Take a little slice of Cheryl Cole, add a dollop of One Direction, a gaggle of Ghostbusters and what have you got?
A recipe for entertainment – Burnley style. Burnley Pantomime Society style to be precise.
For the town’s panto society is serving up a real entertainment dish to be savoured, with a touch of innuendo and a smattering of silliness, as the lovely story of “Cinderella” unfolds at Burnley Mechanics Theatre this week.
They invited me along with three of the toughest critics in tow - five-year-olds Sean and Joey and six-year-old Hannah. And the verdict – well they were too busy being enthralled, amused, laughing and dancing along to comment. But they didn’t want it to end – even with the promise of a Macdonalds tea to follow – so that says it all.
Hannah is a Strictly Come Dancing fan and said Len would definitely give it ten for the colourful costumes and dancing!
While the boys enjoyed the slapstick scenes, Ned the pantomime horse as he transforms from a clodhopper to a top tapper as the panto progresses, a water pistol attack on the audience, the Ghostbuster scene, the antics of lovable Buttons and Bodget and Leggett the unlikely builders.
While for me it was the Ugly Sisters, Gertrude and Grizelda, who stole the show with their daftness, along with the dazzling costumes, many of which were crafted and created by the society chairman Hazel Hodder who has spent endless hours turning out hundreds of costumes over the years .
When the society last presented “Cinderella” they won an award for the best panto in the North-West so it is a show that is close to their hearts, as it is with most panto-goers. Because it is a story that has everything; a beautiful heroine, a handsome prince, evil stepmum and sisters, hapless dad, plenty of gormless characters, and that touch of fairytale magic with the fairy godmother and a glittering coach to take Cinderella to the ball.
This production has all these ingredients and co-directors Neil Tranmer and Angela Foulds have added some refreshing new touches to the tasty treat which we saw on Saturday afternoon served up to a completely full house. And the cast deserved to perform to a full auditorium because they have created a fun and watchable show that is true family entertainment.
The stage sets are impressive as are the choice of songs and dance numbers. The Ugly Sisters perform Cheryl Cole’s “Fight For This Love” wearing red and black military numbers just like the one she carried off with such finesse – but I’m not sure there’s a word to describe the way they carried it off! Then we had such showstoppers as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Walking on Sunshine” and when the finale featured a One Direction number which got everyone on their feet dancing and clapping, little Hannah was in seventh heaven.
So well done the whole cast. It is not easy to turn up week in week out on dark winter nights to rehearsals, but when show week arrives and the audience enjoy it as much as they did on Saturday, all the effort is worthwhile.
Louise Young who plays Cinderella has a lovely voice and a very winning way with her, while Gary Leonard royally enjoyed himself in his regal personification of Prince Charming.
Sam Parker has the likeability factor as he plays the bubbly Buttons, all fun and frivolity and lots of enthusiasm. Kath Watkins never fails to impress as the baddie, in this case as the evil stepmum, while Dave Pilkington ably plays her hapless husband the baron. They both married each other for money – and then found out neither of them had any. Whoops!
Laura Chadwick is a delightful Fairy Godmother, Wayne Brankin is a camp Dandini and Pete Morville is Burnley’s answer to Bob the Builder as Bodget the Builder, while his sidekick Leggett is played by young Regan Kerr making an excellent job of his debut in a principal role. He is a young man I’m sure we will see a lot more of, as, like Pete, he showed real confidence and stage presence.
But Kevin Kay and Jonathan Pye are the real comedy characters as the Ugly Sisters, taking to wearing high heels and padded bras with style!
They played it well, having a real rapport with the audience and just enough innuendo without it being tasteless. They were jocular and jokey and generally just funny. I loved their opening scene when they appeared as schoolgirls just breaking up for the holidays and on the lookout for men. Then it was just one crazy costume and neon wig after another in true panto dame fashion.
One of the highlights of Burnley Panto Society productions is their great interaction with audiences and this had it in spades.
The cast were forever appearing from various parts of the auditorium or dancing in the aisles, but I don’t think I have ever seen it done in the finale before and it worked wonderfully well.
Their tradition of greeting the audience on the Mechanics steps as they leave is another crowd pleaser, a touch that always appeals, especially to youngsters who like to pose for photographs with the principals in their colourful costumes.
Jonathan Chalker led a team of excellent musicians who seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience and the Lynn McCheyne dancers and chorus added to the magic with their stylish choreography.
You can’t fail to be charmed by this production. It has all the ingredients of a traditional panto while the directors have added some modern touches to the mix. The result was a dish to be savoured and the perfect hotpot to warm up chilly January.
“Cinderella” continues from Thursday to Sunday this week at Burnley Mechanics and there are seats available at afternoon and evening performances.
Call the box office to book on 01282 664400 or go online at www.burnleymechanics.co.uk.