Good heavens, it’s 2012! How did that happen? Happy New Year to one and all! The exciting thing about a new year means it’s only one week till the much-awaited Second Annual Chrisparkle Awards. Last year was a star-studded affair that festooned virtual riches on the likes of Tracie Bennett, Thomas Morrison, Sheridan Smith, Alex Gaumond, Paul Sinha, the RPO, and The Big Fellah. Who will carry the glitzy honours this year? All will be revealed very soon.
But in the meantime, Mrs Chrisparkle and I saw three more productions at the end of December. The first was our inaugural visit to the beautiful Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield to see this year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty. And I can thoroughly recommend it.
It starts with Sid Sloane as Jangles the jester, welcoming the audience on our joint adventure, and constantly appears throughout the show as a reassuringly friendly face, great at encouraging us all to be noisy.
It is Margi Clarke though who leads the cast as the Wicked Queen, Carabosse, and she really is well wicked. With each line she positively shudders with evil, making grand proclamations all regal and powerful; then only to puncture her own self-importance by delivering the punch lines as a right scouser. It’s a very funny act! She also sings really well, which causes some consternation within the audience as you want to give her a good round of applause after her songs but then you remember you have to boo her instead. It makes you feel quite confused as to how to react to her!
One aspect of this production that puts it head and shoulders above all other Christmas shows we’ve seen this year, is that musically, it’s a treat. Sleeping Beauty herself is played by Dani Rayner, one of the “unsuccessful” Dorothies on 2010’s Andrew Lloyd-Webber TV show. Not that there’s anything unsuccessful about Dani. She sings beautifully and is a bit of a stunner too; she has a warm and kindly personality and is completely believable in the part. She is matched in the singing department by Jo Parsons as Prince Michael of Moravia, the required audience participation reaction to which is Hurrah! Oooooh! He also serves as a very fruitful comic foil to the real star of the show, Damian Williams as the Pantomime Dame, Nurse Nellie.
Mr Williams is new to me, but apparently this is his fourth year of being the Dame at Sheffield and it is no surprise that they keep inviting him back. He is amazing. Imagine a dame whose voice and mannerisms are part Les Dawson and part Tommy Cooper; and who leads a subversive side commentary all the way through, constantly coming out of character to talk about how the show’s going. He doth bestride the stage like a colossus, he’s genuinely very funny and the kids (and adults) love him.
He’s at the heart of all the best scenes – in fact the panto is full of very entertaining “set pieces”, most of which I’ve not seen before, or not seen for a long time. He and the king (Ian Chaplain) have a farcical bathroom sequence where every movement causes a jet of water to drench either one of them; there’s a nice piece of patter where every line refers to the name of a perfume or aftershave (sounds odd but it works); and of course there is the bench/ghosties scene, which is done very entertainingly – and where the whole audience joins in with “we’ll have to do it again then, won’t we?” which I’ve not witnessed before.
The production itself is delightful to look at, with elegant sets and superbly evocative lighting, and it rightfully received a huge reception from the audience at the end. Music director Andy Booth gets a great sound out of his live band, and I for one am seriously thinking of booking next year’s Lyceum Panto very soon!