Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
for The Reviews Hub
Beneath the impressive 21st century gloss, and despite the Trump gags, this is a warmly traditional panto, its appeal effortlessly spanning the generations.
Director and co-writer Daniel Buckroyd has wisely re-hired many of last year's Aladdin company; they seem very much at home in the Mercury, and their banter with each other and rapport with the audience are a delight.
Dale Superville makes a perfect Idle Jack – Roger the cabin boy on the Saucy Sally, getting the kids on his side instantly; he's the ideal foil for Antony Stuart-Hicks' glamorous Merseyside Mrs Suet, alias Sarah the Cook. Tall, glamorous with ever-higher heels and coiffure, George Robey eyebrows and a tasty line in crudities, this is a classic Dame. Ignatius Anthony relishes every moment of Ratty King (“a child crying, music to my ears”), a role cleverly re-imagined as a raffish villain out to seize political power in the City of London.
Gracie Lai is an agile Thomasina the Cat – wordless, as tradition demands, but very expressive nonetheless, and superb in a mewed rendition of Memory (from Cats, in case you'd forgotten) as she hypnotises the rats in the Sultan's palace.
The fruity-toned Fitzwarren is done with some style by Richard Earl, and Barbara Hockaday pulls off an unlikely double as Fairy Bow Bells and Captain Barnacle.
Love interest in the youthful shape of “Poundland Poldark” Whittington (Glenn Adamson) and his charming Alice (Grace Eccle).
The gloss includes David Shields' wonderful set, a centre circle, the face of Big Ben projected onto it, with clockwork designs, or the houses of old London, curving around it. The Epicurean Emporium, and the pitching ship's galley are beautifully realised.
The costumes too – not only Ratty's Dickensian outfit and the Dame's eye-catching creations (bathing drawers, Essex girl beehive, and she's the only one to get a change for the actual walk-down), but the attention to detail throughout, the sparkly shoes and fezzes for the Moroccan rats, for instance.
And the timeless tradition extends to some very venerable jokes (“Avast behind!” and “All hands on deck!”, shared with the equally saucy ship at the Wolsey this year), a UV underwater ballet, a ghost routine with a rather unconvincing camel, an old-fashioned Friendship medley for Dick and his Cat, that good old campfire classic Bobbing Up and Down Like This, and a wicked Twelve Days parody featuring a huge inflatable gin bottle and celebrity chefs - “Mary Berry's cherry”.
Charlie Morgan's choreography is snappy and inventive: the talented Junior Chorus excellently employed on board ship and in the Madness rats number. Richard Reeday, who's contributed lyrics and arrangements, is the Musical Director.
One of my three wishes after last year's Aladdin was for more of the same. The Made In Colchester genies have certainly delivered, - an object lesson in how to bring fun and freshness to a winning formula.
production photograph: Pamela Raith