Tag Archives: Niki Evans

Panto Perfection

CINDERELLA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 9th December, 2014

 

The Grand’s pantomime this year is the classic Cinderella and I have to say it’s perfect.

Julian Clary heads the cast, so to speak, not in the title role but as the Prince’s right hand man, Dandini in a series of evermore elaborate outfits.  Clary’s act is a good fit for panto: the relentless innuendo (he slips one in every other minute, they come thick and fast, etc…) and the mocking of the grown-ups in the audience – these have been panto staples for centuries.

But here’s what’s magic about this production: no single element or personality is allowed to dominate.  This is not merely a vehicle for Clary to sell his hilarious wares.  Everything blends to create a perfect piece of entertainment – I’ve used the P word twice now and will do again before this review is over.

There is spectacle and special effects, singing and dancing and slapstick – everything you’d expect, and it all works in concert to dazzling and highly entertaining effect.

Niki Evans, flying in on a crescent moon, as the Fairy Godmother is clearly in her element.  She is afforded opportunities to show off her belter of a pop-star voice and practically twinkles with panto charm.  Her native Black Country accent adds comedy and bathos to some of her more outlandish declamations.  Absolutely delightful.

Joe Tracini (latterly ‘Dennis’ off of Hollyoaks) is an irrepressible and lovable Buttons, demonstrating an impressive range of skills from slapstick to magic tricks to singing… The man is a great ball of showbiz and thoroughly endearing.  His knockabout japes are the perfect (there I go again) foil for Clary’s sniper-like sarcasm and double entendres.

Ben Stock and Tony Jackson are the Ugly Sisters – a wickedly funny, bitchy pair of drag queens and – here’s the test of the Ugly Sisters – they play the invitation-tearing scene with exquisite evil.  Their bullying elicits genuine gasps from the kiddies in the audience, and is all the more effective thanks to a charming and vivacious portrayal of Cinderella herself by Alice Barker.

Speaking of Charming, Will Richardson is the dashing Prince.  For the most part he’s the ‘straight man’ to Julian Clary, but when we get to the ballroom scene, his duet with Alice Barker is lovely.  Director Andrew Lynford knows when to turn on the romance – indeed, he gives all aspects of the story and all the ingredients of pantomime time to come to the fore when necessary.  (Have I mentioned yet that this show is perfect?)

Iain Stuart Robertson is an affable Baron Hardup, and Ian Gledhill’s Lord Chamberlain shows what can be achieved by a strong character actor in a minor role.  With a chorus of dancers, a troupe of babes and a small but hardworking band (under the musical direction of David Lane), energy fills the auditorium.  I had such a good time.

In all honesty, I can’t fault the production.  If you’re looking for traditional fare for your seasonal entertainment , you won’t go wrong with this one.

Magic.

Julian Clary as Dandini

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Fee Fi Fo FUN!

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 11th December, 2012

 As usual, the Wolverhampton pantomime is a lot of fun, adhering to the winning formula of corny jokes and barely relevant pop songs to enrich the retelling of a traditional story.  The script by Jonathan Kiley and Michael Vivian hits all the plot points you expect with extra helpings of silliness along the way.

It is a curious thing in Pantoland that all the villages are populated by troupes of young dancers and small children.  They perform an energetic opening number, led by Princess Apricot (Sophie Brooke-Ford) who has been seeing a commoner on the downlow: the eponymous Jack, played by Ben James-Ellis, who is the ideal pantomime hero.  He’s handsome, sings, dances, and displays a neat line in cod heroic posturing and over-the-top reactions.

The traditional giant’s henchman, Fleshcreep, has been given a sex change and a new identity in order to accommodate Sherrie Hewson as “Lady Temple-Savage”.  She appears in a range of glamorous outfits, all sequins and feathers, and is not shy of sending herself up.  It didn’t matter that she lost her grip on some of the material – in fact it added to the fun.  I enjoyed booing her very much.

Ken Morley is King Crumble, in a bumbling, funny characterisation – I was pleased that his and Hewson’s Coronation Street connection was only alluded to and not done to death.   Niki Evans impresses as Fairy Fortune – her voice works very well with James-Ellis’s in a couple of rousing numbers.  Most of the fun and audience interaction comes from Keith Harris and little green duck Orville.  It struck me that the kids in the audience might not know who he is.  They certainly did by the end of the evening.  Harris remains a skilled and talented ventriloquist but it is when he replaces the duck for the anarchic monkey Cuddles that his act really takes off.  The jokes become more puerile and ever nearer the knuckle, delighting children and adults on different (low) levels.

For me the shining star of the night is veteran of 38 pantomimes, Nigel Ellacott, who storms the stage as Jack’s ‘mother’, Dame Trot.  His performance is a master class in pantomime technique, a controlled display yet he is able to improvise and adlib as the need arises.  It is performers of this calibre that keep this theatrical form alive, rather than TV stars and ‘reality celebs’ just mucking around.

Andrew Lynford’s direction takes in traditional business and contemporary references, keeping the energy levels high for most of the show.  The performance I saw was still early in the run – the routines and gags will settle in, and the cast will bond into a more tightly knit ensemble with every show they do.

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Picture credit: Gavin Dickson Photography