One of the joys of panto is that you return year after year knowing exactly what to expect. The catchphrases, the slapstick, the elaborate sets and stunning costumes – there is something reassuring about the repetition, especially as we live through such uncertain times. And so we returned to the New Theatre’s annual Christmas pantomime.
This year it was Jac (note the K has been dropped as we are in Wales) and the Beanstalk. Or was it Snow White. Or maybe Cinderella. In all honesty the title was irrelevant and to say that the plot was flimsy would be an understatement but, no matter, we had come for a traditional pantomime and that is exactly what we got in the first half.
Mike Doyle reprised his annual role as the Dame. This year he was Jack’s mum, Stacey Trot, and with his usual array of increasingly elaborate and crazy costumes and his catchphrase “awwwrrrrright” it is almost impossible to imagine a New Theatre pantomime without him. It is easy to forget how difficult his easy command of the audience is to achieve.
This year he was joined by Lesley Joseph as the Spirit of the Beans and by Aaron James as Jack’s brother Silly Simon. There were the highly predictable references to “Birds of a Feather” which no doubt passed most of the youngsters in the audience by, but Joseph entered into the spirit of the show and looked as if she was thoroughly enjoying herself. She was happy to send herself up and her “ad libs” were so on point that it was difficult to know whether or not they were scripted at times. James was equally quick-witted and his “A to Z of Impressions” was a highlight even if some of them were a little tenuous (“X factor” as a celebrity impression anyone?!). Denquar Chupak returns to Cardiff panto to play the Princess and Adam Bailey plays Jac.
There was a change of pace in the second half and a very welcome one it was. 3D glasses had been handed out to the audience in the interval, causing much excitement among the younger audience members. They were not disappointed as the main protagonists entered the Giant’s castle and the audience were directed to put their glasses on. Suddenly we were miles away from traditional panto territory as the 3D effects kicked in. Some of these, such as vomiting maggots, were purely disgusting (and thus very popular with certain audience members) and some were truly frightening with proper “jump scare” moments which the teenagers in our party were very impressed by.
Steve Arnott, above, was our archetypal villain Fleshcreep, bringing the boos and hisses we need in panto.
We quickly segued back into traditional panto territory with the “If I were not in Pantomime” sketch being given its annual outing. Lesley Joseph responded in good humour as her wig was (intentionally?) pulled from her head and soon it was the finale which again was traditional panto fare – big costumes, big set and big songs.
The ending seemed to come abruptly as the audience were encouraged onto their feet and I was expecting another song as the curtains fell and the lights came on.
That was the end – oh yes it was. Now it is officially Christmas.
New Theatre, Cardiff until January 7
Main image Lesley Joesph
Images: Tim Dickeson