Writer: Peter Rowe
Director: Hannah Chissick
Reviewer: Mel Duncan
A panto is a Christmas staple – a treat bringing families together, and a brilliant way to get into the festive spirit. The Rock and Roll panto at Theatr Clwyd has established itself firmly in the North West and North Walian calendar as a family friendly must see – the question is, are Theatr Clwyd upholding this reputation?
The ‘wows’ of children walking into the space are a joy to hear, as the audience is led past luscious and magical costumes from previous shows, eventually entering the auditorium, where they are magically transported back into old Peking. The rich golds and reds are an absolute joy – in fact Adrian Gee’s design is thoroughly striking throughout, enhanced skilfully by Andrew Ellis’ lighting design. Some of the costumes are a little questionable, but that aside the show looks good. Instruments are firmly at the heart of the set, proving that none of this music is piped in.
A few initial sound effect problems are soon forgotten as the band kicks in with the first number. A tight rhythm section, full-bodied horn section and assured vocals bring the classic soul and rock and roll anthems to life throughout the show. Clever choreography subtly moves the story along.
Henry Roadnight ‘s Wishee Washee is every bit the comic foil for Josh Tye’s Aladdin, and the pair works superbly to establish a rapport with the audience. Plenty of audience participation and simple response patterns engage young and old alike and the company certainly get the audience on side. Hannah Chiswick’s animated and clear direction keeps everyone clearly focused on the narrative. The pace is just right for the younger members of the audience to be able to follow the story.
When Toby Lloyd (Abanazar), Nicola Martinus-Smith (Princess) or Emma Fraser (Genie) step up to lead a song the atmosphere is electric. The combination of character and vocal talent, equally matched, is a beautiful thing to behold. Lloyd manages to pitch his villain just right – dastardly, disliked by everyone on stage, but thoroughly hapless enough to ensure that children are not scared.
The only unfortunate fly in the ointment is the dame. While there is a traditional multi-layer approach to a pantomime script allowing slightly risqué jokes to fly under the radar, a vehicle used even by large child friendly enterprises such as Disney, Sean McKenzie’s constant corpsing, off book moments (which are a little near the knuckle for a family show), and general characterisation make for a disappointing and very one-dimensional Widow Twanky. When other venues, such as the Liverpool Everyman, using a similar model, are creating shows where the dame is a beloved, endearing character, and the source of much mirth, this element in Theatr Clwyd’s panto misses the mark.
Even with the shows problems pushed aside… this is a pantomime that provides plenty to enjoy and with such a selection of great numbers, it’s no surprise that the audience is singing and dancing along and helping to raise the roof.
Runs until 21 January 2017 | Image: Brian Roberts