When it comes to Christmas, the Northeast not only has the Panto King (Wallsend born Michael Harrison) bring us his hit shows year after year, but our very own Panto Queen, Northeast legend Leah Bell, bringing her annual panto to Consett.
Leah has to be admired for pulling together such a high-class show with the restrictions and resources she has with staging, location and budget.
As in the case of Michael Harrison, she writes, produces and directs the panto but then goes one step further and stars in them as well!
Where she gets her energy from is a question I always ask myself. She has more get up and go in her little finger than the rest of the audience put together. She drives the show forward from start to finish and even at the end of a long “I am the Music Man” routine, bursts in to star jumps. I am still tired from just thinking about it!
This year Leah has chosen Cinderella as the panto and while sticking to the familiar plot line, adds some nice touches, especially when Cinderella (Harriet Povey) proves she the right girl by having hidden the other glass slipper, so proving she was at the ball. Even the slightly over long transformation scene brings gasps and applause from the audience as Cinderella’s carriage is revealed. Bionik Funk return this year (as I predicted last year, they are capable of handling much larger roles) playing Doreen and Maureen, the ugly sisters. While Jason Jones, excels as the Wicked Step Mother, although his make up is very bizarre. Damian James connects well with the audience as Buttons, while having more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Cricket.
Sharing top billing with Leah is Peter Donegan as Prince William and has great stage presence. He works well with local lad David John Hopper (Dandini) who has grown greatly in confidence since last year’s panto and has a very good singing voice.
This panto deserves to be well supported, as all involved work very hard to give us a small traditional panto with a great big heart. Consett should make Leah Bells pantos as traditional a turkey on Christmas Day. Oh yes they should!