Dick Whittington and His Cat ~ Oxford Playhouse

Star rating: ****

The age old tradition of pantomime is not only alive in Oxford but it’s revitalised, re-energised, refreshing and stands a good chance of attracting new audiences in to the theatre. There aren’t many (if any) pantomimes that offer up a version of the popular Nirvana hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ among their musical numbers and there are also inspired incarnations of show tunes from ‘Hamilton‘ and ‘Les Miserables‘ too. Of course there’s a spot of ‘Baby Shark‘ because it’s been the gimmick hit of the year, however on the whole ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat‘ is pushing the boundaries, breaking the norm and with a punchy script courtesy of Steve Marmion – and he’s directed this fast-paced festive treat too.

Dick Whittington Oxford Playhouse CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Like every good pantomime, there’s a Dame, in this case Sarah the Cook played by the effervescent Paul Barnhill. There’s a ‘thigh slapping’ male lead who has a penchant for remote controlled cars, naturally given the pantomime title, he’s called Dick, played by returning leading man, Ricky Oakley – it’s easy to see why he was a hit with last year’s audience, this genre of theatre appears to come very naturally to him. There’s Fairy Bowbells played by Waterloo Road alumni, Rebecca Craven, she’s a power vocalist and her energy is infectious. As Alice Fitzwarren, Adrianna Bertola isn’t your typical leading lady, she’s feisty, full of attitude and knows what she wants – exactly the sort of role model that kids ought to see, in my humble opinion. Max Olesker cuts a menacing figure as King Rat, the audience were quick to boo him and his performance of ‘Bad Rodent’ was one of the many highlights of the panto. Stealing the show with his incredible dance moves, slick style and gift guarding was Alessandro Babalola as the cat. A more groovy cat you couldn’t wish to meet!

It’s a bolshie, ballsy jingle bow bells ball – it made a real change to see a unique take on the traditional script. It might have been slightly too radical for my septuagenarian parents, however my 4 year old was in his element and I had an amazing evening at the theatre.

Book your tickets here: Oxford_Playhouse

Entertainment Views Interviews: Star of Malvern Theatres’ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… Su Pollard

Actress Su Pollard has long been a favourite performer of mine, both on screen and in her various stage roles. As a pantomime villain she’s second to none so I was delighted to hear she was going to play the Wicked Queen in Malvern Theatres’ pantomime this year, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Here, Su tells me why she thinks that pantomime remains a popular tradition at Christmas and we chat about her appearance in the ITV reality television programme ‘Last Laugh In Vegas‘.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Malvern Theatres, Malvern, Worcestershire

Thank you for talking to Entertainment Views, Su – what do you love about pantomime?

I like panto because it’s a real tradition and I believe that traditional theatre should keep going as long as possible. In the same way that people love Shakespeare, so many people love panto. You’re never too old to get into the spirit of it all. I like it when the kids are screaming and that they’re allowed to be noisy, in other instances they’d be expected to be on their best behaviour. If I don’t make at least one child cry then I think I’ve failed in my job! I love it when a child gets carried out, result!

So you enjoy being the baddie then? 

Oh I do love playing the baddie and scaring the children, but it’s important that everybody goes home happy and feels they’ve had value for money.

Do you agree that being able to introduce children to theatre from a young age is important? 

Absolutely, it’s great that parents can bring their children to see a panto and not have to tell them to ssh! Of course you have to be careful that they don’t behave the same way when they’re introduced to Shakespeare and other shows! I was playing the Nurse in Rome and Juliet years ago and I had to say “oh Miss Juliet, Tybalt has died” and someone shouted “hi de hi!” I just had to move swiftly on, I did smile to myself a bit.

Do audiences shout “hi de hi!” to you when you’re on stage in panto?

Yes, all the time, I don’t mind if they do it, I try to say something mean back to them as there’s a part in the show where the audience are encouraged to say it – although I won’t say where in the show it happens.

How do you keep the energy going throughout the pantomime season? 

People often ask “how do you do it?” but you pace yourself and you learn how to in rehearsals, because that’s where you learn what you’re supposed to be doing and you know what you’re in for.

Have you got a favourite pantomime? 

My favourite pantomime and story is Aladdin but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a very close second. There’s no veering off from the story and the pureness of the fairy tale and I love the fact that good triumphs over evil. It teaches people that in life you can never get away with being mean. As is shown with the Wicked Queen as something bad happens to her as a result of her being mean.

Stepping away from pantomime for a moment, I have to mention ITV’s Last Laugh in Vegas, it was an amazing show which I thoroughly enjoyed – what did you get out of the experience? 

I loved doing that show because I’ve never wanted to do anything like Big Brother, but at the end of this one, although it was a very similar format with us staying in the house together, we got to do a proper show. To me it was a culmination of what we were going out there to do, we got on really well there was no back-biting, we were going out there to do the best we could and have fun. The unfortunate thing was I left my mobile phone in the path of a sprinkler back at the house – there were sprinklers on all day for the plants – I put it in a rice box for two days but it did no good. Other than that it was enormous fun!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Malvern Theatres, Malvern, Worcestershire

Finally, what would you everybody to encourage them to buy a ticket to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Malvern Theatres this season? 

It’s VFM which stands for Value for Money! You’ll have a fabulous night out and get exactly what you want, great singing, amazing costumes, plenty to join in with. It’s got something for all the family so buy a ticket and come and see us!

Huge thanks to Su for her time – I can’t wait to see her in action – oh no I can’t! 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs arrives at Malvern Theatres on 13th December and stays there until 6th January 2019, book here: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 

Top 5 Pantomimes – 2017/2018

It’s been a busy festive and indeed Pantomime season and there are a few amazing shows enjoying their final audience this weekend. Choosing my favourites from amongst the eight Pantomimes I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of watching has been really easy! Here they are…. of yes they are…. (I need to stop that, until the end of this year at the very least!!):

Sleeping Beauty – Rhyl Pavilion Theatre: The only show I have ever bitten the bullet with and cheekily given six stars to! I LOVED Sleeping Beauty at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre, it had everything you could wish for from a pantomime and worked on every audience level. Sean Jones (who I’ve always rated in Blood Brothers) was outstanding in the comedy lead, Amy Thompson was her usual fantastic self in the title role (one of the best female leads I’ve seen – I saw her last year at Malvern Theatres). Vicky Entwistle impressed me as Carabosse, I didn’t realise how superb her vocal ability is and Sarah-Jane Buckley makes the role of the Fairy her own – she’s incredible, I can’t fault her at all. Add the glorious set, excellent mixture of songs and plentiful opportunities for audience participation to the mix and you have one of the best pantomimes of the season for Break A Leg.

Cinderella – Liverpool Empire Theatre: I loved everything about our unexpected trip to see Cinderella at Liverpool Empire Theatre. A beautiful setting with one of QDOS’s best pantomimes ably filling the auditorium with pantomime magic and a stellar cast. Jodie Prenger as Fairy Godmother is a moment that will last until the next pantomime season. Daniel Taylor, knocked his performance out of the park as one of the truly awful (in the best possible way) Ugly Sisters. He was assisted by James Templeton who is a performer I’ve not seen before, another exceptional Dame! The set was stunning and I couldn’t stop admiring it, it was akin to a wonderland. One of the best!

 

Sleeping Beauty – Worcester Repertory Theatre: One of the most exceptional efforts this season and from one of Break A Leg’s local theatres. It was my debut at Worcester Rep and a splendid show to make my debut with. This pantomime is one of the best family pantomimes I’ve seen this season, a warm, friendly feel and a cast de force. Liz Grand as Carabosse as Ben Humphrey as Dame Ginny were both exceptional. A massive high five to all involved, can’t wait for your next show.

Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood – Stafford Gatehouse Theatre: The Rock ‘N’ Roll pantomime which really changed my perspective of pantomime with a fresh new take. What a talented group of performers who sing, dance, characterise and play instruments! This is one I’d have happily paid a return visit to see. Guaranteed to have you dancing in the aisles.

Cinderella – Malvern Theatres: Malvern always have a superb pantomime and this season’s show has been no different. This version of Cinderella was packed with a variety of musical numbers, excellent up to date banter and audience interaction was at its best. Alison Hammond was a Fairy Godmother to be reckoned with and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance from the Ugly Sisters too. There aren’t many pantomimes I would recommend fellow theatre-goers to travel for, but this one would certainly have been worth making an effort to get to.

Cinderella ~ Liverpool Empire Theatre

Cinderella runs until 7 January 2018, book your tickets here: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Star rating: *****

QDOS are renowned for their lavish, special effects-laden productions and Cinderella at Liverpool Empire Theatre is no exception. With a small cast of lead roles, an extremely able ensemble and a set to rival most of the pantomimes I’ve seen this season – it’s one to bag a ticket for if you can.

What was notable about this incarnation of the popular fairy story was that the lead roles were minimal, leaving the show in the hands of just seven lead characters. All of whom were more than capable of moulding the show into a stand-out spectacle in the best sense of the word. The pace of the production was quick, sharp and ideal for young audience members, capturing the attention of my three year old son and holding his interest for the entire show. Not one of the scenes dragged on, there was a slickness to every nuance.

Olivia Sloyan was a fantastic choice to take the title role, stunning vocals and she acted the role beautifully. Duncan James made for one of the best Princes I’ve seen particularly as he lacked the ‘cheese’ factor as is often associated with the so called hero of the piece. Of course with a singer from Blue at the helm, every song he featured in was exceptional. James Templeton and Daniel Taylor were hilarious as the Ugly Sisters, their partnership was one to be reckoned with and they were mean, cackling disaster areas with quick changes to rival most Dames! Add John Evans to the ensemble as Buttons and the element of comedy sky rocketed, his comedy background shone through and my face ached from laughing at his cornucopia of jokes. What a gem to add to an already sparkling cast. To top it off, Jodie Prenger as Fairy Godmother is a moment I will never forget, motherly, caring and ditzy with those trademark powerhouse vocals and a cheeky glint in her eye. She was my son’s favourite and she truly set the stage alight in every way!

Liverpool have the best production of Cinderella I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this festive season and I cant recommend it highly enough – it’s got all of the traditions expected from a Pantomime with a whole lot of wow to go with it!

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Samuel Townsend

Samuel Townsend plays Numbskull (and he makes a cameo appearance as Friar Tuck in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I play Numbskull and basically I’m the silly character, although this time around there’s a lot of heart in the role and a lot of Numbskull’s motivations are down to his love for Maid Marian. He’s blind-sighted and makes silly mistakes throughout the show because of his love for Maid Marian. People can expect lots of slapstick from me and I’ll probably end up with lots of bruises!

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

I think they’re different to things that people have seen before because it’s rare that you’ll see quadruple threats in one show. It’s a talented company. This time you get to see it all as it happens, it’s part rock gig and part panto –  a big family concert for everyone.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

As we get closer to Christmas it’s normally the first thing on many people’s lists, my parents will watch a panto and that’s the beginning of Christmas for them. It’s nice to see everyone relax and sink into the start of Christmas.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

I think for a lot of people it’s their first experience in the theatre, we have lots of school shows and that is the first time these kids will have seen anything live on stage. It’s a British tradition and I think it’s something that is very staple British format. British humour, great songs, very much a celebration.

Who are your pantomime idols?

Steve Simmonds! I didn’t see that many pantomimes when I was younger but my Uncle watched a lot of Laurel and Hardy and I think that they’ve been an inspiration.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

If you’ve seen it before you know what you’re getting, it’s a rock concert with something for everybody and all the family. If you haven’t seen it before it’s really quite a spectacle.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Rachel Nottingham

Rachel Nottingham plays Britney in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, she tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes she does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I’m playing Britney who is one of the Babes in the Wood and I’m very lucky to be working with Celia who plays my sister. We’ve got a good rapport going on hopefully. Britney and her sister Whitney are the typical ‘It’ girls so rather than being babes as in children we are Babes as in eye candy. We’re all about image and the way we come across, looking the best, getting the guys, I imagine they’re the sorts of people who have very expensive handbags and shoes. They’re quite cocky but they are goodies, I want them to be likeable, they’re a bit silly, they do fall in love in the show with the Merry Men.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

I think the great thing about the Rock ‘n’ Roll panto is that you’ve got the Dame and the silly gags, you’ve also got all the basics then you add into it a load of amazing songs that everybody knows, classic rock ‘n’ roll songs and you can’t really go wrong with performing those. The fact that it’s all played live on stage, I think audiences love that, I know when I go and see a show – to see the instruments played live on stage makes it come alive.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

Genuinely the audiences, when you do a show normally, audiences can be great but when you do a pantomime the audiences are high on life, they all seem to really love it, they throw themselves into it. It’s a different kind of atmosphere, they’re completely on your side and they’re there to have a really good time. If you have fun with the show, the audience will have fun – it’s more a collaborative experience for audience and performers. It’s interactive and every show is different because an audience member might say something or do something that changes the scene.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It’s been around for so long hasn’t it and everyone remembers going to the pantomime as a kid. I went to the Stevenage pantomime every year and it was so magical growing up and as an adult you get something completely different from it. That’s the great things about pantomime, it suits all ages. It’s magical for the kids but for the adults it’s hilarious and ridiculous. It’s so inclusive, non theatre goers come to the theatre which is great.

Who are your pantomime idols?

My friend Clare Halse, I saw her in The Babes In The Wood when I was 10 years old, she started off in pantomime and she’s done amazingly well as a dancer and performer. She’s playing Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street in the West End at the moment, she’s always inspired me to be a better performer. She’s an incredible dancer, dancing is her forte and it’s great to have seen her go all the way from panto to the West End.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s for everyone, it’s a really fun night out and there are some banging tunes in there too.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Robert Wade

Robert Wade plays Will Scarlet and Blondel in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your characters.

I play two characters, Will Scarlet and Blondel. Will Scarlet is a famous Merry Man, he’s full of himself, he’s a ladies man but he’s equally got a silly side I would say. The character of Blondel is the story teller and narrator-type figure, he’s high energy and a bit of a rock star. They’re both quite similar characters in a way.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

It’s the fusion of live music and acting/performance which is quite a cool thing as a visual, to watch actors who play really well and then sing all in one show. Rather than having the defined line between musician and the actor.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

This is my second pantomime and I like the camaraderie between the cast members, you’re all in it together, you’re all doing two shows a day. You’re rushing back for Christmas, you’re rushing back for new year and everyone is doing the same.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It grew from the Music Hall era, the late Victoria twenties/thirties vibe and audiences have always enjoyed songs and acts. Panto has slapstick acts, songs and music. Theatres rely so much on panto as a crowd pleaser. Some people’s only experience at the theatre is watching pantomime. So if there’s a combination of comedy, music and romance then there’s nothing more British.

Who are your pantomime idols?

I don’t really have pantomime idols, I suppose I’m doing what I’m doing because of musical theatre – I played Oliver at the age of seven and it went from there.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s got men in tights! It’s got songs, rock n roll songs from across the decades and genres, it’s got arrows, sword fights, greenery, puppets, an amazing set, amazing music and you’ll be up on your feet to dance. There’s jokes, a good story and everything, there’s nothing not to like!

Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood stays at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre until 7 January 2018, to book tickets follow the link: Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Pantomime

Star rating: ******

It’s been a long time since I last saw Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood performed, and it was a very different incarnation to the Rock ‘N’ Roll version currently being staged at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre. This particular version has become one of my favourite pantomimes of the season! It’s got it all, from a multi-talented who play numerous instruments and characterise their roles perfectly whilst also each having incredible singing voices – to a simple yet stunningly effective and innovatively practical set. You won’t be disappointed if you make it your priority to buy a ticket to this glorious production.

Taking the title role of Robin Hood is Sandy Grigelis and he’s the epitome of a pantomime hero, with a trademark cheesy smile which he flashes at the audience and doesn’t go amiss! His vocal ability lends itself to the various hits that he belted out, from ‘I Fought The Law’ to ‘Born To Run’. Laura Sillett was the perfect match for him as a feisty Maid Marion, an exceptional talent, Sillett brought out the strengths of the character rather than offering her as a meek ‘Princess’ and she’s another strong vocalist too. In fact ‘A Natural Woman’ was one of many highlights for me. Anthony Hunt was terrific as Sheriff of Nottingham, he was dastardly and yet a likeable villain. Samuel Townsend also gave a stand-out performance as Numbskull and Friar Tuck, he’s clearly adept at comedy and his comic timing provided the roles with additional impetus. Dominic Gee-Burch was a fantastic side-kick for Townsend as Portullis the ‘goon’ and was also notable as Little John. Mike Slader and Robert Wade played a number of characters between them, both gave strong performances and it took time for me to realise they were playing multiple roles – they were each so believable in the characters they took on. I was delighted to see the Babes portrayed as two older female ‘babes’ and Rachel Nottingham together with Celia Cruwys-Finnigan were outstanding as Whitney and Britney (insert clicking fingers and growls here!). ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ was another highlight for me which was performed by the Babes and Marion. Finally, Steve Simmonds as Nanny Nelly Nightmare, he was everything a Dame should be – quick witted with an abundance of energy and gave a fearless portrayal.

In short, miss this show at your peril – Stafford have got one tremendous pantomime this year and the Rock ‘N’ Roll genre is innovative and fast becoming my favourite style of panto.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Sandy Grigelis

Sandy Grigelis plays Robin Hood in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I play Robin Hood, he’s the leader of the Merry Men, he’s very confident and finds it easy to outwit the Sheriff and his friends. His weakness is Marian, his weakness is also being too confident. That’s what might throw him off in this production and he needs to find the difference and the fine medium between his love for Marian and his confidence.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

Because they’re awesome! There’s nothing else like them, I think it’s incredible that all the musicians are on stage. You get an amazing, well written story – but then there’s so much going on you don’t know where to look. We’re lucky to have a cast of so many talented people.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

I just love the festive season anyway, it’s something which doesn’t take itself too seriously – you know what you’re going to get with a pantomime. There’s a romance story, audience participation , rock music too which is my favourite thing, popular tunes from various decades.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It’s such a British thing, as Brits we’re very traditional and proud of it so pantomime’s never going to stop, you won’t find it anywhere else in the world.

Who are your pantomime idols?

I always went to see the pantomime in Bradford and there’s a comedian called Billy Pearce who does their pantomime every year. My girlfriend is doing the pantomime there with him this year which is really exciting.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s the best Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime that’s out there in my opinion, there’s so much to it. There’s amazing comedy, amazing actors and actresses, the best songs. Come and see it!

 

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