This is a toughie. I can’t decide whether to tell you all the bad things about it and then praise it, like Craig Revel Horwood on a happy day; or tell you all the good things about it and then move into grumpy mode later.
It’s going to be the latter. Mainly because I look back at last night’s panto with affection. Firstly, there are some excellently dynamic and active performances. Hilary O’Neil as Fairy Cobblers is the spark that illuminates the entire show. Every time she appears with a wave of her wand she does a different impersonation, and they’re really really good, and really really funny. Cheryl Cole, Catherine Tate characters, Jungle celebrities, unnervingly accurate. She worked hard all night and it was appreciated; and she clearly changed her script a bit and made Gavin Woods (as Fleshcreep) corpse, which was delightful.
I’d also give a big HIYA SIMON (as I’m now a member of Simon’s gang) to Nick Weir as Simple Simon Trot, who delivered his role with bags of energy, and really came into his own at the end with the traditional scene of getting four kids up on stage to play musical instruments – the kids were terrific and his interaction with them funny and inventive.
In fact, that’s the key word – energy. Bags of it from those performers, also the singers and dancers, and from the orchestra…but sadly, I have to say, I didn’t see much in the way of energy from Ray Quinn as Jack. He’s clearly a likeable guy, and is amusingly diminutive as the brave lad going to fight the giant; and the opening conversation of him doing the “alright, calm down” Scouse routine was nicely done – and I liked very much “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of a Liverpudlian” which I hadn’t heard before… We know he’s a good dancer from his Dancing on Ice days, and he’s played the lead role in Grease, so he ought to be pretty dynamic on the stage, but to me he was just static. There’s an early song-and-dance number (Ain’t that a Kick in the Head) in the show when he is coming to terms with his newly found love for Princess Apricot Crumble (nice) with the backing dancers all smartly decked up and it should be Vegas-y or Rat-Packy with Ray in the centre of the chorus line all doing the high kicks – but his just weren’t high. They were limp, like he was delicately playing football with a three-year-old. Maybe he wasn’t well. Maybe he couldn’t be arsed. But it looked wrong. The marriage of Jack and the Princess was the centrepiece of the curtain call but it almost made the applause stop. Was that because of the lack of energy? I don’t know. But I felt rather embarrassed by that.
Other things that didn’t work – a brief “Oh no it isn’t” conversation between the Dame and Fleshcreep was no more than a private interchange that didn’t involve the audience, so it had finished before it had begun; that bloody Churchill dog that gets into every pantomime now should be shot; the underused and therefore pointless appearance of Moosterious (if you live outside Northampton this will mean nothing to you); Jack’s “fight” against the giant was the lamest thing I’ve seen on a stage since… well since Ripley and Ricky went out to sea.
I wouldn’t want to put you off going. It’s a good panto. I enjoyed it. I’ve reflected on it and smiled a lot. And it was very funny when the Pantomime Cow dropped her payslip – no idea if that was deliberate or not but it worked! There were lots of good lines, nice song-and-dancing, endearing characters, cute kids, terrific impersonations, but for me the overwhelming feeling at the end was of being rather underwhelmed. A bit like a whirlpool – really busy and lively at the outer edges but its centre is somewhere you’d really rather not be.