Shropshire Events – Review by Chris Eldon Lee
There are two types of tears.
There are the tears of joy that come rolling down your cheeks as you laugh helplessly at yet another brilliantly conceived and perfectly delivered gag.
And there are the tears of heart-breaking sympathy for a beloved character who finally plucks up the courage to tell the girl of dreams that he loves her…only to learn that she loves another.
Either way…a heck of a lot of people came out of Theatre Severn last night looking like pandas. Take my tip. Don’t wear mascara.
The Shrewsbury pantomime this year is truly terrific.
What Evolution Productions does so (apparently) effortlessly is to confide in its audiences that we are all in the same charade together. The genre can be sent up to high heaven (and it is) but if we all pretend it’s for real, we’ll all have so much more fun.
Key to this is the brilliance of Brad Fitt. This year he lets others make the quick frock changes and appears as Buttons … which allows him to reveal a secret side of his panto persona … pathos.
Fitt can wring comedy out of any situation he likes. When the Ugly Sisters force Cinderella to tear up her invitation to the Prince’s Ball, Buttons picks up a tiny piece of it, hands it back to her, and says “Well, you could go for ten minutes”. Then, in a beautifully contrived scene, designed to cheer her up, he creates his own cod carriage to take her to the ball, out of a clothes horse and dustbin lids. Overcome by emotion he tries to sing a love song to his heart’s desire…in a ridiculously wrong key. He steps out of convention to ask the band to play it a bit lower and then sings beautifully. In a few moments, he’s combined clever comedy with complete compassion. And it’s totally original. I’ve never seen that scenario in Cinderella before.
Every aspect of this show is spot on. No expense is spared. The assembled talent is magnificent. Even the Good Fairy has a great part, which the superb Joanne Heywood chuckles her way through with her charming Emmerdale accent. Phil Butler’s magic act is like a quick-fire Tommy Cooper and Ryan Bennett plays Prince Charming as if he’s just wandered down from skiving Prep at Shrewsbury School.
The Uglies are brilliantly bolshie and outrageously over the top, dressed as a MacDonald’s meal of a pair of Ice-cream Sundaes. In classic panto style, they pick upon a poor unfortunate man in the audience (last night it was Tony) only to later reveal that ‘Tony’ is depicted on their undies. How clever is that.
They first appear in black and white Friesian blotches with a grass-green trim… apparently oblivious to the fact they resemble a pair of cows. And it gets even cleverer when the kids chorus dances on … dressed just the same.
Victoria MaCabe is a lovely peaches-and-cream Cinderella with an innocent smile and a fine singing voice.
Even Eric Smith. He’s very useful as the butt end of Brad’s jokes of course (“Here’s Eric. That’ll kill the laughs”) but he throws himself into a get-on-down trunk of funk dance routine and an Adam and The Ants impression with great gusto. He has the best Donald Trump gag of the night. He’s a true trooper.
As the years roll by, the audiences revel in knowing what’s coming next. So there’s a cheer when Brad rolls his wheelbarrow on…this year filled with word- play board games; and he only has to fetch the wooden bench to have 600 people beside themselves with anticipation for the ‘it’s behind you’ ghost scene.
What is so special about this year though is the spectacle. Button’s creation of a snow storm and the transformation of Cinders’ dress and carriage is magically done … and not to be spoiled by a spoiler.
It’s all performed in Helga Wood’s picture book settings and neatly parcelled up by Sarah Langley’s far-from-cosy choreography and the Simon Hanson trio’s perfectly pitched musical accompaniment.
At this point in a typical review there’s usually a sentence beginning with the word ‘but’. But … there are no buts. It’s slick, lively and absolutely hilarious.
It’s probably the best pantomime in the world.…and it’s right on our doorstep.