Alun Armstrong Theatre
15th Dec 2017
Alun Armstrong Theatre
15th Dec 2017
Directed by Lee Brannigan
My second foray into Pantoland this year took me to Stanley to the Alun Armstrong Theatre, for their in-house production of Snow White (the fairest panto of them all!).
At curtain up we meet the villain (villainess?), Queen Morgana of Cannyville. Once the boos have died down she sets the scene: you know the score, her kingdom is skint, the lucrative diamond mine is protected by magical dwarves and she can’t get her hands on the treasure, her step daughter is more beautiful than she, and the wealthy prince falls for her instead of the Queen. It’s the age old struggle, of good versus evil, true beauty versus vanity, greed versus generosity of spirit.
Will goodness and beauty prevail? Of course they will. But in order for that to happen we, the audience must be subjected to the gruelling ordeal of bad puns and awful jokes that is panto. And there are plenty of them! They come thick and fast from Nurse Bella and her son Muggles, and from the evil Morgana and her sidekick Seymour Snarl. There are puns to make you groan and jokes so bad your toes will curl - but of course this is what we expect, and the punchlines are eagerly anticipated and are cheered for and groaned at in equal measure.
As always Philip Meeks’ script is adapted to include local references - Beamish and Consett come under fire as does Stanley itself with references to The Big Asda and The Aldi that’s not even built yet (you can see both as you come into town). These local jokes always resonate with the audiences. We Brits are nothing if not willing to laugh at ourselves.
It’s not all about the jokes though - there is also the singing and dancing, the set and the costumes. The set is impressive - from the painted scenery of the castle, the forest and the dwarves’ cottage to the special effects with lighting and pyrotechnics, it creates a land of magic and mystery. Costumes are sumptuous - from Morgana’s dark and dramatic glamour, and Nurse Bella’s array of frocks for all occasions to the simplicity of Snow White and the villagers outfits, and the smart elegance of Charlie’s princley attire.
There are plenty of musical numbers to show off the singing talents of the cast, Sara Lumley has a fresh, light voice well suited to the character of Snow White, while Jon Dylan Brown’s solo shows why he graduated with a distinction in musical theatre! For me the showstopper is Andrea Atkinson’s rendition of Get the Party Started! She is fabulous, evil, but fabulous!
The dance routines, choreographed by Kathleen Knox are fresh and fun, and the ensemble and three principle dancers (Beth Shannon, Rachael Ward and Rhiane Finlay) work hard throughout the production. There must be some impressive fast changes going on back stage as they swap back and forth from village girl dirndls to skintight lycra and leotards.
Pantos are always full of over the top characters and this one is no exception. Lee Kyle is the archetypal best buddy, fall guy Muggles who garners the sympathy of the audience, while Martin Anderson as Seymour Snarl is the antithesis of this - he is brilliantly over the top with his shambling gate, gurning expression and elaborately obsequious grovelling. Neither of these can beat Bella Bluebell as Nurse Bella however, as she appears in an array of glorious frocks, hats and wigs. I think she must be the most glamorous Pantomine Dame ever, she certainly has better legs than most!
Interaction with the audience is great throughout but especially in the hilarious 12 Days of Christmas number. You have to experience it to beleive it. All I will say is, maybe take an umbrella or wear a mackintosh for the second act.
The programme says this is the theatre’s first pantomime and it’s a corker! The small cast work their socks off to create a panto that has more sparkle than Mr Sheen! And it has the voice of Alun Armstrong himself as The Mirror! It deserves a bigger audience so if you are looking for an outing this Christmas and are within driving distance of Stanley then book a ticket for this show. I came up from Hartlepool and it was worth every mile.
Snow White plays until 24th Dec. Tickets can be booked online at www.civichallstanley.co.uk or by phone on 01207 299110. It’s just £14 (£12 conc) or £38 for a family ticket.