Tag Archives: Barney Harwood

Peter Panto

PETER PAN

Theatre Royal, Nottingham, Sunday 15th December, 2013

 

Every time I go to see a version of Peter Pan, I am struck by how it’s invariably a mixed bag of a thing: neither a pure pantomime nor a ‘straight’ (for want of a better term) play.  The J M Barrie original acknowledges the audience and encourages participation (and woe betide any version that doesn’t invite us to aver our belief in fairies!).

This one begins, play-like, in the nursery – as opposed to the usual chorus of dancing villagers that begins most pantomimes.  When Peter Pan (Barney Harwood) flies in through the window, he also breaks the fourth wall, and we’re off.  Looking trimmer than ever (thanks to the rigours of his Blue Peter challenges) Harwood is effortlessly boyish and innocent and yet again I am reminded of the high quality of his singing voice.  Many a talent show wannabe would kill to have such a pop-star sound. He is not alone: Wendy (Hannah Nicholas), Tinkerbell (Isobel Hathaway) and Tiger Lily (Billie Kay) all have impressive voices – the songs are ‘originals’ and tuneful enough, but I like to hear familiar if incongruous numbers in a panto; something we can all sing along with.

Su Pollard, playing to a home crowd, is good value as magical mermaid Mimi, essentially playing the dame’s role.  It’s a pity she doesn’t get a range of outlandish outfits to show off but her off-colour jokes are aimed squarely at the older members of the audience are very funny.  She is beaten in the comedy stakes however by Ben Nickless as Mr Smee.  Nickless embodies the most traditional elements of the show, an old-school entertainer – we quickly overlook he is on the side of the baddie.

And what a baddie it is!  As Captain Hook, David Hasselhoff is remarkable.  If you think Americans don’t ‘get’ panto, think again.  He strides around like a colossus, thoroughly at home in his characterisation and a script that is riddled with Hoff-mockery.   Of course there are Baywatch and Knight Rider gags – how could there not be? – but The Hoff takes it all on the chin and somehow retains his dignity, his glorious, cheesy dignity.  I think I’m in love.

And so this particular version of Peter Pan rattles along at a fair pace, providing plenty to entertain everyone.  It hits all the plot points, entertains kids and adults of all ages, is camper than Christmas and leaves you with a big grin on your face.  Highly recommended.

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Hoff the Hook

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Muddling Through

SLEEPING BEAUTY

New Theatre, Cardiff, Sunday 20th January, 2013

There is a generation of panto stalwarts among the entertainers of this country that is guaranteed to bring in the crowds; big names who attract a lot of business to local theatres and who have been playing the circuit for years and doing it very well, thank you.  Unfortunately, they are no longer eligible for the title roles – too old to be a dashing Prince or a pretty Princess, they take on the supporting character roles: the villain’s henchman, the comic turn…  And so we get some rather curiously skewed versions of the traditional tales in order to make the most of the star billing.  This is reflected in the promotional material.

Thus this production of Sleeping Beauty has posters of its star Joe Pasquale, and Joe Pasquale alone.  You don’t have to read much further to realise he’s not in the title role.

The performance I attended – the penultimate, as it turned out – featured Blue Peter’s Barney Harwood, deputising for Pasquale who  has been spending his Sundays dancing on ice (or trying to).  I selected this particular performance with care, having seen Pasquale before…

Barney Harwood is “Muddles” the court jester – a character who is really Buttons by another name.  He performs exactly the same function as Buttons in Cinderella (some scenes are direct lifts from that show!) – with added emphasis because it’s now the star part.  This turned out to be a good thing; you get a lot of Barney Harwood for your money.  He has a laidback performance style, which means he can throw away lines, but he is also able to crank up the silliness.  Obviously he’s delivering Pasquale lines and mucking around with Pasquale props, but Harwood’s comparative youth and good looks help him to put across the corniest and most puerile of gags.  When he bows his head in pathos, broken-hearted over his unrequited love for the Princess, it’s touching (in a panto kind of way).  Harwood is also possessed of a very pleasant pop-singing voice but rest assured we are never far away from yet another fart joke.

He is supported by the remarkable Ceri Dupree, the most glamorous Dame, as Queen Passionella , whose outfits go for exaggerated Las Vegas showgirl glamour rather than the out-and-out silliness of other dames in other shows.  With more ostrich feathers than a David Attenborough series about the Life of Ostriches, and a largely deadpan delivery, this Queen is an imposing figure, dishing out the double entendres for the grown-ups.  Her entrance (and I use the term carefully) involves a stirring rendition of “It’s Raining Men” – which brings me to another point I’d like to make about the modern pantomime.

Some pantos include original songs.  Regardless of the quality of these, I always think this is a mistake.  For me a key ingredient of pantomime is the barely-relevant but recognisable popular song.  These are as important as the topical jokes and the references to local places.  The audience knows where it is with a well-known song.  This show opens with not one but two original numbers and so it’s a while before we’re on familiar ground and are invited to take part in the performance.  It’s more like watching the opening of a new musical than an icebreaker to kick-start a panto.

That said, Lucy Williamson (evil Carabosse) and Shona White (benevolent Enchantress) are in excellent voice in duets that are more like duels – although I think Evil wins out in the costume stakes.  Williamson clearly relishes her part and handles hecklers mercilessly.

Lucy Evans is a likeable Princess Beauty, upstaged by her very handsome Prince (Alexis Gerred) who sends up the dashing hero, with cape-swishing and thigh-slapping a-plenty.  He and Harwood share some hilarious moments involving powdered custard.  I also enjoyed Michael Peluso as Carabosse’s hunchbacked son and henchman.  He was underused, I thought.

There is not one but two 3D sequences, with insects and spiders launching themselves into the screaming faces of the audience.  Good fun but I was disappointed by the moment the Prince awakens Beauty with a kiss.  Director Jonny Bowles could have made more of that pivotal scene.  In this one, she sits up straight away and that’s that.

The show is ultimately Harwood’s.  His boyish energy and cheeky charm win everyone over.  Considering he had something like four days to learn the part, he muddles through excellently.  I made the right choice.

Cardiff-Sleeping_Beauty_2012-2013

 See what I mean?


Having a Barney

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Churchill Theatre, Bromley, Sunday 8th January, 2012


Of all the pantomimes, Snow White is probably the one that is most indelibly marked by the Disney version. Our expectations are both met and confounded in this production. We get several of the classic songs, Whistle While You Work, Someday My Prince Will Come, and so forth, but because of copyright restrictions, the dwarves have to be given different names. Grumpy becomes Grouchy, Dopey becomes Soppy and so on. But this is all by the by. If you want to watch Disney’s seminal version, do so. I was there to see a pantomime and enjoy the tropes of the genre as they stand – that is where my expectations lie.

The show – and this was its final performance – does not disappoint. The elements of traditional panto are all there, apart from the cross-dressing: no dame, no principal boy, but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

The familiar tale is diverted in this version by the character of Muddles, the court jester, a sort of Buttons figure, who encourages most of the audience participation and interaction. Played by TV’s Barney Harwood, this is no bad thing at all. His cheeky face is matched by his cheeky humour. Less of a jester and more of a naughty schoolboy, Muddles ambles his way through the plot, mocking the authority figures and entertaining his friends. There is more toilet humour here than in any panto I’ve seen this season. He wouldn’t get away with this on Blue Peter. Harwood is a confident, easy-going presence on the stage, able to throw away lines and clown around in an exaggerated manner. There is always a twinkle in his eye and a knowing look to the audience. The kids all adore him anyway and it is not an arduous task for him to win over the mums and dads.

As the Wicked Queen, Patsy Kensit does her share of chewing the scenery. She has her moments and is clearly enjoying herself. She doesn’t get to sing so there is no danger of hearing any of her Eighth Wonder songs like…um, well, you know, that one…

Sarah Lark, from the Search-for-a-Nancy TV talent show, is a likeable and energetic Snow White (the costume is pure Disney) but the surprise of the night comes in the form of Prince Frederick (Ben Harlow) a tall, gangling figure, preening and posturing like a male model-cum-matinee idol. It is a lovely touch that adds humour to what can be a bland character.

Technically, the show gives us figures appearing in a giant crystal ball and a video projection for the Magic Mirror – most of our enjoyment comes from Barney Harwood and his double act with former EastEnders scruffbag, David Spinx as Ramsbottom, the Queen’s henchman. He plays a mean electric guitar, let me tell you.

Unlike some other productions, this one gives us real-live actual dwarves, some of them better performers than others. I particularly liked Nathan Phillips as Grouchy and Lauren Harrand as Kip. There was a poignant scene around Snow White’s coffin and even a darker tone with the Wicked Queen being punished rather than rehabilitated as in some versions.

Judging by the numbers in attendance and the buzz of excitement as the audience shuffled to the exits, I’d say panto is alive and well as long as shows of this standard continue to be produced.