The New Theatre is billed as a top draw for Panto loving families and it was my first time to see what the New Theatre had to offer. I’ve been a Muni/Park and Dare Panto regular since a child and was used to a pretty raucous affair thanks to the likes of Frank Vickery, and his delightfully outrageous teasing and bitchy banter.
So despite being caught in an almighty downpour on the way to the New Theatre, my expectations were mixed for Cardiff’s premier pantomime venue. I knew it was going to be much blingier and higher budget than what I was used to but ticket prices aside, would it bring additional value?
I haven’t been a fan of Eastenders for years and (sorry Samantha!) my distaste for soaps and reality shows in general means I typically have low expectations for their actors and performers. I wasn’t sure how to feel when I found out that ex-Eastender Samantha Womack and real-life caricature of a preening prince (X Factor Famous Chico) would be top of the cast list.
But if you love Panto (as I do) or even have a begrudging respect for it as a traditional artform, you just have to go with it.
Samantha Womack as the Wicked Stepmother is bloody brilliant, she really is. Sorry for misjudging you Samantha! She was excellent at dissing the Cardiff crowd and there were plenty of us in the firing line. Her vocals are really strong, too – particularly during the famous Hocus Pocus movie version of ‘I put a spell on you’.
Thanks to choreographer Stephen Harris, the set list and routines were contemporary with an up to date song list. Kids will love the Ariana Grande opener, which gets you in the mood for the fun ahead.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Chico still isn’t my cup of tea – but as A-grade cheddar goes, he’s great for the role. I’m not sure we need to see quite so much of his pecs throughout the show and (sorry to be a spoilsport) the whole Step Mother lusting after a younger guy and repeatedly groping him thing doesn’t sit well with me, but…that’s probably overthinking it.
Mike Doyle…not enough is said about how great an entertainer he is. He is completely underrated in the Welsh media, but his turn as ‘Betty Berry’ and Shirley Bassey is first class. Even if you’re not sure about Panto and minor celebs, you must see Mike Doyle rinsing Shirley Bassey and of course- completely getting away with it. Again, while his whole performance is pure hammery (if that’s even a word), he is a truly fantastic singer. He even reminds us at one point: ‘I was trained by Stan Stennett, love!’
There are plenty of local/popular culture references which audiences will love. Snow White last saw her Father get on a bus to St Mellons (never to return), the magic mirror comes from Argos, Alfie comes from the magical kingdom of Bridgend, the royal carriage comes complete with a car alarm (well it is Cardiff) and the people of Lisvane are ‘too posh to join in’.
Special mention also for the fabulous ‘Magnificent Seven’ and their incredible vocals, Mike Coltman for the beautiful costumes and the overall set design (keep an eye out for the wonder of the Snow White cottage).
I did notice a marked difference in general audience participation between the Park and Dare and the New Theatre. The audience on my night was a little flatter than I was used to. BUT! There is a lot of added wow factor in this New Theatre production. The way the set is dressed, the musical repertoire, the size of the cast and the quality of the costumes will blow you away. This is festive bling 2.0.
2017 has been an absolute shocker of a year, but this show is a guaranteed way to blow off the cobwebs and let the New Theatre shower you with sequins and glitter. Let go of your apprehensions and scoff down this Christmassy treat so sweet it’ll make your heart sing and your jaw ache from laughing.