Writer: Jamie Smith
Director: Gerry Tebbutt
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
The programme entry for Jamie Brook, who once again injects life and fun into Yvonne Arnaud’s panto (this year as ‘Silly Billy’), mentions his love of the genre and his help in creating ‘a central hub of panto performers and fans alike’. Well, he makes a good start in Guildford.
A large audience, including the usual Beavers and Brownies but with a notably older profile as well, are up for Brook’s antics from the off. As in previous years he forges a slick partnership with Peter Gordon, a good traditional Dame Dolly Trott and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, a slimy Dastardly Dick, and the three of them maintain this excellent rapport both with each other and with the Guildford faithful. In Jack they have the support of a surprisingly feisty Steffan Lloyd-Evans who plays the eponymous hero with increasing confidence and panache throughout the show and is not the normal wet hero, well at least as long as he stays away from the slapstick.
One of the good things about the Guildford model is that, with this central core of characters to bring life to the old form, director Gerry Tebbutt can spend his time and money on the creatives and not on the import of star names. Consequently, the set is lavish, Jamie Attle’s costumes are varied, colourful and, in Dame Trott’s case, suitably outlandish. John Harris’ lighting plot conveys menace, joy and magic at the appropriate times, Jill Francis’ choreography has the villagers of Merrydale dancing their collective socks off and, when it finally appears, the Giant is not the usual anti-climax. Refreshingly, with the exception of one rather misplaced sketch based around the Chaser TV show, there is barely a mention of the small screen in the whole production. And as to those much-loved traditional moments, the ‘custardiser’, the 12 days of Christmas, ‘always look on the bright side’, the children and adults up on the stage (and Brook is a kindly master at these moments), they are all included. Moreover, a further testament to the production is that the audience are already up on their feet before the music starts in anticipation of the adapted Fleur East number Jack Trott.
There are some weaker points. You can criticise it for trying to include every single traditional element which inevitably slows it down. There are a few too many pauses in the dialogue. Dillie Keane as Fairy Fairway seems to be playing on a course ‘far far away’. The score and the musical accompaniment are a bit thin. But these pale by comparison with the overall effect.
So don’t go to Guildford if you want big booming numbers and household names but if you want a thoroughly good fun night out with all the traditional panto trimmings do go along and help Brook and the other inhabitants of Merrydale in their fight against the Giant.
Runs until 3January 2016 ¦ Image: Contributed