One of my friend told me, in a jolly way, that I was laughing more than all of the kids in the audience, including the three children who accompanied me, with their mum and her mum, to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
This either says something about my sense of humour or possibly that there was lots of comedy that I got but that went over the heads of the youngsters. This is always a delicate balancing act for panto and recent news reports about problems in Manchester, for example, with the nature of some of the comedy in their panto. There was no such inappropriate humour in Cardiff although I think the days of the “big poof” pun has seen its day and I would have more respect for Gareth Thomas if he gently requested such semi homophobic jokes were removed. But no big deal.
More importantly, the children did have a great time and watching their faces it was clearly the slapstick routines, the interaction shouting, the pyrotechnics, lavish sets and silly costumes that had them hooked.
I have been to the Cardiff panto so many times that I know that what makes the show stand or fall are the personalities of the two funny men (one is playing a woman) and as long as Mike Doyle plays the panto dame a fabulous time is guaranteed. My Christmas highlight is his Dame Shirley Bassey impersonation which gets more and more ridiculous. I know which of these two Dames I would rather have at my Christmas Dinner. Here he plays Dame Betty Blumenthal whose son Muddles is in love with Snow White. Muddles is played by the totally adorable Tam Ryan and he too has the children transfixed with his cheeky chappie humour and infectious personality.
With increasing ridiculous costumes, Doyle also was the star of bringing “Kaardiff” to the show making us all shout “aaaalrigghhhht” and do that daft hands coming together gesture – in fact there were so many South Wales accents I got a bit confused as to where the actors were from although ironically Bridgend-born Chico was the most English-sounding. Samanatha Womack, who I only recognised when I realised her maiden nae was Samantha Janus, sounded more Ely than EastEnders at times. Good on them all.
The highlight of the humour was the slapstick routine involving Mike Doyle, Gareth Thomas, Chico and Tam Ryan in the song “If I were not in pantomime something else I’d like to be” with actions to match different professions which all, of course, involve swinging around associated utensils whether a rolling-pin, tennis racket, rugby ball, bucket – you get the idea –and the choroeogrephy so designed that they don’t hit one another. Well, not at first. It could all, of course, be very hammy but the actors genuinely enjoy this routine and when it does, again of course, descend into chaos, they are laughing as much as the audience. How they maintain their genuine enthusiasm performance after performance is a mystery.
If I were not in pantomime…
Snow White was played by Stephanie Webber and was given the Disney treatment, looking like the popular image of the heroine, and she sings and acts a sweet, innocent young thing although with just a little cheeky steel in her characterisation. Her should I, shouldn’t I routine with the evil queen and her poisoned apple had the kids shouting and screaming perfectly.
I am not sure how many of the audience knew who was Chico was and I only had a vague recollection when he sang Chico Time which apparently was a big charts success. I did find his delivery rushed and hard to make out at times but he was likeable. I do think in the real world Snow White would have gone off with Muddles played by a lovely Tam Ryan and she wouldn’t have to compete with the gym for his affections.
Speaking of which I am not sure how many of the youngsters now know who Gareth Thomas is either. The novelty of a rugby player, no matter how many times capped, coming out has faded now (fortunately) and as that is his one trick I am not sure it works any more. Well, perhaps it does in show that need a sort of strong man with a soft heart figure and here he played the evil queen’s henchman who turns to the good side.
With a black wig I did not at first recognise Samantha Womack who plays Queen Lucretia who has eyes on Chico and wants to get shot of Snow White so she can marry him. As I don’t watch EastEnders I do not know her as Ronnie Mitchell but I do remember her when she was Samantha Janus. She was the life and soul of the characters although I think she was extremely likeable rather than evil and the boo hisses were not as loud as you would expect. She is also a very beautiful actress and I think Chico’s protestations of her being ugly and repellant were daft.
Then we have the seven dwarfs. I always have a little internal shudder at the idea of dwarfs on stage (or any entertainment) and even Willy Wonka raises one of my eye brows. However, this is all done with great charm and also skill and I will not spoil for audiences except to say you will be seeing and listening to some pretty fine performers. I watched their faces during the show and they really do “get into” their respective characters and give strong performances and these chaps can really sing.
You know what? I don’t think we had a “It’s behind you routine…”
Until 14th January 2018.
Mike Smith is a Wales Critics Fund mentor
New Voices critic Sanaz Safari’s review: