Woking Wakes For Sleeping Beauty

 

imagePanto – 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.

imageHighlights 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

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Aladdin Flies In To Woking (almost rhymes – oh yes it does!)

1595-aladdin-041 Woking’s New Victoria Theatre yet again puts on another successful Panto that has everything.

That could be it, that could be the review right there. If you know Panto, overdressed men parading as women, attractive leads, lots of singing, double entendre, slapstick, laughing, joining in and shouting, just  about covers the 300 year old formula developed in Britain but coming from traditional Italian Commedia dell’ Arte (at last a use for my A’Level Theatre studies since I can’t act or mime!). That’s right a great British tradition, started in Europe, like Fish and Chips ;-).

The same lead as last year  Justin Fletcher is so popular with the younger theatre goers and yet manages to appeal to all age groups across the generations. Panto does have something for everyone  because even the curmudgeonly can see a kindred spirit in Abanazar played with absolute perfection by Steven Serlin and, you know, any goth mums out there you’ll be fine for the evening 😉

We went in, my fifteen year old daughter, five year old nephew and I with maybe different intentions. He bounced ahead ‘I’ve been here before!’ ‘That’s lovely darling hold my hand don’t windmill into that lady. “It’s ok she’s got a helmet on’ he says. You know that bit where you try to impart information via gritted teeth ‘No it is just well organised hair’.

‘Where’s the programme God, Ben Adams is so gorgeous!’ daughter says poring over it. ‘Can you not rub it like that I have to write a review and you’re going to blur the print?’ I realise I am going to be sitting with a fifteen year old who turns into Sid James everytime we go ‘Corr that dancer’s tattoo!’ and a little bouncy tigger who is wide eyed at the whole thing, belly laughing at balloons, but surprisingly sophisticated with the Theatre staff. ‘Yes I did come before thank you, do you want to see my t-shirt, it’s got a picture on it’ undoing his fair isle cable knit with a flourish. Some how I think he is the Nigel Havers of Year 1 and note to tell my sister to watch out for floozies when he’s older. I explained to him about shouting and hissing the ‘baddie’ which he took to confidently adding a thumbs down gesture of his own. Like Caligula. Worrying.

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I always get excited at Panto but spend half the time watching the faces of the children I am with. I don’t want to give away all the little bits and bobs that whilst traditional don’t always come in the places you expect but it is great to see people up and dancing, the Twelve Days of Christmas in the usual way and how impressed that my little companion obviously  with influence from his Irish Grandmother made sure he put his little raincoat and hood on before standing up and shouting to Wishee Washee to aim the water pistol our way. Even the real journalists were up dancing away to all the songs.

Jason Sutton as Widow Twankey was a joy not least because I started an uncomfortable recognition of how I dress for gigs as she came on in the traditional Dame outfits ever more outrageous, am I a panto Dame or have I just been to too many to notice it is not a normal way of dressing? I didn’t think of Panto as a vehicle for self awareness but am discombobulated that it may be something I should examine. As a New Year Resolution, maybe. Or not. As Widow Twankey waxes lyrical about the Guards I look at my daughter and raise an eyebrow ‘That’s you that is.’ I say.

This year though, it really was a laugh a minute, the comic timing of all of the cast was impeccable and the performance really flew by. The favourite bit for my little lad was the Policeman’s Bum hanging out. Steven Arnold did a really great job as PC Pong and the Genies played by Shaheen Jafargholi known for his voice like a young Stevie Wonder and Djalenga Scott were both excellent.

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This year’s Panto is one that covers all age groups well and if you aren’t enjoying it just check you have a pulse. There is a formula to Panto, it is true but each year writers have to overhaul and look at the current topics to weave them in. In its origins it also took the job of satire for the day. It’s only fair that as well as the actors delivering the lines the writer Eric Potts gets a mention because it was seamless. Well done too to the local dancers who supported the cast so confidently and who just looked like they were having the time of their lives.

We left, after my little lad had a little interview ‘It is way past my bedtime you know’ he said solemnly to the lady, ‘but I liked the policeman’s bottom showing best’ (bums are the funniest thing at the moment if you are five) and me wondering if being hoarse from shouting at Panto was a good enough excuse not to be able to sing at an important gig to the rest of the band and should I tell them (not as it turns out when I did – swearing has no place in a family review)

We followed our little Jedi out into the car park the way being lit by his light sabre and coat done up like a cape, one happy boy, one happy teenager and one happy Auntie. It’s a really great night again and plenty of time left to see it with the family.

So I started with a basic thing about Panto having everything and this is no exception and ends with  the reminder that Panto is the time to take the broomstick out of the proverbial, lighten up and just enjoy it for what it is, and this one makes that really really easy. Life really is too short not to laugh at stuff like this.

Aladdin is on at New Victoria Theatre until 10 January 2015 tickets available from www.atgtickets.com