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.