WHILE it might be a bit of an exaggeration to claim that the last line if the title (The Finest Panto in the Land) is 100% true, this is certainly a production that sets out, and does leave a lasting impression.
There are two reasons for making that claim. One is the visual effects created by set designer Ian Westbrook, speciality costume designer Mike Coltman, The Twins TX visual effects and Simon Wilkinson’s lighting. Secondly the three stars, Lesley Joseph, Rob Rinder and Andy Ford, whose names appear above the title.
As the lyrics of the song Orange Coloured Sky say, it’s a question of, Flash, Bang, Alacazam. From the moment the curtain rises there is spectacle onstage, and with sound designer Dan Samson winding up the volume almost to the limit, visually, vocally and musically there are moments when this spectacular production threatens to overwhelm the performers.
Fortunately, three performers with big personalities were waiting in the wings to redress the balance. The remarkable thing is that this trio, who come from very different sides of the entertainment business, have so readily blended as a team. Andy Ford, returning after too long an absence to the Bristol Hippodrome pantomime, may have been born in Exeter, but he is now firmly established as an honorary Bristolian, as demonstrated by his ‘Me Babber’ panto song. Here is a performer who loves making contact with a live audience. Oh how he must have missed (because of Covid rules) not being able to invite some of that audience on stage with him.
We think of Lesley Joseph principally as Dorien Green in the long running TV series Birds of a Feather, but she is no stranger to Panto Land, and here she produces a wicked Queen Dragonella to relish and enjoy. Her inbred comedy timing also proves to be a great asset in her many clashes with Andy Ford’s empty-headed Muddles, as well as joining romantic lead Dale Mathurin’s Prince Harry of Hengrove and Rob Rinder’s Man in the Mirror for a tailor-made panto version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Having seen him carry more than one TV personality (with no idea of how to handle a live audience), through previous Hippofdrome pantomimes, I wondered what Andy Ford’s first thoughts were when told that Rob Rinder had been cast in one of the leading roles. In the event he had no cause for worry, as Rob, gently sending up his own Judge Rinder image and preening himself with great joy in his wonderfully glittery costumes, took to Panto like a duck to water. How he will be able to return to his day job as a practicing Barrister, I know not.
Charlotte Haines looked and played Snow White pretty much along traditional lines until it came to the vocals and with the dashing Dale Mathurin leading the flashily dressed ensemble in those big, bold and brassy production numbers. Then it was a case of typical confident modern musical leading lady appearing in Snow White’s costume.
With Health and Safety – and insurance – ruling out much slapstick style comedy, and Covid restrictions keeping the audience off stage, the hands-on comedy is missing, but as displayed in their own version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, and a reworking of the Who’s on First routine, the company mined every ounce of verbal and mime comedy available.
Add that to a very spectacularly staged and dressed production and you have a pantomime worthy to be welcomed back by its multitude of fans.