As it’s Dick Whittington this year…allow me to let the cat out of the bag. Radio Shropshire’s Eric Smith can sing. He can even dance a little. Hard to believe, I know…but he can move …like Sammy Davis (Senior) … and hold a note … longer than Bill Withers. I was most impressed. And the pivotal role of Alderman Fitzwarren gives him more dramatic scope than previous years as a kindly, sensitive father, and a just, apologetic employer.
And it’s the cat that stole the show for me. In an Andrew Lloyd Webber costume and feline Tina Turner hair, the former chorus girl Lucy Parry really shines under her new spotlight. There’s barely a spare moment in this panto but … just keep your eye on her! She’s a real bundle of joy. She moves brilliantly … always on the go … with a constant Cheshire Grin on her happy-go-lucky face. ‘Skin Parts’ are rarely fun to play on stage…but Lucy gives it her all and is consequently the best I’ve ever seen.
Strangely, the cat seemed to acquire the name Maureen on Press Night. Even though she’s called Tommy in the programme, the audience was invited to suggest a name for her. And apparently we came up with Maureen. This calls for a little investigative reporting. Does the audience really christen her something new every night…or is she always called Maureen? I think we should be told.
This is pretty much a perfect panto. It’s innovative and hilarious.
It’s very present day and yet…as always at Shrewsbury…the company is hugely respectful of Britain’s unique pantomime heritage.
Dame Brad Pitt is on wonderful form and conjures up all sorts of classic panto routines – but always with a twist.
This year the set pieces include his precision delivery of the ‘seeming to go down stairs behind the shop counter’ routine. But then he adds an escalator to his mime repertoire, and finally an elevator…including a perfectly timed pause, waiting for the lift to start going down. People around me were asking, “how it does it”? And the answer must surely be ‘practice, brilliance and bionic knees’.
At the other end of the scale, he and Captain Crabstick (loveably played by Ben Thornton) are brave and barmy on board a rocking and rolling Good Ship Lollypop … as they are pitched back and forth across a slippery stage with buckets of well-directed foam. It’s all helpless belly laugh stuff …and it probably hurts the audience more that in hurts them.
And watch out for the Dame’s fabulously funny bathing attire. No photos have been released and I’m sworn to secrecy on the details … but it is simply hilarious – and, Brad tells me, very hot; both to wear and to watch.
And as ever he loves taking the Mick out of the scenery… threatening to attack an obviously plywood security safe with a woodpecker. And his most outrageous costumes make Camilla Batmanghelidjh look shabby.
I simply can’t fault the cast. Jemma Carlisle and Josh James are suitably shy as the young romantics. Vicky Stone is a great, bouncy, bovver boot Fairy Bow Bells….a bit of a cross between Henry Cooper and Victoria Wood. And she was completely un-phased when the end of her wand fell off in the first few minutes.
And there was plenty of West End musical satire from Darren Tough…as the King Rat who dreams of landing a lead part in ‘Cats’.
Add to that some hugely energetic hoofing from the classy chorus and you get what must be one of the best pantos in the country. It only opened on Wednesday. Already 82% of the tickets are sold. So you know what to do.
My favourite joke is from the Dame. “There’s been terrible accident at the end of the M54”. “That’s not an accident. That’s Wolverhampton”.
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