Of course we were there for Sue Ellen.
Even Andrew was there for Sue Ellen. Actually that should probably just read “even Andrew was there”. You see, we’re of an age.
But if Linda Grey had not found her panto legs (she does – expect her in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester or wherever next Christmas) as a stetson-toting, hip flask-swigging Fairy Godmother there was a very strong pit crew to see her through to the finishing line.
Matthew Kelly (who turned last year’s Aladdin around despite the lugubrious let down that was Jo Brand) is giving one half of two good Dames alongside his son Matthew Rixon (are they the only professional father and son to ever play the Ugly Sisters?), Wayne Sleep, Tim Vine and a couple of Shetland ponies (look out for the horse box at the stage door).
Cinderella (a delightfully perky Amy Lennox as the titular Cinders) begins with the villagers performing “Happy” and closes Act 1 with an impressive snowstorm and Frozen‘s “Let It Go”. If you see a panto this year which doesn’t feature both of those two songs please let us know.
Actually, no, it doesn’t kick off with that. Before it there’s an audience cam which projects images of us on to a screen over the stage. Clever. Not only does it get the audience in the mood but focuses attention where it should be focused. Phil spotted Andrew holding two large glasses of red wine as Phil peeled off his winter layers. Impressively Andrew somehow managed to be holding 3 glasses for the opening of Act 2. If only that moment had been screened.
We won’t concern you with the plot. This is panto. Though there is a suitable Dallas-themed twist in Baron Hardup (James Doherty) owning a failed petrol business. But if we say that Tim Vine’s Buttons completely steals the show with his constant patter of quick-fire gags you probably won’t be surprised. Andrew was desperately trying to remember one of them after the show but Phil couldn’t help him as there were so many to choose from. The formidable panto grandee that is Eric Potts provides the script (though possibly Vine provides much of his own material) and there’s a great gag from Mr Sleep’s Dandini, about domestic cleaners, which had Phil spluttering on his merlot.
Act 2 opens with a satisfying tap number headed, naturally enough, by Sleep at the Prince(Liam Doyle)’s ball to “Putting on the Ritz” which aims at older patrons, as does much of this show. Andrew was positively purring in his seat and, for once, not because he’d nodded off.
And although there’s no slosh scene, no cross-dressing apart from the Dames, or sweeties thrown at the audience we do get a terrifically corny sweet tray sequence where the dialogue involves about every chocolate bar you can think of, a splendidly good/bad Goran Ivanisevic joke, a 3D twist on the “It’s behind you” scene and kids up on stage with Tim Vine who, err, handles them magnificently and produces a particularly good, presumably spontaneous, joke which if it wasn’t set up, should be for future performances.
Director Ian Talbot whizzes us through the proceedings played out in front of the sumptuously glittery backdrops you’d expect at Wimbledon and the Ugly Sisters’ costumes are over the top as you’d want them to be. And yes, Ms Grey looks absurdly young and glamorous for 74. Despite all this, one of Phil’s favourite moments was a filmed sequence, a Dallas opening credits spoof involving the panto leads shot against the backdrop of rather dreary local locations which must have gone over more heads than the Act 1 snowstorm.
Splendid stuff for the adults, what the kiddies will make of some of it is anyone’s guess.
And while we’re sort of on the subject of dames. Does anyone else think the honour has been rather devalued by Joan Collins’ upcoming damehood? Or is it just us? Andrew’s hoping that if he lives long enough he’ll be made a dame too.