NODA Review

Snow White 2018

“Snow White is a pantomime rarely contemplated by amateur companies in recent years, principally because of onerous casting issues with the seven dwarfs. Even professional companies struggle with this dilemma: whether children or adults are used some compromises have to be made. But make the right call and this story is a welcome addition to the panto repertoire; and Whitley Bay Pantomime Society hits the spot with this inaugural version at the Playhouse.

The youngsters, especially those who play the dwarfs (complete with miniature shovels and pick-axes) steal the show. Up against the young cast the principals do a commendable job: Snow White (Ellie Naseby) looks and acts her important role and stands out as a performer; Leah Ashton (The Forest Fairy) is cheerful, charming and a delight; Austin Davey (Nurse Gertie) is a warm, restrained and an endearing dame; Davie Linsdell (Muddles) is energetic and has pace; the baddies Snotball and Slimeball (Mark Robinson and Robert Wilson Baker respectively) pile on the obnoxiousness; Sabrina Lyall (Prince Richard) is strong in character and voice; and Lauren Peters-Jones is a suitably unsettling Queen Lucretia.

The staging and choreography are pleasing and the band accompanies the many songs with much live playing. The whole show looks good with full-stage scenery cloths showing off the large stage at the Playhouse and the sizeable cast command the space with buoyancy. The director Steven Bell has pulled off his panto directing debut with a proficient hand and the whole production came together with few glitches (sound and lights very occasionally faltering).

Let’s hope that Snow White becomes a regular feature and I’m sure the appreciative audience will look forward to next year’s show from the pen of their President.”

– Ray J. Lowry

Jack and the Beanstalk 2017

“As this company presents just one main show annually, this is their chance to “strut their stuff”. A good pantomime is not as easy to pull off as one might think, good timing being essential to ensure the audience responds in all the right places. No problem here. From opening to final bows, this was an energetic show, from an enthusiastic, talented company.

Three groups of youngsters/dancers feature – Tots, Juniors and Seniors (teenaged Seniors) and a quite small Chorus of ladies, making 36 in all plus Principals. They filled the stage with music and dance and were clearly enjoying themselves. The very youngest youngsters occasionally looked a little lost which only endears them further to the adult audience.

Jen Laws, as Fairy Daffodil, exuded goodness and bright goldenness – a fairy with a social media addiction and occasional sprinkler of stardust. Princess Apricot is nicely played by Emma Deborah Ward, a late addition due to the indisposition of the original Princess, on just five hours’ notice. She delivered a well-received solo, with Chorus support, in Act Two. Sabrina Lyall played Jack as a somewhat reluctant hero, contrasting nicely with the manic antics of brother, Silly Billy, played by Davie Linsdell. Whenever I see Davie playing the fool each year, the memory banks click in and the chuckle-factor lifts. I know I’ll see a warm, Geordie, performance for children and adults alike.

Robert Wilson Baker was an amusing, slightly dim, King Crumble – Apricot’s Dad! Jack and Billy’s mother, Dame Trott, was played amusingly by Joanna Barrett. She had many of the best lines which she delivered well, amusing youngsters whilst casting a salacious eye towards the adults. Dame Trott needs a pantomime cow to be exchanged for that bag of beans by Jack, rather than the gold his mother expects. Daisy the Cow was very light on her toes, being inhabited by choreographer Julie Cockburn and Emma Tuff.

Finally, the Giant’s villainous sidekick, Fleshcreep, was played with malign charm and impressive voice, by Steven Bell. We booed mightily but our cries seemed a little lost between auditorium and stage. Never mind, we loved to hate him, in the nicest possible way.

A technically accomplished show – video, animation, very impressive and bright lighting making the colourful costumes glitter and gleam. A very impressive show which sends the audience out with a smile and a song on their lips.”

– Michael L. Avery

Cinderella 2016

“Gemma Rodgerson opened proceedings as an amusing Fairy Godmother, an intentionally insecure, humorous incarnation of Cinderella’s guardian angel. Beth Crame, a pretty and tuneful Cinders, had the audience on-side from the start. Davie Linsdell was a loveable, amusing Buttons. The only person unable to see his heart on his sleeve for Cinderella was, as usual, Cinders herself. Lyndsey Fenn made a smart, crisp Prince Charming and (s)he and Beth made an attractive couple. The Prince’s right-hand man was a Dandini with a difference. Usually played quite straight, Leah Ashton played it for laughs.

Graham Oakes was an amusing, forgetful Baron Hardup, permanently bemused – very funny in character, even funnier slipping out of character to comment on proceedings. How such a genial chap could saddle himself with a wife like the Evil Stepmother (played by Joan Purves) and her grotesque daughters (David Swinton as Wicked Wanda and Steven Bell as Rotten Rita) beggars belief. Can he never see how foul they are to poor Cinders?

However, with Buttons and her Godmother’s assistance, Cinderella makes it to the Ball, and into the arms of the Prince. The fairy coach and horse were wondrous! They literally (well, not literally) flew over the stage and seemingly over the heads of the front rows. Sadly, the magic disappeared when the clock chimed midnight, when Cinderella realised she had forgotten her Godmother’s warning.

Despite devious moves on the part of the Ugly Sisters, that glass slipper slips onto only one delicate foot. The Prince and Cinderella are brought together to everybody’s satisfaction except, perhaps, poor Buttons.

Whitley Bay Pantomime Society puts on a big show. Principals, chorus and dancers (seniors, juniors and tots) totalled 50. Sets from Proscenium were excellent, especially that flying coach; costumes from Alan Graham were impressive. This was a show with high production values. Andrew’s Clarence’s small but effective combo of four musicians kept the action moving. The cast performed their musical numbers well, whether singing or dancing. The humorous contributions from Gemma Rodgerson, Davie Linsdell, Leah Ashton, Graham Oakes, David Swinton and Steven Bell were really amusing, running the gamut from subtle and quirky to broad and hilarious. The audience left well entertained.”

– Michael L. Avery

Sleeping Beauty 2015

“Last year the pantomime of choice was Aladdin. This year it seems to be Sleeping Beauty, this being the second version I have seen in two weeks. Fortunately, with pantomimes, the contents of the show may be similar but they are never the same.

Whitley Bay Pantomime Society always put on a big show at The Playhouse. Including Principals, Chorus, Senior Dancers, Junior Dancers and Tots, I count over 50 cast members in the programme. Amongst the Principals, we have Sarah Harris as a winsome Princess Beauty and Joanna Wingate as a dependable Prince Handsome in true Principal Boy fashion. I must admit I like a traditional Principal Boy. Steven Bell was, as ever, a dependable and amusing Dame, Penelope Pinchme. Another familiar face was that of David Lindsell, taking the comedy honours as Oddjob.

Also on the comedy side, a word must be reserved for Robert Wilson Baker who, as Gormless, seemed to have wandered in from the Shrek family, performing in deep green make-up throughout. Robert is, I believe, just 17 and showed great promise in what was his pantomime debut.

The Chorus and dancers filled the stage with colour, movement and song which kept the whole performance moving along nicely. The plot? Well, in this version the Princess actually does prick her finger but Prince Handsome is there to bring her back to life despite the best efforts of the Joan Purves as the odious Helga Pong.

Chris Johnson’s production was bright, colourful and entertaining with just the right amount of interplay between the cast and the children (and many of the adults) in the audience. The musical contribution of Andrew Mair complemented the production, never intrusive but always keeping the show moving along nicely. As choreographer, Julie Cockburn had a lot of dancers (some very young) to deal with.

All in all, this was a very pleasant evening’s entertainment and the audience, both children and adults, left the theatre in a buoyant mood.”

– Michael L. Avery

Aladdin 2014

“Last year the snows closed in on me as I made my way to Whitley Bay for Humpty Dumpty. Fortunately, there were no such problems this time. Aladdin seems to be a popular panto this winter; this being the third version I have seen! As always, Whitley Bay Pantomime Society put on a sparkling and engaging panto written and directed, once again, by Jeff Waites. The costumes from Alan Graham and, I suspect, the Company’s Wardrobe Dept. helped keep the show bright and colourful. As pantos are primarily for children, it was nice to see (according to the programme) 22 children on stage.

I suspect the plot of Aladdin is very familiar so I will avoid setting it out here. Jamie Moore displayed his “cheeky chappy” persona to great effect as Wishee Washee. He was full of pep and fizz and established a great rapport with the children and many of the adults in the audience without a great deal of apparent effort. He is a natural for this kind of role. I was also quite taken by David Linsdell and Alex Chidambaram as Hi-lo and Lo-hi, the traditional pantomime fools. Like most adults, I only tend to smile during pantomimes but they did, on occasion, make me laugh out loud, especially Alex.

Emma Waites played Aladdin in traditional as a Principal Boy, and Angela Dowse was her/his Princess Balroubadour. I am afraid the sound system, or the balance between the band and the performers, conspired to make most of the musical numbers quite difficult to hear. If the words of the songs were intended to advance the plot that was sadly lost. I haven’t yet mentioned the Dame – Steven Bell as Widow Twankey. Whenever he was on the stage he took command and, when not performing his comedy set pieces, he moved the story forward well. The word “traditional” comes to mind again but it is appropriate. He was funny, not too rude, and his costumes were dazzlingly bright. Steven Thompson played an evil Abanazar, constantly trying to inflict evil upon poor, unsuspecting Aladdin. I am happy to say he received his comeuppance before the curtains closed.

The entire company performed with real enthusiasm. The dance numbers were full of life and the Principals all worked very had to create an entertaining and enjoyable evening. The dog, Jed, as Ben the Royal Hound was a little out of control on the night I saw the show, a very large dog being minded by a rather small handler. Unfortunately, it is unplanned moments like that which give audiences a lot of their entertainment, albeit unintentional.

All in all, another enjoyable and entertaining evening from Whitley Bay Pantomime Society.”

– Michael L. Avery

Humpty Dumpty 2013

“Friday 18th January, the evening Christmas returned to Whitley Bay in the form of a traffic crunching snow storm with ice on the side. So, a perfect night for a pantomime, albeit three weeks after Christmas. I have to say ‘Humpty Dumpty’ belied the weather outside. It was an enjoyable, colourful production, written and directed by Jeff Waite who was helped immeasurably by the bright costumes provided by Alan Graham and the enthusiastic cast including about 22 children.

Sadly, due to weather, the audience only totalled roughly 100 but they were mostly children who whole-heartedly embraced the spirit of pantomime and Christmas. I’m a sucker for Christmas songs, who feels miserable every year when clearing away an ever-increasing collection of Christmas CDs. So I was transported when the first act closed with 3, count them 3, Christmas songs. The children were, however, more impressed by a song about a wiggly worm which they entered into with unabashed glee. In fact, I looked away from the stage towards the happy children, faces aglow, arms in the air, doing all the actions with great gusto.

The plot, if anyone is interested, seems to owe a lot to The Wizard of Oz as Humpty Dumpty (Jamie Moore) and his friends seek to find Molock the Wizard (Steven Thompson) in Snowland to save their homes in Littlesville from the Wicked Witch (Joan Purvis). Jamie quickly established a traditional panto rapport with the children (and quite a few adults) who happily responded to every cue with the usual responses. My favourite panto moments occur when the audience response is from an individual audience member which receives a quick, amusing response from the stage. Jamie fielded quite a few of those with considerable style.

The songs linking the bits of business were, for the most part, familiar and usually appropriate to the plot. Perry Wright and David Linsdell, as Court Jesters called Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dim, helped Jamie keep the action moving. There was even a Principal Boy, Hailey Eastlake, in the form of Prince Jack, who was allowed to get her legs out. One particular voice stood out for me. Shaunagh Kelly, playing Princess Nina, demonstrated a very nice way with a song despite having (if memory serves) only a song and a half at her disposal.

So, all in all, a bright, colourful and enjoyable pantomime to carry its audience along in true panto style. Oh, and yes, I managed to get home safely through the thickening snow and slush!”

– Michael L. Avery