Writers: David Bown & Phil Lowe
Director: Phil Lowe
Musical Director: Nick Lacey
Choreographer: David Kar-Hing Lee
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The most celebrated pantomime figure in Yorkshire may be York Theatre Royal’s recently retired Dame, Berwick Kaler, but the theatres of the old West Riding reliably produce excellent pantomimes with, it must be said, a fair bit in common. From size of cast and pit band to design style, from a flexible traditionalism to an ability to keep adults amused without nudge-nudge-wink-wink innuendo.
However, all have their distinctive features and at Harrogate it is the prominence of the “Silly Billy” role, this year played for the 20th time by Tim Stedman. With his high energy fooling, messy slapstick and audience rapport – not to mention his ability to get his tongue round maximum words in minimum time – he ensures a jolly family show.
The regular team of Phil Lowe and David Bown, as always put together a show with a reassuring familiarity combined with imaginative touches. The neatest variation in Snow White is in the character charged by the wicked queen with murdering Snow White. Rather than just “a huntsman”, he is Hunter the Handyman, in tartan, dungarees and a ferocious beard – except he’s not really a “he” at all, but the Fairy Ruby Rainbow. Pamela Dwyer makes the most of the gorgeously dressed, really rather posh fairy and the enterprising handyman, part of a comedic trio with Stedman and Howard Chadwick’s Dame.
The prominence of Stedman’s role (here called Happy Harry) deprives Chadwick of some of the Dame’s usual perks, such as singling out an audience victim and leading the singsong, but his No Nonsense Nora the Nanny is as bluffly comic as you could wish and bears the weight of mighty costumes lightly.
Colin Kiyani (Prince Lee) and Zelina Rebeiro (Snow White) are thoroughly traditional, singing and moving well, and Polly Smith’s Wicked Queen Ethel Burger has a winning uncertainty beneath the scenery chewing, as she takes half the panto to get her villainous cackle sorted – and is rather proud of it when she does.
Morgan Brind’s designs are attractive or absurd as required and the dwarves and their cottage are stylishly done. The cottage is trucked in, then revolves to reveal a picturesque interior with seven large-headed puppets skilfully manipulated by a team of youngsters. The team of four young dancers, doubling as the Queen’s armed guard, is equally impressive.
All the usual Harrogate features, including the chase round the auditorium, are in place; the slightly out-of-date pop songs, with new words, are well chosen; Nick Lacey achieves much with little with his keyboards-and-percussion pit band. And the audiences love it, both in the numbers attending and their noisy glee once there. Is it a bit over-long at 2 ¾ hours including interval? Probably – plenty of scenes whiz along, but the pace does sometimes drop.
Runs until January 19, 2020 | Image: contributed