Chris Eldon Lee reviews Brad Fits one woman show which returns to Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn immediately after Christmas
No single man has ever endeared himself to Shrewsbury like Brad Fit. Ten years ago, he took the town’s flagging pantomime and turned into the Rolls Royce of entertainment; directing the show himself and playing the Dame with amazing ability.
Deprived of panto this Christmas, he has bravely taken to the stage – possibly prompted by the tax man – to present his one man, one woman show about the art and history of panto; exploring what he calls his Pantomime Toolbox.
Brad has the enviable knack of being incredibly funny – in a most subtle and personable way. And, of course, he has a ridiculous wardrobe of weird and wonderful frocks. But what is this! With dozens of costumes to choose from, he made his entrance last night in jeans and tee-shirt. For we were about to enjoy an evening with the unplugged, stripped-down Brad … for one split second a little more stripped-down than he intended.
It was all akin to being invited backstage, into his dressing room, for a cosy, fireside chat in which Brad laid bare his life-long passion with panto.
It all started when he was just five years old and was taken to see his first pantomime, Cinderella, at the Norwich Theatre Royal. He recreated that experience before our very eyes; the lights, the music, the dancing girls and the dazzling entrance of the star of the show, Benny from Crossroads, complete with bobble hat. But that first injection of fairy dust set the stage for the rest of his lucky life.
From school he got a job as an usher at the same theatre and then he just fell into making comedy panto props there. He then fell again, from an equally great height, into stage management – which meant he could watch the professionals from the wings – and eventually, as we know, he just dropped into the role of Pantomime Dame.
He was schooled by the great Welsh comedy actor Victor Spinetti and the perennial Pantomime Dame Christopher Biggins. But Brad takes us way back to the origins of panto, paying homage to the long-lost greats such as Joey Grimaldi and Dan Leno… and the more recently departed stalwarts like John Inman, Danny La Rue, Roy Hudd and Dora Bryan.
And only then does he start to put his make up on, on stage, revealing tricks of the trade such as Prit Stick and Copydex. “It’s alright ladies, they’re water soluble and non-toxic.”
He’s not alone on stage. His regular music director Simon Hanson is seated at his grand piano (decked with toilet rolls) and suddenly we can appreciate what a superb pianist he has been all along. His fellow panto stars Harry Winchester and Victoria McCabe pop in to sing some Christmas Classics … and his old mucker Eric Smith drops by with a mug of tea to reveal Brad’s wicked habit of making him giggle at inopportune moments, like Snow White’s funeral scene.
And now, in full face paint and befrocked, Brad launches into the Coronavirus comedy routine that would have been in the panto, had it happened. “Covid 18. Have you heard of it?”. “Hands, Face, Space, Knees and Bumps-a-daisy”. And his redefinition of the phrase “Bubble Bath” is worth the ticket price alone.
It is a lovely, heart-warming, confessional evening. Yes, he really was Christened Brad Fit, and, yes, another actor with a similar name really has been the bane of his life. His rendition of the song “The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom” took me right back to me very first panto when I was 5 years old watching Sandy Powell (I think) in Manchester.
In my first review of Brad, a decade ago, I wrote, “If Noel Coward had ever done panto, he would have been quite like Brad Fit”. But I doubt The Master could have held an audience like Brad did last night.
The show is a great success, and more performances are now scheduled for after Christmas. So, he’ll have to do it again then…won’t he. Wooo!
Visit www.theatresevern.co.uk for bookings & information about Theatre Severn