Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Opened 13 December, 2004

Unlike most mainstream theatre, panto isn’t about telling a story. Even the tinies in the audience will probably already know the tale in question.  It’s about the rituals: not just “Behind you!” and “Oh, no, it isn’t!”, but the more modern ones like chucking out handfuls of sweeties and doing cheesy covers of current pop songs.  Guildford’s panto is terrific on the routines, dodgier when it strays away.

Individual performers have their own specialities too. Royce Mills is a magnificent Widow Twankey; he’s full of double entendres, but his brand of camp is so old-school cuddly that no-one could possibly take offence at them.  As the wicked Abanazar, former Dr Who Sylvester McCoy gets a Tardis gag.  He also does one of the wacky stunt routines he first performed 30 years ago(!) with the Ken Campbell Roadshow.

Children’s TV presenters (or ex-) often make the best “Hi, kids!” panto actors, and Paul Hendy’s Wishee Washee is a case in point: affable but not cloying.  Issy van Randwyck makes all the right moves as Aladdin, but fails to spark: her smile remains that bit too glassy.  As the Genies of the Lamp and the Ring, I hope Britt Ekland realises she’s there as a figure of fun rather than for her (ha!) dramatic or comic skills.

Old favourites like the laundry scene and the ghost routine (“Behind you!”) are an absolute joy as performed here.  Things begin to sag, though, in the bits of dialogue that rely on Hendy’s script. Some lines plonk a fair bit, some of the verse has no apparent metre (or maybe that’s Ekland mangling it).  Instead of pop standards, the songs are from stage musicals, including several (inexplicably) from Half A Sixpence.

Sluggish in places, then, but these bits seldom go on way too long. There’s always more prime fun for kids and grown-ups just one or two minutes away.  Regular readers of these reviews will cherish the great in-joke at the end of the show, too. “What shall we do to punish this villain?” they ask about Sylvester McCoy’s captured Abanazar.  “Make him do another tour of Pride And Prejudice!” comes the reply. Cheeky!

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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