The most wonderful time of the year?

As people who regularly read my blog will know, I do review quite a bit of theatre for The Stage, as well as off my own back. I won’t kid anyone – I’m hardly in the first or second tier of reviewers, and the shows that get passed to me are often those that our more regular reviewers aren’t able to make.

When it comes to Christmas shows, it’s all hands to the pumps, though. The paper reviews hundreds of Christmas shows around the country – over 130 in the last fifteen days alone. I’ve been to what seems a higher number than usual, as my usual beat (Aylesbury, Rickmansworth and Chesham) has been supplemented by High Wycombe this year as well as several London-based shows.

This year’s reviews (all of which link to the review page on the Stage website):

In addition, I also went (in a non-reviewing, enjoyment-only capacity) to Robin Hood: Queen of Thieves at Above the Stag, a gay-themed panto for adults that was such enormous fun we’re going back to see it again on Friday.

Seeing so many similarly themed shows in such a short space of time usually exhausts me by this point in the run-up to Christmas. This year, though, with the great Potted Panto (which summarises six key pantomime plots with more panache than most shows manage with just one), Queen of Thieves and the big budget Cinderella at Aylesbury, I’m still feeling a little Christmassy. Which is nice.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth

The importance of warming up a panto audience is highlighted by Rickmansworth’s latest rendition of Snow White, where the first act played out to a crowd seemingly unable to give anything back to the onstage cast.

Exuberant efforts to engage the audience at the top of the second act may have been a reaction to their previous quietness, but whatever the reason they result in a much warmer atmosphere that allows the accomplished cast to really show their capabilities.

Sarah Accomando and Grant Neal, as Snow White and her charming Prince, are two engaging leads with warm vocals. Kim Hartman’s Wicked Queen excels at the sneering demeanour demanded of her, if less comfortable with being given a Lady Gaga song to perform. The lion’s share of the credit for reviving the audience mood must go to Michael Otton’s Muddles, whose magic and escapology routines provide several of the show highlights.

With an audience as receptive in the first half as it is in the second, this would be an enthralling show from the off. It would also mean a warmer reception for the superb circus skills of Angelina Treva Riley, whose enchanting aerial work played in an undeserved near silence.

Panto season again (oh yes, it is)

While everybody else is winding down in time for Christmas, every year The Stage offices get busier and busier. The reduced amount of time available to get our end-of-year issues out is compounded by the fact that, for our reviews section, we’re hitting the busiest time of the year.

We try and cover as many of the professional Christmas and pantomime shows from around the UK as we can, and as they all tend to bunch their press nights into these first couple of weeks in December, it can prove a logistical nightmare.

This year, I’m doing the same three Buckinghamshire venues as I have done in previous years, but they’re also supplemented by a couple of London ones. This time last week, I saw Leicester Square Theatre’s pantomime Sinderfella. My review reflected, as best one can in 200 words, the overall sense of disappointment and frustration at a production with so many things wrong that could easily have been fixed at rehearsal stage. Unfortunately, the writer/director/producer/dame disagreed with my review.

Thankfully, since then the shows I’ve seen have been much more well-rounded. It’s never nice seeing a poor show, and with just a couple more on my list to see, it looks like my first panto of the review will be the exception rather than the rule.

This year’s panto bunch (links to the remaining shows will be added once they’re published):

  • Sinderfella, Leicester Square Theatre Basement, London

One of the keys to a raucously successful pantomime is a portrayal of barely controlled anarchy, which in turn needs a firm grasp on the reins. Unfortunately, adult panto Sinderfella has none of this…

There is something inherently difficult about turning an established stage play for children into a knockabout panto. Chesham’s effort just about manages to straddle both types of source material, but on occasion one wishes it would make up its mind what it wants to be…

Continued delays to Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre mean that the nearby Civic Centre is now on its third, and probably final, ‘last’ pantomime before demolition. It certainly has produced one enabling the venue to go out on a high…

There is something gloriously childlike about the glee with which CBBC presenters Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner throw themselves into their reduced retelling of JK Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books. Not for them the faux seriousness of the ‘adult’ hardback editions: they are devotees of the novels as children’s fare, and quite right too…

The importance of warming up a panto audience is highlighted by Rickmansworth’s latest rendition of Snow White, where the first act played out to a crowd seemingly unable to give anything back to the onstage cast…

All the above reviews, along with every other review I’ve written, are on my theatre reviews index page.

2008’s panto reviews

Only three to do this year (four if you count an additional Christmas-themed show). And now they’re all done and available online, so the holiday starts here!

* 09/12/08: [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs](, Elgiva, Chesham
* 17/12/08: [Cinderella](, Civic Centre Aylesbury
* 22/12/08: [Aladdin](,Watersmeet, Rickmansworth

And the additional Christmas show:

* 19/12/08: Christmas with the Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas

An overview of reviews

I’m about to enter full-on panto reviewing mode again, although given my out-of-town location and lack of driving ability the number of productions I get allocated is far fewer than some of our more hardy reviewers.

Before I do, I wanted to make sure that my own record of what I’ve reviewed for _The Stage_ is up to date. Below is the list as it currently stands.

**Update: an up-to-date list is now on my [Theatre Reviews index page](

## West End

* 17/10/08: [French and Saunders: Still Alive](, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
* 23/09/08: [We Will Rock You](, Dominion
* 03/07/08: [Monty Python’s Spamalot](, Palace Theatre
* 27/05/08: [Haunted](, Arts Theatre
* 23/05/08: [Never Forget](, Savoy Theatre
* 07/03/08: [The Viewing Room](, Arts Theatre
* 05/09/07: [All About My Mother](, Old Vic
* 24/11/06: [Gates of Gold](, Trafalgar Studios
* 10/11/06: [Porgy and Bess](, Savoy Theatre

## Fringe/off-West End

* 14/11/08: [Sweeney Todd](, Union Theatre
* 01/10/07: [Sugar Snap](, Union Theatre
* 27/09/07: [I Love You Because](, Landor
* 07/06/07: [The Christ of Coldharbour Lane](, Soho Theatre
* 29/03/07: [Total Eclipse](, Menie Chocolate Factory
* 01/12/06: [Love, Laugh and Live](, Theatre Museum
* 07/02/06: [Black and White Sextet](, Rosemary Branch

## Pantomime/Christmas

* 21/12/07: [Cinderella](, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth
* 13/12/07: [Peter Pan](, Civic Centre, Aylesbury
* 07/12/07: [The Wizard of Oz](, Elgiva, Chesham
* 19/12/06: [Aladdin](, Civic Centre, Aylesbury
* 14/12/06: [Beauty and the Beast](, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth
* 07/12/06: [Sleeping Beauty and the Beast](, Elgiva, Chesham
* 04/01/06: [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs](, Watersmeet, Rickmansworth
* 13/12/05: [Aladdin](, Elgiva, Chesham