The Chuckles of Oz
The Chuckle Brothers have done it again - Oh yes they have !
To nick a phrase from the Fast Show, "Aren't pantos Brilliant ?!" - forget the usual etiquette of theatre going and just let loose, laugh, sing and leave feeling the world isn't too bad a place, the weather isn't that cold and windy and The Chuckle Brothers are rightfully hailed as the best madcap panto double act since Blair and Brown.
This years Civic panto is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz and what is immediately noticeable is that whilst the plot stays true to the original, we're certainly not in Kansas anymore. The sets are amazing; bright, colourful, quirky and full of detail. The costumes are fabulous.; Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow all look larger than life, Dorothy and Glinda resplendent in their respective dresses and The Wicked Witch of the West menacingly.... well, green ! A special mention to the backing dancers who must go through many frantic costume changes to keep up with the pace of the scenes.
The cast, of course, is headlined by Barry & Paul. The boys' brand of humour is instantly recognisable; on the surface they are zany, daft, silly but this belies expert comedic timing and hours of rehearsal. Masters of their craft they most certainly are, but they still manage to have fun whilst doing it and this rubs off on the rest of the gang too. Lauren Varnham is Dorothy and is as true to the Judy Garland incarnation as I've seen; wide eyed innocence, boundless energy and just a little bit of sass to keep the boys in check. Phil Corbitt (Lion), Adam C Booth (Scarecrow) and Danny Potts (Tin Man) are a great trifecta of quest seeking heroes - again, they stay very true to the original movie and because of this there is an instant comfort in knowing what they are about.
The two witches, Beth Stobbart as Glinda the Good and Emma Francis as the Wicked one from the West, are perfectly cast - they offer a wonderful, poles apart, view. Emma has all the menace and evil one would expect from a green faced, dog knapping, monkey leading, recently sibling bereft broom stick season ticket holder - she prowls the stage with purpose and gives you the shivers when she looks directly at you. Beth, on the other hand, is purity and innocence personified; a beauty in both looks and voice (although I did detect a little twinkle of mischief in her eyes during the "If I were not in Panto" routine). Should Wicked ever be released for local production I would be first in the queue to champion Emma & Beth as the leads.
A special mention must go to the orchestra - never has so much music been made by so few for so many, Joe Morley as MD, along with Dave Storer and Sophie Hastings defy physics to create a soundscape as big and rich as a 20 piece pit.
For many years, Panto struggled to compete with the other demands for out attention - video games, blockbuster movies, multi-channel tv. The format was in danger of becoming tired, a pastiche of what it once was and only good to serve as a nostalgic look back - not any more - the special effects, including the best 3D experience outside of Disney, all make for a totally immersive evening which knocks spots off a trip to the multiplex.
I can't think of a better way to start the festive season - I took both my teenage daughters and I think they were quite shocked to see their dad gasping for breath from laughing so much. (Plus, Jess seemed to have quite a shine for Barry, especially when he disrobed). So, if you've not got your tickets yet, what are you waiting for - after a year of austerity, spending cuts and pay freezes go and fill your feel good bank balance - it'll last you right through till next year.