We are greeted by a stage set with Chinese lanterns, dragon motifs, hanging banners with funny writing on them, a meditating coolie. Yes, we’re back in 19th century Imperial China … though they do seem to have washing machines. And Gareth Bale jokes. Not to mention jokes about Runcorn. And 50s rock and roll on the PA system
This year’s Clwyd panto is groaning with good gags and more dodgy one-liners than usual (some of which are time honoured). There are even topical references that suggest Abanazar (a returning Toby Lord) and Nigel Farage might be related. Abanazar will doubtless sue.
There have been several personnel changes this year (including a new director, Hannah Chissick) but Peter Rowe’s Wok ‘N’ Roll pantomime concept is absolutely failsafe and so successful it’s spreading nationwide. With two dozen authentically performed hit songs, lively dance routines and back to back jokes, you simply can’t go wrong.
John Tye is a superbly acrobatic Aladdin, entering with a goal-scorer’s summersault and dancing down the wing like George Best. He’s a truly soulful singer with a Tin Tin quiff, an Oasis accent, and oodles of energy (or should that be noodles of energy). Nicola Martinus-Smith matches him all the way as The Princess. With a silver singing voice and dramatic Dusty Springfield gestures, she’s an ideal Principle Girl.
Sean McKenzie’s Widow Twanky (pictured) is a cheeky chappie with a touch of Les Dawson about him. The gags are delivered fast and flat and he’s quite prepared to wait whilst the audience catches up. I was delighted to see that the Dame’s shopping trolley, laded with visual gigs, has survived the revamp and his laundry scene with Wishy Washy is tried and tested and still very funny.
One of the joys of panto is seeing today’s kids falling about at the routines we so-called grown-ups enjoyed, decades ago.
Henry Roadnight makes his stage debut as Wishy and is clearly here to stay. He looks a bit like a John McEnroe doll…especially when he’s been through his mum’s mangle. His clumsiness extends to putting his foot through an Amp …from which he has to be rescued by a stage hand; leaving the audience wondering if that was in the plot…or not.
The surprise stars are the saxophone playing chorus girls. Rachel Nottingham emerged from the back line as a hugely entertaining Cuddles the Monkey, checking the audience for tasty nits, and Emma Frazer gives the Genie new gusto as a smarmy American game show host…with an excruciatingly faultless accent. Whilst another debutant, Anna Pritchard, has the funniest name in the show, Woo Ishi. (Take your time, it will come to you).
Luke Thornton delivers the best visual gag as the drum-playing Grand Vizier, arriving on a tricycle and wondering how to lock it. And Rowan Talbot has the best dad’s joke, about breaking wind when you’re over 50.
Once they’d found their feet (and I’m not sure starting a panto in meditative mood is ideal) this year’s Clwyd show is just as good as ever. But then it could scarcely have been any better.
Another production of Peter Rowe’s Aladdin can be seen at the Gatehouse Theatre in Stafford until Sunday 8th of January
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.