Thursday 29th November marked my first ever time visiting the Theatre Royal, my first ever time watching a performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and my first panto viewing in at least a decade.
Whether the performance I watched can actually be described as a panto is however debatable. The Goldilocks plotline seemed to be pushed to the side; in retrospect this shouldn’t have surprised me as neither Goldilocks nor the three bears appear on the theatrical posters. Goldilocks’ experience with too hot and too cold porridge in the middle of the woods was actually crammed into a five-minute scene; the storyline instead focused on a very unorthodox telling of the story, which was actually based on the attempts of Goldilocks’ circus family to save the bears from imprisonment in rival Von Vinklebottom Circus.
This circus setting however lent itself to what was undoubtedly the highlight of the performance; ringmaster Clive Webb was able to introduce us to some of his “star acts”, which included a wheel of death performance by five motorcyclists simultaneously, death-defying roller-skating stunts, and quite simply the most spectacular juggling performance I have ever witnessed.
This however juxtaposed greatly with the traditional aspects of panto theatre portrayed in the performance. While Goldilocks, portrayed by Laura Evans, had a fantastic voice, the songs were not catchy and the audience was left unable to sing along. Attempts at audience participation in the show moreover left the audience visibly cringing, with a poor lady called Joanne being called a slapper, being referred to as wearing very large knickers, and ultimately being physically dragged off the stage.
The humour, which was surprisingly dirty in nature, was generally well received due to Director Michael Harrison’s attempts to localise the story; Sunderland was scorned, Brown Ale was praised, Mike Ashley was mocked and it was said that they “don’t wear knickers in Newcastle”. While none of the jokes fell flat, some of the humour was very childish indeed; it seemed that the director had struggled to achieve a balance when attempting to appeal to the varying age groups in the audience. The panto is traditionally attended by many generations, however many of the more crude references in the panto would have left grandparents cringing and children simply bamboozled, while some of the compering would have been more akin to a CBBC show. Take for example the uncomfortable combination of references to flossing (the dance, not teeth), sex tapes and popping breasts.
The set, on the other hand, was spectacular, with the show being enhanced by the use of pyrotechnics and on-stage electronic screens. The backing dancers, while sometimes overshadowed by the compering of pantomime regulars Danny Adams and Clive Webb, performed exceptionally well. The costumes, though sometimes garish, were impressive nonetheless, as the production featured many costume changes. Particularly noteworthy were the outlandish costumes and eccentric wigs of Dame Rington, which were designed by Chris Hayward himself, who according to the programme is “widely regarded as one of the leading dames in pantomime”. Chris’ performance indeed was spectacular and he was clearly very warmly received by the audience; his comedy left spectators howling as it was clear that his status as a pantomime veteran clearly enhanced the entire production.
Ultimately it must be said that this performance was more of a variety show than a panto. With the humour at times leaving a lot to be lacking, it can be confidently argued that the incredible talents of the circus performers stole the show and thus deserved a more pivotal role in the production.
The production is transferring to the West End's London Palladium soon. The below link has up to date information, seat reviews and official tickets: