Panto – it’s a magic word for ‘play everyone enjoys except grumpy old gits’ and this was true of Sleeping Beauty at New Victoria Theatre Woking this year.
Every year for about a million years I have taken the family to panto, I have seen it through their excitement at white Shetland ponies and water pistols, plastic things that light up and are essential needs, to squabbling teenagers saying ‘your Mum’ to everything – which was annoying as they were talking about the ugly sisters and I am their Mum. About the time I started reviewing them and being given a programme to read, they started nicking it immediately as they pored over the dancers and discussed which ones they fancied, but then lost their shit like 3 year olds again when the magic bits happened.
This year, with universities and work claiming them I only had one left and with a boyfriend on the horizon the dancer observation was reduced to a pretend not looking. My sister had conveniently had children later than me so I took my six year old nephew. This seems like a pointless review but in order to set the scene, and I don’t get out much, I need you to know that I have guided a child through panto from the magic to the fnar factor and therefore you are safe with me.
Some pantos are the type that are very family friendly and you cheerfully say this to people, but think ‘Gah! I wish it was a bit ruder’ – this one is fantastic the double entendres abound, going right over the head of the younger contingent, keeping the adults happy. I left my pen behind so the only quotes I have quickly put in my phone at interval ‘popped my cherry out the back’ (Molly), and ‘my name rhymes with my job, I’m glad I’m not a banker’ (Chester), give you an idea of the dialogue that made me snort unattractively through my nose comforted by the look of confusion at my amusement on my nephew’s face, and shock and laughter on my daughter’s.
Chester The Jester (Alan Committie) and Molly Coddle (Simon Nehan) have excellent dynamic between them and comic timing as the scene is set for the telling of the age old story. The professional dancers are flawless and the children playing the villagers, usually local also don’t put a foot wrong.
It’s a good pairing of Ben Goodridge and Vanessa Clarke as King Hector and Queen Camilla, they give the married couple double act famed by the telly famous, George & Mildred, Stan & Hilda a run for its money. The versatility of actors like this who with an impressive classical theatre CV bring such fun to the panto should be applauded.n
Carla Nella who is an engaging and expressive Princess Beauty and Ben Faulks as Prince Tarragon both engaging vocals individually and in their duets/dialogues make a sweet and gentle couple.
For an excellent vocal performance Shelley Ann Rivers as the Lilac Fairy singing Time to Say Goodbye was beautiful, and when Katie Price as Malevolence shouted ‘Shut Up’ she seemed most relaxed in her role. Surrounded in panto by professional dancers, actors and singers can be daunting for those cast in the traditional ‘personality’ role, having to act as themselves, in a character, with someone else’s words to blend in the mix so at the beginning of the run nerves might be a factor.
Highlights as always are the 12 days of Christmas with the audience playing catch with the toilet rolls and the bra with three cups, the water pistols (‘Mum how come we are near the front my hair!’) the wildly varying accents from the ‘French’ beauticians (Molly & Chester) sent to free the caged Prince Basil so he can save the day with a kiss.
I think ‘Po Faced Cheryl’ should get a mention – she played her part well, the audience member who allows themselves to be drawn in to the action and make a sounding board for the actors in true panto tradition. They gave her a carrier bag of goodies as appreciation, so she was at least 5p up on the beginning of the night.
The part of the panto that never changes is the lavish costumes and the engaging jokes, the writer Eric Potts should take credit as we all sit down thinking ‘come on mate let’s see which part of the town gets a slagging off this year’ but it was Ascot so that was fine. The special effects of the forest they needed to kill with an electric toothbrush, axe and sword and the fiery dragon to be slayed at the end were great. The whole event is made better by the theatre staff who enter into it with enthusiasm. For little children whose first visit to the theatre is the panto it’s a great start.
If you do want a panto that keeps all the traditions alive, you can’t go wrong with this one
Sleeping Beauty is on at New Victoria Theatre Woking until 10 January 2016. From 28 December the part of Malevolence is played by Anita Dobson. Tickets can be obtained from http://www.atgtickets.com/woking or 08448717645