Writer & Director: Jamie Smith
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
Christmas in Guildford only properly begins with The Twelve Days of Christmas, as performed by the Yvonne Arnaud panto: an annual ritual of mayhem and misrule in which custard pies are thrown, knickers hurled and foam and water sprayed in all directions.
This year, under the direction of Jamie Smith, things seem a little slicker – though not too slick – and I am happy to report that the Twelve Days is as riotously silly as normal. All the Yvonne Arnaud favourites are back: Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon as Ugly Sister Colleen; Jamie Brook as a lovesick Brummie Buttons, mooning over Cinderella; and the inimitable Kit Hesketh-Harvey as Dandini.
Hesketh-Harvey has gone ‘a whole year without the boos’ and is reborn as a good guy: Gentleman of the Bedchamber to the Prince. Naturally, Hesketh-Harvey extracts maximum fun from Dandini, a decidedly camp aide-de-camp. But his normal villainy is missed: come back next year, Kit, with the boos.
Georgie Leatherland returns as a crowd-pleasing Cinderella, while Cameron Burt, in his final year of training at the Guildford School of Acting, is Prince Charming. Also starring is actress and singer Michelle Gayle, as the magical Fairy Sweetness.
This is a charming, traditional panto, shot through with silliness and sparkle. Eagle-eyed children may spot the horse-box parked outside the theatre; for, in an enchanting scene, Cinderella is transported to the ball in a coach pulled by a pair of snow-white ponies.
Costumes are superb, especially for the Ugly Sisters, culminating in Peter Gordon dressed as a Christmas pudding and his ‘twin’ Kimmy (Nick Barclay) as a full-length Christmas cracker. There is great fun along the way as the sisters get ready for the ball, with Kimmy enlisting the help of a Henry Hoover to produce the world’s most gargantuan trout pout.
Songs include The Greatest Show, Shut Up and Dance With Me and Baby Shark, performed with gusto and accompanied by a live band led by ‘Uncle Bryan’ (musical director Bryan Hodgson). Joining the cast are a host of talented juvenile performers: particularly effective in a scene in which, dressed as woodland animals, they dance with Cinderella.
The production is dedicated to James Barber, the Yvonne Arnaud’s former director and chief executive, who died suddenly during last year’s panto. This radiant and rumbustious production in his memory is not to be missed.
Runs until 6 January 2019 | Image: Simon Annand