It’s that time of the year folks! We arrived at Richmond Theatre just before 7pm to be greeted by a rather splendid Christmas tree in the foyer and a mass of excited kids – it seems that the Ealing schools had sent a number of parties. There were kids waving glow sticks and flashing stars and there were even a few beautifully dressed princesses amongst their number. The music was suitably festive and the stage screen was a shimmer of glitter. No Humbugs here.
A puff of smoke and our Fairy Godmother (Jenny Eclair – all in rhyme) appeared and mentioned the cheekily named ugly sisters – Beatrice and Eugenie. Mean but we loved it! And thus the show burst into action with dancing on the village green, a swirl of adult and child dancers all in jolly red costumes jigging around to a not-very-seasonal “Wake up it’s a beautiful morning” before Cinderella (Kellie Shirley of Eastenders) arrived in a designer rag dress.
We were quickly introduced to the marvellous Gary Wilmot as Buttons – who rode in on a pink scooter and who got the audience going faster than you can say “Participation”. He gave us a few quick fire gags (I laughed out loud at the one about Parcelforce) – many of which had a local Richmond flavour. Adults and kids adored him.
And then the ugly sisters (Graham Hoadly – the plump one and Paul Burnham – the tall one) made a spectacular entrance in the most amazing orange and lemon costumes and we were into “Oh yes we are, oh not you’re not” before we knew it. Fantastic.
Next we met Prince Charming (Elliot Harper) and his valet Dandini (the excellent Ben Redfern) as well as Baron Hardup (Robert Aldous). I was delighted to hear “I just can’t wait to be king” from The Lion King. Then we were off to a forest festival where the dancing, in places, was more dodgy than dirty.
At this point, I was struggling to avoid getting irritable with a rather pretty but ratty two year old near us – why do parents insist on inflicting their restless diddlies on everyone else? There really should be an age limit as there is in the West End. Sorry, but when my kids were little I removed them at the first sign of naughtiness. Everyone else was so very well behaved – even the grandparents.
The duet when the Prince meets Cinderella was well sung but I felt that they could have chosen a more recognisable song to really win over the audience. The sax playing was good though. Another fabulous Christmas number with Buttons and Cinderella in the kitchen pretending they were on a sleigh following the first bad sisters scene. And I have to say I was getting excited about seeing the results of the Fairy Godmother’s efforts. I wasn’t disappointed – a gloriously sparkly dress and a carriage with real tiny white ponies. And then everyone on stage in sequins and glitter and just as the curtain came down for half time – a swirl of snow.
Then we were off again with a rousing chorus of “Be our guest” – a brilliant number from the film Beauty and the Beast. The ugly sisters were splendid in outrageous costumes – Christmas tree and a snowman frocks. The silliness of the bee song and water spraying kept everyone laughing. Then that panto fave – the “behind you” spider scene - and the kids went wild. The audience were similarly enthusiastic about Bruno Mars’ “I think I want to marry you” when the Prince finds the girl who fits the un-smashed crystal slipper.
Then came the mandatory audience mentions – led by Buttons – with the audience singing a pirate song (“We’re going this way, that way, forwards, backwards, over the Irish sea…”) with linked arms and the kids on stage - Lucca and his cape deserves a mention. Then it was suddenly the final happy scene – surprisingly all in orange – with a couple of numbers from The Blues Brothers to ensure we all left the theatre with big smiles on our faces.
Pantomime makes everyone feel a little of the Christmas spirit. And the contemporary and child friendly (well, recognisable from Disney films and popular music) music was a major plus. The topical jokes – including TOWIE – and the genuine fun amongst the cast added to the charm.
Whilst the cast overall was high quality, the forever youthful and happy Wilmot stole the show and our hearts from the outset – his easy charm and natural wit crowning him the Prince of Panto if not Prince Charming. And he can sing rather well too.
We left the theatre at 930pm and declared it one of the best pantos we’ve seen – and we’ve seen more than a few over the years. It’s running until 15 January so make sure you grab yourself some kids and get along to see it. Oh yes you should!