The Theatr Clwyd rock’n’roll pantos are acknowledged as being the best in the area. The focus on investing in quality talent who can really act, sing, and play instruments – rather than names from a fashionable yet questionable TV show – truly pays dividends.
This performance was preceded by a welcome from Artistic Director Tamara Harvey who explained that Emmy Stonelake had injured her leg and wouldn’t be appearing. But assistant director Francesca Goodridge, who also acts and sings, had stepped into the breach. She heroically crammed five weeks’ worth of preparations into just three days and took to the stage.
Her performance was admirable, singing, dancing and acting with the best of them – with only one small cue needed from the dame early on. Having enjoyed Emmy Stonelake’s belting vocals and charismatic performance in last year’s panto, it was a shame not to have seen her, but Goodridge should certainly be proud of herself. She was both daughters’ favourite performer of the evening, high praise indeed.
Welsh theatre and television stalwart Phylip Harries returned to the panto as Dick’s mother Sarah and was nothing short of fantastic. His puns, double entendres, jokes and jibes at the audience came thick and fast. They were accompanied by hilarious facial expressions, powerful physical comedy, impeccable timing and not a few adlibs.
When Sarah complained of her heart and Alice asked “have you got acute angina?” the retort “I’ve had no complaints” was delivered so devilishly I was howling with laughter. The designer Adrian Gee and the wardrobe department excelled themselves with another series of flamboyant and funny gowns for Harries, each topping the last in its extravagance.
Also returning to the Theatr Clwyd stage was Daniel Lloyd, who as Alice’s father Wally Fitzwarren was also incredibly funny. The wordplay between him and Harries made for high value entertainment, and was clearly often spontaneous as the actors affectionately needled one another. Lloyd’s adlibs were frequent and funny and at one point after the audience were still patting themselves dry and chatting after a soaking from water guns he said: “pay attention now this bit’s important to the story!” He also expressly banned critics from mentioning a resemblance to a chubby Aled Jones…oops.
Dick himself was played by Irish actor Peter Mooney, which added an extra dimension to the joke when he asked everyone for £20 notes to join his gang before saying: “keep them, you’ll be needing them after Brexit.” His singing voice was decent enough though not as strong as his colleagues. He made a charming lead however and worked well with Phylip Harries, and both were hilarious in a scene where the pair were cooking and tried to hit some pesky rats with a frying pan.
I was taken with Fairy Betty Bowbells, who had a beautiful voice and lent a very elegant presence to the stage as well as some witty lines, particularly those directed at King Rhydian the Rat, the pantomime baddy.
In true Theatr Clwyd style King Rhydian was more stylishly eccentric than scary, which was fine for me and my young kids. He had a great singing voice and insulted everyone in rhyming couplets with more than a few Shakespearean references.
My favourite from last year Lynwen Haf Roberts, provided very strong backing vocals and music from the sidelines for much of the show. I was pleased to see her take centre stage for a few scenes in the second half as Sultana.
The cat was played very athletically by Toby Falla, whose lovely girlfriend Hannah we were sitting by. Alice McKenna and Luke Thornton added depth and dimension to the action with their dynamic vocals and choreography as Scratch and Sniff and other parts.
There were plenty of references to the local area that added a nice touch, from references to Wrexham and Moel Famau to jokes about Buckley Tivoli. There was some healthy rivalry, with Sarah suggesting that a staff member who didn’t like work and wanted a job where he could do nothing be given a job as a joke counter at Rhyl panto. Boom boom.
The sets are always beautiful in these productions with various hand-painted backdrops being used to convey a range of settings and some stunning illuminated bells moving like pendulums across the stage.
Animal puppets, from Badgers to rats, lent a playful aspect which my daughters really enjoyed.
The music is the unique selling point of the rock’n’roll panto as the audience never fails to be amazed at and swept along by the standard of the performers’ skills to act, sing and play several instruments to exceptional standards. The choice of music was excellent (barring In the Navy!) taking in songs from acts as diverse as Dolly Parton, The Ramones, Jason Marz, Meatloaf and Take That.
Overall the females had the strongest voices, with Anna Westlake, Lynwen Haf Roberts and Alice McKenna delivering particularly fine vocals, but Phylip Harries, Royce Cronin and Daniel Lloyd also held their own.
Little details like bubbles and snowflakes descending on us and the cast moving about the audience are lovely extras that enhance the experience. As a Welsh-speaking family we also enjoyed and appreciated the Welsh parts delivered by fellow-speakers of the language of heaven Phylip Harries and Lynwen Haf Roberts.
This year’s script has been written by Christian Patterson, not rock’n’roll panto pioneer Peter Rowe, and a fine job he has done too. With wonderful direction by Zoe Waterman and a top-notch cast, Dick Whittington The Puuurfect Rock’n’Roll panto is the best evening’s family entertainment you could ask for.
Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock’n’Roll panto is at Theatr Clwyd until January 19.
This review is supported by the Wales Critic Fund.
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