubt we’ll be there.

img_8475P. S. No better way to end a panto than to have streamers cascading from the ceiling. I managed to wrap a good strong one round my head and chest, img_8479determined to take it home. Then I saw a little girl two seats away from me desperately looking for some streamer-souvenir. Bravely, I vowed to give her mine if she didn’t find her own. She did!! I kept mine!! Win-win!!!

Production photos (apart from the Royal Wedding photos) by Robert Day

Review – Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyceum Theatre Sheffield, 4th January 2014

Jack and the BeanstalkAnother of our now regular yuletide practices is to pay a visit to Sheffield on the first Saturday of January to see the Lyceum panto at the matinee, and whatever spectacular is on at the Crucible in the evening; and each year it continues to pay dividends. I have a very soft spot for Jack and the Beanstalk as it was the first pantomime I ever saw; January 1st 1969 at the London Palladium, aged 8. I’d seen a few amateur plays at the local memorial hall but this was not only my first panto but also my first visit to a London theatre. Since then, I think it’s safe to say, I haven’t looked back. Jack and the Beanstalk 1969 castJack was Jimmy Tarbuck; the Dame was Arthur Askey; and like all those late 60s/early 70s Palladium pantos there were Charlie Cairoli and Company (who I loved), Ivor Emmanuel, and host of other variety acts interspersed. I remember very clearly that the opening song was the villagers singing Manfred Mann’s “My Name is Jack”, which introduced Jimmy Tarbuck as being the chief of the wayward boys and girls who lived in the Greta Garbo home – Google the lyrics if that doesn’t make any sense to you. I think I was so ecstatic at being there that the memory is imprinted on my brain. Funny how something simple like that can stay with you for a lifetime.

Damian WilliamsThe Palladium panto was always a stylish, flashy, music- and dancing-packed affair, with the latest in technological elements (such as they were then). The recently finished Derngate panto, Sleeping Beauty, was very much in that vein. Then there is another kind of panto, where 3D effects and big star names take a back seat, and the show relies more on traditional routines, and a funny script, and the annual Sheffield panto is a perfect example. For Jack in the Beanstalk, Sheffield’s favourite Damian Williams returned for his sixth consecutive panto season, and he’s already signed up for Dick Whittington this December. Why break a winning run? You’ve never seen an audience so happy to welcome back an old favourite, and Mr Williams absolutely knows how to keep the crowd in a constant state of laughter. He’s also really gifted at appealing to the adults too, with a quick witted turn of phrase that might occasionally befuddle the kids but will have all the grown-ups guffawing. And he knows that sacrificing one’s personal dignity is all part of the game – for which much thanks, if only for his phenomenal appearance as Miley Cyrus with her wrecking ball. Just brilliant! As long as Mr Williams keeps coming back to Sheffield, so will we.

H from StepsJack was played by Ian H Watkins, or H from Steps as he’s better known; cue lots of gags about how brilliant S Club 7 were. Messrs Watkins and Williams had a good double act going, where both would readily step out of character and be themselves defending their careers. They used the pop music theme for the annual patter gag scene – this year it was the names of groups and singers all strung together to make a story, and very clever and funny it was too. Sarah Earnshaw was the Vegetable Fairy, who spoke in rhyming couplets that were actually witty, had some good comic accents and I for one was very happy to give her a big cheer every time she appeared. Andrew Fettes was the Giant’s villainous sidekick Hefferflumphenstein, whose running gag about how his name should be pronounced was used perhaps a couple of times too many; but he was suitably wicked and it was very kind of him to allow us to call him Shorty.

Madeleine LeslayMadeleine Leslay was a very pure and pretty Princess Tamara; cue for a sequence of puns with “tomorrow” that we were encouraged to count out as the show progressed. I bumped into her (literally) in the Crucible Corner bar later that evening and just managed to stop myself from saying, “sorry Princess”; which would have been quite embarrassing. There was a nice twist that whenever anyone talked about infiltrating the Giant’s lair at the top of the Beanstalk, it was to save Molly the Cow and the Lyceum bench (more of which shortly) rather than the Princess, whom they kept on forgetting. Pete Dunwell was a larger than life King Eric, a buffoon who assists the Dame in mixing the ingredients to make ice-cream and literally uses his head, as the Dame suggested. Cue for a tarpaulin on the stage to catch all the slimy goo so we can quickly move on to the next scene. The talented ensemble of six singing and dancing adult boys and girls gave great support and added a little eye-candy to the proceedings together with some good hearted fun. And we all went crazy with the peas; soft green balls that we all had to throw at the stage when the Fairy said we could to help beat the Giant.Sarah Earnshaw I managed to get hold of one chucking pea, but the little lad next to me didn’t get one, so I selflessly let him have my pea. He was thrilled; but he was useless at throwing it. Never mind, we still defeated the Giant. The band were great as usual, under the direction of Andy Booth, and the junior ensemble were very well schooled and fun to watch.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like every panto we saw was blighted by that wretched dog Churchill going “oh yes” or “oh no”, presumably as a sop to the insurance company that was sponsoring the show. This year at Sheffield we had Molly the Cow. Now, of course, the cow is an intrinsic part of the show. Jack thinks he’s getting a big bag of gold in return for her but he is duped by the wicked Hefferflumphenstein and only gets a handful of beans; and of course the pantomime cow is sister to the pantomime horse (so to speak),Andrew Fettes and so definitely has her place in the show. But I did think they overplayed the association of Molly the Cow with Sheffield Theatres’ interval ice-cream of choice, Our Cow Molly. Having said that, I loved Mr Williams saying that if your parents don’t buy you an ice-cream in the interval, that is a proven fact that they don’t love you. I hope no one took it seriously! Similarly, the constant references to the Lyceum Theatre bench, which is also captured by the Giant, actually meant that when the bench scene finally takes place (“it’s behind you”) I thought it slightly lost its usual impact. I think it’s funnier with ghosties than with zombies. Nevertheless, that bench had better still be there next year!

Those are very minor quibbles by the way. It’s an extremely fun, fast-paced and entertaining panto, and we’ll definitely be back for Dick Whittington!

Review – Sleeping Beauty, Lyceum Sheffield, 28th December 2011

Sleeping BeautyGood heavens, it’s 2012! How did that happen? Happy New Year to one and all! The exciting thing about a new year means it’s only one week till the much-awaited Second Annual Chrisparkle Awards. Last year was a star-studded affair that festooned virtual riches on the likes of Tracie Bennett, Thomas Morrison, Sheridan Smith, Alex Gaumond, Paul Sinha, the RPO, and The Big Fellah. Who will carry the glitzy honours this year? All will be revealed very soon.

Sid Sloane But in the meantime, Mrs Chrisparkle and I saw three more productions at the end of December. The first was our inaugural visit to the beautiful Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield to see this year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty. And I can thoroughly recommend it.

It starts with Sid Sloane as Jangles the jester, welcoming the audience on our joint adventure, and constantly appears throughout the show as a reassuringly friendly face, great at encouraging us all to be noisy.

Margi ClarkeIt is Margi Clarke though who leads the cast as the Wicked Queen, Carabosse, and she really is well wicked. With each line she positively shudders with evil, making grand proclamations all regal and powerful; then only to puncture her own self-importance by delivering the punch lines as a right scouser. It’s a very funny act! She also sings really well, which causes some consternation within the audience as you want to give her a good round of applause after her songs but then you remember you have to boo her instead. It makes you feel quite confused as to how to react to her!

Dani Rayner One aspect of this production that puts it head and shoulders above all other Christmas shows we’ve seen this year, is that musically, it’s a treat. Sleeping Beauty herself is played by Dani Rayner, one of the “unsuccessful” Dorothies on 2010’s Andrew Lloyd-Webber TV show. Not that there’s anything unsuccessful about Dani. She sings beautifully and is a bit of a stunner too; she has a warm and kindly personality and is completely believable in the part. She is matched in the singing department by Jo Parsons as Prince Michael of Moravia, the required audience participation reaction to which is Hurrah! Oooooh! He also serves as a very fruitful comic foil to the real star of the show, Damian Williams as the Pantomime Dame, Nurse Nellie.

Jo ParsonsMr Williams is new to me, but apparently this is his fourth year of being the Dame at Sheffield and it is no surprise that they keep inviting him back. He is amazing. Imagine a dame whose voice and mannerisms are part Les Dawson and part Tommy Cooper; and who leads a subversive side commentary all the way through, constantly coming out of character to talk about how the show’s going. He doth bestride the stage like a colossus, he’s genuinely very funny and the kids (and adults) love him.

Damian WilliamsHe’s at the heart of all the best scenes – in fact the panto is full of very entertaining “set pieces”, most of which I’ve not seen before, or not seen for a long time. He and the king (Ian Chaplain) have a farcical bathroom sequence where every movement causes a jet of water to drench either one of them; Ian Chaplainthere’s a nice piece of patter where every line refers to the name of a perfume or aftershave (sounds odd but it works); and of course there is the bench/ghosties scene, which is done very entertainingly – and where the whole audience joins in with “we’ll have to do it again then, won’t we?” which I’ve not witnessed before.

The production itself is delightful to look at, with elegant sets and superbly evocative lighting, and it rightfully received a huge reception from the audience at the end. Music director Andy Booth gets a great sound out of his live band, and I for one am seriously thinking of booking next year’s Lyceum Panto very soon!