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Dawson’s Travels

February 3, 2012

Daniel Dawson, a regular contributer to IBY makes extensive travels around the UK each pantomime season to see as many Pantos as possible.

Here is this year’s blog from Daniel- with his personal Pantomime Awards to follow.

We here at IBY point out that this blog represents Daniel’s personal views on the shows he has seen, and does not reflect the views of The same applies to Daniel’s Panto Awards for 2011.

That said- Over to Daniel Dawson!

And so it begins, this year earlier than ever before. It is still November, but with the Christmas Market selling festive treats outside, and my first cup of mulled wine for the season, Christmas has definitely arrived inNewcastle.

Over the next 6 weeks, I will be travelling fromNewcastlein the North, toWimbledonin the South, Southend in the East, toBristoland Llandudno in the West and all that is in between in search of the best pantomime in the land! Unfortunately, I will miss out this year on two of my favourites from last year, Julian Clary inPlymouthand Paul Zerdin inCardiff, which are just too far to fit in this year!

Having never been to the pantomime in Newcastle, I had never heard or seen Clive Webb or Danny Adams before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a full to the rafters newly refurbished Theatre Royal  crowd desperate to see the return of their hero’s from previous years. This in fact was their 7th successive year inNewcastle, and they were already booked back for Aladdin in 2012-13.

It didn’t take me long to find out why this pantomime was a practical sell out for the entire run, or why it had been extended by an additional week, and why the stars had already been booked for next year!!  It was the best possible start to the season.

The costumes were elaborate, the set superb, but in Danny Adams, the show had a real star. Every time he was on stage there were tears of laughter coming down the cheeks of the entire sold out audience. The ridiculous laugh, the funny voices and the excellent one liners. This show was pure pantomime gold.

There were some excellent topical gags, the controversial name change of St James’ Park and the awful X Factor Contestant Frankie Cocozza came in for some ribbing, but the funniest part of the night was the excellent 12 days of Christmas. Yes this is always one of my favourite routines in Pantoland, but this was executed with more madness, mayhem and laughter than any I’d previously seen. The highlight being the destruction of the new £19,000 theatre curtains! Followed by an appeal at the end for audience contributions.. towards the repair of the curtains.

This was opening night, but the show appeared as “tight” as a show that was well into its run. A real credit to the talented cast.

This show was a 5* hit from start to finish, and given that it is on until the 21st January I can certainly see myself sneaking in for another viewing.

So with Panto number one out of the way, and the season well and truly started, it’s off toManchesterto see what FFE have in store for us this year.

A packed first night house inManchesterto see the return of Tam Ryan in the role of Buttons “this year” as he reminded us on his arrival on stage. He was joined by Louis Spence and Suzanne Shaw. As I sat in my seat waiting for the curtain to rise, I couldn’t believe it was nearly two years since I last saw Cinderella, having failed to find one performance last season.

Indeed it brought back many memories, I think it could have been inManchesterthat I saw Nigel and Peter for the first time as the Ugly Sisters. Just thinking about it brought a tear to my eye. However good the show was going to be, it would never reach those heights.

What we did have for the next couple of hours was a good honest pantomime. Suzanne Shaw made an excellent Cinderella, with a great voice and stage presence. Tam Ryan as last year made a fun, and entertaining leading man. We were also given our first rendition of the Mr Who, What and I don’t know of the season.

For those of you who enjoy that routine, a little hint, visit Youtube, type in “Paul Zerdin Aladdin” and you will see my favourite version from last year!

With most pantomime’s still not having opened, I would have to wait a further week for my next dose of seasonal fun, this time inDerby, with Linda Robson, Paul Nicholas and the excellent Mike McLean.

Derbyisn’t one of the big budget productions, and the set may not be as glamorous as some, but what you do get here is two and a half hours of non-stop laughter. Highlights included the excellent “ If I was not a… something else I’d rather be” song, and the Russian Ballet Scene. This show was laugh out loud from start to finish, and as he was last year, Ian Good made an excellent Dame.

Next up, the following night wasMilton Keynes, with FFE’s Aladdin with Gareth Gates andBritain’s Got Talent star Paul Burling.

This show was great five years ago when I first saw it, the unfortunate thing is, now 5 years later and back inMilton Keynes, the show just hasn’t changed enough. I think I knew the script as well as those acting it out. Don’t get me wrong, Gareth Gates has an amazing voice and put in a great performance, and Paul Burling was very funny, but there was just nothing new. There was also a bit of a bland 12 days of Christmas routine. I put that down to it being very early in the run, and the show was still finding its feet.

With curtains now going up all over the country, I only needed to wait until Tuesday for my next fix.Darlingtonwith Ray Quinn, Deena Payne and Jimmy Cricket.

Despite good solid performances from Deena Payne at the Fairy Godmother, Ray Quinn as the Prince and Jimmy Cricket as the Baron, in truth, this pantomime was instantly forgettable, and didn’t have any real laugh out loud moments. I have to say it was also the first time I have ever seen a Cinderella Ball scene without a clock!! How would poor Cinders know what the time was?

And so to Friday and my “home” fixture of Sheffield, where I would get to enjoy the wonderful Damian Williams, all be it without Beverly Callard who had been forced to drop out due to illness.

The biggest shock before the pantomime started was in the programme. Damian Williams would be back next year, but would NOT be wearing a frock!! He was to return as Buttons in Cinderella. I pity the Ugly Sisters, boy will they need to be good.

So what about Sleeping Beauty this year? Well what can I say; absolute class from start to finish. Damian Williams is a genius and as he kept reminding us, they were all “new jokes” (How I wish certain other script writers had been in the audience). An excellent supporting cast only helped propel this pantomime up to the higher reaches of those seen so far.

The Bathroom scene was fantastic, very funny and extremely original. This pantomime was also full of excellent one liners… “I’m not saying the wicked fairy is going to appear, but if she doesn’t, something’s gone horribly wrong!” and “You know what they say, there can’t be any ghosts in a Sheffield Panto without a fat bloke dressed as a woman, wearing a Sheffield Icon” . .. Cue Damian’s entry in a Super tram Costume. I had taken my mum to this Panto, it was the first she has seen in probably over 20 years and she absolutely loved it. It was hard not to. Paul Hendy’s Pantomimes are highly originally and very funny, and when you have a star of the calibre of Damian Williams to deliver the lines, you know you are on to a winner.

The bathroom scene will certainly be up there for Scene of the Year and Damian has definitely set down the gauntlet to the other Dames for my Dame of the Year. I now need to find a way of seeing it again before the season finishes, because to see this quality only once, isn’t enough!!

There was also a fabulous adaption of the Mr Who, What, I don’t know routine which involved the audience who “had no idea!”.

Next up Stoke. What can I say about Stoke … mmmm well it was highly original in places! It starred Joe Swash, although having hardly seen him on stage, I did wonder whether he had returned to the jungle in the intermission. All in all, this wasn’t a great Panto, but credit to the young guy who played Aladdin .. Leon Tagoe who was excellent, and maybe deserved a better script than he got.

The production wasn’t helped by curtains not dropping on time, and various different actors forgetting their lines. My favourite had to be when Joe Swash was getting the audience to shout out every time he came on stage, forgot his name, and got everyone to shout out “Watcha Mickey” (his character in East Enders!) instead of Watcha Wishee!! So for the rest of the evening, every time he came out, the entire audience were shouting “Watcha Mickey”  As with last year, a disappointing pantomime, and I will be hoping for better when I return to Stoke at the end of January to see Jonathan Wilkes and Paddy McGuiness with their adult pantomime!! I also think it is a real shame when a pantomime doesn’t use a live band, and uses recorded music instead as the Stoke one did.

So back in the North East with work, I decided the best way to get into the Christmas spirit was to visit the Theatre Royal again and see my early front runner for Panto of the Year 2011-2.

I was so glad I went to see it again, it was even funnier the second time than the first time, if that was possible. There are just so many funny scenes, its laugh out loud from the first minute to the last. The entire cast are excellent, the baddies are wonderfully bad, and Danny Adams again was just a comedy genius. Chris Hayward makes an excellent Traditional Dame and the special effects are spellbinding.

I came out of the theatre, not only thinking who could beat this show for the Panto of the Year, but whether this was actually the BEST PANTOMIME I had EVER seen. Beating last year’s Dick Whittington in Birmingham, Billy Pearce and Bobby Bennett’s Dick Whittington many years ago in Bradford and the original Brian Conley, Nigel and Peter’s Cinderella. The reality is, it probably is the best ever. I have tickets to see it again in January, and I wouldn’t rule out a fourth visit either. I could sit and watch that show night after night.  There are so many fantastic scenes it’s hard to choose which is the best. Their rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas is the BEST I have ever seen! And Muddles does the X Factor is highly original and bloody funny! And Muddles becomes the Terminator is the hardest I have laughed in years, and I haven’t even mentioned the malfunctioning car, the Princess into the Suitcase, the Cleaning of the Statue Scene, and Muddles becoming a Frog !!

The following night it was a quick drive 8 miles down the road to Whitley Bay for Aladdin. Obviously the tickets were far cheaper than Newcastle, and the budget vastly inferior, but I was interested to see what this show had on offer.

The script was very close to an Eric Potts Aladdin, even though he hadn’t been credited with writing it. The young Aladdin played by Jassa Ahluwalia had a great voice and great stage presence and will definitely be a star of the future.  Steve Walls also made a fun Wishey, but apart from that, it really didn’t offer anything too special. I have to say that the Dame was poor, and compared to others I had seen this year, he was very disappointing. Again another Panto relying on recorded music as opposed to a live band. I was also amazed at how unsettled the audience were throughout the show, adults, and children coming in and out of the auditorium all the time, something I felt was rude to the actors.

My conclusion, however good Jassa and Steve were, my recommendation would be to spend £8-£10 more a ticket, and go 8 miles further down the road to Newcastle!!

With my first visit of the season to Bradford planned for Christmas Eve, there was still time to sneak another visit to Sheffield to see the wonderful Damian Williams in Sleeping Beauty.

Again another fantastic evening enjoying the exploits of Damian Williams on stage. He really is the focal point of the show, and has the theatre eating out of his hands. The talk at the interval was all about the Dame. He is certainly well loved in Sheffield, and I hope he stays here for years to come, as it will save me trekking all over the country to see him, as Panto season now wouldn’t be the same without him! Well worth a second visit, and really pleased I had chance to see it again.

It certainly seems as though Sleeping Beauty is the Pantomime this year, so what would a visit to Nottingham and Joe Pasquale and Ceri Dupree give us?

The answer was another wonderful evening of entertainment, with a strong cast, fantastic costumes and great performances from the leads.

Ceri Dupree is without doubt the most glamorous of all the Dames and her costumes were simply “Fabulous Darling”! Joe Pasquale was back to his best after a previous disappointing performance in Birmingham. I especially enjoy him being lifted up by the curtain, very amusing.

In all the show was really enjoyable, Lucy Evans making the best Beauty I had seen so far this season. At this point I am struggling to decide on the Dame of the Year. Damian Williams is certainly the funniest, but Ceri Dupree was so far the most glamorous, and really entertaining.

And so to Bradford and Robin Hood. Robin Hood is not the easiest story line to make into a Pantomime but, the excellent Billy Pearce, Hillary O Neil, Andrew Ryan and Jay Worthy certainly made a great attempt at turning it into something special.

The special effects were superb, the flying dragon, and the magic waterfall were two highlights, so too was the near decapitation by the Sheriff of Nottingham of poor Maid Marion, but thankfully she managed to escape before the metal jaws snapped together!

Jay Worthy as in previous years made a superb baddie, and it was quite novel to see him with so much hair!!

Andrew Ryan never disappoints and thankfully there were appearances by Anne Robinson and Susan Boyle  to add to the enjoyment!

Billy was his usual energetic self, and had the audience eating out of the palms of his hands!

Whilst a fully enjoyable pantomime, a few new jokes wouldn’t have gone a miss!!

Boxing Day meant a trip over to Llandudno, and front row seats to see Nigel Ellacott in Aladdin. As always Nigel was superb, and his costumes were absolutely fantastic. His Washing Dress which I believe was new this year was without doubt the best costume I would see throughout the entire pantomime run, and must have taken him hours to prepare.

Alongside Nigel, the real star of the show was Jason Gardner, who made the most wonderful Abanzer. He was without doubt the best baddie I had seen to date.  This was a great fun show, played out in front of a packed auditorium; the only shame was it was such a short run.

From Llandudno, it was off to Northampton, and another Aladdin, this time starring Bobby Davro.

Again, a very similar script to Llandudno, but this as well was an excellent show. Whilst Bobby sometimes came across a bit over the top, especially nearly drowning some kid from the front row in the water pistol scene, this was a great show, very funny, plenty of original comedy and laughs, the only disappointment was in Jeffrey Holland’s costumes as the Dame. In the first half, he didn’t change his costume ONCE, in fact there were only 4 more changes in the entire show, and the frocks weren’t that impressive either. That said, it was a great show all in all, Basil Brush was actually very funny. (Funnier than he was to be in Birmingham) and the 12 days of Christmas were a great laugh.

From here, it was cross country to Bristol and the Hoff and Andy Ford in Peter Pan. This was the show that had transferred from Wimbledon the previous year, and had been pretty awful. If you were wondering where the review was in last year’s blog, it was edited out!! Probably wise J. This years biggest change was Andy Ford replacing Louis Spence, and boy did that make a difference. The Hoff was actually excellent as Hook, and he has a great voice! Andy Ford was his usual hysterical self and was worth the long drive to Bristol alone to see.

A huge improvement on the previous year’s Peter Pan, and a very enjoyable evening.

The next night I had tickets to see the Big Bucks Pantomime of the Year .. Wimbledon, so I decided I could fit in Bromley and Snow White en route. Let’s just leave the Snow White review as .. I wish I hadn’t!! and move on to the Fantastic Wimbledon show!

Dame Edna .. WOW This show was fantastic from start to finish.

The show was very similar to last year’s Bristol script, but thanks to Dame Edna, lasted an extra 30 minutes!! There were too many one liners to remember, but my favourite was when she was addressing her loyal subjects in the Upper Circle and assured them “that I will look up at you from time to time, but only in proportion to how much you have paid for your tickets.”

Her entrance was hugely spectacular, very Cher like in Vegas!! She arrived by flying across the theatre in a furry rat! Her facial expressions clearly indicating she had no idea what she had let herself in for.

Edna advised the audience that there was some “man dressed as a woman” on stage (Eric Potts) and that she really didn’t like that sort of thing!! Cue plenty of face pulling and pointing next time she was next to Sarah the Cook.

Midway through the show, she “forgot” what happened next, cue picking some poor lady out of the front row with a programme and spending ten minutes giving her the full Edna treatment!

Kev Orkian was simply superb as Idle Jack, again extremely funny, and full of energy. Eric Potts also showed what an excellent Dame he is, and managed to work the script very well to ensure Sarah The Cook could co-exist alongside Dame Edna.

There was a wonderful 12 Days of Christmas where I got totally drenched by panto favourite Ben Goffe reprising his role as Captain Tichworth.

Yes, you knew that this pantomime will have been this year’s biggest budget, but it was worth every penny, as it worked superbly. I always judge a pantomime if I would want to see it again, and had Wimbledon not been such an awkward place for me to get to, I would have definitely gone and seen it again and again, even at £40 a ticket and £15 (chokes) to park!!!

Next day it was off to Dartford to see Snow White starring Craig Revel Horwood and Anne Widdecombe.

Once Craig had entered the stage as the Wicked Queen, it was easy to see why this show has been extended by a week. He was excellent, and it was a great show. I had loved the music score last year in Bradford, and was delighted to hear the same music score again in this show. In fact I can’t get one of the blooming tunes out of my head!!! Grrrr.

But now to my big criticism and the reason why this show wasn’t up there in the top 5. No disrespect to the Children who did a great job, but there were no real dwarfs. Sorry but that just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care if they cost more, they are the charm of the show. What made it worse for me, was they used a backing track .This was really disappointing! You had the most fantastic performance from Craig as the Queen, a brilliant Snow White, and you spoilt it by cost cutting. Please … Real Dwarfs and no voice overs. Also have to say I didn’t think Nick Weir was a particularly good Muddles! But that is just personal opinion. A really good show that could have been GREAT!!

Then it was off to Southend on Sea in the evening, although with the amount of rain that was pouring down I thought it was going to become Southend in the Sea!!!

Shane Richie and Peter Piper starred in this Aladdin, and it was absolutely great. Maybe not one for the purists as there was a lot of messing about, and you could tell the run was coming to an end, but non-stop entertainment from start to finish. Unfortunately the Dame wasn’t one of the better ones I would see, again with minimal costume changes, but the show was thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the visit.

The highlight had to be when Aladdin suggested going in disguise into Abanazar’s lair dressed as a Cat and a Dog. Peter Piper turned up as Scooby Doo, whilst Shane Richie turned up as Kat Slater! Might have been an obvious gag, but really funny anyway and brilliantly executed!!

So after an excellent time down south, it was time to drive back up to the Midlands. New Year’s Eve was to be spent at the Hippodrome Birmingham for Brian Conley in Cinderella.

After last year’s Pantomime extravaganza I had great expectations. Dick Whittington had been Panto of the Year 2010-11 and I was looking forward to seeing what Birmingham had in store for me this year.

Whilst this was a fun show, and definitely a new slant on Cinderella, I was left feeling disappointed. It wasn’t close to being as good as last years. One of the best scenes in the show was a carbon copy of Bradford (Everything I Do), and the entire show was very disjointed. There was no real flow. The Ugly Sisters were great, and the best I had seen this year. The stables scene was clever, but I was still left wanting more!

I am not sure if the Flying Horse at the end of Act One was meant to fly over the audience, it certainly looked like it should… but it didn’t go anywhere!! I am a huge fan of Brian Conley and think he is hugely talented, but again, some new jokes wouldn’t go a miss.

A nice traditional pantomime but without the cutting edge of last year. That said, the first thing we did was book tickets for next New Years Eve to see Robinson Crusoe!!

And so with 2011 behind us, and a lot of pantomimes now closed, I would have to wait a week for my next encounter, a trip to Hull to see the Chuckle Brothers!!

So off to Hull I went and off to see The Chuckle Brothers for the first time.

I was disappointed on arrival at the theatre to find the show was less than two hours, including an interval!! This disappointment intensified during the show, because it was really funny and I wanted the “missing 20-30 minutes” !!

There were some fantastically original scenes, and the Chuckle Brothers really rolled back the years! There was one hilarious scene, where Barry Buttons Chuckle ended up in just a pair of frilly pants ! not sure if that was a highlight, seeing a pensioner in his knickers, but it was absolutely brilliant!

At the end, they also did an excellent scene inviting “mummy’s and daddy’s” on stage as opposed to the children as they performed a highly unique version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Ugly Sisters were also really good, according to the programme it was the first year they had performed together as Sisters, but after this show, I would certainly suggest they become a double act and continue to work together in the future, because on this performance it would be a very bright future if they did.

The entire cast were excellent, including a wonderful Cinderella played by Emma Dearden.

It was just a shame there was no Baron Hardup and the show started in the Forest and not the Market Place or outside Hardup Hall. Great Show just too short.

Well this was to be the last “new” pantomime I would see this year. I did however manage another trip to Bradford and another TWO visits to Sleeping Beauty in Newcastle.

Both had added their own “tributes” to Anthony Worrall Thompson which were extremely funny.

At the start of my final visit to Newcastle, it had been announced that they had already enjoyed £500,000 in advanced ticket sales for next year’s Clive and Danny instalment.. So it can’t just have been me that thought this year’s was the best show on offer!

All in all it had been a very enjoyable Pantomime Season. I still had the visit to Stoke for the Adult Pantomime left to go, but knew that I would now have to wait until the end of November 2012 and Aladdin in Newcastle before I would get to scream “oh no it isn’t” again.

I had enjoyed trips to new venues, and been pleasantly surprised by some wonderful scenes and shows.

All that was left to do now, was my Pantomime Awards for 2011-12 (see attached) and to wonder who will be where for the  2012-13 season.

My Top 5 Shows this year were …

Panto Of The Year

  1. Newcastle
  2. Wimbledon
  3. Nottingham
  4. Sheffield
  5. Bristol



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