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Dick Whittington – and – Sleeping Booty

Dick Whittington – and – Sleeping Booty

The newly reopened Bridge House Theatre in Penge is celebrating Christmas with a pair of pantos – one for children and the other for adults using almost the same cast. I saw them consecutively on the venue’s gala night. And, seeing two pantos in one evening, I can report first that it’s like watching a traditional rep company or being at Edinburgh and is therefore a pretty powerful showcase for versatility. Second, it’s an experience almost as long as seeing an uncut Hamlet. We started at 6pm and finished just before 11pm. If nothing else, it speaks volumes for actor energy.

The first half of Dick Whittington, set mostly in a Penge fish and chip shop, is stronger than the second in which some of the incidents and numbers are a bit protracted. I quite liked the “educated” jokes such as the running alliteration gag and I admired the use of uncompromising vocabulary: “Nubile” and “most verbose of vermin” for instance. That said, the whole show is a bit wordy for young children.

The reactions, though, tell their own story. The playing space at the Bridge House is a simple, informal square, with seats on three sides and no larger than the average classroom. The complete absence of any semblance of a fourth wall makes the children feel effortlessly included. One boy (maybe 9) put his hand up and demanded of Steve Banks (good) as Rattigan, the dastardly rat, “Who exactly are you?” At the end a very small girl (probably under three) took over the space near her front row seat and happily joined in the dancing. It certainly keeps cast members on their toes.

Sleeping Booty – in which co-writer Brendan Matthews gives us a menacing Wagnerian-horned Carabosse  is, of course, a very different sort of show. In a sense “adult pantomime” is a contradiction in terms but it worked for the audience I saw it with who showed their enjoyment with gales of raucous laughter at the many sex jokes, the funniest of which was a series of escalating sweet puns delivered by George Lennan with nicely judged nuance and timing. Lennan, incidentally, is interesting to watch as two contrasting dames. His Dame Sarah is funny and ridiculous without being especially camp. By the time we’re over the 9pm watershed his Queen Constance is up several notches with lots of filthy flirtatiousness.

But the best thing in Sleeping Booty is Alex White delivering a hilarious but understated Bojo. Nothing as cheap or obvious as a blonde wig but he has all the gestures, umming and erring and mannerisms perfectly especially the very serious injured tone. He is also fun as Tom Cook the straight guy in Dick Whittington and I like his singing.

Ellie Walsh is an outstanding actor. She brings oodles of panache and neat dancing skills to a Dick who manages to be charismatic without too much swashbuckling or thigh slapping. And her sweary King Cole, catching eyes in the audience and stomping around crossly is excellent.

I also reckoned Olivia Penhallow’s cheerful cheeky cat (good singing voice) but I was less taken with her work as narrator in the second show. Sarah Louise Hughes screams, shouts and pulls faces, first as a drunken Fairy Good and later as a very spoiled Princess Aurora, among other roles. It’s initially amusing but soon gets wearisome because it’s relentless. She should have been directed to dial it down occasionally.

There is no space at The Bridge House for a built set but it is learning to do clever things with projection on its back wall. Simon Nicholas’s projection mapping gives us, among other things Penge East Station with a moving train, a desert island and a castle with bats.

Luke Adamson and Joseph Lindoe have done a marvellous job in getting Bridge House Theatre up, fitted and running again in its new upstairs space. It would have been a challenge at any time but they’ve achieved it against the pandemic. I wish them all the best for the new year and look forward to seeing more shows there soon – whether “received” or home produced.

Omid Djalili – The Good Times Tour

Omid Djalili – The Good Times Tour

This review is a giant step away from our usual fayre but, thanks to the growing Omicron variant (and the mass panic that comes with it), invitations have materialised from all corners of the entertainment industry. So, here we are; stand-up comedy.

At least the talent in question, Omid Djalili, is also a real-life actor, who, incidentally has featured in some impressive and top-rated films. Omid Djalili is arguably now the go-to Middle Eastern pastiche when it comes to casting films. These include the likes of Gladiator and The Mummy as well as home-grown movies such as the acclaimed The Infidel, in which Djalili took a starring role where a devout Muslim finds out he was adopted and his real parents were Jewish. In fact, the comedian presented us with a 5-minute showreel at the outset, followed by “I don’t like to talk about it!”

Omid Djalili is famously known for being (self-proclaimed) “Iran’s only stand-up comedian.” He constantly refers to his roots, parentage and his motherland’s view of the West (America mainly – “Death to The West!”). His parents actually came to the UK in 1957, so he was born over here, rather than immigrated. He brilliantly refers to his Kensington upbringing although in a slightly “embarrassed” way.

In a routine titled The Good Times Tour, Djalili discusses the pandemic at length in front of the Eventim Apollo’s packed auditorium (It’ll always be the ‘Hammersmith Odeon’ to me – mind you Hammersmith has completely changed since my boyhood days) in fine detail; lockdown, toilet paper, work… Indeed this extensive UK tour has been rescheduled from 2020.

I was fortunate to attend with my Iranian father-in-law (Tehran) who couldn’t believe how packed the venue was last night – “…and with so many non-Iranians!”

Djalili is very funny and has forged himself as a top-flight comedian over the past twenty-ish years. Nevertheless, during the routine he was extremely happy to stop and pay a major tribute to the late Sean Lock who passed away earlier this year, and who gave Djalili his big TV break back in 1997.

The great skill with Djalili is his ability to connect with his audiences (as well as make them laugh). To this end it was a joy to have the comedian return to his first-ever routine which was set in a cinema auditorium surrounded by his family when we come across an 11-year-old Omid Djalili. One word: ‘Slaphead’.

Perhaps you’ll need to catch this tour!

Dates & tickets:

London Behind Closed Doors

London Behind Closed Doors

I was not aware of Angel Shed Theatre Company before this visit, but I will certainly look forward to seeing more of their work in future. It’s always good to see young people developing their performance skills, whether that be through taking part in an adult-directed school play or in something more small-scale and where they can have much more input. It’s unusual, however, to find a group where the young people involved are able to develop their skills in writing and directing as well as performing, as is the case with London Behind Closed Doors.

The performance was by Angel Shed’s Youth Theatre 2, who are aged 13 to 19; Angel Shed work with four different age-based groups as well as Music and Dance companies. Due to the pandemic, the work has been developed over a long period of well over a year. Short pieces involving small numbers of young people were topped and tailed by ensemble sections that tied the evening together.

This inclusive and diverse group of 16 young people presented a range of aspects of London life as they experience it: on the bus, in the street and at eating places. Using the performance space at City and Islington College meant that the audience could see well and the cast had the benefit of good lighting and sound to support their work. I very much enjoyed learning about these young people’s lives and their perceptions of how other people live theirs.

If there was an undertone to the evening it was a slightly offbeat one that seemed to sit well with the cast and indicated their involvement with, and control over, the material. Some of the performers had a quiet but reassuring stage presence which focussed attention on what they were saying; others achieved their effects through movement or by dialogue.

The cast were well rehearsed and mostly coped well with the difficulties of voice projection in a large space. There were occasionally signs of not being sure how to end a section, but that is the eternal problem for writers of sketch format pieces. The beginning and end pieces with the whole group worked very well, with the bus sketch getting its effect through strong characterisation and well-judged movement. The Q&A with the cast, expertly facilitated, rounded off the evening well and indicated the extent to which the cast had benefitted from the experience.

Angel Shed’s strapline is Inclusivity Through Theatre, and their inclusivity is total: anyone is welcome to join, they never audition, workshops are free to those who cannot afford them and support is provided where necessary. It is difficult to know how to rate performances like this as there is nothing to compare it to – but due to the enterprise, commitment and achievement shown, and above all the level of inclusivity, this was a five star experience for cast and audience.

  • : admin
  • : 16/12/2021
Circus 1903

Circus 1903

Circus 1903 company. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

When you assess a show professionally you are supposed to judge it as being decent, weak, good or outstanding for a production of its type. Well I haven’t the faintest idea how to star rate this one since I’ve never seen anything remotely like it before and therefore have nothing to measure it against. This was the first circus I’ve been to since childhood and that was so long ago that I remember plumed horses and roaring lions all of which is now illegal in the UK, thank goodness. I’ve seen occasional circus acts in, say, panto or the piazza at Covent Garden but never the whole caboodle. Well, after much thought I’ve decided it’s a four on the simple grounds that I enjoyed it very much and it includes some stunning performances. I have only a couple of minor reservations of which more shortly.

In a sense Circus 1903 is a play-within-a-play. We’re meant to be in an American touring circus of which there were many (remember Barnum and Bailey The Greatest Show on Earth) in the early 20th Century. The year is 1903 and in the first act they are setting up, rehearsing the show and training the elephants: two life-size puppets by Mervyn Millar and Tracy Waller are a theatrical tour de force. They are beautiful – moving, in every sense – and totally convincing. The second half is more or less a performance, with glitzier costumes, beginning with a parade and ending with a finale.

It’s noteworthy that none of the spectacular acts is British or even American. Most are from South America or Eastern Europe. And they are mind-blowingly, heart-in-mouth good. As I watched them I was forcibly struck that what this work needs is three things: phenomenal trust, bodies trained to behave like iron and decades of practice. The “Daring Desafios”, for instance are a quartet of grinning tattooed young men from Brazil who launch themselves to enormous heights from a teeterboard turning double and triple somersaults in the air. The cheerful camaderie they exude belies the skill of the coordination which is like a very fast four man dance.

We also get Roberto Carlos from Mexico juggling, Natalia Leontieva from Russia doing impossible things with spinning hoops and Olava Rocha Muniz and Denise Torres de Souza, also   Brazilian, in a “Russian Cradle”. The latter involves very daring arial work with nail biting mid air throws. The highest (literally) spot for me was two brothers from Colombia on a “wheel of death. It’s a huge structure like a giant egg timer made from metal tubing and mesh and it’s flown slowly down to stage level. One man in each oval space makes it spin – ever faster as they walk, skip, jump and sometimes climb round the outside of it. The top man standing upright almost has his head in the flies. It’s quite an act.

So all in all a fine show. Recorded music is composed and arranged by Evan Jolly who borrows from all sorts of genres including some traditional circus numbers and some atmospheric classical. It works quite well in the first half but becomes far too loud and relentless in the second. The performances are excellent, Adding that level of noise as an enhancement is almost an insult to the acrobats who don’t need their work psyched up like this.

My other reservation is that I really don’t like squirm-inducing gags involving audience children brought on stage and made to look silly and there’s too much of that in this show although David Williamson as ring master is fairly gentle with them. Even I have to admit, however, that it’s very funny when a child is invited to thrust the traditional plate of shaving foam in her own father’s face and does it with glee.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Launch photo: Paul Johnson

Sublime in 2019 to disaster in 2021!

Lame, Tame and almost devoid of any atmosphere. This year’s panto review from Croydon…

What a difference a year or two makes.

Twenty-four months ago The Fairfield Halls brilliantly sprang back into life in the venue’s concert Hall and presented Imagine Theatre’s digitally designed set as Cinderella thrilled its audiences with a little help from its stars Tim Vine and Ore Oduba. This week Imagine Theatre opens Beauty and the Beast but not in the luxury of the concert hall, the pantomime has been moved back into the Ashcroft Theatre – complete with its traditional proscenium arch. This time the stars are CBBC’s Dick and Dom as well as Derek Griffiths – arguably all from yesteryear. What’s more, this year’s pantomime – which lacked a plethora of expected special effects –  just isn’t very funny. In fact, compared to the other pantomimes I’ve been to in the last fortnight, tonight’s festivities in Croydon were second rate.

It all started upon arrival at so-called press night. I fully understand that the new Omicron variant halted any hopes of a potential press reception but not to have any kind of welcome at all was just plain weird. In addition, the lack of any kind of show programme (until I was sent a digital version via email two hours after the event) and the staff that were there behaving like a chaotic event of some kind had just occurred – didn’t kick the evening off in style. Two years ago I couldn’t move without bumping into a smiling producer or venue manager. This year, they’re nowhere to be seen.

Poor Dick and Dom – whom I interviewed at the launch – were full of energy and really trying their best. But when the script isn’t good enough you can only go so far. I remember Derek Griffiths (whom I also interviewed) from Play School and Play Away before seeing him as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opposite Michael Ball at the London Palladium, and, ironically, as the Candelabra in the West End’s original Beauty and the Beast from Disney. In December 2021 he does tend to look like he’s merely turned up for work. But it’s really not our stars’ faults. I’m sure Ant and Dec would gabble or talk over each other’s punchlines without good direction.

The trouble is Croydon’s Fairfield Halls is a big deal and audiences will expect to be blown away – just like they were two years ago. I’m very sorry to say that the ATG venues, with all the inventiveness and tradition all mashed up together win hands-down.

Of the rest of the cast, the lack of any children onstage this year is something to overcome, and with an ensemble of just three (plus Fairy Fairfield!), you’re always going to struggle. I need to bite my lip a little here for fear of getting personal but suffice to say I overheard other members of the audience saying that they thought Nic James’ Benedict Bourbon brought the best-drawn character to the party (he’s the Gaston figure who chases after Belle.)

I really hope that BH Live – the company that runs the Fairfield Halls – is prepared to grovel on all fours to bring back the snubbed Evolution Pantomimes who were breaking the venue’s box office records before the venue mysteriously closed for three years. We need the brilliance of Paul Hendy’s writing and direction. Sorry, Eric, your panto has gone to Potts!

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus

It’s vintage Bennett and just as funny as when it was first staged in 1974 especially in the hands of Patrick Marber and his cast of nine accomplished actors.

A surreal play, it’s farce without the clutter.  It makes no attempt at realism. The set consists of a coffin, identities are continually mistaken, characters burst into song and often deliver soliloquies in rhyming couplets. Twice we get manic tango to the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem. There’s a running gag about size (Dan Starkey as Sir Percy Shorter and that’s what he is) borrowed from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a great deal of misunderstanding about a pair of false breasts.

We’re in the home of an unlikely doctor in Hove and almost everyone is randily yearning for sex with someone inappropriate. There’s something appealingly innocent about this at a time when me too, political correctness and a woke world lie decades into the future.

It’s play about rampant desire at the heart of which is an outstanding performance from Jasper Britton as Dr Arthur Wicksteed. He undermines his character’s non existent professionalism with a mere lift of an eyebrow and entertains with fake gravitas. Catherine Russell is splendid as his sadly ridiculous wife longing to be loved and fulfilled by almost anyone. But they also bring some depth to the piece in their reconciliation scene towards the end of the play which is actually quite moving.

Ria Jones as Mrs Swabb the cleaning lady does a lovely job as the quasi narrator. Very Welsh and making outrageous but perceptive comments she really makes the role her own. And since Bennett played this role himself in the original production it’s a pretty hard act to follow. There’s a nice nod to the playwright’s presence in this production when Matthew Cottle, as Canon Throbbing, intones a few lines of verse a distinctively Bennettian voice.

The play includes some memorable lines such as “Sometimes I think Freud died in vain” and “In Memphis, Tennessee, fourteen babies have been born since this play began” – all delivered with wit and panache. And of course – like all the best dramas – it ends with a paternity revelation in The Marriage of Figaro tradition.

Catch it if you can. It’s a couple of hours of real escapism.

The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper

Sean Turner is Trinity Theatre’s new director and this is his first Christmas show. So there was a relieved, party atmosphere (and lots of mince pies!) on opening night.

Using the version,  by Jemma Kennedy, originally commissioned by Unicorn Theatre in 2011, The Prince and the Pauper features identical twins (Leah Gayer and Mhairi Gayer in this case) as the titular pair just as the production at Unicorn did. Obviously, if you can find a suitably skilled pair this is perfect casting for a play about identity swapping although they should be more differently voiced than these two are. Mhairi Gayer isn’t long in the castle before she sounds like a Prince – and that doesn’t ring true.

Apart from the Gayers, there is a cast of six more professional actors – all accomplished actor-musos – and a team of eight young company members. The children rotate between shows in three teams and I saw Team Huckleberry with one substitution. Inevitably some are stronger than others and, because they’re not mic’ed, presumably for economy reasons, there are sometimes audibility problems.

Joelle Brabban, who moves between violin and viola, gives an impressive performance as Tom’s impoverished mother and the flouncy, flippant future Queen Elizabeth – making the most of Kennedy’s witty script, Dexter Southern brings gravitas and terror to Tom’s drunken, violent criminal father and to Henry VIII. He’s a fine guitarist and I liked the moment when he melts downstage from the throne to play a whistle. It was just one of the points in this production when the direction and choreography (Suzie Curran – lots of evocative choral stamping) drives the action and makes good use of Trinity’s unusually deep stage.

Emily Newsome is outstanding as a street busker with accordion. She has a magnificent singing voice, is no mean saxophonist and gives us a fairly convincing, faintly pantomimic, Miles Hendon, a good guy who tries to help Edward get back to his palace.

Full marks too for Stephen Hyde’s set which uses flapped flats with cartoon-style drawn buildings to create small down stage spaces in front of a sketched Tower of London and Westminster Abbey to make the setting clear. Behind that are gates and railings to separate the palace from the street. It’s engagingly imaginative.

So there’s a lot of charm and talent in this  competent show but somehow it lacks warmth and feels a bit flat. It never quite lifts beyond the sense that a bunch of good actors are doing their thing without quite transporting us or making us care quite as much as we should.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

I’m probably a good person to review this show because I came to it completely fresh. Although Frank Capra’s 1946 film, on which Tony Palermo’s play is based, is well known and dearly loved especially in America, it had completely passed me by. So I had no idea what to expect.

Ten people are putting on a live radio play so the format is a play-within-a-play. Thus we see them emerging from chairs in shadow to stand at downstage mics to deliver their lines. And the story their play tells is that of George Bailey, a businessman in trouble and contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. An angel is sent – think of the ghosts in A Christmas Carol – from heaven to show him how impoverished and different the world would have been if he’d never existed.

Various things impressed me about this adeptly directed (Pauline Armour) production. First, the storytelling which could get very blurred and confusing is crystal clear. Second, the “radio studio” sound effects which we see created upstage by Jessica-Ann Jenner are impeccably synced with the action. Third, there’s a lot of doubling which relies on the sort of vocal versatility that radio requires and these talented actors have nailed it while also maintaining convincing American accents – although because it’s really a stage play that the audience is watching they also don a few hats, scarves and spectacles. Fourth, music is neatly dovetailed in to mark scene changes as befits a radio play. Fifth, it eventually packs in a bit of feel-good for Christmas which is much needed at present.

Howie Ripley as George finds a whole range of moods for him ending with anguished despair and, finally, joy at emerging from the vision and appreciating the life he has despite its difficulties. It’s a nuanced performance. And Bethan Boxall as his wife Mary (among other roles) – who puts me in mind of Michelle Dockery – seems, usefully,  to have several octaves in her speaking voice. I liked the growth of her character from carefree teenager to worried middle-aged mother of five.

Also outstanding, in a strong cast, is Maxine Edwards as Mr. Henry Potter, a sort of Shylock figure, successful in business waiting to snatch anything he can from George. Edwards is totally convincing as she switches from that to the assertive sheriff or young George along with a whole raft of other parts. Kerrin Roberts gives us a nice, camp Clarence – the angel trying to earn his wings by sorting out George.

Arriving without any expectations or preconceived ideas I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a pretty engaging evening in the theatre. This was actually my first visit to Bromley Little Theatre although it’s usefully local to me. I’ve had it on my list for a while but have been thwarted by pandemics and things. I think I shall probably be a regular in future.

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

To get a maximum five stars the pantomime needs to be brilliant; this year’s pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre is quite brilliant! All credit should be given right across the board, from Ian Talbot’s direction to Aaron Renfree’s choreography… from Alan McHugh’s script to Ian Westbrook’s design… and from The Twins FX’s visual effects to Michael Bradley’s five-piece band. But perhaps top honours should really go to the cast led by the amazing Shane Richie who, two days after press night, completely owned New Wimbledon Theatre’s half-full audience.

Supported by his long-term collaborator, Peter Piper, every hilarious twitch, look and glimpse from Richie appears to be completely natural as the ex-EastEnder plays the role he was born to take on. Whether he’s choosing the best-looking ladies in the audience (or not!) or he’s slapping Peter Piper’s bald head (ad-lib?) or realising Iain Stuart Robertson’s wonderfully northern dame (he’s really Scottish!) is really ‘a bloke’ the effortless way he leaves the audience in stitches just has to impress.

You can see why Peter Piper works so well with Richie in scenes such as the tongue-twister where Sarah (Robertson), Dick (Richie) and Captain Cockles (Piper) desperately try not to say the s-word. Incidentally, this is the only scene that repeats completely, in whole, from Tuesday night’s press night in Woking. Tonight’s raw comedy wins the battle – if such a battle even exists.

Another thing I’ve only just noticed is the absence of any children on any of this year’s stages – obviously as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Usually the ensemble features children as does the traditional act II song-sheet, but not this time. However, It doesn’t appear to matter as the spaces are being filled with deft skill.

Perhaps the true ensemble nature of Alan McHugh’s clever script is the secret of the show’s success. In fact the plot of Dick Whittington probably takes the longest and most diverse journey (literally) of all the pantomimes. Another example of Richie’s power over the audience comes as another slice of excellence from the writer. As in Woking on Tuesday, one scene features snippets of songs used to great effect, climaxing with Robertson screaming at Richie to ‘Let it Go!’ Both audience and the ex-landlord of the The Queen Vic know what’s coming. Richie pauses, looks at the audience, smiles, slowly walks centre-stage, throws out his arms and we hear those immortal lines from Idina Menzel. The scene is wonderful, as it was in Woking.

Richie’s West End colleague (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), Hiba Elchikhe, makes a great love interest for Dick – boasting a great voice – without making the large age gap seeming weird. Shona White and Rachel Izen play good and evil as Spirit of the Bow Bells and Queen Rat respectively. She has the best-looking rats I’ve ever seen by the way. Finally the lithe and versatile Briana Craig makes her panto debut in style in the only non-speaking principal role of the show – Kitty Cat.

The icing on the cake was the song-choices used. From In the Navy / YMCA to I’m a Believer, they were all well chosen. That and the support from the young, eight-strong ensemble who never put a foot wrong all night.



Image: L-R: Anton Du Beke (Buttons), Oonagh Cox (Cinderella) and Rosemary Ashe (Fairy Godmother) – Cinderella at Richmond Theatre. Photo: Benjamin Mole

You enter the auditorium dazzled by the fairy-tale front cloth ahead. And, from the moment the band strikes up, the show goes on scintillating right up to Cinderella’s wedding and the playout. If you don’t want to leave that’s partly because it’s cold outside. More importantly, you’ve been having such an enjoyable time inside. Cinderella is possibly everyone’s favourite panto. Well, it is mine. And this is a good one. It was a stroke of genius inviting Anton Du Beke to head the cast at Richmond: his affable and endearing manner makes him a natural for the role of Buttons.

I was lucky enough to see the show at an early preview. The previous day Du Beke was miles away in Elstree adjudicating back-to-back episodes of Strictly Come Dancing before making the fifty-mile journey to Richmond for a matinee and then this, only his third, performance. How does he manage to keep so buoyant? Ah, the elixir of Dr Theatre! If there was an occasional fluff, it was hard to tell if it was, as I suspect, genuine, or a carefully rehearsed gag. Either way it was used to good comic effect. I particularly liked the way he milks the audience by means of a subtle back-handed flick of his wrist – a repeated gimmick which pays dividends as the evening wears on.

But this is also an ensemble show, brilliantly coordinated in Stewart Nicholls’, as always, meticulous direction. Everyone sings and dances impeccably and enters enthusiastically into the fun. Rosemary Ashe, fresh from her recent, triumphant Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, makes the perfect Fairy Godmother: glamorous yet homely; everyone’s favourite no-nonsense aunt. Her comic timing is a joy. Oonagh Cox, in her first starring role, is a delightful Cinders: a triple threat as a strong actor-singer-dancer and surely destined to be a valuable addition to the UK’s musicals scene. Edward Chitticks’ full-throated Prince is as charming as his name and faux Eighteenth Century attire certainly sets off his good looks to best advantage.

As the Ugly Sisters, Bobby Delaney and Darren Bennett (although wasn’t it a teensy bit unkind to name them Beatrice and Eugenie?) look hideously stunning in way-OTT couture creations – a different wig for each millinery concoction. Three days prior to opening, Bennett had replaced another actor as Beatrice, but you’d never have known as the two actors work like a long-standing double act – and are two of the meanest ‘Sisters’ I’ve seen. Jonny Weston brings his own special brand of comic ineptness to the often-thankless role of Dandini.

In my youth, panto audiences were accustomed to stages spilling over with singers and dancers. These days, as here, we are down to just six. Thanks to Alan Burkitt’s imaginative choreography, however, Thomas Charles, Tom Fletcher, Nancy Harris, Natasha Scrase, Rosie Southall and Laura Swan manage to fill the stage with cheerful, swirling movement. Having Du Beke in the cast means there must be a big number to show off, both himself and the dancers. Sure enough, it comes appropriately in the Ball scene when Buttons, now in top hat, bow tie and tails, catches a cane Astaire-style and the dancers swap their old-fashioned glad rags for contemporary evening gowns. The result is an enchanting highlight of the production.

Until very recently, second houses provided panto comics with the opportunity to introduce sophisticated and/or blue humour into the script. In the interval, some of us reflected on the extent to which political correctness has affected writers of family entertainment. Panto humour was never very subtle, but you can have one fart gag too many – though, to be fair, the kids seem to love it. It is interesting to note, however, a greater and healthier reliance on verbal comedy involving accumulated misunderstandings and repetition of the ‘Old Macdonald’ variety.

Cinderella more than any other panto, needs to look and sound good. The sets and costumes here are fresh and attractive. The work of Ramon Van Stee (Sound) and Richard G Jones (Lighting) is first-rate work, as is that of Gary Hind and Pierce Tee who are responsible for the musical side of the show.

Oh, and the glittering coach and white ponies are gorgeous, darling!

It is so good to see pantomimes back in the theatre after a two-year absence. With such a promising start to the festive season in Surrey, one can only pray that the current pandemic won’t discourage audiences from attending this and other Christmas shows. It was great to shed the years and join in the chorusing along with the enthusiastic youngsters in the audience.

We had – cliché spoiler – a ball. Bravo to everyone involved!