It’s been ten years since the Georgian Theatre Royal chose to produce its own annual panto, rather than use an ‘off the shelf’ production.
I’ve watched quite a few of those over the last decade and there’s never been a dud, with this year’s Aladdin right up there with the best, which if you’re asking, was Wizard of Oz I reckon. It had a real dog and was so scary that we thought the youngest child was going to need counselling in the weeks after.
There are many good things about watching a panto at Britain’s best preserved Georgian theatre. It’s ‘intimate’ people say. It’s not a word you normally associate with public spaces, unless you’re talking about certain lay-bys frequented by experimental couples.
But the auditorium isn’t much bigger than a Ford Focus estate, and you really do feel a part of the action. I’m talking about the panto now.
As well as all the usual ‘he’s behind you’ stuff, you get to sing along, stamp your feet, throw knitted items at the bad guys and, if you’re really unlucky, get hauled on stage to prance about and entertain the rest of us. Good luck to the family of the poor 12-year-old, who was selected from the audience on the night we went, getting him to give up a night on his Xbox to watch the show next year.
Oh and you might get a Tunnock’s teacake thrown in your direction. It’s all good clean-ish panto fun and it all pivots around the masterful dame, Gary Bridgens, who this year wrote the show as well as playing Widow Twankey. It’s Gacko’s last time appearing in the panto and he will be a hard act to follow.
There are no weak links elsewhere in the cast. The young stars were all excellent, with a big shout out to the youngest member of the chorus group who stole a couple of scenes.
Although it’s a professional show, all the local jokes give it the homely feel of an am-dram village hall production. There’s plenty of Darlo dissing, which went down well. A few of the town’s shops get a mention too which is fun, although at one point a whole scene seemed to be sponsored by Costa.
I should probably say something about the story-line, but I kind of lost the plot after about five minutes. There was a lamp, as you’d expect, and a flying carpet, as the youngest hoped, but I’m not sure what else happened other than the baddies lost, Aladdin got his girl and at one point a camel came on stage and started spraying water from its bum.
Among all this panto land tomfoolery was some great music, with songs by Queen, Otis Redding and Cab Calloway being put to good use, while the rehash of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy with baddie Abanazar, played by Nick O’Connor, was my favourite scene.
It’s all very silly but it’s uplifting, consensual silliness, as opposed to the dispiriting, enforced bonkersness that our country’s esteemed leaders are inflicting on us at the moment in the real world.
As Widow Twankey tells the audience as she wraps up the show, pantomime is a great British tradition. And the Georgian is doing its very best to keep that tradition alive and thriving.