One From The Heart at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
This fast and furious family panto is focused on giving everyone a good night out, and especially on drawing the kids in the audience into the action.
So Simon Aylin's offering this year has Kerris Peeling as a no-nonsense Fairy Godmother – Go-Mo to her fairy-friendly chums – who enlists our aid in getting Cinders to the Ball and ensuring a happy-ever-after ending for everyone.
Suzie Chard comes on like a size twenty Sharon O, hurling ever more inventive insults at the audience in return for boos and hisses. And Lewis Barnshaw, as a delightfully bashful Buttons, plays for sympathy as well as laughs, and leads the youngsters in a familiar singalong – The Music Man, an excellent choice not often heard in panto nowadays.
The strikingly ill-matched Ugly Sisters are Neal Wright's Gusty Gail [dumpy and aggressive] and Richard Foster-King's Windy Wendy [seven foot nothing without the heels and the ostrich feathers] – constant bickering and frequent flatulence, plus some really impressive frocks and the flair to wear them well.
Sophie Camble is a svelte, demure Cinders; a strong singer and pleasingly assertive in adversity.
Tom Parsons' dishy Prince proves a fine vocalist, and his Dandini – Rhys Rice – is a great little mover in his spectacular dance routines. In fact almost everyone gets a good number to showcase their talents – as well as Adele [Someone Like You] and the inevitable but appropriate One Direction [We Danced All Night] we have a disco medley, something from The Wiz, that old chestnut Friendship and, for the brassy Baroness [and four chorus boys], Reciprocity from Chicago.
Richard Peakman's choreography is crisp and inventive, with the cast of eight boosted by energetic ensemble players from Laine Theatre Arts – It's Raining Men [for the Sisters] with oilskins and brollies for the boys. The transformation, done with stars and mirrors, is impressive, and what a treat to see real Shetland ponies pulling the coach …
Almost all the favourite panto features are in place – a ghost routine [with ghouls all around the auditorium], custard pies, water pistols, old jokes [“Nothing's that funny ...”] and a victim from the audience, Max on this occasion, who was unwise enough to sit in row B with his shorts and his woggle.
The Brentwood Beavers and the Writtle Rainbows loved every minute – possibly the loudest, most excited audience ever. They've probably bought their tickets for next year already, when the same team will be bringing Peter Pan to the Civic.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews