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Formulaic Panto Or A Cheesy Alternative?
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
There are pantos that are driven by teams of ‘regulars’, and others that are built around singular personalities instrumental to the success of the production in which they are appearing.

Bradford Alhambra’s is one of the latter and their main protagonist is the hard-working Billy Pearce who, first time around, hits his audiences with all the impact of two colliding trains.

And clearly they love him because each year thousands return with the predictability of one-pound coins passing through Bridlington’s slot machines. It’s why Qdos Entertainment now leave him there as a permanent fixture.

However, that scenario is also the panto’s marginal weakness because it has become very formulaic. On the one hand there is certainty because people know what they will get but, on the other, and now that I have been so many times, it really does feel samey and, at times, a tad over indulgent.

This year it is Cinderella; we all know the story.

But the ‘panto business’ is just dressed up slightly differently to give it a new spin, leaving you thinking ‘didn’t we see the CD sketch last time, only it was a shopping basket of supermarket products?’ Alan McHugh is Qdos’ resident script writer responsible for penning more than 25 pantos for the company. However, that is bound to lead to repetition and creative stagnation, clearly evident in Bradford.

Harrogate panto’s Tim Stedman, by contrast, is an actor who is brilliant at comedy; he is not, first and foremost a comedian. Pearce operates the other way around, which means he is the same character every year with just a different name; this time he was Buttons!

Also by Phil Hopkins...
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However, whilst Billy Pearce’s ad-libs, fun, and comedy par-excellence are always welcome to freshen and boost a well-known storyline, did he really need to halt proceedings at the very end of the show to bum up the ‘wonderful, amazing, absolutely marvellous’, Coleen Nolan who played The Fairy Godmother? No, the company had just taken their curtain call and all he needed to do was announce a retiring collection for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The panto also felt nepotistic and egotistic. Let’s get one of the Nolan girls singing I’m in the Mood for Dancing, and then give her son, Shane Nolan, star billing as Dandini, even though his performance was lack lustre. Family contacts? Forgive my cynicism!

Yes, I enjoyed Cinderella as a ‘piece’. It was certainly a Grade A theatre production with all the trimmings, wonderful costumes, great backdrops, 3d glasses and a coach and horses that flew right into the audience, however, strip away all the glitz and glamour and you are left with a slightly overblown show that is carried by one man, with rapidly tiring gags, a one-dimensional character and lots of tinsel. Not my favourite this year and certainly not my colleague’s, builder Mr Jones, who loved the cheesy intimacy of Lawrence Batley’s Jack & the Beanstalk at half the price

Cinderella
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
Until January 28th 2018
Nightly with matinees

Formulaic Panto Or A Cheesy Alternative?, 28th December 2017, 14:10 PM