Writer &Director: Paul Hendy
Musical Director: Chris Wong
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
It’s panto time again and Paul Hendy and Emily Wood’s Evolution Productions is back in residence at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre. This production brings the sunshine back to a cold winter’s evening with plenty of laughs and heaps of audience participation. It also comes complete with fantastically colourful scenery, imaginative costumes, and a spectacular fire-breathing dragon named Helga, presumably after set and costume designer, Helga Wood.
Ben Roddy as Nurse Nellie and Lloyd Hollet as Jangles the Jester make a fabulous double act and keep the one-liners rolling; plenty for the adults as well as the children. Their sketch with the vinyl record sleeves is extremely clever, particularly for the grown-ups, but while most album titles were unfamiliar to the younger audience, the delivery made it funny all the same. Lloyd Hollet’s ad-libbing with a quartet of unpredictable four- and five-year olds was also spot-on.
The ‘big names’ this year are Toyah Willcox as Carabosse the bad fairy, and Gareth Gates as Prince Michael, closely followed by children’s favourite Katrina Bryan as Fairy Moonbeam. Toyah Willcox has an incredible energy and presence, and her vocals are strong in her rock numbers, as expected. Katrina Bryan is as smiley on stage as she is on CBeebies and she could easily have sung more as a soloist. Gareth Gates has the teenage audience members in the palm of his hand, but also enters into the spirit of comedy with style. Faye Brookes is every inch the leading lady in the title rôle as she returns to Canterbury fresh from her recent success in the Legally Blonde tour.
There were, however, some problems with the overall balance of sound in this performance, and it was not always easy to hear the soloists clearly, particularly in the big production numbers. In their first duet, Gates and Brookes were unfortunately fairly inaudible. Hopefully this is a relatively easy issue to sort, as otherwise there is nothing else marring a fantastically enjoyable evening of family entertainment.
For the Canterbury stalwart, the famous Ghostbusters scene starring the bench is still there, and still just as funny, as is a large dose of panto slapstick, this time in the form of one enormous water bath. Congratulations must go to Roddy and Hollet for literally throwing themselves in with full gusto. Just one word of warning – if you’re in the stalls, do make sure you keep your popcorn covered at the beginning of Act II…