The last time I went to a pantomime Edward Heath was Prime Minister and Nick Clegg, the butt of at least one of the jokes, was still in short trousers. How, I wondered, would pantomime have changed in the intervening years? I was sure the familiar mixture of bad jokes, audience participation and slapstick would be there, but would the X-factor references go over my head? Would 21st century innuendo be as harmless as that of an earlier era? In the event I needn’t have worried. The Bath Theatre Royal pantomime provides a great evening of traditional family entertainment with lots of jokes (some old, some new, some borrowed, mercifully none too blue), singing, dancing and spectacle.
The story and characters are the traditional ones, and after a slightly slow start the show hits its stride when the comic characters take centre stage. I particularly enjoyed Jon Monie’s Idle Jack and, the dame, Sarah the Cook, played by Chris Harris. King Rat, played by Mark Moraghan, is suitably nasty and proves adept at provoking the audience. The children from the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing also deserve a mention – they make wonderful boy soldiers, ballet dancers and creepy rats. The dance numbers are nicely choreographed, the live band excellent and the songs, a judicious mix of hits old and recent with witty new lyrics (I shall certainly be using the phrase “mutton dressed as spam” in future) well sung. There is an impressive ‘coup de théâtre’ in the second half as the lovely traditional painted sets give way to some rather impressive video projections.
Even if some of the contemporary references (to Sepp Blatter, super-injunctions and phone-hacking among other things) fall a little flat, this is a genuinely funny evening in the theatre. One scene in particular, as Dick (Naomi Wilkinson) fails to grasp the name of a traditional English pudding, had me helpless with laughter, gasping for breath as tears poured down my cheeks – the funniest five minutes this side of One Man, Two Guvnors. The custard pies induce a similar reaction in my daughters, five and seven. Both fairly experienced playgoers, they are new to pantomime and could not have a better introduction to it. Their only disappointment - that they couldn’t take home a DVD of the show.