Super Sam and Mega Max Save Christmas at the Brewery Theatre (Tobacco Factory Theatres)

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. Once upon a time there were two lollipop men Sam and Max. The friends are excited to start preparing for Christmas. But wait! They have secret powers! Meet Super Sam and Mega Max.

Unfortunately while decorating their trees at Christmas (yes, a tree each to save on squabbles!), they discover there is a star-stealing thief. Uh oh! Luckily the super sleuths are on the case, with large handfuls of slapstick, funky moves and rhythms and lots of fun along the way.

The scene is jolly, homely and well designed. Using simple props (check out the slippers!) and bucketfuls of imaginative play, Sam and Max stomp, squabble and dance their way through a well choreographed show, helped in no small part by an upbeat, funk-based soundtrack by the talented Benji Bowers (the Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, the Ugly Duckling and many more). Those super heroes even get to do some beat-boxing and practice their robotic moves.

There is something timelessly funny about grown-ups imitating child’s play. Our heroes Sam and Max (skilful Rannel Theatre Company duo Matt Bailey and Joey D) carry us into their magical and imaginative world. Like silent movie sketches the appeal is universal. And the show is all the more enjoyable for that. Although aimed at children aged 2 to 6 and their families, those outside this box where obviously enjoying themselves too in the packed theatre. Moments of lights out during the performance helped to rein in short attention spans. There are plenty of hidden gems too. Look out for the superheroes in flight. Oh just the coolest getaway car!

In Super Sam and Mega Max Tobacco Factory Theatres have given us another gem. And of course there is a happy ending! It was written by local talent, Mike Akers (the Lost Present, Peter Pan, Treasure Island etc) and slickly directed by Emma Williams (the Lost Present, Wolf Tales and many more).

If you fancy some fun and sparkle with tomfoolery thrown in this could be just your ticket. Oh and crossing the road at school time may never quite be the same again.

Super Sam and Mega Max save Christmas runs at Brewery Theatre until Sunday 5th Jan.

– Review by Francesca Ward

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Jack and the Beanstalk at The Playhouse, Weston


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I haven’t been to a proper Panto since I was a little girl. Up until now, my girl has been too little to enjoy it really, but at the grand old age of four, I thought it was time to introduce her to this theatrical institution. But, I can’t say I was really looking forward to it. I was slightly the worse for wear after my own Christmas celebration the night before, and was preparing to endure it for the sake of her. We took our seats to the sound of festive music, and I heard her whisper to her friend “I’m having a brilliant time already!”  I couldn’t wait to see her face when the show actually began.

The show opened with a dazzling dance routine, exactly what was to be expected considering Jack was played by George Sampson. You know, that lad that won ‘Britain’s Got Talent’? I must admit, I was expecting great dancing, but I was a little worried that was all he would be able to do. I needn’t have worried. That boy can sing and act too, and his comic timing wasn’t half bad either. He was a very likable and engaging Jack, and this may well be one of the few Panto’s where there seemed to be just as many teenage girls screaming in adoration as there were young kids and their grown ups!

Weston Panto and Weston-super-Mum favourite Terry Gleed played an excellent Simple Simon. He was a truly scrumptious comic character, often making us laugh just by pulling a face. And there were plenty of other comic characters for him to bounce off. Jolyon Dixon played the dame to perfection, with a series of increasingly ridiculous and hilarious costume changes, and enough double entendres to keep the adults giggling too. For me, the stand out character was the King played by Keith Simmons and admirably supported by Ben Simmons as Lord Chamberlain. This father and son duo also directed this wonderful production. Perfect comic timing, a dry wit, and the escapology scene had us all in stitches. The evil Fleshcreep played by Gareth Davies was just scary enough to have my girl grab my arm every time he appeared, but not scary enough that there were any tears. Cara Dudgeon was a sweet voiced and light footed Princess Amelia. The stand out voice though went to Ruth Berkeley as Fairy Organic, a really high quality performer.

The whole show had quite a contemporary feel with up to date music and a great supporting cast for the dance routines, yet it didn’t lose sight of all the necessary ingredients that make up a perfect Panto. There were plenty of “He’s behind you!” and “Oh yes he is!” moments to make it truly authentic. Brilliant set, polished dance routines, moments of perfect comedy, we both got swept up by its exuberance.

My girl giggled, danced, sang and shouted along with the best of them. We BOTH thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a long show – about 2 and a half hours including the interval – but she was delighted by it all and the time flew by. I’m certainly going to be taking her again next year, we just hope the standard is as high as this one. I’m a convert to the camp, glitzy, silly world of Panto. Oh no I’m not! Oh yes I AM!

Jack and the Beanstalk is running at The Playhouse, Weston until 5th January 2014

– Review by Karen Blake

Cinderella at The Bristol Hippodrome

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There is something slightly different about this year’s pantomime at The Bristol Hippodrome.  It just all seemed so much cleaner – not the jokes, some of those Eric Potts’ one-liners are very near the mark – no.  Cleaner as in clearer, less fussy, easier, more honest, better delivered.

Cinderella‘s star cast of choice is Louie Spence as Dandini, Suzanne Shaw as Cinders and the irrepressible Andy Ford as Buttons.  They are backed up by a strong cast of campery, old school acting and dancers.

I have never seen Louie Spence in anything at all and I’m not the right age to have taken any notice of Hear’Say, so, apart from Andy Ford, who has delighted my family for the past five Hipp pantos, I had no preconceptions of what to expect from the cast.  I can say with utmost sincerity that Louie Spence is perfect in his role!  He is probably the campest creature I have ever seen on stage – embarrassingly (but I’ll share it with you just the same), my daughter says, “Look at the boy-girl thingy. He’s so funny!”  She laughs every time he prances, spins, splits, shimmies and spits.  We all do and he really does get the best jokes.  Or maybe it’s his delivery?  Excellent choreography here by Phillip Joel, fabulously executed.

Suzanne Shaw has good voice, a winning way (not wet at all) and is supported refreshingly well by Andrew Derbyshire, our Prince Charming.  And this is the point of Cinderella: every other year the stronger members of the cast seem to have carried the less experienced actors.   None of that this season – every single actor up there is alive and tuned in.  The ugly sisters, Tulisa and Miley, have the most tremendous costumes and oodles of pantos past under their belts, it would seem.  Graham Hoadly, the fat sister, has a brilliant deep voice that cracks me up every time he uses it.  And Paul Burnham, the gangly one, is perfectly unattractive and horrid.

Andy Ford is now as much of a mainstay of the Bristol panto as the fake snow that falls from the building upon leaving.  We adore him: he can do no wrong in our eyes.  And such is the overt mincing and flower of Louie Spence in his ever-so sparkly costumes that Ford jokes, “I look pretty butch this year, dun I?”

Yep, the costumes are ace, Cinderella’s transformation that allows her to go the ball convincing for the little ones and the set glimmers.  Eric Pott’s works his magic again with the script, although I feel a little uncomfortable laughing at some of the jokes, worrying if I’m being just a tad homophobic or maybe even slightly xenophobic, but laugh I do.  I know that I’m not yelling out as much as is usual; sometimes I come away with a sore throat.  I can’t put my finger on why that might be.  And a few more local references might not go a miss, or maybe that’s because they didn’t take the piss out of Weston-super-Mare this year?

But we all agreed that Cinderella is the best Bristol Hippodrome pantomime we have ever seen.  And that’s saying something!

Cinderella is on at the Bristol Hippodrome until 5th January 2014

– Review by Becky Condron

The Little Match Girl at the Wardrobe Theatre

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I must admit to being both extremely excited and a little worried at the thought of seeing The Little Match Girl on stage.  It is a beautifully written but extremely sad tale, provoking tears almost every time I revisit it.

Should I prepare my seven-year old daughter before the performance?  Yes.  So, in the morning, we watched a 1937 Rhapsody cartoon of the tale, a short film of it and we listened to a Kylie Minogue reading, recorded for Jo Whiley some years back (I remember hearing that version on Radio 1, whilst driving my car through Birmingham.  I had to stop at the roadside because I could no longer see clearly. Blubber!).  Then, on the train, on the way into Bristol, we read Hans Christian Andersen’s original words.    She asked questions but took it all in her stride. Kids do, don’t they?

We trek up from Temple Meads to The White Bear in St Michael’s Hill.  This is home to The Wardrobe Theatre, nestled upstairs with its tiny but ample stage and rows of chairs and benches, a bar at the back.  The cast from Dot and Ethel come and find us in the Box Office (bar), and lead us upstairs, chatting excitedly, welcoming us.

Up in the theatre, we are each given a long black and white tube, which will become the Wind.  I look around.  This is a school day so everyone, apart from my home educated girl and, of course, the parents, is under 4.  I then realise that sadness won’t feature heavily in this production.  In fact there is a lightness and colour to it that is only slightly CBeebies, mainly there is a sense of joy and, yes, Christmas.

The Wind, or interpretations of it, features for the first ten minutes or so.  “When is The Little Match Girl starting?” she asks.  “It has,” I whisper back, from our cushion seats at the very front of the auditorium.   Then the pieces of wind-worried newspaper almost miraculously become a tiny figure, a puppet of our eponymous heroine.  “Gasp!”  And look here’s Granny with her tea and The Little Match Girl and bubbles and balloons and bubbles …

Dot and Ethel Stage Designer, Harriet de Winton, and Director, Heidi Vaughn, aim to bring imagination and freshness to their productions. And this they most definitely achieve through The Little Match Girl.  There is simple but effective use of lights, sparklers, an OHP, a tea cup, boxes, bubbles, bubbles …

This is a story about adventure.  And women adventurers – hurrah!!

But what is really special about The Little Match Girl is the interaction between the actors and the children.  One of them asked my daughter the name of her bear when we arrived and made sure that her special pal was part of the audience, giving him a tube, asking if he enjoyed the show at the end, making sure he had a sticker.  Attention to detail, which made her feel special.  A few of the little ones were throwing stuff on stage, touching props, investigating – and the cast simply made that part of their show.

After the show, some of the children got up on stage and played with the props, talking to the actors, interpreting it all in their own way.  My Girl was enthralled by the newspaper puppet, eager to investigate the matches, to give Haribo the Bear a sip of Granny’s tea.  She stayed on the Wardrobe’s stage for a good 20 minutes, encouraged by the cast to really feel a part of the performance.

Did I need to tell her the story before we left?   Well, yes and no.  This is a completely different interpretation of Andersen’s fairy story.  If you know the original it will give you another, more grown-up slant on the whole experience – you will understand the reworking, for sure. It got us thinking about reinvention and the myriad ways to translate words into actions.  But for those who don’t know it, the sweetness, the vibrancy and the adventure of Dot and Ethel’s production will sweep you away, regardless.

The Little Match Girl shows at The Wardrobe Theatre until Sunday 22nd December

Check out Dot and Ethel’s blogspot

– Review by Becky Condron

Sinbad the Sailor at Tobacco Factory Theatres

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I grew up feasting on the Sinbad and the Arabian Nights films.  I loved the adventure, the swashbuckling and the monsters, so when I saw that Travelling Light were doing this show at the Tobacco Factory, I really wanted to go and see it.

Travelling Light produces theatre for young audiences and have been doing so for 30 years next year.  I remember them coming to my school and working with my class back in nineteen mumble and mumble (not giving my age away).  This show was advertised for ages 6 and older.  The audience at the showing I watched had a smattering of junior school aged children, but not many – not surprising seeing the show started at 7:30pm on a school night.

The play was ‘in the round’, and for those who are not familiar with theatre terms, this means the audience sat all around the stage, with the action happening in the middle.  As the audience piled in, the stage had 4 poles with hammocks hanging from them.  As the lights faded, the cast appeared unexpectedly out of nowhere (very clever) and sang a song called ‘Fish’ (very amusing).

The programme explained that there are seven voyages of Sinbad, each of which start with Sinbad being shipwrecked.  This play is a play within a play, as Sinbad regales the crew of a fishing ship (hence the song) his adventures while the story of his final adventure is acted out.

There are seven members of the cast, which is made up of Sinbad, the four crew of the fishing ship, plus two musicians who bring the musical score to the play, but are also part of the fishing crew (which lines up some very clever jokes).  One of the characters is Zara Ramm, who plays Mum in ‘Grandpa in My Pocket’ and therefore a familiar face for younger audience members.

When Sinbad tells his stories, different members of the crew become Sinbad for that story, and the actor playing Sinbad becomes one of the other characters of the story.  Confused?  This is a problem with the play.  It is a very clever, theatrical production.  It has a minimal set and the cast of seven play at least twenty different characters between them, and there are lots of clever theatrical tools and clever imagery employed, but I think it should be for maybe eleven years old and up, not the advertised six year old plus.

But I didn’t want to make assumptions, so during the interval, I spoke to some of the families in the audience with younger children.  Pretty much every conversation went

Me – “What do you think of the play?”

Child – “OK”

Me – Do you understand what is happening?”

Child – “Sort of”

Me – “Did the Old Man of the Sea puppet scare you?”

Child – “Yes”

And the parents universally agreed that it was not really suitable for their children.

However, if you have older children and fancy something totally different from a pantomime this Christmas, then this might be for you.  I was disappointed that Sinbad was more a bald, slightly overweight bloke in a tartan jacket and not the Arabian swashbuckling hero I grew up wanting to be, but once you got your head around this being a modern interpretation about Sinbad at the end of his adventures, it was a clever, funny and entertaining show.

The Old Man of the Sea is an excellent puppet.  How they portray the giant is funny and clever, the royal wedding dance is amusing, the acting is very solid and there are several lol’s throughout the whole performance.  It is a clever piece of theatre, but because of all the clever bits, I definitely think that it’s the audience needs to be older to really to understand the theatrical techniques employed to really get value for money from the ticket price.

Sinbad the Sailor is on at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 12th Jan 2014

– Review by Ade Bowen from Action Pussycat

Antarctica at Bristol Old Vic

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Tucked away on King Street, a feast for the eyes is set to enchant young audiences and their families. Snow, ice and exotic animals all contribute to the wondrous, theatrical magic.Little Bulb’s adorable production centres around a trip to the frozen wastes of the South Pole’s Antarctica. Brave Explorer, Sir Peregrine Falcron (Alex Scott), valiantly leads the expedition with a bold flag, which, much to my son’s glee, he gives to him to hold and wave around throughout the performance as the flag bearer.

The audience cannot help but lose themselves in the excitement of the voyage, as our fearless trailblazer invites them to participate, with a group of children looking after Falcron’s fish brain and sea slime sandwiches (ewww!), and another group responsible for map reading. They are off on an exhilarating adventure, in search of the elusive, mysterious Owler Bear, with so much fun and discovery along the way!

Beautiful puppetry, imagery and musical accompaniment all add to the spectacle, as Dominic Conway and Clare Beresford dance in and out of the scenes, cleverly and realistically mimicking animals with humour and abundant energy.

The scene is visually impressive. Hundreds of silver foiled and white paper pieces fill the air and catch the light as they fall, as a blizzard sets in, capturing the attention of rows of delighted children! There are even cascades of bubbles which come enticingly close to the young viewers, representing the deep blue sea.

As you’d expect in Antarctica, there are waddling penguins in love, squabbling otters, darting fish, awesomely glowing jellyfish, and, not forgetting, two seagulls who swoop and devour Falcron’s sandwiches before he has a chance to eat them. Cue much giggling!

Best of all, there’s an owler bear, a gorgeously fluffy creature with the head and wings of an owl and the body of a bear!

Little Bulb Theatre’s Antarctica is charming and delightful, guaranteed to amuse you and your children over the Christmas/ New Year period. My six year old son absolutely loved it!

Antarctica  is at Bristol Old Vic until 4 January.

– Review by Andrea Harris

The Little Mermaid at Bristol Old Vic

We’ve visited a few times this year but this is our first Christmas show at the Bristol Old Vic.  It’s always a pleasure to be here and we feel that, somehow, we belong.

We arrive to chocolate men and mince pies on the table and, with half an hour to spare, we sit down in the bar area.  My 7 year-old draws her newly invented cartoon character, Joe the Jerk, using stickers from the middle section of our The Little Mermaid programme to decorate his Life.  Neither of us knows this particular Hans Christian Anderson fairy story so her version fits perfectly; it’s always good to use your imagination.

We take our seats at the front of the upper circle, both excited.  “Look, there’s Viv and Lilly,” she says, spotting our our friends directly beneath us in the Pit.  Chatter all around; the theatre is full.  Buzzing.

The blue curtain rises and we are in a land underwater.  The Little Mermaid swims about and sings, her impressive tail held by various members of the cast.   She yearns to reach 17 years old (they live to 1,000, you know!) so that she can escape just a few moments of the sub-aqua drudgery that is ‘songing’ for Sea Witch and get a tiny glimpse of life above the waves.  All of her sisters are older and have already had the privilege and, oh my, what tales they tell of colour and sound and who-mons who have tiny little fins called legs.

When The Little Mermaid finally does swim up on her birthday, she saves the who-man Prince Will from death by drowning, even though her father has told her explicitly not to touch or talk to those walking, unusual folk.  She falls in love with the Prince and he falls in love with the idea of her, that swimming creature who he never saw but heard – oh, such a beautiful singing voice has she.  And so the story really begins – how the wicked Sea Witch offers a magical trade-off, how the Mermaid will die if the Prince marries another, how he can never hear her stunning voice, can never know who she truly is.   Her voice for a pair of legs.

And, so, up to land she goes.

Initially, it’s difficult to see how such a determined, curious young woman could fall in love with Billy Howle’s foppish, mumbling Will but as soon as Katie Moore’s Little Mermaid becomes mute, it’s completely understood – they are the perfect match in their innocence and youth.  They really do look like a couple destined to be together.

Beverly Rudd’s early entrance as Sea Witch so shocks my daughter that immediately on seeing her she laments, “I’m going to have nightmares!”  But, like we all do with baddies, she wants more.  Rudd’s character reminds me of a cross between a young Dawn French, Hyacinth Bucket and Miranda Richardson’s Queenie – powerful, comical and convincing.  She also plays the parts of one of Little Mermaid’s six sisters and Doctor.  In fact, bar the young couple in love, the whole cast takes on multiple roles.  All with apparent ease.

And if Sea Witch is scary, my daughter giggles every single time Martin Bassindale’s Crab side-steps onto the stage (he has six characters to play!).  “He’s daft!  Haha!  Look at the way he walks.”  Indeed, Bassindale has most of the audience guffawing, just as Rudd provokes them to Boo! and Hiss!  This is the biggest surprise to me: I really wasn’t expecting any pantomime element at the Old Vic, didn’t forsee this level of audience participation.  Although I’m glad that this element does exist in Joel Horwood’s adaptation – I love a good holler, sing-a-long and shout at the theatre, given the chance.  The funniest, most interactive bit of the night is the talent competition, when we meet princesses from all over the globe, eager to woo the prince and gain his hand in marriage.

Hmm, and, speaking of hands, hers and mine remain clasped together nervously during the entirety of the last half hour of this production, when it seems that Sea Witch might then claim her man, his Kingdom and the heart of our heroine.  I’m so pleased to see my neighbour wiping her eyes at the end, knowing that mine aren’t the only ones welling up!

Yes, this is for the whole family.  If you have little people to take along, give them a treat.  If you haven’t, you’ll probably love it anyway.

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The Little Mermaid runs at Bristol Old Vic until18th January 2014

– review by Becky Condron