Our take on the shows guaranteed to get you in the festive spirit this winter...
White Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, reviewed by Sarah Freeman *****
I suspect there are few theatre critics who have found inspiration in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fewer still who have been moved to shout ‘Cowabunga’ at the finale of a show. More fool them. My youngest nephew’s summary of White Christmas was pretty darn accurate.
It was a brave decision of the Playhouse to choose the Irving Berlin musical. Whatever anyone tells you, Christmas shows are there to pack ‘em and for many venues they pretty much finance the rest of the year. It’s why most go for productions already familiar to children, ones they will beg their parents to take them to see. White Christmas then was always going to be a more difficult sell.
There was also another hurdle. Just how do you replace Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Captain Bob Wallace and Private Phil Davis? When director Nikolai Foster said his answer was to cast Darren Day in the Crosby role I suspect a few must have wondered if he’d lost his mind. He hadn’t.
Day is not only an accomplished singer and dancer, but he also has the confidence to believe that he can step into Crosby’s shoes. His pin sharp performance is matched by Oliver Tompsett as Davis. This is a show which oozes Hollywood glamour and special mention goes to Melanie La Barrie for her scene stealing turn as the Vermont Inn’s diva receptionist and Foster probably couldn’t have found a better Betty Haynes than Emma Williams.
An fantastic score, superb dancing... and snow. What more could you want from a Christmas show. Cowabunga indeed.
• To Jan 24.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford., reviewed by Nick Ahad *****
In a fast paced world, star-ratings for theatre reviews are a useful shorthand. Personally I prefer not to give five stars - it implies a flawless production - but I can’t actually think of a flaw in this year’s Bradford Alhambra panto.
The effects are spectacular - they always are. The performances are exactly what you want from a panto: connected to the audience pulling in everyone from every single seat. Billy Pearce’s many years of stagecraft are clearly evident and the sense of enjoyment pours from the stage. .
The actual story of Snow White doesn’t appear to get much of a look-in - when the dwarves do appear it feels like a bit of a surprise. It doesn’t really matter - a story has been created that is just as satisfying for not adhering to the traditional tale.
This year’s other big draw is former X Factor winner Joe McElderry who plays the Spirit of the Mirror. McElderry doesn’t have a huge amount to do in the first act, but he really does have a winning personality.
From someone who doesn’t necessarily enjoy pantomime for what it is, it is high praise to say that I hope to return - it really is a five star production.
• To Jan 25.
Old Mother Goose, York Theatre Royal, reviewed by Sarah Freeman *****
For the last couple of years there has been something missing from York Theatre Royal’s pantomime. Make that someone. Arch villain David Leonard.
While most theatres welcome in a cast of soap stars and X Factor also-rans at this time of year, York has always done things a little differently. At the heart of a show is Berwick Kaler, Britain’s longest serving panto dame, who has assembled a loyal cast who come back to the city each year.
However, parts in the West End production of Matilda and a new version of Chicago meant York had to go in search of a new baddie. Leonard’s replacement did a pretty fine job, but a York Theatre Royal panto without him was a bit like fish without chips, apple pie without cream.
Thankfully, the planets and Leonard’s diary aligned and he’s back where he belongs this Christmas, alongside other panto regulars Martin Barrass and Suzy Cooper. Kaler also writes and directs and his years of experience creating carefully orchestrated mayhem look entirely spontaneous shows.
Like a fine wine, York Theatre Royal’s panto gets better with age and this is a vintage year.
• To Jan 31.
Dick Whittington - The Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto, City Varieties, Leeds, reviewed by Julie Marshall *****
In my experience you are either a lover or a hater of pantomimes - I’ve always fallen into the latter camp. That is until now.
I was persuaded against my better judgement to go along to see the City Varieties annual rock and roll panto. I laughed, I clapped, I sang along and I had a wonderful time - who would have thought it? Certainly not me.
Writer Peter Rowe stuck to the age-old pantomime themes of goodies and baddies, love at first sight, outrageous dames and slapstick comedy. But he did it with such finesse that it appealed just as much to the adults as it did the children.
What really sets this pantomime apart from the rest is the 10-strong cast of multi-talented actor/singer/musicians who rattle through two-dozen rock and roll hits to tell the story of Dick Whittington.
Worthy of special mention are Simon Nock who is a superlative Sarah the Cook, David Heywood, as a suitably menacing King Rat, Leeds-trained Tom Milner as our hero Dick Whittington and Claire McGarahan as the feisty, high-kicking cat Taffeta - saviour of the day
• To Jan 11.
Snow White, Carriageworks, Leeds, reviewed by Liz Coggins ***
If you are looking for traditional family pantomime then this is it.
Paul Holman’s 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 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 but the two of them elicited only a couple of boos - always the sign of something amiss - and the possible reason? Overly long chunks of dialogue delivered in dimly lit lengthy scenes that dragged the production out and made it loose momentum.
After a while Herman the Henchman dragging his leg and making fun of his infliction became annoying and spooky especially for the tiny tots and caused some patrons to remark it was “non p.c.” as making fun of a disability can be very upsetting .
As Dame Dolly Dumpling, Adam Daye works hard. His impersonations are spot on, but he sadly lacks the in your face, brash and brazen attitude and cutting edge humour that makes a traditional pantomime dame.
• To Jan 10.
Snow White, The Spa Theatre, Scarborough, reviewed by Liz Coggins *****
It’s got no big names or high tech effects but its fast becoming known as being one of the best traditional pantomimes on the Yorkshire Coast.
Snow White is two hours of solid family entertainment. In his productions Tony Peers always stick rigidly to tradition and in Naomi Fox, they have a glamorous principal boy full of vitality. Teamed with pretty-as-a-picture and voice note perfect Louise Willoughby as Snow White, they are the stuff fairy tales are made of.
But the ultimate success of the production lies with its comedy team. In his wisdom Peers has teamed together, for the third year, Ian Moore as Dame Clara and Dale Ibbetson as Muddles. Together as a duo they are pure gold pulling out every pantomime stop with energy and gusto and what more the audience just love them!
As the Wicked Queen, Linda Newport is upbeat, powerful and menacing dominating the stage and giving the role dramatic impact, aided and abetted by Stuart Metcalfe, a toy-boy style henchman. Completing the cast is Claire Beck, a sparkling and believable Fairy.
Snow White is a real tonic and guaranteed to send you away feeling happier and much better than you did on your way in. Oh Yes It Does!
• To Jan 1.
Anything Goes, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 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 about Mr Porter after “Anything Goes” steamed into The Crucible. The crazy capers aboard the SS American as it heads towards England in the 1930’s and the relentless explosive energy of the cast blew away distant memories of my trip to the Big Apple.
The vim and vigour displayed on stage could light up a transatlantic liner and the showstopping “Anything Goes” at the end of Act One is quite simply, as the Americans would say, awesome.
The plot maybe pure pantomime but the script crackles with social observations that although 80 years old still resonate today. The cult of celebrity has been around longer than you may think.
After last year’s Christmas triumph of “Oliver” it was difficult to see how Artistic Director Daniel Evans could top that. However, for “Anything Goes” everything goes brilliantly. After its run at the Crucible it’s full steam ahead for a UK tour. Book you berth now.
• To Jan 17.
James and the Giant Peach, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, 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 adaption of the Roald Dahl classic James and the Giant Peach 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 - only in Dahl I hear you say.
James 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.
The dark humour of Dahl is wonderfully balanced in this production and the minimal yet clever staging encourages the imagination to run riot as it does in the original book of the same name For lovers of Dahl’s story, or for those who have never read it, The West Yorkshire Playhouse Courtyard Theatre once again doesn’t fail to deliver
• To Jan 24.
Cinderella, Grand Opera House, York, reviewed by Liz Coggins ****
The sets are spectacular, the costumes lavish and the choreography exciting but this production of Cinderella lacks one essential ingredient – the brash belly laugh humour that traditional pantomime is all about.
There’s a handsome dashing Prince Charming with a great voice and a personality to match in the form of Rob McVeigh, whilst Lauren Hood as Cinderella captures the childlike innocence of her character beautifully.
Anita Harris gives a superb performance as a sophisticated Baroness Hardup, Cinderella’s sardonic stepmother and the 60s pop star proves she’s still a force to be reckoned with in some very demanding vocals. Veteran actor Tom Owen makes a bumbling Baron Hardup but his constant references to The Last of the Summer Wine after a time become rather annoying.
However, it was ugly sisters Paul Deakin (Buttercup) and Tony Blaney (Daisy) that disappointed in both their interpretation and costumes. – somehow they come over as uncomfortably strange and even scary to the little ones and at times seemed to be walking through the performance.
Completing the cast of pantomime favourites are Caroline Barnes, a down to earth yet a very magical fairy and Russ Spencer, a hunky Dandeni with a great sense of humour.
• To Jan 4.