Tag Archives: Lucy Evans

Chuckles with the Chuckles

PETER PAN

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th December, 2015

 

Every pantomime version of Peter Pan has expectations to fulfil: people expect to see certain things from the original play as well as all the fun and overt theatricality of the pantomime. Alan McHugh’s adaptation satisfies on most levels: quite a few of J M Barrie’s lines make it into the script, and we get everything we could wish from a panto – apart from a dame, which is a shame, but there is no space for one in this fun-packed adventure.

Ross Carpenter is instantly appealing as a boisterous, Puckish Pan, with a chuckle in his voice (no, not one of those Chuckles) showing how much Peter enjoys his life – something some Pans I have seen don’t seem to do. He flies with grace and runs around with boyish energy. Wendy, a difficult part because she’s often so serious, is played with wide-eyed wonder by Hannah Nicholls. Their opening scenes – indeed, much of the Barrie-like scenes – are played well but at high speed. Director David Burrows has us rattling through the story at a rate of knots; the characters have no thinking time. This is all well and good if we are familiar with the tale, but even then I want them to slow down just a little.

John Altman enjoys himself as a snarling Captain Hook, stalking around the stage and wielding a massive hook. He looks fabulous in his extravagant costume – he deserves better songs to sing. And this is true of the whole shebang. The cast do their best to sell the musical numbers, singing and dancing their hearts out, but we would prefer to hear some better-known tunes. At one point, Peter Pan asks us to join in with his crocodile song but we don’t because we can’t – we don’t know it.

Lucy Evans is good fun as a stroppy, spitefully childish Tinkerbell, while Kimmy Edwards’s Tiger Lily is exotic and in great voice. Local boys James Shaw and Archie Turner appear as John and Michael, making their professional debuts and demonstrating commitment and focus throughout. You’d think they’d been doing this for years.

Who has been doing this for years: the undisputed stars of the show, the Chuckle Brothers. Their old-school style of comedy is the perfect fit for pantomime. But here’s the bonus: the routines and skits they give us are not the commonplace moments that crop up in every panto. This brings a freshness and an air of anything-might-happen to proceedings. Seemingly effortless, Paul and Barry are supreme entertainers: the comic timing is impeccable and the interplay between their personas is never short of hilarious. Watch out for a scene with a cucumber, and a simple but effective bit involving grown-up audience participation – a refreshing change from the parade of little kids that is usually brought up for a sing-song. At first it seems that their scenes interrupt the main story but they soon become integrated into the plot, as the Smee Brothers, wannabe pirates with a conscience.

The ensemble works hard: Hook turns out to be an equal opportunities employer – there are as many sexy female pirates as there are camp male ones. Steven Harris’s choreography keeps the stage vibrant and busy, even if the songs are a tad uninspiring. Under the baton of MD David Lane, the band keeps energy levels high. And that’s what you want, in the end. You want entertainment and fun. This Peter Pan delivers belly laughs and spectacle – Hook’s pirate ship is especially striking. There is something for everyone – if the yelling of a child sitting behind me that he believes in fairies, and the lecherous exclamations of a nearby dad, seeing Tinker Bell for the first time, are anything to go by.

The Chuckle Brothers as Paul & Barry Smee

The Chuckle Brothers as Paul and Barry Smee

 Playing until Sunday 24th January, 2016 – Tickets available from the Box Office on 01902 429212 or book online at the website.

 

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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?