Today’s blog is brought to you by Jane E.
It was the best of pantos, it was the worst of pantos… Well, worst is a bit harsh. Let’s just say not my cup of Rosie Lee.
Ever since I was a little kiddie I adored pantomime. I have fond memories of sitting in our local church hall watching my mum’s friends and neighbours hamming it up on stage. Later, I appeared on that same stage myself. It was more than an evening’s entertainment, it was an event – one that our whole community seemed to take part in, whether they were on stage, painting scenery, making tea at interval, or just enjoying the show.
In time I grew up, moved towns, and other preoccupations replaced pantomime. The only time I thought about them was when I passed an advert for a proper profession panto, showing, horror of horrors, a man playing Peter Pan or Aladdin. Don’t they know those roles are for long-legged girls in fishnets?!
Then, just five years ago for no particular reason, (I lied) I started seeing pantos again, professional ones this time. Oddly I have overcome my objection to male Principle Boys. After all, if said boy is very handsome and talented it would be rude to object, don’t you agree?
This year I was fortunate enough to see the two flagships of QDOS Entertainment: Dick Whittington at Birmingham Hippodrome, and the long awaited return of pantomime to the London Palladium, in the form of Cinderella.
Let me start by telling you about Dick at the Birmingham Hippodrome. (Since we’re talking John Barrowman and panto, feel free to add your own double entendre here. Feel better?
Well, it opened with a bang! (Sorry!) Or to be more accurate, with a giant animatronic rat who menaced the audience. This was completely in keeping with the traditional Dick Whittington panto storyline which has Great King Rat sending his ratty subjects through the sewers of London and beyond. Steve Mcfadden as the villainous King Rat seemed to be really enjoying himself in the role, sneering and jibbing at the audience. Boo boo boo!
Then followed Fairy Bow-Bells in the shape of Jodie Prenger. She was very warm and comforting. Things were going well in Brum.
Next, during a chorus number, our Leading Man burst onto the stage. My word, what an entrance! John Barrowman certainly knows how to get attention. ‘I’m Dick Whittington!’ he cried (subtext ‘Look at me; I’m FAB-U-LOUS!’) then he chatted way to the audience, telling us all about the numerous times his appeared in panto at the Hippodrome and treating to a few examples of his awful Birmingham accent. He flirted with the crowd (and, come to that, the chorus boys) and everyone fell in lerve with him. Gosh!
One by one the others came onto the stage. Matt Slack, Birmingham’s favourite panto comedian, disappointed no one with his personable, cheeky Idle Jack. His double acts with that other Hippodrome regular, Andrew Ryan as Sarah the Cook, had the audience howling with laughter.
And then the Krankies. I’ve never been a fan of the Krankies; to be frank I find their humour uncomfortable. I was in the minority though. All around me my fellow patrons giggled away, especially when John joined them on stage turning the double act into a trio.
I had plenty to enjoy in Birmingham, but as the first act progressed I started to get a little bit fidgety. You see, I’d been particularly looking forward to seeing Danielle Hope on stage, but her character (Dick’s love interest, Alice) had been paired down to a walk on part. I don’ t even think she sang. What a waste of a talent!
As for the cat; my apologies to the very likeable actor playing Dick’s side-kick. I can’t find his name one the internet. Again, he was given the bare minimum of stage time that the plot allowed – and after the opening scenes the same could be said of Jodie and Steve. Though billed as stars the opportunities for them to shine were limited.
The second half proved to be more of the same. A 3D sequence to “ooo and ahh” at; some comedy songs; and lots of laughter, but the end of the show left me vaguely unsatisfied. There’s no question, John Barrowman is very talented. He can move, he has a great voice, and he looks good, but gosh, does he such all the oxygen out of the room. Dial it down just a notch, John. Give us a chance to miss you.
Dick wins the day, and he’s won the girl. But John had room for another laugh. He turned towards the Sultan offering to marry him. I felt it spoiled the story somewhat, but the crowd around me howled.
Cinderella at the Palladium was a panto-horse of a different colour.
I was completely enchanted by…well pretty much everything about it. Magical special effects, stunning costumes and a top-flight cast combined to make the whole show a most thrilling experience. My friends and I left the theatre with huge grins, a single word on our lips – ‘wow!’ Not only did this panto have dizzying costumes, a lot of laughs, and great star power, it also had heart.
Speaking of heart… I’ll be honest, I love Lee Mead. Not only is he gorgeous, but he’s a very generous entertainer, happy to be the butt of the many jokes. He plays a romantic lead well, has a fabulous voice and did I mention he’s gorgeous?
He was certainly a dashing Prince Charming. When his lady-love swoons, he’s there to catch her. I suspect Mr Barrowman would let her fall on her bum and probably not even notice.
If I had to fine a flaw with Cinderella, I’d say Amanda Holden as the Fairy Godmother iis a bit cool. On the whole, I preferred Jodie’s warm, comforting fairy to Amanda’s more glamorous portrayal.
Where Barrowman was the unmistakable STAR!! (genuflect when you say that!) of Dick Whittington, in Cinderella, Paul O’Grady starred, but the director didn’t turn the panto into the Paul O’Grady show. Amanda Holden, Julian Clary, Lee Mead, Paul Zerdin, Natasha Barnes, Nigel Havers, Count Arthur Strong, Suzie Chard and Wendy Sommerville, all (OK, probably with the exception of Count Arthur who didn’t have much to do) got a chance to show-off their talents and, in Lee’s case, his curls.
Natasha was a charming Cinders. Very warm and charming with a fabulous voice. She and Lee made a credible couple. (Qdos could do better in terms of their treatment of female characters and their leading ladies, but that’s a discussion for another day).
In comparison with John’s “All-Barrowman-All-The-Time!” show in Birmingham, Lee Mead offered a controlled, slightly naive Prince Charming at the Palladium. Well, except during one hilarious slap-stick scene, while singing Love Changes Everything (with Natasha Barnes and Paul Zerdin) Lee by enlarge played the straight-man to Julian Clary’s outrageous Dandini.
I couldn’t imagine John Barrowman playing the straight-man to anyone!
The Palladium may have been a little over-stuffed with celebs. There was hardly enough for the lovely Nigel Havers to do (though he did try, bless him!) Maybe next year’s Palladium panto will show a tad more restraint. Getting the show in at under 3 hours would also be a good idea, especially for little ones.
Having said all that, of the two pantos, I preferred the Palladium’s. What can I say? I love a fairy tale. The humour and the songs are all well and good, but without a story you might as well watch a variety show.
My niece summed it up perfectly for me. As she and I drifted out into the damp Birmingham evening, watching the theatre goers spill into the streets, she said, “Well that was very good aunty Jane, I really enjoyed it, but Aladdin last year was better.”
“Why was that?” I asked.
“Last year it had a story.”
QDOS, take note.