Writer: Alan McHugh
Music: Gary Hind
Lyrics: Alan McHugh
Director: Ed Curtis
Choreographer: Stillie Dee
Reviewer: Tony Oliver
In the outstanding Bradford Alhambra theatre any show takes on a magical aura. Then when you add December frost in Yorkshire, fake snow in the air, carol singers at the bar and even Santa Claus in the foyer, you’ll find it hard to repress your child-like Christmas spirit.
Billy Pearce reprises his role for the 21st year at the Alhambra and does little to hide the fact that he is the central attraction. Born in Leeds but adopted by Bradford and the sell-out audience, many of them most likely also returning for their 21st year. It’s hard to deny that we are going to get an almost guaranteed fun night.
Joined by Paul Chuckle, who needs no introduction to this audience, as Oddjob and Faye Tozer who through her steps in Strictly appeals to the younger audience and older alike playing the evil Queen Lucretia. We all await in high Christmas spirits as the music starts, the lights flash and the cast take to the stage.
In the opening scene we meet the Magnificent Seven, living deep in the forest and working in the diamond mine. The movement of the Dwarfs in this scene is stilted and unnatural due to a cast of knee-bound actors, a joke that perhaps brought a few jokes early on but made their performances uncomfortable throughout. When they sit astride woodland animals the movement and illusion works so much better and the action greatly benefits from their greater ease.
Quickly we are introduced to Snow White and the Prince. A stilted romance is in the air, but they certainly fill the small hole effectively. This Panto is all about linking the story of Snow White loosely to allow Billy Pierce playing Muddles to dominate the show with support from his other two banner stars. These sections are a mix of stand up, end of the pier jokes and some nice pieces of slapstick comedy. It’s in these sections that the spirit of traditional panto comes to the fore. There are some highlights here, especially the scene around a dress fitting. Muddles and Lucretia’s dance-off and Muddles using recorded excerpt of songs to tell Snow White and the Prince his stories of love. These sections feel naturally joyful and have an ease about them which felt devoid of ego.
The band led by James McCullagh keeps the music vibrant throughout, although sometimes so loud that it drowns the vocals on stage. There are of course an abundance of Steps songs so be sure bring your 90s nostalgia along with you. Lavish sets, some big ensemble dance routines, great costumes, lighting and production contribute to the spectacle of the show which very rarely stops to take a breath. One effect in particular will overwhelm your children’s senses and leave them in awe. This was one of the fantastic special effects in the show, which whilst spectacular don’t add much to the pantomime story as a whole. In some respects they divert the audience’s attention from the traditional elements of a panto. Yet the razzle dazzle of it all will most likely create some long time memories of staggering wonder for any child that sees it
The scene where Snow White is woken from her sleep by the Prince’s kiss is underwhelming and incredibly short lived. For much of the audience in the first ten rows, overbearing lights on the front of the stage may have been their main focus, however it is forgotten quickly as we move onto another Muddles moment.
Towards the end of an audience stooge scene of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the traditional panto returns allowing for more comedy improvisation from Chuckle and Pearce. This bit works really well and is one of the highlights of the show.
For so many families going to the pantomime is part of their Christmas tradition and the start of the holiday festivities, and this was obvious from the reactions and participation of the Alhambra audience. If you come to this show and you are a fan of Billy Pierce you will have a great time watching this production. You probably won’t go away singing many of the songs, or retelling any of the jokes but you will remember the monster in the forest.
Runs until 26th January 2020 | Image: Nigel Hillier