Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre

We recently went to see Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre – the current home of Croydon’s Pantomime.

Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre runs from now until 31st December 2017.

The ingredients for a good panto : one dame. Essential. Must be in gaudy outfits, the more bright and outlandish the better. Slapstick. Essential component to hold things together. Laughter. Usually fits of giggles from the castmembers, especially if someone forgets their lines. Ad libbing. See previous, also essential – you must be able to think on your feet. Songs. Pop songs are always good, especially if everyone is likely to already know it. Audience participation. Essential. Compulsory. “It’s behind you!” and “oh no it isn’t” and joining in with songs or dances (if invited).

Jonny Awsum (Billy Trott) and Tim Hudson (Dame Trott) in Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre (photo James Spicer)

As seasoned panto goers, if our pantomime experience ticks all these boxes then it’s job done. Last night we saw Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre and can safely declare that it’s a good ‘un!

Jack and the Beanstalk stars Jonny Awsum (who reached the semi finals in Britain’s Got Talent – I recommend watching some YouTube videos of his performances beforehand), and Paisley Billings who is the receptionist on E4’s Tattoo Fixers. I think that underplays Paisley’s talents a lot – this lady has stage presence and a big, powerful, incredible voice.

Jonny Awsum plays Silly Billy Trott, the token daft character who keeps the story going. He’s funny and his facial expressions made us laugh a lot. You know when someone is naturally funny? That’s Jonny Awsum.

Paisley Billings is Fairy Kale. She pops up throughout the story, helping Jack Trott with his beanstalk issues and acting as a narrator.

Paisley Billings (Fairy Sweet Pea) in Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre (photo James Spicer)

There’s plenty of cheers and “HELLO BILLY!” goings on from the audience too, as well as the compulsory “booooooooo!” to Fleshcreep played marvellously by Steve Edwin.

Steve Edwin (Fleshcreep) in Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre (photo James Spicer)

Pop songs there are aplenty, all recognisable which is always a winner in panto terms.

A special mention must go to the Panto Dame Tim Hudson who made us laugh out loud several times throughout the show too.

The slapstick was as required, and the supporting actors and local young performers did a fabulous job too.

For the last two years the Croydon Pantomime has left its old home of Fairfield Halls and has moved to the nearby Waddon Leisure Centre. We had no idea what to expect either. It’s the main hall area, converted into a popup theatre – and it works too. The rear seating is raised as well, guaranteeing a good view for all.

Charlotte Bramwells (Princess - centre) and cast members of Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre (photo James Spicer)

One thing I thought they could maybe add is a big sign asking people to please not take photos or videos… I think I had 15 people in front of me doing just that which got a bit offputting at times! But it didn’t distract from the show too much as the performers gave it their all and delivered.

Q Productions who created this panto felt that Croydon not having a production would be wrong – and fortunately all the companies they needed to agreed it could happen. I’m delighted that we have a local panto, especially since we’ve recently lost theatres in Carshalton and Sutton. These pantomimes can only be a success if you give your support, and if they’re a good production. Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre is exactly that, you can still buy tickets, just head over here.

Jack and the Beanstalk at Waddon Leisure Centre runs for two hours. This does not include a 20 minute interval between acts. We were sent tickets for the purpose of review, all opinons are our own. 

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal

I have been going to the York Panto since it first started in 1977. There has been one consistent force since then, the actor Berwick Kaler. This is his 38th panto. This year we headed out to see Cinderella at York Theatre Royal.

Berwick Kaler in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal
Berwick Kaler in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal – photo by Anthony Robling

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal is 2016’s panto. This is the fourth production over many years, and of course is a story we’re all familiar with.

The ingredients for a good panto :
• slapstick. Essential, and must be executed well
• a dash of anarchy in a child-friendly manner
• the obligatory water scene
• a cast who work well together
• plot – not essential, but needs to get where it needs to be
• ad-libs
• corpsing. It is acceptable to laugh at anything you weren’t expecting which happens during the panto, especially if you are a castmember
• catchphrases that return every year
• very famous people are NOT essential to make a panto good

I would say if there was a tick box of these essentials, then Cinderella at York Theatre Royal has them all. There has been one big thing missing this year though.

Berwick Kaler, the co-writer and the longest serving Panto dame in the country had a pacemaker fitted back in August. He’s fine now, and is back in this year’s performance. His trusty sidekick Martin Barrass had a horrible motorbike accident in September. He is recovering, but has had to miss this year.

Suzy Cooper and Harry Hughes plus mice at Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling
Suzy Cooper and Harry Hughes plus the young people’s team as mice at Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling

Other regulars are present and correct. David Leonard (long-serving too) is back as the baddie – Baroness von Naff. Suzy Cooper has also done over 20 years at the Theatre Royal, and returns playing Cinderella. Making up the numbers is AJ Powell who takes what would be Barrass’ place alongside Berwick Kaler. They’re the ugly sisters Priscilla and Hernia.

AJ Powell, Berwick Kaler and David Leonard in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling.
AJ Powell as Priscilla, Berwick Kaler as Hernia and David Leonard as Baroness von Naff in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling.

The production starts with a song ‘It’s a Pantomime!’, and Berwick is on stage. I always well up a bit when he stands at the front, and says “me babbies, me bairns”. It gets me every time! I’m not sure when he started saying it, but it’s something which has always been there and that I’ve grown up with.

The story follows the classic Cinderella tale but with a few variations. The ball happens, the glass slipper is lost, and Prince Charming’s love needs to be found. There are references dropped into the show from 2016 – Brexit, Trump, Pokemon are three that I think happened. Pokemon had my nephew laughing out loud.

Cinderella has the usual films which feature in key parts of the show. They don’t disappoint. We get Carpool Karaoke with Suzi Quatro and Berwick Kaler which is good daft fun. Then there’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute featuring Harry Gration. This had me laughing out loud and cheering by the end.

The York Rescue Boat features too. The boat works on the Ouse and Foss and has had a horrible busy year. There is an option to donate to them in the programme too.

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling
Cinderella at York Theatre Royal. Photo by Anthony Robling Charleigh Webb (as Charleigh), Harry Hughes (as Buttons), Scott Wallace (as The Newcomer), Hermione Lynch (as Prince Charming), Jake Lindsay (as Dimdini), Danielle Mullan (as Fairy Godmother), Jack Lansbury (as Prince’s Equerry), Lauren Newton (as Lauren)

There are plenty of references to things around York including the obligatory mention of the suburb Clifton Without. Wagon Wheels feature (we got one!!) and more. No more Newcastle Brown this year for the daddies, they’ve changed the beer!

People travel from all over to see the York Panto. I can’t even try to explain it, it’s bonkers. It’s Cinderella, but not as you know it. You’ll go once and you’ll want to return.

What I love about the York Panto is that it works on every level. We were sat up in the gods where I could hear my mum laughing out loud. Shaun was enjoying it, and I had H and her cousin next to me who were both laughing out loud.

It’s a small production – it runs without understudies. If someone gets injured, the show must go on. I do remember Berwick Kaler getting hurt one year and having to be careful in the water scene the following night. It’s a brilliant production and it’s the same cast, bar the children dancers, every night. It’s a team.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to bring H to the York Panto. Every year when I lived in York or went back for Christmas we would go on Christmas Eve. This year we went the day before, and we’re still talking about it! This might be as H got a shout out by Berwick and the gang during the songsheet section!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Cinderella at York Theatre Royal runs from 8th December 2016 to 28th January 2017. Just go. You won’t regret it. The York Panto always makes The Guardian Top Panto picks every year (possibly as Alf Hickling is an old York lad so he too grew up with it).

Thank you to James the York Theatre Royal Communications Manager for sending me the photos! 

Aladdin at the Secombe Theatre, Sutton

I love panto season, and for a long time now I’ve been desperate to take H to one. She has been to productions at school, but I fear those are watered down versions suitable for younger audiences – all fine, but we need proper pantomimes in our lives! Polka Dot Pantomimes have brought their production of Aladdin to the Secombe Theatre in Sutton, and today we went to see it.

Aladdin at the Secombe Theatre

Aladdin is a good safe pantomime to produce. The story works well and the more audience participation you can work into it the better. H had been excited all week, wondering how the genie would get out of the lamp – and it didn’t disappoint.

We made our way to the Secombe Theatre, our biggest local theatre in the Borough of Sutton, which has been under threat of closure (as has the Charles Cryer Theatre in Carshalton) – and what struck me was how the theatre *should* have had more people in there – where are people going? Why aren’t people making the trip? Especially when it’s an excellent production at a really reasonable price. Don’t get me wrong, the theatre wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t full either.

Aladdin was loads of fun. I’m a fairly harsh critic when it comes to pantomimes – being from York I spent almost every December in my childhood (and teenage, and later years) going to the York Panto – a long-term production by Berwick Kaler. You need a good dame and villain, slapstick, lots of audience participation, the old catchphrases and of course topically re-worded songs from current pop hits even indie snobs like me will have heard of as well as the obligatory singsong at the end. Aladdin had all these – and the cast did a marvellous job! Berwick Kaler has been on the BBC this week talking about the hard work behind a panto dame, and I’d agree – they carry the show.

Aladdin Secombe

H didn’t take long to warm up, once she got her head around shouting at the stage a lot (or booing) she was in her element. Behind us was Rosie and Boo who were having a brilliant time as well. Big brownie points go to Aladdin and Princess Jasmine singing ‘Love is an Open Door’ from Frozen, which H was beaming through – no lyric changes needed. In the second half the flying carpet sequence was nice and simple but had her captivated.

The baddie was a GREAT baddie – he played the part perfectly. There was the obligatory water fight (water pistols squirting us, the audience – hilarious!), plenty of ‘IT’S BEHIND YOU!’s and just everything that makes a proper old school panto feel right. Oh and of course, asking the audience for their opinion and having several under tens tell you exactly what you should do, just for the cast to completely ignore it and do the opposite (well, it wouldn’t be a panto if you didn’t)!

aladdin magic wand

The humour worked on both levels – not too confusing for the kids, plenty of gags about Sutton, Cheam and Morden, and plenty of laughs for five year olds too. Merch-wise, programmes were £2.50 and the sparkly light options were £4 each – not too bad at all, and H loves hers!

Widow Twankey was excellent – as were Wishy Washy and the Genie. In fact, everyone was great. I have no complaints, and found it was a fine production. The final word goes to H though – “it was AMAZING!!”

I just hope the Secombe Theatre stays open so that productions like this can continue for future generations to enjoy.

Polka Dot Pantomimes have many productions up and down the country – check them out!

We were provided with free tickets for this performance. All opinions are my own. OH yes they are.