The annual shining light that Peter Rowe set ablaze at Theatre Clwyd all those years ago … is burning even more brightly this Christmas.
Writer Christian Patterson, director Zoe Waterman, choreographer Will Tuckett and musical director Tayo Akinbode have taken the ‘best panto in the world’ and revamped and revitalised it to make it even better. And the excellent news this year is that the old sparring partners Phylip Harries and Daniel Lloyd are back on stage together and once more winding each other up, fit to bust. It really is difficult to spot what has been immaculately rehearsed … and what is the sheer cheek of the moment.
The show abounds with oodles of farts, lots and lots of Dick jokes, Clwyd’s trademark furry animals (Brian and Barbara Badger very near stole the show with their ‘set’ joke), giant cakes, and particularly authentic recreations of famous songs … which now encompass not only the expected 60s hits, but also the recent work of Ed Sheeran. It’s a sheer joy. But – gasp, horror – Christmas this year was so very nearly cancelled.
It’s always an ominous sign when the company’s artistic director steps on stage in mufti just before the show. The news was that with just three days to go to press night, Emmy Stonelake (billed to play Alice) had done her knee in. Luckily, the assistant director, Francesca Goodridge has a BA (hons) in acting and knew the show. And so, she went on, without a script, and went down a storm. Only once did the Dame heroically dig her out of a hole…but, such is Mr Harries’ reputation, it wasn’t clear if that was a put-up job as well.
Phyl Harries has to be the best in the business. Which other Dame would tell the audience to ‘grow up’ and get away with it. She’s a Prop Forward of a Dame with a prehensile tongue and a greater range of gurning than Les Dawson. Her (sorry ‘his’) energy and excitement flash through the show like forked lightning. She’s only overweight because she’s had a lot on her plate and no ludicrous costume is complete without two big sticky buns on her chest (where else) or a seagull on her head.
The byplay with Dan Lloyd’s ‘Major Wally’ kicks off with an excruciatingly funny routine about roadworks in Wrexham (it went on so long, no wonder there are delays) and the admission that he looks a bit like a chubby Aled Jones. From the stage, he asked critics not to mention that – which is alright by me because I reckon he much more resembles Bridget.
When he opens his mouth, Peter Mooney’s Dick Whittington is a surprise. He’s broad Irish … which gives an extra smugness to his Brexit joke. Asking the kids if they “want to be in his gang”, he points out it’ll only cost them 20 quid. Needless to say (spoiler alert) he winds up as “Mayor Of Mold and All It’s Charity Shops”. His cat, Toby Falla, who comes on to ‘Tiger Feet’ is amazingly athletic and can make a mere ‘meiow’ sound rude. In addition, he plays drums frantically and caterwauls catastrophically.
The immortals also mercilessly take the rise out of themselves. Anna Westlake – with her faulty magic leak – complains to the audience that it’s no joke having to speak in rhyme all the time and threatens Royce Cronin’s King Rat with the Rentokil Man. In retaliation he sings “Like a Rat Out Of Hell” as loudly as possible. It’s difficult to know which of your ribs hurt the most.
Okay, it’s all a formula; of course it is. But it’s a fabulous formula and each year it’s refined and refined until it is the very panicle of panto perfection. If you are even contemplating not going, please “turn again”.
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.
Photo : Sam Taylor