Sunday, 3 January 2021

REVIEW: Once Upon a Pantomime by Anton Benson Productions (Online)

Anton Benson Production usually stages half a dozen shows each Christmas and as they were cancelled took the bold decision to record an online version at Rhyl Pavilion incorporating many of the usual headliners for their shows. The challenge was then two-fold; firstly, how to incorporate multiple comics, villains, fairies and heroines into one show and secondly how to capture the show for streaming online securely. The solution to the first challenge was that Anton Benson and the two directors/scriptwriters, Ryan Greaves and Katie Salmon created a mash-up of Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk and Aladdin where the evil Karona stops the key scene in each before love can succeed. It's a clever idea and means some twenty performers get to play a lead role! The resulting stream suggested that technicalities behind capturing a stage show for streaming proved more difficult to overcome. 

As well as directing, Katie Salmon plays Fairy Tale, a linking character between each scene and Ryan Greaves plays the multiple characters of Wally, Wishee Washy and Buttons with plenty of enthusiasm and energy. They are surrounded by a host of well-known faces from TV and Pantomime, many in very short walk on or video appearances. Veteran Children's entertainer Dave Benson Philips plays the Genie and the King with his usual larger than life over the top style and sings "Look at me" from Sister Act. Barney Harwood plays the Princes and opens Act 2 with "let me entertain you". TV talent show stars Gareth Gates (the mirror in the wall), Bobby Crush, Opportunity knocks winner, (Vomitilda, an ugly sister), Sam Bailey, a GB Pantomime winner in 2019 (Fairy Godmother), Xfactor contestant Lauren Platt (Jasmine) and BGT's Ashleigh Butler and Sully (Aurora) all make appearances. TV quiz show chasers Anne Heggerty (Salmonella) and Mark Labbett (Fleshcreep) also get walk-on roles. Gemma Bissix, TV soap actress plays Morgana and Graham Cole, best known for the Bill, plays Abanazar. 

There are two Dames, Dame Trott, Nathan Smith and Widow Twankey, Phylip Harries and three heroine/title characters with another BGT contestant, Georgie Jackson as Snow White and Cinderella, Benidorm's Hannah Hobley as Jill and Ben Sherlock, a pantomime regular, as Jack. There is even an amusing walk across the stage from Coronation Street character, Les Battersby! In the end it is all the villains who gang up to defeat the central villainess Korona, played by former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona, who of course gets to sing "Whole Again". 

The format means they can include standard Pantomime routines like the Echo gag, Washing machine routine, 12 Days song (here a chaotic mess), cow milking routine, the ghost bench scene and the wall routine, where two compete for a girl's attention. There are some slightly bizarre gags like when a man in a mask is pushed on stage on a large box for the line "Putin on the Ritz". The issue is the capture which is technically disappointing with several large Parcan lights, wires and a roll of tape dominating the forestage, poor lighting with either faces in darkness or bleached out and frequent shots into the wings where cast are waiting to come on. The opportunity in editing for magical transformations, scene changes or costume changes is missed. 

However, despite the technical limitations, it is an ambitious fun lively show designed to remind us all of what pantomime is about and what we are missing. It's no substitute for the real thing and the last pre-bookable stream has now finished, so for now all we can do is look forward to seeing all these stars back in stage next Christmas. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £15

The show is streaming until the 10th January 2021
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