Theatre review: Pantomimes, Leeds, Carriageworks and City Varieties

Dame Dolly Durden and Bessie the Cow in Jack and the Beanstalk
Dame Dolly Durden and Bessie the Cow in Jack and the Beanstalk
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To begin as is traditional at this time of year – oh yes it is. Pantomime time has arrived again and with dozens to choose from around the region, we review some of the local offerings in Leeds at two of the city’s most important venues.

Sleeping Beauty, Carriageworks, Leeds

More of a fairytale, it takes a special adaptation to give Sleeping Beauty a cutting edge pantomime style while retaining the magical elements of its plot and sadly that is where this production fails.

Top heavy with vocals, light on comedy and losing its way totally in the second half, when the fairy and prince come out of character and emerge as Same Difference in modern dress, to sing some of their post X Factor hits.

With an overly long prologue it’s hardly surprising that good and evil struggle to establish their characters and voices. However it doesn’t take Lisa Kelsey long to become a foreboding and wickedly wonderful Carabosse, though at times perhaps she’s a tad too nice; while Sarah Smith’s appealing Lilac Fairy seems to drift between comedy and traditional and never seems to find the right level.

When you have a great pantomime performer like Jez Edwards as Pickles on board it’s a great pity that comedy and gags are thin on the ground and there’s little scope to do what he’s best at, comedy – especially when there’s a good foil like Peter Jamieson as the bumbling King Crumble in the team. Sadly as Nurse Katy, Robert Stephens disappoints lacking that in-your-face comedy timing, bold brashness and irreverent repartee that one expects from the professional pantomime dame.

However in the principal girl department Paul Holman, as usual, has pulled out all stops with Beth Gore who’s an amazing and believable Princess Aurora and blends beautifully in the vocals with the not-so-believable Sean Smith as Prince Robin.

To Jan 11.

Jack and The Beanstalk , Leeds City Varieties

It’s taken a couple of productions to get it right, but this year the City Varieties’ Rock ’N’ Roll Panto has achieved perfection.

Taking traditional pantomime to another level is no easy task but Jack and the Beanstalk ticks every pantomime box. The story, the characters and the general format is played out in the well loved traditional way.

It is laced with audience participation, has lots of belly laughs, some great songs, a fairy that sparkles and a really cute giant who is guaranteed not to give the tiny tots nightmares. A high energy, fast-moving production full of vitality, the talented cast sing, act, dance, play musical instruments forming the accompaniment, and must be one of the hardest working panto companies in the country!

As Dame Dolly Durden, Simon Nock is brash, in your face and has great comedy timing, in fact he’s everything that a panto dame should be and the great thing about him is that he looks fantastic while doing his wonderful turn in his great big dresses. Hollie Cassar, as Fairy Aubergine and Robin Johnson as Fleshcreep balance beautifully as good and evil, and are one of the best duos I have seen for a long time.

Completing the cast are Kenny Davies as the loveable but dim Billy, Joe Vetch and Rachael Garnett as Jack and Jill who not only look the part but blend superbly in the vocals.

Jack Benjamin is a stern but loveable giant with a great smile, Francesca Gosling his diminutive wife, Peter Peverley the bumbling Squire and axeman Scott Harrison.

If you’ve never experienced a rock ’n’ roll panto then you must, it’s the perfect treat for all ages for the festive season.

To Jan 12.

MeetCute, part of Slung Low Shorts. Picture by Jim Mumby (JAM Photography).

Review: Slung Low Shorts, Leeds