Tag Archives: Gary Watson

Strictly the Best


Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 3rd January, 2018


It’s my final panto of the season and I’ve saved the biggest until last.  The Hippodrome’s annual extravaganza can be relied on to provide glitz and spectacle, almost to excess – Can you have too many sequins?  I think not.

In the title role, Suzanne Shaw is a spirited Cinderella, warm and friendly and assured – Alan McHugh’s script doesn’t give Cinders chance to demonstrate her goodness (and therefore worthiness for the Prince) – there is no gathering firewood for an old woman scene, for example; we have to take her goodness as hearsay…

Local girl and soul diva Beverley Knight is absolutely stunning as the Fairy Godmother – vocally, a dream, but she also enters into the panto spirit, playing on her Wolverhampton accent to comic effect.  A duet with one Grumbleweed (hilariously sabotaged by the other one) is a highlight of the evening.  Yes, the Grumbleweeds are back, having undergone something of a Sugababes change in line-up.  They bring old-school, variety club comedy to their roles as the Broker’s Men – their routine involving a treacherous padded stool remains funny no matter how many times you see it.

Hollyoaks heartthrob Danny Mac is perfectly cast as Prince Charming and, of course, there is plenty of opportunity to show off his Strictly skills.  Watching on the telly is one thing, but nothing beats the impact of seeing such dancing and showmanship demonstrated live.  Almost impossibly handsome, Mac could make a living as a Disney prince.  He is supported by Gary Watson’s camp and likeable Dandini, but Mac’s highlight is a dance-off with the Hippodrome’s resident funny man, Matt Slack, back for his umpteenth year in a row.

Slack is in his element as Buttons.  Hardly what you might call a subtle performer, he manages to wring a little pathos into Buttons’s unrequited love for Cinders, and his routine with children volunteers from the audience shows off his skills and tests his professionalism.  The show affords him chance to rattle off innuendo (there’s a snack-related scene and one in which he lip-synchs to a host of song clips) and we know we’re in safe hands for a good laugh.  There is one moment, however, when the wheels almost come off.  It is usually the prerogative of the villain to insult the audience – otherwise, any interplay with individuals is usually good-natured and cheeky.  Here though, Slack turns a video camera on the crowd, projecting faces onto a screen for all to see.  It’s excruciatingly uncomfortable and unnecessary, and more to do with Theatre of Cruelty than pantomime.  That part aside, this is a marvellously entertaining production.

Here the Ugly Sisters are vicious drag queens: Voluptua (a deadpan Ceri Dupree) and Verucca (a gurning David Dale) swan around in ridiculously OTT outfits, spouting barbed remarks, many of them off-colour.  It’s wonderful stuff but their nastiness is in keeping with the needs of the plot: their bullying of Cinderella loses none of its cruelty, much as we enjoy their bitchiness.

The transformation scene that closes the first act is splendid on the grand scale but it is the dancing and the old-fashioned humour that really make this show sparkle, with Beverley Knight and Danny Mac bringing the star quality to a solid and skillful cast.


Having a ball: Suzanne Shaw and Danny Mac


Little Dahlings

Cambridge Theatre, London, Saturday 21st January, 2012

Revolting children! – This is the title of one of the songs and usually my reaction to child actors on stage. Somehow, the RSC has put together a troupe of young performers that blows away all preconceptions of the quality and nature of the beast. They present a quadruple threat: they act, sing, dance AND they’re young.

The production survives the transfer from the RSC’s Courtyard and its thrust stage to the Cambridge’s 1930s proscenium with very few changes to the staging. Inevitably some of the immediacy of the experience is reduced because of the fourth wall, but this is still a funny, inventive and, perhaps unexpectedly so, very moving show.

Based on a Roald Dahl novel, its themes are beyond those that appear on the surface. Bad parenting is not just neglect and abuse. The opening number brilliantly satirises the kind of middle class breeder who brings their offspring up in the belief that they are a miracle, or a princess, only to give the world a generation of brats whose overinflated view of themselves leads to delinquency. These parents have the gall to blame teachers who accurately report that the child is less than perfect. This is the most pertinent comment the show makes on education. Elsewhere, opposing philosophies are polarised: Miss Trunchbull’s tyranny is contrasted with Miss Honey’s syrupy child-centred approach.

But this is not just a show about child-rearing and schooling. There is much to do with rebellion and civil disobedience, the overthrow of a dictator and the power of the imagination. There is plenty that is scathing about the dumbing-down of culture, with television held largely culpable. There is a beautiful song, performed on playground swings that arc out beyond the proscenium, which gives us a child’s-eye view of what it must be like to be an adult. It is poignant and charming and speaks to everyone. With music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, the score has everything a musical should: Melodic songs with clever, witty lyrics that reveal character and develop plot AND speak to us of the human condition. This is art.

Bertie Carvel as deranged headmistress Agatha Trunchbull gives a colossal performance. Sinister, monstrous and very funny, he is compelling to watch and almost, but not quite, steals the show from the tiny leading lady, Eleanor Worthington-Cox as the eponymous Matilda who is astounding. It’s difficult to heap the praise on her she deserves without sounding patronising. She, and the rest of the children in the company, need to be seen to be believed and I defy anyone to detect anything stilted or parrot-fashion about them.

I really enjoyed Josie Walker and Peter Howe as Matilda’s parents. She is peroxide blonde, mutton dressed as Katie Price and he an oafish, wide boy used car salesman, all mouth and garish trousers. True Dahlian grotesques, their cruelty and selfishness are outrageous, their come-uppance well-deserved. But, as Matilda herself learns, there is more to life than revenge. She rescues her feckless father from a severed drubbing at the hands of the Russian mafia, proving that education indeed has its uses and in a touching moment of forgiveness, teaches him a lesson in humanity.

I make special mention of Gary Watson’s hilarious cameo as Matilda’s mother’s dance partner, Rudolpho but really the entire company is a cut above.

Rob Howell’s set, all building blocks, bookcases, and school desks that come up from the floor, is evocative and versatile. Director Matthew Warchus makes the stage a playground on which the cast have tons of fun. The final image of Miss Honey and Matilda walking off into the sunset, performing one final cartwheel each is beauty, simple and touching.

With its book by Dennis Kelly, Matilda is the best new musical currently in the West End but you may need some of its heroine’s superpowers to get yourself a ticket.