"It was brilliant, excellent, fantastic!"
by Ed Barrett for remotegoat on 28/11/19

Yay! It’s that time of year again! Time for [drum-roll] – The Everyman Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto!

This year’s offering of Sleeping Beauty (as you’ve never seen it before) is subtitled ‘Bohemian Napsody’; but there’s no danger of any of the audience dropping off, as this is the usual fabulous cocktail of high-octane hilarity, mayhem, drama and jeopardy. Even my daughter Ella showed no signs of flagging, despite being up well beyond her normal bedtime (and on a school night, too).

As always, writers Sarah A. Nixon and Mark Chatterton match the momentum of their storytelling with a wonderful sense of fun and irreverence; and if early on the double entendres seem to sometimes drift towards being single entendres – well, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

By contrast, Greg Last’s musical offerings seem a little stronger on average before the interval; though this is perhaps a deliberate - and judicious - choice, as it allows a few post-interval show-stoppers to really hit home. Greg’s own excellent musicianship is ably assisted by that of many cast members; and if I’m not a particular fan of the recorder, this was more than off-set by (for example) Danny Burns contribution on saxophone.

Danny also stands out in roles so multiple it sometimes seems a wonder he doesn’t bump into himself as he enters and exits. Whilst still a relative newcomer to the Everyman Panto, his chameleon-like presence has already become one of the most joyous aspects of this or any other Christmas show.

The fact that he doesn’t dominate proceedings entirely is due in part to the strength of the ensemble and Mark Chatterton’s crisp direction; though it also has to be said, there may be no-one on the planet who could actually manage to steal a show from Adam Keast, who, as Sir Roger (and in multiple disguises), is never very far from the heart of the piece.

With perennial Dame Francis Tucker absent, and leaving behind a very big pair of shoes to fill, it is no bad thing that, as Queen Gladys, Matthew Quinn doesn’t try, but instead treads his own sparky (and sparkly) path in a pair of ruby slippers apparently liberated from Oz.

As the evil villain Magnificent, Gracie Lai relishes the audience’s disapproval, and provides a formidable foe for Stephanie Hockley’s admirably independent heroine, Princess Rosa. Via a clever bit of magic, Magnificent splits her side-kick into two, and Jamie Noar plays Prince Caspar with a winningly wide-eyed sense of innocence wonder, even if this device meant we didn’t quite spend as much time as we would’ve liked with Stanton Wright’s charismatic Jack Daw.

All of this is ideally accompanied by Dinah England’s ever-impeccable set-design, with her costumes somehow still managing to do the impossible and surpass last year’s perfectly unsurpassable designs. Christmas magic at it’s best.

For me, whilst the first half was hugely entertaining, the piece got stronger after the interval, and - though this is in any case a far better dynamic than it being the other way round – I suspect the production will soon be stronger still, despite already clearly being a four-point-five-star show. Rock ‘n’ roll panto regulars will not be disappointed, and I genuinely envy first-timers, as this will be the start of a lifelong theatrical love affair.

Without the option of actually awarding half a star, I turned to my six-year-old co-reviewer for the casting vote. Her review? “It was brilliant – excellent – fantastic!” On that basis, awarding anything less than five stars would be pure humbug.

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