by Philip Meeks
Gateshead Little Theatre
Until Tuesday 24th December 2019
The second professional panto in Gateshead opened this week at the Little Theatre next to Saltwell Park. A combination of good laughs, a genuine local feel that referenced Gateshead rather than obvious north east locations and a real honesty makes this show worthy of consideration if you’re looking for cost effective festive entertainment.
Some of the authenticity is down to some quirky casting. Fairy Nightshade – the unscrupulous baddie of the piece – is the first on stage. Listed in the programme as performed by the Children’s magician and Entertainer ‘One & Only Wanda’, we have a very entertaining evil character who likes to wind up the kids. Talking to an offstage narrator rather than the good fairy seemed initially odd, to be honest as, as we’re usually in the business of introducing the characters on stage at the start.
The rest of the gang appear over the next couple of scenes. The panto has no separate comic, so much of the comedy heavy lifting is on the shoulders of Dame Bella Bluebell. The Dame is joined by King Kenny (Gerry Troughton) and Lord Chamberlain (Martin Anderson) at the christening of Princess Mary Rose. Forgetting to invite Fairy Nightshade results in a curse that will commence from the Princess’s 18th birthday hence the show quickly fast forwards to that celebration. As the curse involves pricking herself on a spinning wheel such appliances are banned. However, the evil one has a cunning plan. The Princess (Laura Scott) is soon in need of both Fairy Liquid (Dawn Wolfe) and a Prince (Simon Stuart) so the path is not straightforward.
Between the action the audience are entertained with the usual panto mix of singing from the cast and dancing from three principles (Beth Shannon, Megan Black and Scott Howes) and a group of ‘Babes’ that are uncredited in the programme. Choreographer Kathleen Knox makes the most of the tight space available.
I’m not sure if nerves were kicking in a little bit as the jokes were delivered a little fast most of the time and needed a slightly longer pause for a reaction. The show runs under the two hour mark, including interval, and slowing the delivery down a touch would, in opinion. Help the punchlines in Meek’s script land better.
Having said that, the show still finds the time to deliver a full range of panto goodness: a messy scene, a take off scene, a singing dinosaur and a crazy version of “If I was not in panto…” that had the audience howling with laughter. This is all wrapped up in a number of costumes, especially for the dame.
The show makes fun of some Gateshead (and in particular Low Fell) landmarks and areas. It also has a gentle prod at a certain national treasure’s strange on-TV Geordie accent, as well as a rival panto, which seemed to go down well.
This is a canny Little honest panto that knows how to deliver the goods in order to keep the audience happy. We were entertained.