For two years I reviewed the fabulous pantomime at the Nottingham Arts Theatre. And then, nothing. Why, you might ask? That would be because last year I was lucky enough to be onstage for the pantomime, instead of in the audience. I had planned on doing my own behind-the-scenes review, but discovered that doing 21 shows in 3 weeks is actually REALLY time-consuming and doesn’t leave much time for anything else. So, this post got stuck in the draft folder indefinitely.
Sadly, the 2020 panto (which should have been Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) was cancelled, due to that pesky pandemic that’s going around, so there won’t be any panto review this year either. It did however seem like the perfect time to dust off last year’s post and share a few memories of a time before I’d ever heard the words “social distancing” or “covid secure”.
So, let me take you back to December 2019. A woman, sitting at a theatre dressing table, in a pink kimono (which was actually a dressing gown), pulls out her laptop and begins to type…
If you thought I was excited about the Nottingham Arts Theatre annual pantomime when I was in the audience, then that is nothing to how excited I was once I was lucky enough to be a part of their 2019 production, Aladdin.
Directed by Amanda Hall, who also co-wrote the script with Matt Wesson, this was a traditional pantomime of Aladdin, set in Old Peking, China, with all of the beloved characters, jokes and magic that you would expect. Musical direction was provided by Sam Griffiths who managed to wrangle this motley bunch into a choir of angels. No, but seriously, he was really easy to work with, clear on what he wanted and (in my humble opinion) got fantastic results.
Our hero, Aladdin was played by Danielle Hall with heaps of charisma and flair. Danielle always makes her whole performance seem completely effortless, even when I know she’s working really hard and you know that the show is in safe hands with her at the helm. She also has a serious set of pipes, which gave me chills every time I heard her sing the big Act 1 closing number!
Lauren Stephenson was simply perfect as the feisty, sassy Princess Jasmine. (She got sassier with each performance. I had the bruises on my arm as evidence!) It was an absolute joy to work with her, and it was ridiculously easy to pretend to be her friend/minder throughout the whole rehearsal period. She also has a stunning voice, which was beautifully showcased in her romantic duet with Aladdin.
It was so wonderful to watch Cliff Hart transform into the villain of the piece, the wicked Abanazar. You could really see how much he enjoyed the reactions from the audience as his terrible plan unfolded. Another fabulous singer (there were quite a few of them on this production), his two musical numbers were firm favourites with the cast and with the audience.
Well-known actor and singer, Matt Wesson, was simply hilarious as always as Widow Twankey, mum to Aladdin and washerwoman to the people of Peking. He is a consummate professional when it comes to playing up to the audience, and has a never-ending supply of witty come-backs and one-liners. I always love to watch him work his magic.
I’ve seen Patrick McChrystal perform a number of times and I am ashamed to admit that I hadn’t realised how incredibly funny he is. As Aladdin’s daft brother, Wishee Washee, his comic timing was spot on and he pitched every line perfectly to get the maximum laughs possible. He was definitely a firm favourite with the audiences.
Joseph Smith appears this year as one half of the duo, Ying and Yang, Peking’s ridiculously rubbish police force. Joseph (or JK as we know him) is such fun to work with. He’s not afraid to be the butt of a joke (both on stage and off) and really throws himself into the part.
Ying’s incompetent counterpart was played by Laura Ellis or Kimberley Allsop, depending on which performance you happened to see. Regardless of which of these fabulous ladies you saw perform, you certainly weren’t missing out. They both brought their own individual style to the part, and it was fascinating watching them each make the character their own.
When they weren’t protecting China, Kim and Laura also featured in the adult company, performing in all the large musical numbers. I am in awe of the sheer amount of choreography and harmony they must have had flying around in their heads – my brain would be mush!
It is always so much fun watching Mike Newbold in panto, and his performance last year as the bumbling Emperor Mei was no exception. He was a real crowd pleaser. It was also hilarious watching him try to hold it together during the parcel scene. I looked forward to that part every night!
Mike Pearson was full of energy and sparkle as the magnificent, marvellous, magical Genie of the Lamp! He particularly shone in the spectacular Cave of Wonders scene – that musical number was amazing!
The all-knowledgable Spirit of the Ring was played by Lizzie Fenner, with heaps of attitude. Lizzie is always fabulous in whatever role she plays, and this was no different. She delivered the Spirit’s witty banter and dry insults perfectly and easily had some of the funniest moments in the show.
Oh yeah, I was in the show too. I couldn’t possibly comment on whether I was any good or not, but I was absolutely having the time of my life.
The principal cast was well supported by both the Adult and Children’s Company. They helped flesh out the larger crowd scenes and had tons of energy and enthusiasm in their musical numbers. It was especially lovely to get to know all of the children and watch them grow and develop, and hopefully, help to support them and encourage them through the performances.
When Danielle Hall wasn’t flying on a magic carpet or making wishes, she was also choreographing all of the musical numbers for the show, as well as a parade featuring one Chinese dragon. The choreography had clearly been well-thought out, with each routine designed to suit the theme and mood of the music. A lot of the routines were simple but effective, but there were a few complex numbers with some tricks that really grabbed the audiences’ attention. I really hope people enjoyed watching them as much as we enjoyed performing them.
Donna Qu did a phenomenal job providing multiple costumes for a large cast, ranging from traditional Chinese outfits, to ghostly figures and even an egyptian Mummy. My particular favourites were the finale costumes, which really looked spectacular, with the whole cast decked out in glittering red and Gold.
The real magic of the show goes on behind the scenes, with the set, lighting and sound teams working together to bring the show to life. I wouldn’t want to mention names as I’m bound to forget somebody after all this time, but I have much respect for all the technical crew. I don’t have the skills to do half the things they do and they don’t get half as much praise as they deserve. Harry Ilyk deserves an extra special mention for stepping in and ensuring the all of the set changes ran smoothly when we were a little short staffed backstage, while still managing to perform in all of his scenes and musical numbers!
I feel so unbelievably privileged to have to join this wonderfully talented team. It really was such a joyful experience and I am beyong gutted that we won’t be doing it all again this year. Not only did I get to spend time with some fantastic friends, it was also my first ever time performing on the same stage as Freya, which made it all the more special. I really hope it’s something I get to do again one day.
When we sat in our dressing room, discussing what parts we might like to audition for in 2020, none of us could have predicted that what the future had in store for us all. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that this would be the last time I would step on a stage for a REALLY long time.
Live theatre has been one of the areas most badly hit by Coronavirus and all of the lockdowns. I know it’s been sorely missed by performers and audiences alike. It’s wonderful to hear that theatres in some areas are being able to re-open with social distancing measures. I can only hope that it won’t be too long before we can all get back up on stage where we belong.
I’ll be saving every one of my three wishes for Panto 2021!