A real Christmas cracker

Dame Trott and sons

Sleeping on the job :Duncan James as Jack, Paul Zerdin as Simple Simon, Gary Wilmot as Dame Trot and Matt Slack as Silly Billy

Jack and the Beanstalk

Birmingham Hippodrome


CHRISTMAS just wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomime (Oh yes it would! Oh no it wouldn’t! etc.) and Birmingham Hippodrome have found a real Christmas Cracker, the best panto I have seen in ages (Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is! etc).

It is fun for all the family from beginning to end with a smattering of innuendo, well beyond the innocent minds of children and any maiden aunt who thinks sex is what coal comes in, some good lines and routines, a strong, simple storyline, which kids need to guide them though it, and a glorious feast of silliness.

There are also some stunning special effects such as a flying helicopter, soaring out over the audience and a giant, giant, looming out above the heads of the audience, big enough to fill the stage, but not too scary for the little ones.

Then there is a giant growing beanstalk and a clever 3D section with the usual collection of spiders and creepy crawlies including some remarkably unattractive spitting maggots.

Amid all the glitz, glamour and big-budget special effects though were some real comedy gems. West End star Gary Wilmott, after last year’s dame debut  as Cook in Snow White, is back in his best frocks again as Dame Trott, and gives a clever and witty chocolate romance routine using every bar of chocolate you can think of. The Wispa is that it is very funny, if you see what I mean.jane McDonald

Then there is ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, who plays Simple Simon, with a variation with is dummy Sam on Abbot and Costello's classic Who's on first baseball sketch from the 1930s. It brings the clever wordplay to a new audience. It is worth checking out he original, incidentally, on YouTube.

Zerdin takes on the duties of encouraging four children brought up from the audience to have a chat and sing a song, and takes on more than he bargained fro with Lucy from Birmingham who tells him she can see his lips moving! Which he worked into the act.

Dame Trott has been a busy girl in the past and as well as son Simon, the simple one, she has a second son, Silly Billy, the even simpler one, played by Matt Slack, and a third son in Jack, the dashing, handsome, teeth gleaming, intelligent(ish) one, played by Duncan James from Blue.

Star Quality: Jane McDonald as The Enchantress

Slack, in his 15th consecutive Qdos panto, is one of the foremost panto exponents in the country and once you have seen him in action it is easy to see why.

He is visually funny with daft walks and gestures, rubber faced, has an immediate rapport with the audience and is genuinely funny.

Providing the obligatory baddy is Chris Gascoyne, best known as Peter Barlow for Coronation Street, who gives a gravel voiced lack of charm to the evil, black leather dressed Fleshcreep.

While on the side of the righteous, which in her case are those from Yorkshire, with Lancashire at a pinch, is The Enchantress in the shape of Jane McDonald. She has a wonderful sense of fun, and a great voice and it is a pity we didn’t hear more of it, but then again, that’s what concerts are for, and this is a panto, so get on with it.

She, along with Wilmott, Zerdin and Slack were involved in a variation of The Twelve Days of Christmas involving the likes of socks, frocks, pots and pans, toilet rolls, and of course a fairy on top of the tree. It was very funny, and despite the apparent chaos, wrecked scenery and general mayhem, must have taken hours of rehearsal.

Finally the object of the affection of the Trott Boys is the Princess Apricot, played by Robyn Mellow in her third Qdos panto. She is also the object of desire of the giant who sees her more along the lines of lunch rather than lust.

She has a lovely voice which blends well with Duncan James in their big duet, and along with Jane McDonald, it meant the singing was of good quality throughout.

They are supported by an enthusiastic ensemble and children from Birmingham Stage School in what is a traditional panto packed with a healthy dollop of feel good factor. There is even a pantomime cow, Moo Moo who actually does a moo dance.

Michael Harrison’s direction keeps everything moving along through Ian Westbrook’s splendid panto designs while Robert Willis and his six piece band sound much bigger than they are.

A mention too for some dramatic and inventive lighting from Ben Cracknell and beautifully balanced rounded sound from Gareth Owen with every word, spoken or sung, clear as a bell and all at a comfortable volume.

The smiles and happy chatter of the audience as they left said it all. Jack is on a winner and his superb Christmas cracker runs to 01-02-14.

Roger Clarke



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