The panto itself at Whitely Bay Playhouse has joined Cinderella in having a transformation this year, as the annual show has certainly upped its game. Presented by Blue Genie and The Whitely Bay Playhouse, this is certainly the best panto I have seen at the venue. Maybe it is the addition of Ash Productions as co-producers who have made all the difference, or the addition of performers who know and understand panto, but whatever the reason, its certainly noticeable.
The panto sticks to the familiar plot, with Cinderella being put upon by her stepsisters, while being looked after by a fairy godmother. The transformation scene to the ball includes Shetland ponies, which are appreciated by the audience. Finally after plenty of songs, audience participation and mayhem, of course she gets her Prince.
Keith Jack (BBC’s Any Dream Will Do runner up and taking a break from starring in the current tour of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat) is the headliner as Prince Charming. He works very well with James Hedley (Dandini) and brings the right amount of aloof grandness to the role. Local actress Suzanne Richardson has the opportunity to let us hear her excellent singing voice as Fairy Godmother, while David Burton nicely portrays a forgetful Baron Hardup.
Stealing the show are Danny Jay and David Drewitt as ugly sisters Tulisa and Cheryl. They connect straight away with the audience and obviously understand panto and work very well with their material. Whitley Bay Panto regular Steve Walls plays Buttons and his fast line of silly jokes hit the right spot with the children. However, Jennifer Metcalfe (Hollyoaks) fails to make much of an impression as Cinderella, this is probably down to the male leads being very strong and the move from TV to stage acting.
There is no doubting the connection with the audience from the off and the children join in at every opportunity. The score is certainly a help with a collection of well known songs moving things nicely along.
There are scenes that are too wordy allowing the action to temporarily stall, but these are thankfully few and far between. Also the comic twelve days of Christmas unusually takes a while to get going, it is only when the toilet rolls fly out from the stage and the cast run amok firing water at the audience that it really gets going to finish on a high. Maybe three performances a day is too much. All in all Whitley Bay has certainly raised the bar this year and the auditorium was justifiably full. Lest hope next years production of Peter Pan raises it further.