Reviews - past pantos


Laugh? I could have cried the jokes were so corny but that's what a Christmas pantomime is all about and the hilarious romp by Nailsea Musicals was no exception.

Rooted in English folklore Jack and the Beanstalk is the story of impoverished villagers unable to pay their taxes and fearful that the giant who lives in the sky may eat them for his dinner.

But his 'fee-fi-fo-fum' threat was taken with a pinch of salt, a showering of water and a handful of sweets by the children watching at the Scotch Horn Centre.

This fantastic all-singing and all-dancing show had a cast of 'thousands' and starred the talented Idle Jack (Zack Taylor) and fair Princess Rose (Ashleigh Westgate) as the sweethearts.

The seasonal pantomime closed on Saturday night after five sell-out performances.

Even though the jokes were of the old vaudeville variety with some 'knock, knock' and 'doctor, doctor' groans you couldn't help laughing out loud.

Director Emily Waller said: "Get ready to boo, hiss, cheer, clap, laugh, shout, squeak, sing and most importantly enjoy yourselves."

And we did.

Thunder, lightning and a puff of green smog heralded the entrance of Poison Ivy the wicked witch in the guise of Laura Shields who played the part with menace and a memorable catchline, 'shut it'.

Her nemesis was the pretty in pink good Fairy Beansprout (Keren Arnold) all sugar and spice and loved by the little ones.

From Benny Hill to Monty Python with a splattering of It It Ain't 'Half Hot Mum it was all a bit of a carry on!

Drag queen Dame Trott (Paul Jennings-Webb) turned in professional scene-stealing performance as Jack's mother along with the Prime Minister (Sarah Cochran-Meredith) making a multi-personality debut appearance.

Also worth of a mention is Andrew Hunt as the patriarchal king, the lovely hoofer Buttercup (Karen Johnson) as the cow and wheelchair-bound Simon Jennings-Webb as the golden goose.

But if I was giving out the stage Oscars among those nominated would have to be Dozy Den (Ian Perry) as the step-brother of Jack who halfway through the show metaphorised into a boy scout and then as antique guru David Dickinson complete with fake tan and loud suit.

The cameo role played by the Go Compare man (Mark Johnson) and Giant Blunderbore (Al Pritchard) who was projected onto the backdrop seated at the edge of his banqueting table waiting impatiently for his housekeeper (Gayle Edmonds) to cook his food were great (or grate).

When the giant sneezed green gunk this was the opportunity to turn the water hoses onto the audience as pretend droplets of snot - ugh.

Before the opening the cast had been blighted with health issues but luckily everything was 'all right' on the night(s).

The traditional family pantomime had a cast of more than 76 actors aged from six to 60 plus years and a small army of front-of-house and backstage helpers.

There were many familiar faces on stage with retired GP Martin Elford type cast as the village doctor and a chorus line of people from Nailsea Folk Club.

The musical director was Jan Mousley and the choreographer Charlotte Clarke.

Marketing manager Graham Chipperfield said: "We wanted to put on a really traditional family musical and Jack and the Beanstalk is an ideal choice with its mix of good versus evil in the guise of the good fairy and the bad witch.

"There was lots of fun, singing and slapstick involved and as well as the pantomime cow we had a dancing spider with hairy long black arms and a golden singing harp."

Since it began as Nailsea Musical Comedy Club in 1977, Nailsea Musicals has won much critical acclaim and this year it was nominated in three different categories for the prestigious Bristol Evening Post Rose Bowl awards for the action-packed murder mystery Curtains.

It got shortlisted for best musical and actor Vivien Foot was singled out for praise for best supporting performance as Carmen Bernstein but it was Christine Richards playing Jessica Cranshaw who carried off the Coup De Theatre Award.

The adult cast members rehearse on Wednesday evenings at Mizzymead Recreation Centre and the youngsters on Saturday mornings.

Don't worry it's all behind them


Once upon a time long before the Disney channel and DVDs there were fairy story books about beautiful princesses and scary witches which parents read aloud to their children.

But nothing beats a real family pantomime performed on stage which has the of best musical hall traditions mixed with slapstick and magic.

With several theatres in our area the top ones are usually at the Bristol Hippodrome and The Playhouse, Weston.

Tried and tested favourite Aladdin is at the Hippodrome but for something new The Playhouse presents Sleeping Beauty.

In the past the spectacular city show has attracted the star names who perform on bolder sets while Weston with its smaller theatre, cast and budget is perfect for families with pre-school children.

The other contrast is the cost of tickets with the Bristol show priced at £10-35 double the cost of Weston at £9.50-18.50.

So if you were a parent/grandparent which show would you chose?

My grandchildren have been to both and when asked which they preferred said Aladdin at The Playhouse last year and Shaun the Sheep at the Hippodrome earlier this year - so not a lot of help there!

Now what of The Playhouse? well it Is hilarious but like the Bristol pantomime too long, especially the first half when the children got the wiggles.

The star at Weston is definitely top model turned actress Lorraine Chase, pictured left, who at 60-something Is fantastic as the nasty witch Carabosse who tries to kill Sleeping Beauty.

Miss Chase commands attention as she swans around the stage in a figure-hugging black lace and net fishtail frock for an A-list performance. 

And X Factor finalists Same Difference, the brother and sister double act of Sean and Sarah Smith, is also fantastic as Prince Robin and Lilac Fairy.

Another family act deserving a standing ovation is father and son Keith and Ben Simmons who not only played the comedy roles of King Prawn and his Lord Chamberlain, but also directed and wrote the pantomime.

However, it wasn't only their scripted parts that got all the laughs on Sunday as although it may have been 'alright on the night' the matinee ran into a few problems with sound and lighting necessitating some front-of-curtain ad libs which had the audience laughing in the aisles.

Sleeping Beauty is strong on audience participation but apart from Beth Gore as Princess Aurora with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious a bit short on singalongs and the even the children weren't impressed until the finale with the princess choice of royal day dress.

Super troupers Adam Daye and Terry Gleed as Nurse Katie Cough Drop and Muddles are great as are the youngsters from the Tina Counsell School of Dancing but don't take my word for it go and see live theatre on your doorstep – you won't be disappointed.

Local People photographer Jeremy Long took his young son Reuben on Saturday night.

Jeremy said: "I loved the giant fierce dragon and although it was the same old gags between the king and his manservant like the 'somebody, nobody, anybody...' and going up the and down hidden steps it was still very funny.

"I thought Lorraine Chase was very good and seemed to be enjoying herself.

"If I had a small moan it would be that the show for me was possibly just a bit too long at just under three hours.

"However, my four-year-old loved it as did it seem many dads I could hear shouting out 'it's behind you' and 'booing' for all their might as instructed by Miss Chase."

North Somerset district reporter with The Post Heather Pickstock took along a couple of young grandchildren.

She said: "It was a family focused pantomime which included a lot of interaction with the audience which the younger element loved. 

"Although it was a bit slow to start with - too long spent on introducing the main characters - once it got going it was all the fun you would expect from a panto including an eye-wateringly funny scene with the king stuck in a harness pretending to be a vampire bat to scare evil witch Carabosse. 

"Lorraine Chase is excellent and it was almost a shame when she had a character reversal at the very end. 

"The costumes and sets are also impressive along with the vocal performances of both the prince and princess.

"We would definitely recommend the show as one to see."

Carol Deacon



Aladdin opened at the Bristol Hippodrome this week and it is a real Christmas cracker of a pantomime.

From dancing in the streets of Peking to travelling on a magic carpet to Egypt, from the oriental palace gardens to the dark mysterious cave of a thousand jewelled delights this is a show for all the family.

I first saw Aladdin on this very stage more than half a century ago and it has lost none of its magic.

It has all the festive fun ingredients of silly slapstick mixed with daft humour.

 It opens with a mildly menacing David Roper as Abanazar pondering how he can get his hands on the Genie of the Lamp played by Carol McGiffin, of Loose Women fame.

Then it switches to the busy Chinese market with policemen and laughs galore. 

The orange, red and yellow set was all Chinese glitter with takeaway signposts, large lanterns and unfurling banners as the dancers swirled and whirled.

This is a pretty pantomime and very seasonal.

Street dance sensation Flawless are fabulous as the Peking Police Squad led by Chris Nelson as Major Pong.

All the costumes are colourful and Graham Kent as washerwoman Widow Twankey wearing a Surf detergent packet is hilarious as are some of the ‘naughty but nice’ asides.

Andy Ford as Wishee Washee waved the flat of his hand over his head as if to reassure parents that the younger ones in the audience won’t get the joke.

Good job too as many of the double entendre were in true pantomime tradition as a little risqué.

All the principal characters were real stars although Ms McGiffin, the former wife of television presenter Chris Evans, was a little wooden.

My advice is don’t give up the day job on Loose Women as she didn’t appear to be able to act, sing or dance.

However, the grandchildren thought she was lovely with her bejewelled belly button and said: “But Nanna she could wiggle!”

 Not to worry Ms McGiffin gets replaced by Big Brother star Josie Gibson next week.

As usual there were lots of local references including a Portishead pyjama party. Comedian Eddie Large and his wife Patsy Noble, who live in the North Somerset town, were in the audience on Monday night.

After the show Eddie said: “It was fantastic, it took me back to my childhood.”

I loved the Chop Suey singalong with children invited on stage and it all ends happily ever after with the wedding of Chris Thatcher as Aladdin and Zoë George as Princess Jasmine.

 Joe Speare is the Genie of the Ring and David Whitworth as the Emperor who lost his stern royal protocol when he dreamed of riches are both great.

The talented children from the Bristol School of Performing Arts join the professional and polished cast to play the citizens of Peking, guards and harem girls.

Perhaps a little too much dialogue in the first half for really young children and at three hours plus it was bums on seats that were also wiggling come the end.

Aladdin is written by Eric Potts, presented by First Family Entertainment and directed by David Siebert.

Carol Deacon