Panto is always a fine balance between humour, dance, music and costumes that will thrill the kids and enough adult double entendre to keep the grown-ups entertained.
Judging by the amount I laughed at this year’s New Theatre panto they certainly got the latter right! I cannot remember a show that had been smiling, gaffawing and laughing out loud as this with the Mike Doyle, as Widow Twankey, a complete blast. Doyle is such a master of comedy and of the pantomime dame that comparisons are odious but imagine Les Dawson’s drag character Ada Shufflebotham swapping her Northern accent and humour for Cardiff and the Valleys. Talking of pulling weird pouts, while I have seen Doyle’s Bassey send-up several times it always gets me chuckling like an idiot.
Doyle is also excellent with the children from delighting them more than playing up to the ever more ridiculous costumes, the interaction with the youngsters (and young at heart) and those slightly more adult gags that go over the heads of most of the kids.
The joker of the show is Andy Jones, complete with his audience spraying dog, and he delivers most of the delight for the younger audience members, although he too indulges in a bit of the more adult-orientated comedy but all in the best of taste of course. This is a family show after all.
We have to have a panto villain and he comes in the form of the splendid form of Sam Kane who not only gets as many boos as you could hope from the audience. He also directed the show which in some way takes the form of a tale of good and evil where the humans are aided by divine forces, the evil Abanazar and the good Scheherazade, The Spirit of the Ring. Linda Lusardi is looking great and is funniest when she has trouble with her lines playing the latter fairy godmother-type character. The other force for good, the Genie, is played by Gareth Thomas who and come on in leaps and bounds since last year’s panto. Now he seems more relaxed, confident and while he still plays to his gym-created physique and rucking awful rugby references he didn’t take refuge in embarrassing campness this time round.
Having confirmed to the youngsters in our party that, yes, Widow Twankey was a man I refrained from explain that the finale would be more realistic if the Genie has married Aladdin as the “hero” of the show was acted by another gay man, Ian H Watkins whose coming out was as much of a non-surprise of the year as Gareth Thomas had been!
I rather liked Mr Watkins as the smiling, dancing, slightly innocent-looking Aladdin. The fact that Gareth Thomas was possibly double his size added to his sort of cute-prince persona rather than dashing hero. Last year the cast had Lee Mead in the “starring role” and this year he was booked up by Birmingham. This meant we did we not have to listen over and over again to that darned Joseph and his garish coat song (darned – gettit? Oh no you didn’t!) I far preferred H. Being of a certain age I also enjoyed the couple of Steps songs. I wonder if was a copyright issue that the Steps hits I recognised were their cover versions rather than original songs, Chain Reaction and Tragedy.
Completing the cast were Holly Bluett as Princess Jasmine and Mark Llewelyn Evans as The Emperor. Both sang and acted well in what are generally rather flat roles. Princess Jasmine doesn’t really have to do very much apart from look nice, sing pleasantly, jig around a bit and mess things up by swapping the magic lamp. Not much of a role model for the girls in the audience! The Emperor gets to let rip with rather a strong singing voice and has the fun of flirting with Widow Twankey who we of course know is a man. Maybe one year we should have the Emperor uttering the last line of Some Like it Hot: “Well, nobody’s perfect” when Daphne (Jack Lemmon) removes her wig and finally explains to Osgood why she can’t marry him – because she’s a man.
The show itself was a visual spectacular as you would expect from the New and the costumes were delightfully extravagant. There were plenty of local children playing little Peking residents and pyrotechnics and, yes, big puffs of smoke (double entendre paradise). Add to all of this the fact that the players genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves and finding their antics genuinely funny (including a very daft, slapstick 12 days of Christmas routine).
I have to admit the flying carpet scene must have involved a crane and I won’t say more than that so as not to spoil the fun but I’m still not sure quite how they did it.
Until January 17