THIS in the best in-depth cast I’ve ever seen in a panto, and a new dame is born!
Simon Stallworthy took the Durham Gala panto and, as writer and director, developed the show over the past seven years into one of the consistently top pantomimes in the region.
Full credit to the Gala bosses who have built on that legacy by bringing in nationally-renowned theatre director Gareth Tudor Price to give the show a fresh perspective.
Retaining the heart of the acting team with veterans Neil Armstrong (Abanazar), as ever the superb baddie, and Paul Hartley as the daft and loveable Wishee Washee, Price has brought in more big guns in the form of Chris Connel as the hilarious Widow Twankey (soldier boots and a five o’clock shadow), Viktoria Kay as the whacky Pc Ping Pong and the cuddly Rob Hudson as the silly Emperor.
He also scoured the country for a Princess Jasmine and an Aladdin, and found Christian Andrew and Matt McGoldrick who are excellent individually and sparkle together.
With Nobby the Giant Panda (Chris Foley), the final cast member is the 12ft genie, a 3D effect that is as effective as the quality sets that have been sourced nationally to portray street scenes, palaces and caves.
With Ben Croker’s script adapted for Durham and beyond (a Sanddancer reference to South Shields got a nice cheer) and Price’s direction bringing a more theatrical narrative, the show never sags, nor does it allow for gaps where you hear children talking and losing interest; whoever is on stage is captivating and their stories interesting.
There’s slapstick, the right number of songs, cast members in the audience, and audience participation.
The dancers are a top-notch troupe and the music is provided courtesy of a live band; further touches that provide additional quality to the performance.
It’s going to take something special to top this in the region. Hopefully it is the start of a new panto dream team.