Tag Archives: Tam Ryan

Wishing and Washing


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 14th December, 2022

Aladdin has always been a curious mix as a pantomime, based on a tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lot of Chinese reference points chucked in.  Writer-director Will Brenton overcomes the outdated stereotypes by translating the action from Old Peking to ‘Shangri-Fa’, located somewhere in The Mystical East.  Therefore, in terms of costumes and scenery, anything vaguely Asian goes!

And it’s a good-looking show, blending old-school scenic elements with a video cyclorama. 

The action kicks off with villainous Abanazar (Michael Greco off of EastEnders) revealing his dastardly plot.  He unleashes the Spirit of the Ring (Zoe Birkett) who, Magic Mirror-like, tells him the only person pure of heart in the vicinity happens to be the title character, who also happens to be something of a thief.  Or, as he would put it, a redistributor of wealth.  Greco is great, melodramatic and pompous, lacing the bombast with a wry sense of humour.  Birkett is fantastic, with a chirpy Northern charm and a singing voice to die for.  I’d be happy if the entire show morphed into a concert of hers, to be honest. Her ‘Defying Gravity’ while Aladdin soars on a magic carpet, is just wonderful.

In the title role, Ben Cajee is appealing but the characterisation is, ironically, wishy-washy.  Returning to the Grand for another go, this time to appear as Aladdin’s brother Wishee-Washee is the excellent Tam Ryan.  In fact, we have to wait for his first entrance to get the first joke of the night.  Also making a welcome return is Ian Adams as a long-suffering Widow Twankey.  Ryan and Adams, separately and together, are the comedic pulse of a production which is uneven in tone.

Instead of an emperor or sultan, Shangri-Fa is ruled by a twit of a bureaucrat, a bumbling Notary (Ian Billings) who is out to line his own pockets, believing billionaires to be better than the rest of us.  This change means his daughter, Jasmine (Sofie Anne) is denied her princess status, freeing her to share Aladdin’s social conscience.  It seems that pantomime is drawing lines in the sand this year.  Wealth should be for everyone and not just those at the top, Aladdin and Jasmine agree.  I welcome this refreshing change: panto has always been a popular art-form and has always satirised those in charge.  There seems to be a distinct move to speak up for the people this year.  Unfortunately, the Notary who has the power to say who may or may not get married, just fizzles out of the storyline and the thread is left unresolved.  Here is a character who needs to learn the error of his ways.  Also left hanging is Wishee-Washee’s attraction to Zoe Birkett.  It’s usual in panto for everyone to get a happy ending, but even Twankey doesn’t get a man.

There is much to enjoy, of course.  Duane Gooden’s big hearted (and big bellied) Genie, the hard-working ensemble of dancers, a slosh scene in the laundry… But for me, it doesn’t hang together as a coherent whole.

And there’s the rub.

☆ ☆ ☆ and a half

Bopping Beppe: Michael Greco making his di Marco as Abanazar (Photo: Alex Styles)

Prance Charming


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 7th November, 2021

It’s great to be back at the beautiful Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, after a year with no pantomime.  This year’s offering hits all the right notes, living up to our expectations of the famous story while delivering a few surprises along the way.

Writer-director Will Brenton tinkers with the conventional approach in a number of ways.  First up, the Wicked Sisters aren’t dames!  Gasp!  They’re two young ladies played by female actors!  Gasp!  While initially I feel cheated out of a couple of drag queens, this spoilt rotten pair soon win me over.  As Tess and Claudia (there’s a Strictly theme here) Ella Biddlecombe and Britt Lenting make a strong impression.  Their nastiness is purely on the inside.

Don’t worry, the show still has a dame, in the form of seasoned old pro Ian Adams, making a welcome return to the Grand as Penny Pockets, something of an extraneous character in terms of the plot, but a safe pair of hands if you’re looking for fun.

Brenton adds an evil stepmother to the mix, Baroness Hardup, played with relish by Julie Stark, who makes Cruella look like a pussycat.   She is an excellent contrast to Evie Pickerill’s appealing Cinderella, who is sweet and lively, but can also sing like an angel.  Every female performer in this show has a superb singing voice, it appears, none more so than the mighty Denise Pearson (of 5-Star fame) as the Fairy Godmother, sending shivers spinewards.  Pearson gets a few good numbers – a wise move!

Among the fellas, Tam Ryan’s Buttons has real star quality.  Despite the pangs of his unrequited love, Buttons brings the funny, and Ryan never flags for a second.

Topping the bill are the Pritchard brothers, AJ and Curtis.  Formerly a pro-dancer on Strictly, AJ is, of course, Prince Charming, twirling, prancing and sparkling around, as handsome as a Disney Prince action figure.  The choreography by Racky Plews plays to AJ’s strengths, affording him plenty of opportunities to show what he can do, and he is, it has to be said, a lovely little mover.  Curtis, as Dandini, perhaps has more to prove, and he does it, and then some!  He is an accomplished dancer too, can sing well and even juggle, in a winning performance that cements his reputation as a star in his own right.

On the whole, Brenton’s changes work.  Importantly, he preserves the key moments and executes them very well: The breaking of Buttons’s heart, for example, and arguably the cruellest scene in all panto, the tearing up of Cinderella’s invitation to the ball.  Mark Walters’s set comprises video images as a changing backdrop, which are all very well, but I miss the old-school gauzes and cloths flying in and out.  The videos are too slick, robbing the show of some of its traditional theatricality.

There is much to enjoy here, well-worn routines, groanworthy gags, and plenty of audience participation—from a COVID-safe distance, of course.  It all adds up to a grand night out with something for all the family.  AJ dancing and Denise Pearson singing?  There’s your money’s worth right there.


AJ Pritchard as Prince Charming, with Curtis Pritchard as Dandini (Photo: Tim Thursfield)

Let’s Call The Whole Thing Hoff


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th November, 2015


Yet another jukebox musical is doing the rounds. This one cobbles together tunes from the 80s and early 90s. The setting is the party island of Ibiza and the plot, such as it is, concerns young Penny from Wales, flying out to spend time with her estranged father who runs a club. On the way she meets and falls for a club rep – Daddy doesn’t approve of their relationship, even though he is now seeing a woman half his age. Add to this a storyline about the drugs scene – the wide-boy bouncer is selling ecstasy in the club – and, well, that’s about it.

It’s a loud, brash, colourful affair and all a bit too holiday-camp for my liking, where importuning people to clap along means you’re giving them a good time. We are encouraged to take selfies to be projected on screen during the interval. No, thank you.

The big draw of the show is David Hoff (he doesn’t want the Hassel anymore) as club owner, Ross. Never one to take himself too seriously, there are lots of in-jokes and direct references to his earlier career, including an obligatory Baywatch routine. It just seems a little tired. He gives us a passable rendition of Barry Manilow’s Even Now but later songs have him just yelling. The comic timing is there, especially in scenes with Tam Ryan as Spanish barman Jose (who must be the grandson of Andrew Sachs’s Manuel). The presence of the Hoff is not enough to keep me enthused, in this almost relentless barrage of light and noise.

Tam Ryan is an asset – with his ad libs and juggling – and Barry Bloxham’s drug-pushing Ebenezer (what else?!) makes you want to boo him for all the right reasons.  There’s a bizarre scene when the Hoff unwittingly drops an E that has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Like other shows of its kind, there is a bid to cram in as many songs as possible, never mind how tenuous the relevance. It’s a nostalgia fest, basically. But unlike shows which celebrate other eras in popular music, here the genres covered tend not to allow for emotive singing. There is something dispassionate about it, which doesn’t help us to engage or the characters to grow. Penny (a likeable Stephanie Webber) alone with club rep paramour Rik (Shane Richie Junior) at last, bursts forth with a hi-energy rendition of Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. It’s the crack-your-nuts-with-a-sledgehammer approach. By the end of the show I feel like I’ve been beaten about the head with the entire collection of House Anthems and Now That’s What I Call Music.

Director Jon Conway’s script has an affable quality to it – I like corny jokes – but this is barely a step away from panto for grown-ups. There is enough colour and energy coming from the cast to make you want to like it: the costumes by Linda Lusardi and Lucy Kane scream ‘Fun!’, and the chorus hurl themselves through Chris Baldock’s in-period choreography with boundless enthusiasm. But it’s just not doing it for me. The wafer-thin subplots with their facile resolutions, the forced nature of the audience participation, and the fact that I didn’t particularly like the music the first time around, all serve to put me off. Undemanding, I don’t mind. Uninvolving, is a waste of time.

Plenty of people were having a great time, though. If you’re looking for light and unchallenging fare, a trip down Memory Lane on the Vengabus, this might be the show for you. It’s just not my cup of tea.


The Hoff during one of the show’s rare quiet moments (Photo: Linda Lusardi)