Writer: Peter Rowe
Director: Matt Aston
Musical Director: Greg Palmer
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
The City Varieties Rock n’ Roll Panto is one that should be in everyone’s calendar. This seemingly modest production which has graced the Victorian stage since reopening after the £9.9m refurbishment in 2011, has quickly worked its way into the hearts of Loiners and the general public alike. With rock n’ roll songs interspersed throughout the (very funny) dialogue, and a cast that doubles as the onstage band (not to mention the much-anticipated boulder fight), this is a unique production that has established a keen sense of identity over the years. And one, which is (rightly so) deserving of every accolade and mention of praise you can throw at this talented, and quite bonkers creative team.
The fast pace of this production is established from the start with Pharrell Williams Happy opening the show, sung with infectious energy by Lindsay Goodhand as the storyteller. Justin Brett is the larger than life Dame, Widow Twankey, who delivers a series of short, quick-fire gags and a plethora of double entendres. No false promises here; you could say he delivers a strong and stable performance (!).
With bundles of charisma, the dashing Alex Wingfield and shows off some fancy footwork as our cheeky hero, Aladdin, while Grace Lancaster is our innocent Princess; a belter who proves she is no pushover when it comes to love. Hannah Price, who many will remember as the evil Morgana in last year’s Sleeping Beauty, returns as a fun-loving, Essex Genie and a heart-warming rendition of I’ll Be There for You, made famous by the popular TV show Friends.
Reprising her role as Cuddles the Monkey from 2011, Georgina Field’s performance is simply delightful and has all the monkey mannerisms you could hope for. A firm favourite with the audience, she enchants with her fantastic physical performance, and where else are you going to find a saxophone playing monkey?
And, as is tradition, the hilarious Kenny Davies returns for his seventh year, this time as Widow Twankey’s dim-witted other son, Wishee Washee. Though, perhaps not so dim-witted, as you can also spot him on keys, bass, guitar, harmonica, percussion and acoustics!
Visually the production is very pleasing, and Matt Aston has done a superb job maximising the space for action with some innovative direction, while Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography is dynamic with a whole lot of oomph, especially in the finale of Dancing in the Streets. The costumes are delightful; bright satin with Chinese embroidery for the most part, with some fun costumes for the dame, including a superb Chinese dragon ensemble.
The City Varieties panto is proof that you don’t need a huge venue to produce quality entertainment; the creative team consistently delivering year after year. With a healthy helping of stage fog, pyrotechnics and lasers, Aladdin has it all. Non-stop action, hilarity, hit music and gags, are the order of the day and a perfect treat this festive season.
Runs until 7 January 2018 | Image: Anthony Robling