What a joke... but this panto’s great!

HI-HO, hi-ho it’s off to the Alban Arena I go... for the obligatory annual family pilgrimage to a local theatre during panto season, writes Steve Sims.

Friday, 16th December 2011, 4:41 pm

But would the success of Snow White dwarf all other productions I’d seen over the years, or would this be a poisoned apple of a show?

Leading this year’s cast in St Albans was singer/TV star Toyah Willcox as the wicked Queen Ivannah.

She was supported, much to the excitement of my two young children, by CBeebies TV presenter Mr Maker (aka Phil Gallagher) who played Muddles.

You know what you’re going to get with panto – oh, yes you do. So how would the cast keep the audience entertained when we all know how the story is oh so predictably going to turn out?

The answer was by delivering a fabulous experience for young and old alike with great music, comedy, dancing, dazzling costumes and a super script from Evolution Productions.

Toyah’s singing talent is not in question, having had 13 top 40 singles in her career, and with the boos ringing in her ears it was obvious the audience, and indeed the star, were both enjoying every minute as she belted out her songs.

But it was, in fact, Prince Charming’s (David McGranaghan’s) rendition of Michael Buble’s I Just Haven’t Met You Yet which got my three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter to their feet for a bit of a dance first.

What made the Snow White such a great experience for adults too was the sheer number of gags and one-liners littered throughout the script – most of which would have gone over the heads of the youngest members of the audience. More puns were used in two hours here than our newsroom conjures up during the course of a working week (and that’s a lot!).

The standard of the jokes varied (I groaned when the sheer mention of ’80s band T’Pau made me realise somehow they were going to work their way to a ‘China in my hand’ punchline), but all were delivered with such expertise by Herman the Henchman (Bob Golding) and Muddles who scriptwriters had penned all the top lines for.

Here’s just a few of the best...

Herman: “The Queen threw a lump of cheese at me. How mature!”

Mr Maker: “You’re very funny”

Herman: Tell that lot – they think it’s a staring competition.

Queen Ivannah: “Prince Charming where have you been all my life?”

Herman: “He wasn’t born for most of it.”

Queen Ivannah: “I saw someone in the forest acting suspiciously.

Herman: “Yes, there’s been a lot of suspicious acting.”

Then there was the impressive sweet trolley rolled out which saw Muddles and Herman effortlessly hold up confectionery and insert the names of various sweet treats into their dialogue for fully five minutes. Now that must’ve taken hours of rehearsals.

I lost count of the number of puns (some a bit strained) but then Muddles revealed there had in fact been 32 consecutive jokes about sweets – to which Snow White replied: “Oh well, I guess it takes allsorts!”

But the stand-out gag for me came when the wicked queen decided to use her mirror once again to find out if Snow White (played by Jemma Carlisle) was still alive.

Knowing they had deliberately allowed her to escape, Muddles and Herman decided to beat a quick getaway.

“Quick up those stairs,” said Herman pointing to the background set.

Of course they couldn’t skedaddle up what was simply some artwork and the daft line which emerged from Herman’s lips (as if there had been some sinister magic trick performed to make the staircase unclimbable) was a bewildered: “Who would do such a thing?” Well, it made me laugh – I guess you might need to be in the audience to fully appreciate that one!

The children were then kept entertained by Mr Maker’s One Minute Make – an amazing trick whereby the entertainer gave his usual TV feature a panto twist as he created some flowers from a shoe, blue paint and baked beans.

I can’t get through this review without giving the seven dwarves a mention as well. They weren’t quite what you’d expect. Sure, they were all of the required height and excellent in their roles, but their names – Cheeky, Groovy, Sarge, Loopy (Paddy Holden, just 10 years old), Sniffly, Smiler and... er, Brian – showed once again how the scriptwriters wanted to mix things up to keep things fresh.

The whole panto must have been more than two hours long. But for the first time on a trip to either the theatre or cinema neither of my children uttered the dreaded phrase “can I go now?”.

To book tickets visit www.alban-arena.co.uk or call the box office on 01727 844488.

The show runs through until Sunday, January 1 and you’d be a fool to miss this Christmas cracker.