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Daniel Dawson’s travels

July 11, 2011

Each year Daniel Dawson makes an epic journey around the UK to see as many pantomimes as he can during what is now becoming quite a short season. Every year I look forward to his visit to hear about his travels in pantoland, and thought I’d share some of these- The following piece has just a few highlights of Daniel’s visit to fifteen different pantomimes, and 17 shows in total!

He’s also  submitted his personalPanto awards for the past season 2010-11.

Travels in Pantoland 2010-11 by Daniel Dawson

This year’s Panto season started on Opening Night in Sheffield, with Damian Williams in Peter Pan. You could tell it was opening night, and my only regret was not being able to go back again later in the run to see how the show progressed.  More so than ever it relied on the always brilliant Damian Williams to keep the laughter and enjoyment levels up, although a note to all writers, Mrs Smee doesn’t work!!

Next I set off to the Assembly Rooms Derby. When I was last here a few years ago to see Jack and the Beanstalk, I left very disappointed, so I didn’t have particularly high expectations going into the performance.  How wrong was I, for £14 per ticket, it had to be one of the best value for money tickets out there. Plenty of gags, funny scenes, and Neil Morrissey were excellent.  I have to say I enjoyed his take on the Ghost and the Ghoulies gag! “I don’t want to be caught by the ghosties  … I thought we agreed we weren’t doing that one this year!” Brilliant!

Boxing Day took us to Liverpool and FFE’s flagship Aladdin starring Les Dennis, followed by  Snow White in Manchester. Tina O Brien made an excellent Snow White and Deena Payne the best Wicked Queen I would see this year. The show was fun, enjoyable, a good run of the mill panto.

The next trip was on the 30th when we visited Birmingham for the star filled Dick Whittington.The show didn’t get off to the best of starts when it was announced that Joan Collins was ill and wouldn’t be performing, although I’m not sure she would have been any better than her EXCELLENT understudy!

From the moment Julian Clary appeared out of a rocket ship on stage, I realised that this was going to be one of the Panto’s of the year and take some beating! I had never seen Julian in panto before, but after this I intend to stalk him around the theatres of the UK from here on in. To say the guy was genius, and brilliant would be a total understatement. He was absolutely outstanding, and completely stole the show, something that was hard to do, with Keith Harris and Orville rolling back the years to put on an excellent performance, and Nigel Havers again showing he is far better suited as a Baddy!

I decided to use the fact Joan Collins was missing to justify buying myself a ticket to see the show again, but the truth is, it was such a great show, I simply had to see it twice. Julian’s performance certainly made him a front runner for our Best Lead of the year!

I left Birmingham unsure if any other show this year would be able to push it off the top spot for Panto of the Year!

I now headed up to a panto favourite of mine Bradford. To me it’s not panto season without Billy Pearce and the Alhambra. As usual he didn’t disappoint! My only criticism of Bradford was that they didn’t give Peter Piper a bigger role, as we missed out on his Ali G, and David Attenborough whilst being walked round by a gorilla! Billy was he usual high energy self, and had the audience eating out of the palms of his hands! Though a few new gags wouldn’t go a miss!

Whilst there were no big west end musical scenes; I have to say I really enjoyed the Musical Score for this show, very original and well performed.

The Broken Mirror scene was a lot of fun and the frog scene was absolutely brilliant in Act 2, and highly original.

I have to hold my hands up and admit to not being a big fan of the 3D scenes in the shows. I’d much prefer some comedy scenes, but the Bradford 3D show was the best I would see this season. Especially the trip down to the Diamond Mine!

Next stop was Milton Keynes and FFE’s Dick Whittington. This was to prove to be VERY similar to Bristol’s Dick Whittington, with the difference being Bristol’s version was much much better! Yes Dirk Benedict made a good baddie in Milton Keynes, but he blotted his copy book with me when he snuck out a side entrance instead of signing my programme. – Stavros Flatley were excellent and unsurprisingly got the biggest cheer of the night! They were also really nice people too when we met them after the show!  Graham Hoadley  made an EXCELLENT dame!

Before seeing Dick Whittington part 2 in Bristol, I ventured down to Southampton to see Lilly Savage in Aladdin. I knew I was in for an interesting night when the first scene was set at the funeral and reading of the will of Mr Twanky! This was a strange show, and I would call it a show more than a panto. To me it was Lilly Savage does Aladdin, rather than Aladdin starring Lilly Savage as Widow Twanky.

When Paul O Grady was on stage, the show was excellent, funny and witty. When not, it was slow and dragged, although the Chinese Policemen were very good. It was certainly an interesting take on Aladdin, although in truth, not my cup of tea

From Southampton it was off to Bristol.

After her non-stop action performance, I want to see Barbara Windsor’s birth certificate as I don’t believe she is 73! More like 23! Andy Ford was his usual hysterical self, and had the audience in stitches from start to finish, although as in Milton Keynes, I wish they had left Terry the Turtle in the pet shop! Eric Potts always makes an excellent Dame, and Granville Saxton as always made an excellent baddie, and Chris Nelson always stands out in which ever role he is given. I personally thought it was a shame his talents weren’t given the role of Dick!

That said, an excellent pantomime, and a certainly a front runner for Panto of the Year 2010-11.

It was time to visit Dartford, and Jack and the Beanstalk. I had been looking forward to this all week, as Bobby Davro had been Excellent in Milton Keynes last year, Nigel Ellacott is the Ultimate Panto Dame, and Jay Worthy and Jan Eric had been excellent in Bradford the previous years.

I am delighted to say I wasn’t disappointed. I have never known a torch to provide such fear amongst grown men, but as soon as Dame Trott begins her search for a husband, every man in the front 4 rows of the audience wants to be as far away from the stage as possible. Thankfully I was on Row 10!

A  Dame who changed costumes every time they left the stage, each time coming on in bigger and better outfits, a Comedian (Bobby) who actually had new material from the previous year! And a highly energetic cast who seemed determined to make sure everyone of the audience had a great time. All backed up by an excellent musical score.

Jan and Bobby made a wonderful double act, and the foam scene was even better this year than it had been in Bradford. Jay Worthy was an excellent baddie, as he had been in Bradford previously, and the whole audience, even the annoying kid who was winding Bobby Davro up all night seemed to enjoy it! Dartford immediately went into the mix for Panto of the year, with Nigel Ellacott a front runner for Dame of the year. An excellent show.

My final stop “down south” was with Bradley Walsh in Southend, in Qdos’ Peter Pan.

I liked the modern take at the start of the show, but all the praise has to be heaped on Bradley Walsh who was simply superb as Mr Smee!

I have been fortunate enough to see Bradley on a couple of occasions as Wishee Washee in Aladdin, and he just has the power to have the entire audience eating out of the palm of his hands. He gets the whole audience involved, and makes sure you have a smile on your face from start to finish.

Praise too for the flying stunts, and having both Peter Pan and TInkerbell flying over the audience.

I have to give credit too to Peter Pan; usually the actor/actress playing this role can be VERY annoying! But Spencer Charles Noll played the part extremely well, and was a joy to watch.

An Excellent end to my trip down south, and made me glad I decided to extend my trip to see Bradley Walsh!

Having travelled back up to the Midlands, Saturday was the turn of Aladdin in Nottingham with Grey O’Brien, Andrew Ryan and as it turned out “H” from Steps, as Stephen Mulhern was still suffering from illness.

What can I say about Nottingham, well let’s start by saying the first thing I did at the interval was queue up to buy a ticket to see the show again the following week. The entire show was superb. It was one of the funniest and most original pantomimes of the whole season so far.

Grey O’ Brien was an excellent baddie, and “H” was a very good stand in for Stephen, although I did feel that sometimes he tried a little bit too hard, but there was only one star of this show!

Step Forward ANDREW RYAN. Now I know Andrew is an excellent dame, as I have had the privilege of seeing him in a number of pantomimes over the years, but this year his brilliance went one step further. He was already running neck and neck for the best Dame award with Nigel until THAT SCENE, THE SCENE, and the undoubted SCENE OF THE YEAR! Andrew Ryan is SUSAN BOYLE”  I had tears in my eyes from laughter, it was the funniest thing I had seen all year, and his lyrics to I dream a dream made it even more special, and where his balloon ended up, well I’m not sure even he could have hoped for that!!

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, the entire auditorium went wild. That scene was worth the ticket price alone, but Nottingham wasn’t finished there!! We still had the 12 days of Christmas to come.

I had seen a very flat 12 days of Christmas in Liverpool, but this performance was how the song should be performed. An Emperor of China black and blue from getting it in the head with the toilet rolls, an exhausted Aladdin having had to run into the audience to collect said Toilet Rolls and a Dame revealing her knickers having had to crawl under the backdrop to get the pans back!

Nobody in the packed audience wanted this show to end. It was entertainment from the first minute to the last. Excellent Script, Excellent Performances and a show that will be hard to knock off top spot!

As the curtain went down my only thought was thank goodness I am coming back next week to see it all again. I’m laughing now as I recall this show.

So with most of the Panto’s now closed, I had to wait a week for the next show, Aladdin in Nottingham again with Steven Mulhern.

As the previous week, the show was fantastic. Steven was excellent as Aladdin, and had the edge over “H”. He worked the audience really well and seemed to have real chemistry with his mum Widow Twanky! How pleased was I to see this show again! I needed to, as was struggling to decide whether the top award should go to Nottingham or Birmingham.

I was to decide the following Friday when I pitched up in Birmingham for the second time. This time round I was to see the wonderful Joan Collins, and WHAT an ENTRANCE!!

I spent most of the show in tears… of laughter. It seemed even funnier second time round!

Julian Clary was as before Brilliant and Keith Harris again superb. His last scene with Cuddles the Monkey was the hardest I’ve laughed in years. The one liners kept coming, this time Julian appealing for his Agent when faced with Orville in bed! The bitching scenes between Julian and Joan were superb.

I genuinely didn’t want this show to end, and had to be frog marched away from the box office to prevent me buying another ticket to see it again!!

The next time we ventured to see Christopher Biggins and Paul Zerdin in Aladdin at the Grand Theatre Wolverhampton.

Zerdin is always good value, but his rendition of Mr Who, Mr What and Mr I don’t know was just genius. I had already seen this very funny scene in Southampton and Nottingham, where two of the cast members get irate and angry with each other over whose laundry goes to which house.

I imagine it is a tricky scene to do at the best of times, but imagine playing both parts yourself! Paul Zerdin was trying to explain to sidekick Sam where the laundry was to go. It was hysterical seeing the pair get angry with each other. One of the funniest scenes of the year!

Biggins was good, and I enjoyed his Ann Widdecombe and Dorothy- it was an excellent pantomime, a very impressive entrance out of a grave for Abanazer, and a good way to end the run … or so I thought.

Yes not content with seeing 15 pantomimes and 17 shows in all, I decided one last trip to Bradford was in order.Again I thoroughly enjoyed the show, even more so this time, as I was in the stalls and had some leg room!! (Unlike the Circle) and it was a fitting end to an excellent season.

I have to say that if I didn’t know the words to Don’t stop believing before I embarked on my panto tour, I do now! 11 out of the 15 shows featured this song, with 6 featuring Jai Ho.

Gillian McKeith and Ann Widdecombe were also mentioned in EVERY Panto and Lady GaGa was also on show in 6!

I have to say that whilst Nigel Ellacott and Andrew Ryan did excellent Lady GaGa’s the best Lady GaGa has to go to Damian Williams who was suspended from the stage with his belly on view!! Absolutely hysterical!!

Having seen 15 pantomimes this year (18 including repeats) one shock was I didn’t get to see any Cinderella’s for the first time ever! I am sure everywhere will be doing Cinderella next year.

For the record, this year I have seen, 6x Aladdin, 4X Dick Whittington, 3x Peter Pan, 3x Snow White and one of Jack & the Beanstalk and Robinson Crusoe

For me it was the “veteran” pantomime performers who stood out again this year. Certainly next year I will be looking out for Andy Ford, Bobby Davro, Billy Pearce, Julian Clary and Bradley Walsh and booking to see them.

As for the Dames, you MUST see Nigel Ellacott, Andrew Ryan and Damian Williams!

Every year having seen the shows, I put together my Pantomime Awards for the year. This year the winners are ….

Pantomime Awards 20010-11
Winner 2nd 3rd
Best Pantomime Dick Whittinghton, Birmingham Aladdin, Nottingham Jack & The Beanstalk, Dartford
Best Set Dick Whittinghton, Bristol Dick Whittington, Birmingham Jack & The Beanstalk, Dartford
Best Production Costumes Jack & The Beanstalk, Dartford Aladdin, Nottingham Dick Whittington, Birmingham
Best Leading Male Julian Clary, Birmingham Andy Ford, Bristol Bradley Walsh, Southend
Best Leading Female Barbara Windsor, Bristol Joan Collins, Birmingham Sian Reeves – Bradford
Best Supporting Male Keith Harris & Orville, Birmingham Peter Piper, Bradford Tam Ryan, Manchester
Best Dame Andrew Ryan, Nottingham Nigel Ellacott, Dartford Grahame Hoadley, Milton Keynes
Best Script Dick Whittington, Birmingham Jack & The Beanstalk, Dartford Snow White, Bradford
Best Baddie Steve Serlin, Stoke on Trent Nigel Havers, Birmingham Jay Worthy – Darford
Best Scene Susan Boyle – Nottingham Drowning – Julian Clary Birmingham Who, What, I Don’t Know – Wolverhampton
Best Musical Score Snow White, Bradford Jack & The Beanstalk, Dartford Dick Whittington, Birmingham
Best Entrance Joan Collins, Birmingham Julian Clary, Birmingham James Barron, Wolverhampton
Best Pantomime Gag Julian Clary to Nigel Havers “Don’t worry kids, if his performance in the jungle is anything to go by, he’ll have gone by the interval”
Best American Import Dirk Benedict Not much competition !!!
Best Dame Costumes Nigel Ellacott Brilliant as always
Biggest Suprise Performance Julian Clary
Nicest Celebrity Met Stavros Flatley
Special Mention Paul Zerdin & Sam The Mr Who, Mr What, Mr I Don’t Know For one person to do this scene as two people .. Brilliant!
Most Improved Act from Previous Years Nigel Havers – Keeps improving
Fish Out of Water Award 😦 Louie Spence

From → Miscellaneous

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