If you are looking for traditional family pantomime then head for The Carriageworks Theatre. Paul Holman productions are renown for the comedy, glamour and audience participation of their productions and this year is no exception.
In his 6th Leeds panto season, Jez Edwards as Muddles drives the show with his boundless energy and his own inimitable brand of humour whilst former G4 member, Jonathan Ansell makes a dashing Prince Robin. Ansell has great pantomime skills and slips seamlessly from the comedy to his romantic role and blends beautifully with Lisa Kelsey’s fairy tale true Snow White. Brigid Lohrey is a foreboding Wicked Queen aided and abetted by Simon Kingsley as Herman the Henchman. As Dame Dolly Dumpling, Adam Daye works hard and amazes with his fabulously garish frocks and spot on impersonations.
• To January 10.
Anything Goes at the Sheffield Crucible. Reviewed by Peter McNerney *****
Whenever the subject of Cole Porter came up in conversation I would merrily recount the story of how, many moons ago, I gazed upon the legend’s piano in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The grand Art Deco hotel was the home of the musical genius for the last twenty years of his life and it was an amazing thought that many of the standards of the Great American Songbook could have been composed on those very keys just a few yards away.
In the words of one of its musical numbers it was Bon Voyage to that tired anecdote after Anything Goes steamed into The Crucible depicting crazy capers aboard the SS American as it heads towards England in the 1930s. The relentless explosive energy of the cast and the vim and vigour displayed on stage could light up a transatlantic liner – the showstopping Anything Goes at the end of Act One is quite simply awesome.
The plot maybe pure panto but the script crackles with social observations that still resonate today. The cult of celebrity has been around longer than you may think.
For Anything Goes everything goes brilliantly. Book you berth now.
• To January 17.
James and the Giant Peach at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Reviewed by Catherine Scott ****
If you are in need of an antidote from the slapstick comedy of the panto season then look no further than the Courtyard Theatre at West Yorkshire Playhouse. David Wood’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is a magical delight for children and adults alike.
James (Chris Lew Kum Hoi) is sent to live in virtual slavery with his grotesque yet hilarious aunts (Beverly Rudd and Jess Murphy) after his parents are killed by a rhinoceros. He is saved by some magic beans which transform a peach and a band of bugs into unlikely travelling companions for our young hero. The audience joins them on their adventures thanks to director Max Webster and designer Fly Davis’ wonderful use of theatrical devices and set, including a massive peach beachball hurled into the auditorium. There is just enough audience participation to keep younger viewers enthralled and entertained and not too much to turn it into the pantomime.
The dark humour of Dahl is wonderfully balanced in this production and the minimal yet clever staging encourages the imagination to run riot.
• To January 24.
Dick Whittington at the City Varieties, leeds. Reviewed by Liz Coggins *****
If there were Oscars for pantomime then Dick Whittington would sweep the board in every category.
It’s a gutsy, well thought- out production that travels at high speed full of sparkle, vitality, in-your-face comedy, innuendos and audience participation and it’s everything traditional pantomime should be.
But what sets this production apart is the multi-talented cast who slip seamlessly between their dual roles as actors and musicians. Laced with hits – from Tutti Fruitti, Uptown Girl and Band of Gold to Walkin’ On Sunshine – its success lies in the fact that the music is never allowed to eclipse or interfere with the plot. Director Paul Hart and writer Peter Rowe succeed in bringing out the traits of the different characters in the slick dialogue. As Sarah the Cook, Simon Nock is brash, raucous and a master of irreverent repartee while Kenny Davies as Billy Bungalow has boundless energy and great comic timing. Liz Singleton as Alice is one of the best principal girls I have seen for a long time while Tom Milner is dashing and totally believable as Dick Whittington.
Great feel good factor and hits that have young and old dancing in the aisles. No wonder its tipped to become the best panto in town!
• To January 11.