Paul Johnson | 12 Dec 2019 01:33am
Photos: Craig Sugden
Qdos Pantomimes has just opened its annual glitter-fest this week in Wimbledon. “The Fairy Godmother of All Pantomimes” marks Leslie Garrett’s panto debut and features an ex-ice-skating Pussycat Doll, a watery wench from Walford and one of the funniest magic men on the circuit.
It’s interesting how, in the run up to New Wimbledon Theatre’s latest pantomime, it wasn’t possible to get all the principals together on a single day for the regular photo launch… something I’ve never come across before. However, after this week’s press night, the formulaic production is arguably lacking a little cohesion and fluidity. There are plenty of admirable individual performances going on, but I’m not convinced that they all sew themselves together in a purely harmonious synergy.
I’m sure things will pick up as December develops, but a paying audience is surely entitled to expect perfection right from the off when it comes to one of the country’s biggest professional productions. It is no secret that the best pantos ooze camaraderie and a distinct family-feel; bonding is probably something that this cast could do with expanding upon.
All the panto ingredients are present including a real tour de force from Pete Firman as Buttons; almost singlehandedly, the SW19 returnee manages to keep the show bouncing along with ad-libs and a wonderfully naturalistic connection with the audience. Firman even features in the writing credits alongside Alan McHugh. For the rest of the cast, I feel a couple more days of rehearsals (professional pantomimes famously only rehearse for 2-3 weeks) might have relaxed performances and even injected a little confidence.
A good example of this could be in act one when Fairy Godmother freezes Demonica Hardup and her two Ugly Stepsister daughters. Leslie Garrett delivers a nice scripted gag while walking around a statuesque Samantha Womack about her previous role in The Addams Family – even giving a swift “Hello, Morticia!” But this could also provide a lovely opportunity to ‘play’ with her fellow cast members, even trying to make them corpse onstage – something the audience always loves.
Being onstage doesn’t faze the experienced Garrett as she brings her operatic talents to the fore, with her rendition of The Impossible Dream being a big highlight. In the role that Arlene Phillips played in her own panto debut several years ago – but appeared like a rabbit in the headlights – Garrett revels in her performance, despite a handful of over-cheesy opera jokes. When I spoke with the soprano, she informed me how she only had two stipulations given to Qdos: to fly, and to sing a big number. That’s two boxes ticked.
As Cinderella, Melody Thornton brings yet another American turn to Wimbledon. As a story-driver she does a decent enough job but is overshadowed by the extremely entertaining Edward Chitticks as Prince Charming and Will Jennings as Dandini. The royal pair deliver two respectively divine performances as the I’m-so-handsome Prince (who can also cut some moves) and his camp sidekick. Despite an act-two microphone hitch, Chitticks is great value, but it is Thornton who enjoys the dazzling pre-interval transformation scene in which she gets to fly over the stalls in her magical coach on the way to the Prince’s Ball.
Leon Craig and Bobby Delaney – as Verruca and Hernia – also do the best they can, and sport an impressive array of spectacular costumes, but don’t really get enough stage time with Womack being given the lion’s share of their scenes, as their vampish not-quite-evil-enough mother. I remember the same happened last year in Woking when Craig Revel Horwood played the Uglies’ mother.
The icing on cake for the press performance was Pete Firman’s expert handling of the most unpredictable songbook scene when a set of four extremely eclectic youngsters joined him onstage. Somehow he managed to make the most of a pair of tongue-tied sisters, a little girl who couldn’t speak for laughing and an oddly eloquent and well-informed tiny boy.
Cinderella plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Sunday, 5th January 2020
More at: www.atgtickets.com/shows/cinderella/new-wimbledon-theatre
- : admin
- : 10/12/2019