Panto reviews round-up - Scarborough, Hull and Harrogate

Ugly Sisters Phil Beck and Dale Ibbetson in Scarborough Spas Cinderella.
Ugly Sisters Phil Beck and Dale Ibbetson in Scarborough Spas Cinderella.
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Cinderella:  Spa Theatre, Scarborough

It’s the time of year when magic lamps, golden eggs, giant beanstalks and poison apples pop up on stages around the country.

Hull Truck Theatres Christmas production of Peter Pan.

Hull Truck Theatres Christmas production of Peter Pan.

This year glass slippers hit the stage in Scarborough as Tony Peers Productions presents probably the most popular pantomime of them all – Cinderella.

In what has become tradition, the show’s writer, director and dame is Phil Beck. In the case of Cinderella you get two dames for the price of one – in the form of the ugly sisters.

Based on the fairytale, Cinderella is a classic rags-to-riches story of the kind-hearted daughter of a hard-up baron, berated by her stepsisters, whose fairy godmother waves a magic wand so she can go to the ball and meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after. Now add the ingredients which make pantomime so special. Hiss and boo the ugly sisters, cheer the goodies and shout “It’s behind you” and “Oh no, it isn’t”.

There is plenty of opportunity to do those things in the Spa offering – which is magical from the first note of a Viennese waltz playing over the front cloth. There is also sparkle, shimmer, colour, cheer, glitz and glamour.

The costumes and sets inside the Scarborough and Beverley units home to the biggest panto production company in the world
As for the music – pop hits at the ready including Olly Murs’ Dance with Me Tonight, Jess Glynne’s Hold My Hand and One Direction’s You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful. The ugly sisters get to sing Revolting Children from Matilda, Cinderella gets the ballad Once Upon A Time and there is a nod to Strictly Come Dancing with a beautifully choreographed versionof The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz. This year’s novelty song is What Does the Fox Say? Ring-ding-ding-ding dingeringeding – apparently.

Beck – a seasoned seasonal show pro – has included tradional panto routines, slapstick and, at times, Carry On film-style humour.

Delight in the ghost routine and the chaotic 12 Days of Christmas – complete with pots, pans, dirty socks, water guns and toilet rolls – was a hilarious highlight.

What self-respecting panto will not have a Brexit joke – at least for the first few days. Cinderella has a couple: the best being: “I call this my Brexit Dress. Everyone wants me out of it. Once I’m out of it, they all want me back in it again.”

With Ibbetson, Peck is the glue that holds Cinderella together. Their outfits and outbursts are well-timed, outrageous and utterly adorable.

Jade Catchpole is a delightful Cinderella with an excellent singing voice and Scarborough performer Grace makes a, well, charming Prince Charming.

Nick Fawcett is the bumbling, blundering Baron Hard-up and Luke Wilby is as bright as a button Buttons – who delights young and older with his cheeky chat and down-to-earth charm. There is a stand-out performance from Charlotte Ginn as Dandini with her Joey from Friends “How You Doing?” to her high-pitched voiced Fairy godmother.Members of TLC of Dance add colour, charm and great dance routines.

The Spa’s Cinderella is traditional pantomime at its best – charming, cheeky, colourful sparkling, tuneful and magical.

By Sue Wilkinson

4 Stars. To Jan 1

Peter Pan: Hull Truck Theatre

By Phil Penfold

It has been a Dickens of a time for Hull Truck over the past few Christmas seasons. They triumphed with their version of A Christmas Carol, and then they did pretty well with Oliver Twist. And now the writer who adapted both those classics, Deborah McAndrew, returns to give us her take on J M Barrie’s Peter Pan.

This time, however, she doesn’t pick up a novel for the attention of her filleting knife – although Pan did originate in printed form – but is faced with adapting an existing play. It’s still the familiar story of the boy who simply doesn’t want to grow up, his early adolescent love of Wendy, and his fight against that dastardly Old Etonian, the swashbuckling scourge of the high seas, Captain James Hook.

But McAndrew doesn’t exactly adapt. She gives the story a thorough shaking. For a start, we aren’t in a cosy upper-middle-class home in Edwardian London, but transported to a post-blitz Hull in, and the reason why the windows of the comfortable Darling home are wide open for whimsical intruders is that they have been blasted out by German bombs.

Meet the costume designer behind the rock 'n' roll pantomime at City Varieties
Traditionally, Peter has (generally) been played by an actress. Not here – he’s a genuine fella in the shape of Baker Mukasa. Nana (the dog, in the original) isn’t a family pet, but a household servant, and Tinker Bell isn’t a sparkling ball of darting effervescent light. Our author has re-imagined the sprite as a cross between a horn-honking Harpo Marx and one half of a vaudeville cross-talk act, with more than a generous dash of hyperactive elf.

All this in the diminutive form of Joanna Holden. Not to put too fine a point on it, she grabs every opportunity, and barnstorms the place. Which leaves all her colleagues slightly trailing.

There are only seven professional actors in the cast – which means a lot of doubling and trebling of the parts – and they are assisted by a very capable young company. But, while competently played, there’s nothing here (apart from Holden) that really lifts and sets it all apart. It means well, it looks fine, but there’s no horrible menace from Hook, no tangible identification from Pan.

The show has the label of cheerful competence stitched merrily into the seam. It pleases, it doesn’t offend, but the oomph factor just simply isn’t there.

3 stars. To Jan 4.

Snow White: Harrogate Theatre

By Liz Coggins

Despite having a dream team of panto principals, lavish sets and costumes Snow White lacks that sparkle and energy one has come to expect from Harrogate’s home grown pantomime.

The fault lies in the script, which becomes an overly long mish-mash, especially towards the end. If it’s not broken why fix it? Skirting around the story elements in order to be innovative doesn’t seem to work this year.

It’s left to the comedy team to pull out all the stops and keep this pantomime afloat. Pantomime veteran Tim Steadman (Happy Harry) heads up the comedy team with his excellent comedic and audience participation skills teamed once again with Howard Chadwick (No Nonsense Nora).

Chadwick is his usual brash, belly laugh self with his over-the-top costumes and together they have the audience in their pockets from their first entrance. Their gags may be as old as the hills but the audience love them especially those with a local flavour.

Chuckle Brother Paul Elliott on his life in show business and coping with the loss of his brother, Barry
A successful baddie is always judged by the boos they receive. As the Wicked Queen, Polly Smith is outstanding and had only to walk on stage and make one threatening move and the boos were coming thick and fast.

She’s smart, foreboding yet never too scary and is really the villain you love to hate.

The appearances of the dwarves was both disappointing and confusing. The reason, the dwarves are portrayed by large puppets attached to and animated by young people. It works well in the first of their appearances when they are in bed. However, in their second and final appearance, the animators’ heads are visible above the puppets which destroys the illusion. If the animators wore caps or make-up it may help salvage the effect of the dwarves having two heads.

3 stars. To Jan 19.