Review – On The Beach and Resilience, Contingency Plan, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 21st October 2022

Contingency PlanSteve Waters’ two interweaving plays, On The Beach and Resilience, together known as The Contingency Plan, first saw light of day back in 2009 at the Bush Theatre in London. If the urgency of measures to deal with climate change was a hot topic twelve years ago, they’re off the scale today. Waters has revised the plays to bring them bang up to date – or as up to date as our daily changing political landscape allows – in this brand new production for Sheffield Theatres, directed by Chelsea Walker (On The Beach) and Caroline Steinbeis (Resilience).

RobinWe saw both plays on one day – On The Beach first, then Resilience – with a very interesting and informative panel discussion between the plays in the Playhouse including members of the creative team and scientists from the British Antarctic Survey. This helped to give the plays context and added to the sense that, if we don’t do something about it now, it really is too late. From a dramatic point of view, I’d recommend that you should see both plays, as they tell the same story from two very different angles. SarikaI also think it makes more dramatic sense if you see Resilience first; both plays end with catastrophe, but the nature of that catastrophe probably has a greater impact if you follow the political activity leading to the personal tragedy, rather than the other way round. On The Beach concentrates on domestic life on the front line of coastal vulnerability, whereas Resilience dwells on the political shenanigans of the COBRA meetings to discuss the imminent dangers. Act One of Resilience takes place the day after Act One of On The Beach; Act Two of both plays takes place at exactly the same time, five months later. Both reach the same conclusion – the inescapability of the disaster to follow. As such, you could say the plays are pretty pessimistic.

Robin and SarikaNo doubt about it, it’s a curious mix, this double play. What it has unquestionably in its favour is that it’s hugely thought-provoking, and you may well be talking for days about it afterwards. It may, indeed, change your life, your priorities, and whatever steps you might take to help save the planet. One of the ways it does this is by offering you the problem in bite-size chunks. You may well not feel able to save the planet – that’s an unbelievably massive task. But you might feel you could do something to help save Norfolk. That’s where the majority of our attention is turned, as elderly eco-warriors Robin and Jenny live a simple, detached, unsophisticated life; growing their own food, brewing their own drinks, eschewing the trappings of modern life like mobile phones and the Internet.

JennyRobin is a retired Antarctic glaciologist who has built a model to show how rising sea levels could cause a watery incursion onto their saltmarsh property; their son Will has just returned from a stint at the British Antarctic Survey, horrified at the change to the environment that he has seen out there, and determined to work directly with the government to alert them of the imminent dangers. Robin is aghast that Will is chucking in the research to work in London – and we learn more about Robin and his past that clouds his judgment of the future. As for those politicians, to what extent are they convinced by the dangers that the scientists’ research presents them, or are they more concerned with playing the electorate and doing what they know will win them votes? And are even the advisers themselves fully committed to revealing the truth, or do they also hold back for fear of aggravating their political masters?

WillSo, a vitally important plot, and a positively thought-provoking piece of work. It’s a little disappointing, then, that there are some difficulties with the plays that hold them back from being a truly gripping dramatic experience. Act One of Resilience is, for example, very wordy. You feel that a lot could be cut or tightened up with the advisers’ dealings with Secretary of State for Resilience, Chris Casson. Some of the lines in both plays come across as rather clunky, and don’t have that recognisable sound of a genuine conversation. The water tank that dominates the stage in On The Beach becomes a burden to the play and staging once its initial use to house the model has been completed. ColinIs it a real tank or is it a symbol of the sea or the storm? If the latter, then why do Will and Sarika say they come from the beach further downstage? If the former, why do Robin and Jenny get inside the tank and splash around? There’s an inconsistency with the way it is incorporated into the action which I feel muddles the story.

ChrisGeorgia Lowe’s stark, bare, grey, platformy set suggests discomfort; otherwise, it does very little to enhance our appreciation of either location, bringing to mind neither coast nor office; it also makes it virtually impossible for any action to take place upstage. And there are some peculiar vocal inflexions from a couple of the actors: as when, for example, Geraldine Alexander’s Jenny’s line about the birds flying overhead, “must be five-hundred-odd birds”, is spoken as “five hundred odd birds” as if there were something very peculiar about them all.

That aside, the performances are good; there’s a crisp disconnect between Paul Ready’s Casson and Geraldine Alexander’s Tessa that makes for some very ugly but exciting tension; Peter Forbes is excellent in his dual roles Tessaas the troubled and brutal Robin and the unsophisticated but sincere Colin; Joe Bannister’s Will and Kiran Landa’s Sarika are full of the enthusiasm of youth with the drive to get their message home, even if that works against their own personal circumstances.

An important, but far from perfect, work given an exuberant, but far from perfect, production! Nevertheless, I’d absolutely recommend it if your climate change complacency needs a kick up the backside – this will certainly provide that.

Production photos by Marc Brenner

3-starsThree-sy Does It!

Review – Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse, Sheffield, 24th September 2022

Accidental Death of an AnarchistWhere have the last 42 years gone? I remember seeing Accidental Death of an Anarchist back in 1980 at Wyndham’s in London as if it was yesterday (well, maybe a month ago.) I remember how it entranced me with its flagrant disregard for all the usual rules of West End comedy. I remember how it made me laugh my head off from start to finish. And I remember how it prompted me to write to Gavin Richards, who had adapted, directed and starred in it, telling him of my own family’s recent unjust and unfair brush with the law, knowing that our frustration and anger would fall on sympathetic ears. I’m still waiting for a reply on that one, mind. One of the great things about this play is how it can be moulded to reflect the issues of the day. As long as you have the one accepted constant – which is that police corruption is used to cover up their mistakes/crimes/lies/ineptitude/miscarriages of justice (feel free to add to the list) – then everything else can just neatly fall into place.

Daniel RigbyTom Basden’s adaptation of Dario Fo’s original play, at what was the Crucible Studio but is now the newly renamed Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse (that’ll quickly become just the Playhouse, mark my words) firmly places the action in the UK in 2022. I slightly regretted the almost complete eradication of all things Italian from this new version, which includes the way that Dario Fo got his characters to question Fo’s own inadequacies as a writer – so funny in the original. The Maniac used to proudly boast of his supposed association with the University of Padua; now he is (allegedly) an alumnus of Wadham College, Oxford. And with the recent electoral success of La Fascista Meloni as Italian Prime Minster, maybe they missed a trick.

Jordan MetcalfeNevertheless, this British version still works fine, with a full panoply of the methods the British police employ to cover their collective a*ses still rigidly in place. Fear of the media, fear of losing one’s pension and fear of getting found out still rule the roost. Whilst there’s a police WhatsApp group somewhere on this earth, Accidental Death of an Anarchist is not going away. And there’s still a call to action at the end of the play, in true Fo style, with websites and QR codes for the audience to download and explore at their post-show leisure. Remember, it was Fo who created the whole idea of Can’t Pay Won’t Pay for when capitalism just gets too big for its boots.

Tony GardnerFo’s original 1970 play was inspired by the death of an anarchist railway worker, Giuseppe Pinelli, who “fell” from a police headquarters window in Milan. Apparently, the window was already open (it was midnight on a freezing cold night). Apparently, he jumped (the autopsy showed he sustained an injury to the nape of his neck during his fall). Apparently, one officer tried to hold him back and ended up with one shoe in his hand (he was wearing two shoes when he landed). Apparently, they lied. Using appropriately anarchic humour, the ridiculous excuses of the law fall away before our eyes; as a result, what is in reality a truly horrific killing by the police becomes a hilarious, nonsensical farce on stage highlighting their corruption.

Ruby ThomasThe performance we saw was only the second preview, so please take that into account, gentle reader, although I doubt there is much space for last minute changes in the production. Anna Reid has created a stark but functional fourth floor office – later to become a third floor office by means of a pen and some window shenanigans. Tom Basden’s adaptation has fifty years of police corruption to mock; the longer the time since it was first written, the more corruption there is to play with, I guess. By necessity, this police force hasn’t espoused technology to the extent they might have, because nothing looks more extravagant than loose sheets of paper in a file being flung into the air. Given the farcical unpredictability of the body of the play, Basden gives us a relatively straightforward conclusion, whereas Howard WardFo gave us two alternative endings, with the Maniac asking the audience which of them they would prefer. But the whole show is full of brilliant theatrical tricks, right from the beginning when the opening music is turned off, to the “reappearance” of the Maniac at the end – and to say more about them would just spoil it for you.

It’s a tour de force by Daniel Rigby, who gives a terrific performance as the Maniac, adopting various guises, voices and personae in his quest to befuddle the police (to be fair, not that difficult a job with this lot). It’s a very demanding role, but he squeaks so many Shane David-Josephbrilliant comic moments out of the most minor opportunities, that he’s a joy to watch. I particularly liked Jordan Metcalfe as the clearly guilty detective Daisy, shiftily avoiding gaze and readily agreeing to clutch at half-baked straws. Tony Gardner is excellent as the outwardly respectable Superintendent, with an unscrupulous ability to forget whether he was there or not, depending on where there was or what he was doing there at the time. Ruby Thomas is great as the journalist Fi Phelan, defending her inherited wealth by admitting to owning only one horse and reading The Guardian, and there’s terrific support from Howard Ward as the exasperated Inspector Burton and Shane David-Joseph as the unintelligent Constable Joseph.

As relevant and as telling as ever, the play can still make you hoot with laughter yet be aghast at its subject matter. A glorious mixture of silly and serious, and still a classic of 20th century drama. A must-see!

Five Alive, Let Theatre Thrive!

Review – Much Ado About Nothing, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 24th September 2022

Much Ado About NothingFunny how things work out. In the same way that every pantomime I expect to see this Christmas will be Jack and the Beanstalk (London Palladium, Sheffield Lyceum, Royal and Derngate Northampton, etc), every other Shakespeare production this summer has been Much Ado About Nothing – RSC, National Theatre, and now here at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, with a co-production with Ramps on the Moon. Its Sheffield run closed on Saturday, but we were lucky enough to get tickets for its final day. You’ll be pleased to know, gentle reader, that there is a UK tour to follow so you still have a chance to see it!

Much Ado - BalthasarWe were part of a big family outing, some of whom pronounce Much Ado to be their favourite Shakespeare play. I must confess that over the decades I have slowly come around to the belief that this is one of his better shows – but it has taken me a long time to get there. Perhaps I’ve just seen some not-so-good productions in the past, because the storyline never remains in my brain for long and I frequently get confused when I watch it. However, not this time; Robert Hastie’s production tells the story clearly, humorously, and, as I think it will turn out to be, memorably. After all these years, I finally “got it”!

Richard-Peralta-and-the-Company-of-Much-Ado-About-Nothing.-Photo-by-Johan-Persson.-scaledWhat makes this production stand out is the diverse mix of actors who make up the cast, including disabled, deaf and neurodiverse performers as well as non-disabled actors. It’s a production for everyone; it’s made very clear at the beginning of the performance that if any audience member wants to get up, move around, or do anything else that will help them enjoy the performance, they are welcome to do so. All the cast introduce themselves to the audience at the start, explaining who their character is, how they are dressed, and how they will communicate: some of the cast speak their lines, others sign them, or do a blend of signing and speech. The whole production is captioned as well; it’s a veritable feast of communication!

Much Ado - the hoedownIt’s set in the modern era – in Messina, allegedly, but it could be anywhere that’s reasonably well off. Leonato, the Governor of the province, has a very nice pad with what we suspect is a lovely conservatory at the back of the stage that leads out into the garden, where “much ado” takes place. There’s a charming start to the show as the various members of the cast congregate in the conservatory, only for Don Pedro (Dan Parr, excellent) to realise that whilst they’re inside looking out, we’re all sitting outside looking in at him and his friends, so he leads the cast out onto the stage with a friendly hiya. Yes, you might say this production probably isn’t for purists, but then again, Much Ado is hardly likely to tease out many purists from the general theatregoing public.

Members-of-the-Company-of-Much-Ado-About-Nothing.-Photo-by-Johan-Persson.-scaledHastie’s vision for this production, apart from the general intention to make it as accessible as possible, is to bring out the classic scenes for maximum emotional or humorous impact. For example, everyone loves those favourite scenes where both Benedick and Beatrice overhear talk that the other one is rapturously in love with them. Here, in a hilarious scene, Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato all receive professional massages whilst ostentatiously chit-chatting about Beatrice’s love for Benedick, who ends up hiding underneath one of the massage tables. In her equivalent scene, Beatrice hides in a few vacant seats in the stalls to overhear Hero, Margaret and Ursula’s gossip about Benedick’s love for her. It’s all lightly, beautifully and believably done, right down to Beatrice’s involuntary outburst of Oh Shit! when she discovers the news and realises that she has to act upon it.

Much Ado - ClaudioBut there are plenty of dark moments in Much Ado – life really isn’t just a bowl of cherries. Are they able to carry off the serious aspects of the play with the same aplomb as the comedy? As it happens, yes. The simple force of Beatrice’s forthright delivery of her instruction to Benedick to “Kill Claudio” has the effect of sending a shudder right through your bones. Taku Mutero’s Claudio changes from being a wet-behind-the-ears romantic sop into a furious brute when Hero’s alleged infidelity is revealed; he certainly knows how to spoil a party. Gerard McDermott’s avuncular Leonato, too, switches from being a rather lovable old sot into a nobleman humiliated and offended by his daughter, dismissing any sense of affection or trust in her. And Claire Wetherall’s Hero herself is remarkably eloquent in her silence – she signs all her lines; somehow it makes her plight even more tragic and unjust.

Much Ado - Dogberry and VergesThere are a few modernisations to the text that work really well – re-imagining Dogberry and Verges as Wedding Planners is a stroke of genius, and both Caroline Parker and Lee Farrell bring terrific characterisation to the roles. There’s a brilliant sequence when Dogberry threatens the villainous Borachio and Conrade (terrifically played by Benjamin Wilson and Ciaran Stewart) with an assault by hydrangeas and hops – you had to be there. There are a few other delightful throwaway moments – for example, when Seacole (the excellent Amy Helena) signs a passionate description of two lovers, Benedick is forced to remark “a bit graphic, Seacole!” to much hilarity.

Much Ado - Benedick and BeatriceOf course, so much of Much Ado revolves around the presentation of the main duo, Benedick and Beatrice, and both Guy Rhys and Daneka Etchells put in terrific performances. There’s no question that this B and B have both seen a bit of the world and are nobody’s fools; they’re past pandering to anyone else’s whims and just in it for their own self-protection. Mr Rhys is hilarious as he coyly relaxes on a massage bed, accidentally-on-purpose letting a bit of leg show to boost up Beatrice’s interest in him; and Ms Etchells has a range of fantastic facial expressions, as well as a powerful confident delivery, that leave you in no doubt as to Beatrice’s state of mind at any given point.

Much Ado - Borachio and ConradeIn a production such as this, with perhaps more people on stage at a time than you might expect, visually it does occasionally get a little messy. There were a few blocking issues, and I felt that one or two of the actors underperformed at times. But there’s no doubting the sheer joy of the production and its extraordinary sense of freshness and liberty. Now that it’s done its time at Sheffield, the production is on the road, visiting Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Ipswich, Stratford East, and Salisbury. Not sure I’ve ever seen a production quite like it! Hugely rewarding, and great storytelling.

Production photos by Johan Persson

4-starsFour They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

Review – Rock, Paper, Scissors, Crucible, Studio and Lyceum Theatres, Sheffield, 28th & 29th June 2022

Rock Paper ScissorsIt’s always fun when a playwright thinks outside the box for new ways of presenting a story. The challenge that writer Chris Bush and Artistic Director Robert Hastie set themselves was to create three pieces that would use the three locations of the Sheffield Theatres all at the same time, dovetailing into each other and making one complete whole in the process. There’s been some precedent for this, but nothing quite on this scale. Alan Ayckbourn tells the same story three times in the Norman Conquests, from different locations within the house and garden. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off gives us the first act of the generic sex farce Nothing On from three different perspectives; in rehearsal, backstage and in performance. SusieIn both these plays you can piece together a fuller account of what’s going on simply by a hilarious mixture of repetition and relocation. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard shows what happens when characters who are not involved in the main story live out their own lives until the main play catches up with them. Here you get a sense of other lives carrying on outside of, and irrelevant to, the main plot; thus the backstage becomes the forestage (and then back again.)

Joe and LivBush’s immensely inventive and hugely enjoyable triple threat of Rock, Paper and Scissors, at all three of the Sheffield Theatres simultaneously, provides another of these riveting feasts where different perspectives cast different lights on the same story all at the same time. To say it’s a technical achievement would be the epitome of underestimation; and if the unexpected happens – and this is live theatre, so it does – causing a problem or a delay in one theatre, it has a knock-on effect in the other venues, as happened when we saw them, more of which later…!

ZaraThe basis for the plot is simple. Sheffield scissor makers Spenser and Son has been in business for decades. Eddie, the most recent owner, has died, and his two remaining relatives – Susie, his sister and Faye, his adopted daughter – both have plans to make something of the extraordinary building that remains.  Rock chick Susie envisages a funky nightclub, whereas Faye and her partner Mel feel a residential conversion would work. But Susie and Faye haven’t spoken for years; nor did either of them realise that Omar, the manager, still had a team of four apprentices making scissors in the workshop. Too soon, then, to adapt the building for other purposes? No matter what, there are three sets of plans and practices that completely conflict with the others!

Mel and FayeThe blurb maintains that each of the three plays can stand alone; or audiences could choose to see any combination of two plays or indeed all three. In my opinion, if you were only to see one, it should be Paper as that (I reckon at least) is the only truly standalone play; if you were only to see two you should combine it with Scissors; and if you see all three, see them in the traditional order of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, as we did. Although each play is written by Chris Bush, each has a different director, a different designer, a different lighting director, and so on. So each has a very different vibe and character.

The WorkshopAll three plays take the same central themes, although with varying degrees of emphasis. There’s the struggle between hanging on to the past versus making way for the future. Traditional values and skills set against modern cost-cutting methods. Opportunities through hard work are compared with opportunities through privilege. Bar work is offered instead of skilled apprenticeships. Hard truths and difficult problems are balanced against credible lies and living within your comfort zone. Perhaps most of all, the take-home element of these plays is what happens when you make assumptions about people, their motivations, characteristics and private lives; people have a remarkable ability to keep secrets, and then reveal them when you least expect.

Trent Liv and AvaRock is dominated by the character of Susie Spencer, the opinionated, ambitious sister who wants to create a nightclub out of the old factory space, beautifully realised on the Crucible stage by Ben Stones’ wonderful design. To kickstart the project, she plans to hold a photoshoot with a top photographer and a real band to promote the new venue. Susie tends to ride roughshod and be unnecessarily critical of others, which makes her an unsympathetic character, but Denise Black’s excellent performance invests her with all the brass neck and charisma to fill out a truly credible portrayal. She gets as good as she gives from a brilliant performance by Lucie Shorthouse, who was fantastic as Pritti in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie four years ago, as Omar’s daughter Zara, Xanderplus there’s excellent support from Andrew Macbean as her long-suffering wannabe beau Leo, and a superb comic turn from Leo Wan’s Xander (who is even funnier in Scissors) as the nervous corporate design consultant. But for me, this particular play suffers from its structure and script. It expends a lot of time and energy in a comedy of mistaken identity which is amusing at first but quickly palls as you realise that a simple conversation establishing who everyone is would put an end to the confusion. It’s too obvious a comic construct and I found these elements both unfunny and tedious. There are also passages of enjoyable but irrelevant singing, and it feels like there’s a lot of padding here.

OmarThings get so much better in Paper, which is written with much smarter tightness and purpose. The play looks closer into the relationship between Faye and Mel, their plans and their attempts to track down missing and vital paperwork to prove ownership and Eddie’s will. Samantha Power’s Faye faces the uphill task to find the will from amongst the reams of paper stuffed into his ramshackle old office. She is uncertain as to the right way to progress, unlike the much more practical and determined Mel, who divides the office into quadrants so that they can search methodically, and who takes charge of Xander’s professional visit when Faye starts to wobble. Primarily the play is a beautiful examination of the relationship between the two; the problems that lurk beneath the surface – issues of trust, respect and faithfulness, that lead on to serious mental health worries. Natalie Casey’s amazing performance as Mel had me choking back the tears as she sits on the floor desperately trying to her explain her feelings.

CocodamolThis emotional space is also invaded by the comically horrendous Coco and Molly – Chanel Waddock and Daisy May on excellent form – as the squabbling, pretentious, self-serving band Co-codamol. It was during one of their sparky arguments that the stage manager had to come on stage and inform everyone that due to a problem in one of the other theatres, they would have to pause the performance; Ms Waddock and Ms May looked as stunned as the rest of us felt as they were ushered off the stage. We later discovered there had been a little fire on the stage of the Studio during Scissors – much to everyone’s gasp of horror – and they were just waiting for that to “settle down”. It was a tough moment for Coco and Molly but they resumed their argument perfectly when it all re-started. Presumably other actors in the other theatres faced the same problem!

MasonPartly due to its modest setting in the round in the Studio, Scissors feels like a much more intimate play. Here we observe the apprentices actually doing the real work, for less than minimum wage; their relationship, their arguments, their commitment (or lack thereof) and their fears for the future. They reveal so much about themselves, and the importance of their jobs to their lives and their prospects. The whole factory is their domain, so when voices are heard in other parts of the building, they immediately assume industrial espionage or burglary, they distrust everyone who isn’t part of their group, and act as though everyone else is out to get them. That’s all except Trent perhaps, who is calmness and kindness itself when dealing with others. But they all have their secrets, which will astonish, entertain, and move you to tears. Jabez Sykes is terrific as the unpredictable and defensive Mason, and Joe Usher turns in a superb professional debut as the eloquent Trent. Maia Tamrakar is a powerhouse of energy as Liv and Dumile Sibanda shows fantastic maturity way beyond her years as the earnest Ava. All four create an incredible ensemble in this play and should have wonderful careers ahead of them. It’s up to Guy Rhys’ wounded, heavy-hearted Omar to break the news of their future to them – and it’s a complex, sad but truly beautiful ending. You may take away a different interpretation of the conclusion of the plays if you only see Scissors; you’ll have a very solid understanding of the outcome if you only see Paper. I’ll say no more!

Ava and LeoObviously, the very nature of this production must call for a certain degree of compromise and technical jiggery-pokery in the writing and construction. Just as the Porter scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth allows for Macbeth and Lady M to wash off Duncan’s blood and change into their nightgowns before returning to the stage to deny all wrongdoing, Chris Bush has had to include tricks and passages to build in time to enable characters to leave one theatre and enter another. This may have some detrimental effect on the artistic integrity of the plays as a whole. I’m also unsure as to the necessity of having each character appear in each play; Mason’s appearance in Paper, for example, is totally irrelevant. I realise I am being super-critical for raising this, especially as it is the very challenge of staging three plays at the same time that is the most fascinating aspect of the entire production – more so than the actual subject matter of the plays. But the performances, the vision and the technical ability to stage this trio trump all criticisms. Really glad I caught this production – they only play until 2nd July and you won’t want to miss them.

Production photos by Johan Persson

Five Alive, let Theatre Thrive!

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 – Guys and Dolls, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 4th January 2020

82276430_471085450481862_4812180997384699904_nOur traditional post-New Year weekend in Sheffield as a Christmas present to Lord and Lady Prosecco just got bigger. This year, also joined by Professor and Mrs Plum, Lord Liverpool, the Countess of Cockfosters and their assorted offspring, twelve of us descended on the St Paul’s Place Pizza Express before hitting the Crucible to enjoy this year’s Christmas show, Guys and Dolls.

Follow the FoldGuys and Dolls was, is, and always will be, one of the great American musicals. Jam-packed with memorable songs, outrageous characters, a heart-warming plot and great dance opportunities, it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to the stoniest of faces and an entrechat to the most lumpen of feet. This is the fourth time I’ve seen the show, most memorably the first time in 1982 when I saw a preview of That Famous National Theatre production starring Julia McKenzie, Bob Hoskins, Ian Charleson and Julie Covington (so when I say starring, I mean starring). Least memorable was the 2007 touring production with Alex Ferns and Samantha Janus (as she was then). There was also a fabulous 2014 Chichester production with Peter Polycarpou, Clare Foster, Sophie Thompson and Jamie Parker. Comparisons are of course odious but irresistible; so I’ll try to ignore the earlier productions!

Sky and NathanIf you don’t know the story of Guys and Dolls, where have you been all your life? Inspired by the stories and characters of Damon Runyon, meet the sniffly song-and-dance artiste Miss Adelaide, whose symptoms get worse throughout the show due to her fiancé, Nathan Detroit’s, inability to commit. Detroit tries to organise an illegal crap game without Miss Adelaide’s knowledge – she wouldn’t approve – but the one thousand bucks, as demanded by the Biltmore Garage to host the game, he ain’t got. Meanwhile, at the Save-a-Soul Mission, Sergeant Sarah Brown is trying to attract penitent punters to her hymn gatherings, but without much success. Enter Gambler Maestro Sky Masterson, a man with charisma bursting out of his wallet. To meet the Biltmore’s demand, Detroit bets $1000 that Masterson won’t take a girl of his choosing on a date to Havana, Cuba. Masterson accepts; Detroit chooses Sarah Brown; and if you don’t know the rest of the story, I’m not going to tell you.

Luck be a LadyDesigner Janet Bird has created an intriguing set with walls that slide in and out of place, and with outer revolving tracks that suggest busy sidewalks, to leave a usefully empty space in the middle for crap games, Hot Box dances and mission hall meetings. Will Stuart’s excellent band are perched aloft, inside what looks like an attic bar (nice for them). Intricate choreographer Matt Flint, back from last year’s Kiss Me Kate, has risen to the challenge of creating those big set piece dance numbers that are often a feature of the Crucible Christmas show. The Crap Shooters’ Ballet followed by Luck be a Lady is powerful and hard-hitting, as it should be; even more entertaining is the marvellous Havana salsa scene, which tells an entertaining story of a couple out for the night, except that he dances with Sarah and she dances with Sky and by the end of the evening they’re having a full-blown argument – all to enticing salsa rhythms, of course.

In the Hot BoxRobert Hastie has assembled a tremendous cast who all give great performances throughout. Natalie Casey emphasises Miss Adelaide’s camp cutesiness with some wicked facial expressions and vocal deliveries and brings bags of fun to the role whilst still recognising the character’s genuine inner sadness. Alex Young is superb as ever as Sarah Brown, with her magnificent voice taking on Frank Loesser’s iconic songs with supreme ease, her eyes summing up all the imperfections of Sky Masterson’s character with an instant loving scorn. It’s a great portrayal of a good girl gone not necessarily bad, but revelling in her defences being down.

I Got the Horse Right HereThe remarkably versatile Martin Marquez (whose abilities range from musical comedy in Anything Goes, farce in Boeing Boeing to contemporary drama in Blasted) is a mature Nathan Detroit, hiding desperately from his responsibilities to Miss Adelaide. He’s a great singer and provides a more romantic interpretation of the song Sue Me than I’d previously encountered. Kadiff Kirwan impresses as the suave Sky Masterson and also sings and dances terrifically. I’d not come across his work before, but with a great stage presence, Mr Kirwan could definitely be One To Watch for the future.

Nicely NicelyThere’s another superb partnership between TJ Lloyd as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Adrian Hansel as Benny Southstreet; their rendition of the song Guys and Dolls is a highlight of the whole show and of course Mr Lloyd is brilliant in Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat. I’d enjoyed Mr Hansel’s performance in Hairspray several years ago but Mr Lloyd is new to me – both actors lit up the stage every time they came on and I can’t wait to see them again in the future.

General CartwrightElsewhere in the cast there’s a kindly performance from Garry Robson as Arvide Abernathy, with a moving performance of More I Cannot Wish You; an enjoyably intimidating Big Jule played by Dafydd Emyr; and a spirited Hallelujah of a performance from one of my favourite actors, Dawn Hope as General Cartwright.

Marry the Man TodayPerhaps a slightly curious staging choice came at the end of the cheeky Marry The Man Today, when Detroit and Masterson appeared on stage and stopped Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown in their vocal tracks; rather than having the two women enjoy their moment of girlish fantasies they were forced to face the reality of their husbandly destinies in person, which made the female characters feel subservient to their men. The Countess of Cockfosters wasn’t impressed with this staging decision and on reflection I have to agree.

Guys and DollsNevertheless, although it’s almost a three-hour show the time simply flies by. Guys and Dolls maintains the high-quality tradition of the Crucible Christmas shows with its spectacle, skill and artistry, superb music and dance elements and provides plenty to talk about it the bar afterwards. Recommended!

Production photos by Johan Persson

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 – Kiss Me, Kate, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 5th January 2019

Kiss Me, KateEvery New Year, Mrs Chrisparkle and I treat Lord and Lady Prosecco to a post-Christmas outing: a weekend in Sheffield (bear with me) to stay at the lovely Mercure Hotel, have some scrummy meals and to see both the Crucible’s Christmas musical AND the Lyceum panto – and we’ve not had a duff experience yet. Over the last couple of years, we’ve taken to seeing the panto in the evening – the weight of a few extra wines and a more end-of-term atmosphere always helps. Which left us this matinee with the prospect of seeing Cole Porter’s fantastic, and now grammatically correct, Kiss Me, Kate.

edward-baker-duly-and-the-company-of-kiss-me-kate.This was one of the Dowager Mrs C’s favourite musicals and I was brought up on a diet of Always True to You Darling in my Fashion and From This Moment On; not a bad way to be brought up, to be honest. But this is only the third time I’ve seen it; once in 1987 at the Old Vic with the redoubtable Nichola McAuliffe, and at Chichester in 2012 where Hannah Waddingham attempted to rule the roost over Alex Bourne. That London production was great; the Chichester one a little disappointing. But I’m going to throw my hat into the ring and say that this new production at Sheffield by Paul Foster tops them both.

edward-baker-duly-and-rebecca-lock-as-fred-and-lillI’m sure you know the story – a touring production of The Taming of the Shrew is the vehicle for an on-and-off love story between the two leads, Fred Graham (playing Petruchio, also the producer of the show) and Miss Lilli Vanessi (playing Katherine, the star attraction). Lilli senses that their romance is back on track (they are already divorced at the beginning of the show) but when she discovers that the flowers she received from Fred were actually meant for cabaret starlet Lois (playing Bianca), she gets into a Katherine-type rage and takes it out on him on stage. He, being not entirely a true gentleman, gives as good as he gets, and she spends most of the rest of the show unable to sit down because – well, because, gentle reader, he gave her a damn good spanking. It happens in Shakespeare, so why the hell not here. Only one way to tame a shrew; women respect it. (That was a joke, by the way.)

dafydd-emyr-as-harrison-howell-and-rebecca-lock-as-lilli-vanessi.Lilli’s plans to abandon the rest of the run are brought to an abrupt halt by the persuasions of two gangsters who (erroneously, as it happens) need the show to be a success so that Fred can pay his dues to their Mr. Big. Her new beau Harrison Howell arrives to take her away – but, will she find true love with him, or with Fred? If you don’t know the answer to that by now, you never will.

dex-lee-centre-and-the-company-of-kiss-me-kate.It’s true; in the current climate, some aspects of this show have dated to become ever so slightly worrying. The physical animosity between Fred and Lilli does border on domestic violence (even though it’s played entirely for laughs) and the subjugation of women’s will to men’s is still as clear as it was in Shakespeare’s day – you have to feel a cringe coming on when Katherine/Lilli sings I Am Ashamed that Women are So Simple. But this is distinctly a period piece, with no attempts (quite right, I think) to update it to the 21st century. Porter’s showtunes are still as 1940s jazz as they can be; the gangsters are still the same Chicago thickos they always were. Porter’s brilliant lyrics anchor the show in his own era; when one of the funniest lines in any of the songs is “he may have hair upon his chest, but, sister so has Lassie”, there’s just no point trying to update it. Provided there are audience members who remember Lassie, the joke works.

layton-williams-and-the-company-of-kiss-me-kate.We’ve been used over the years at Sheffield to seeing the big choreography routines by Alistair David, who made such a mark in shows like My Fair Lady and Show Boat. For this show, the choreography is by Matt Flint, and I have to say I’ve not come across his work before. But he’s terrific! His style is much more intimate and involved; he sets up scenes with so many varied things happening in different parts of the stage all at the same time, then brings them all together for a big impact. The second Act opens with his fantastic staging of Too Darn Hot, led with immaculate artistry and precision by Layton Williams as Paul; it’s one of those classic dance sequences when you know you’re seeing something special and you never want it to end. As an aside, our performance was captioned – a great innovation, imho – and it was fascinating to read the lyrics to Too Darn Hot (as well all the other songs) – it’s easy to overlook just exactly what this song is all about!

cindy-belliot-and-layton-williams.Elsewhere, the show is peppered with memorable moments, mainly involving the big numbers. Paul Foster has concentrated most of his efforts into getting the maximum entertainment out of the songs, so there is no attempt to shorten any of Cole Porter’s mammoth efforts. I guess a downside to that is that if you don’t like the songs much (then why are you here?) you probably won’t enjoy it much. The show opens with (fittingly) Another Op’nin’ Another Show, at first fronted by Lilli’s dresser Hattie (a beautiful, warm-hearted performance by Cindy Belliot) but then it opens out to a wide-ranging musical examination of all the cast and crew arriving at this new theatre, with all the tensions and excitements that can contain – and it’s an exciting and exhilarating start.

joel-montague-and-delroy-atkinson-as-the-gangsters-in-kiss-me-kate.Other highlights include Amy Ellen Richardson’s Lois/Bianca teasing routine with the three suitors for Tom Dick or Harry – one of these, Dex Lee, plays Bill/Lucentio and I always admire his brilliant, acrobatic dancing; Rebecca Lock (a brilliant Katherine/Lilli with a stunning voice) throwing herself around in fits of fury during I Hate Men; Edward Baker-Duly (also brilliant as Fred/Petruchio – I loved his ham, and then even hammier, vocal performance as the stagey actor) ripping through the memories of all those women in Where is the Life that Late I Led; Amy Ellen Richardson’s funny and flirtatious performance of Always True To You Darling in my Fashion; and the simple but oh so effective staging of Brush Up Your Shakespeare by Delroy Atkinson and Joel Montague as the two theatrical gangsters, occupying the spotlights – Mr Atkinson in particular gave a brilliantly expressive physically comic performance. I also appreciated the fact that, for much of the performance, James McKeon’s orchestra was hidden at the back of the set, but for the songs that belonged to Taming of the Shrew, it was on view – a very nice touch, I thought.

amy-ellen-richardson-as-lois-lane-in-kiss-me-kate.The only thing that slightly disappointed me was the staging of one of my favourite songs from the show, From This Moment On. It’s a difficult one. The song was never written for Kiss Me Kate; Porter wrote it for another show from which it was dropped at the last minute, but it was obviously too good to waste, and Cole Porter was an expert musical recycler. From This Moment On appears in the film version of Kiss Me Kate, where it works perfectly as a number between Bianca and her three suitors; but the dramatic usefulness of that has already been taken by Tom Dick or Harry. So nowadays the custom is to have it sung by Harrison Howell and Lilli before he sweeps her away to the magicless life of a military wife – or not. Structurally, it makes perfect sense to have it there; but in practice the characters are too old and the situation too cynical (ouch! Sorry!) for the song to work properly. It’s a young person’s song – a starting out in life song – filled with genuinely great expectations, and I’d prefer to give the song back to Lois and Bill. In characterisation and acting, Dafydd Emyr made an imposing Howell, but, for me, it just didn’t work.

simon-oskarsson-and-the-company-of-kiss-me-kate.But this is one small quibble in an otherwise excellent show that thrilled us all, and we continued to talk about it later that evening and all through the next. One of those productions to savour and recall with happiness for years to come. It’s on until Saturday 12th January. Would be a crime to miss it!

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

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