The People’s Panto is a ball of a show!
Newcastle People’s Theatre
Until Sunday 16th December 2018
Nova Radio North East’s Robert Wilson Baker continues his Panto-viewing season with a trip to the People’s Theatre in Heaton to see the biggest tale of them all…Cinderella!
This was an unexpected trip in my continually expanding Panto-viewing schedule (I’ve now counted 12 Productions between November and February) and my first time experiencing a Panto at the People’s Theatre. It’s worth mentioning now that despite this production being classed as an amateur production, I will be reviewing it with the expectations of any production I see; more so in this instance as all the performers have chosen to be there and have put in multiple months of hard work to deliver a performance they hopefully will be proud of.
Cinderella a much-loved fairy tale and regarded as the nation’s favourite Pantomime story. This version takes a very different stance on the famous story. We first meet Fairy Moonglow (Lynn Huntley), a fairy veteran in Once Upon A Time land, who invites us to join our story in Heatonville. This is abruptly interrupted by Countess Malady (Cat White), a former fairy turned mortal, who has come to spoil her sister’s plans of helping Cinderella (Georgia White).
The story moves to Heatonville where we meet our heroine and her best friend Buttons (Joe Robson) who makes an engagement as the audience’s new best friend. Cinderella’s dad, Count Harry Hardup (Roger Liddle), arrives back from his travels to break the news of his marriage to his daughter. With this news comes extra arrivals in the form of the Step Sisters, Calpolla (Stephen Waller) and Covonia (Dan Dickinson). The sisters instantly enforce their wicked ways and along with their mother force Cinderella to become a servant and send her into the woods to collect fire wood. Moonglow’s magic enlists the help of Buttons to guide her along her travels. In the meantime, we meet Prince Charming (Nick Warneford) who straight swaps with his right-hand man Dandini (James Hardy) in order find a normal girl who will accept him for more than just a prince.
Following the typical meeting with the prince, Cinderella’s story sticks more loosely to tradition: the prince organises a ball, the sisters and Count Malady force Cinderella to tear her own ticket up, Moonglow grants Cinderella’s wish (and Buttons wish to be a very famous animated character).
Act 2 sees the introduction of a Master of Ceremonies character Flunky (Callum Clarke) who acts as a secondary Dandini. We also see Count Malady up to her wicked ways, distracting Cinderella from leaving before midnight. This is where the biggest change to the story is; we get to see the magic reverse around us with Buttons being caught by the ugly sisters in mortal form. The rest of the story from here deviates back to tradition with finding the slipper, the prince’s search for his missing princes and the calamity the shoe fitting. And of course, the story ends with a happily ever after!
The People’s Theatre have the foundations of what could be a winning Panto formula for future shows. This production shows load of promise and heart mixed with some amazing sets in an awkward theatre (at least 1/2 of the staging area is in front of the front cloth).
The casting is very safe but include many standout performances. Lynn Huntley’s Fairy Moonglow is the definition of a Fairy Godmother. Her presence is felt from the start, her comic timing is faultless and her old school-esque vocal tone works well with her transformation song at the end of Act 1. She also holds very good rapport with evil counterpart Cat White, who’s very secure in her evil skin and has marvellous stage presence.
Elsewhere Roger Liddle plays a delightfully, quirky Count Hardup and Callum Clarke is very underused as Flunky.
Nick Warneford’s unconventional Prince Charming goes down a treat with his overexerted persona and crystal-clear vocals. He is also the catalyst for partnerships with Georgia White’s Cinderella, showcasing some nice vocals both solo and in duet with Warneford, and James Hardy as Dandini, who despite looking uncomfortable in his Panto surrounding gives a sound attempt.
Credit must be given to Joe Robson as Buttons. Despite having virtually no voice, he gave 110% with full energy and physicality. It’s a shame the script also doesn’t showcase Robson’s comedic quirks and Buttons pathos more, something I feel should be present in every comic lead. Furthermore, I overheard one family in the interval saying that Robson is their family favourite every year and they felt this year was no exception. I’m very much looking forward to seeing him develop in future years.
The Ugly sisters in this story steal the show. Stephen Waller and Dan Dickinson are a triumphant duo, serving a fine mix of comedy, wickedness, audience participation and stunning vocals, costumes and wigs (credit must be given to Chris Carr for the fabulous design) For all I could have known, these two could easily be a professional sister team.
It is also worth mentioning that the cast is backed an army of 10 adult chorus, 5 senior dancers from Newcastle High School for Girls, 4 teams of 20+ Juniors and 4 teams of 10-20 babes, with this performance featuring Team B’s Juniors and Babes. This London Palladium sized ensemble were the true stars, supporting the principals with superb choreography from the 5 Seniors and Adult Chorus in the ballroom scene, and to get that many child dancers to do more than basic choreography at the time is a win win.
Despite having no live band, which is a preferred option amongst the team at NE Theatre Guide, the tracks had orchestral richness which vibrated through the auditorium. The song choices were very far between, some not fitting with the context of advancing the story but some really worked, notably Huntley’s Act 1 rendition of ‘Come Alive’ and Warneford and White’s Act 2 ballad of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’. Baby Shark also makes welcome appearance in the Community Song.
The script for me is the only major let down. Phil Meeks’ script delivers some good moments but overall lacks in the clarity with an over confused plot and missed opportunity for real comedy moments, particularly with Buttons’ characterisation. Emma Jane Richards has done a sterling job to make the best of this, producing a nicely packed production with the right mix of production elements.
With tickets on sale for next year’s production ‘Dick Whittington’ and limited tickets available for the rest of this year’s run, The People’s Pantomime proves to be a pleasant treat for all the family and long may it continue to grow and find the success that it’s currently developing.
Review: Robert Wilson Baker
Photos: Richard Gardner
Photos: Richard Gardner
£14.50 (children and concessions £12)
Box Office: 0191 265 5020
Box Office: 0191 265 5020