REVIEW: Panto perfection led by EastEnders star Rita
EastEnders actors are taking over the Alban Arena... we've seen Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) and Jake Wood (Max Branning) enjoy starring roles in the annual panto in recent years.
And this festive season it’s Roxy Mitchell (Rita Simons) as the headline name in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs - with a sprinkling of other stars from the soap in the audience too on press night to cheer (or, more appropriately, boo) her on in her role as the evil Queen Morgiana.
Albert Square may be portrayed as one the most depressing places on the planet thanks to the scriptwriters, but none of that gloom rubbed off on panto land.
With Evolution the masterminds behind the annual farce in St Albans, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fantastic festive treat - especially as Bob Golding seems to be happy to return each year to pretty much steal the show.
When he first took to the stage (as Nurse Nellie this year) he received a mighty cheer from the Alban panto regulars who know by now that his presence means the fun and farce is about to be ramped up.
But his performance was matched by Rita who clearly relished her evil role. This wasn’t a case of a big name just turning up and going through the motions. No, Rita was brilliant and helped make this the best panto I’ve witnessed in many a year. Great singing, matched by some hilariously exaggerated acting, and helped by some fantastic scripted lines.
She had the crowd booing from the off, as she declared the women of St Albans ugly and the audience stupid.
Sending Nurse Nellie, Herman the Henchmen (Ian Kirkby) and Muddles (Dave Bibby) off to kill Snow White was never going to win her any friends and it was hilarious as the trio bickered over who was going to do the deed with “a rather convincing rubber dagger”.
As the hushed audience watched on as they targeted our heroine, the silence earned us all a telling off... “At least pretend that you care if Snow White lives or dies!,” came the cry.
Of course the ‘death’ scene comes much later thanks to the poisoned apple and Rita excelled once again as she milked the moment as Snow White fell to the floor.
Every year Bob & Co roll out the pun wagon and this year was no different with a selection of road signs jokes - the Queen is a bit of a cyclepath (psychopath) was just one in the quick-fire gag reel.
The singing was spot on by the whole cast, whether it was the Snow White (Laura Cocoracchio) and the Dwarfs performing Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off (The Shake and Vac remix!) as they cleaned the cottage, Rita’s Sweet Child of Mine, or the Queen medley led by Herman.
Then we were treated to a new twist to the ghost bench gag. Gone were the predictable ghouls with white blankets over their heads and instead we were asked to plonk on our 3D glasses and enjoy some extra special surprises.
Throw in Muddles rapping (he’s no Honey G!) and some dabbing (my children understood that at least!) and the usual digs at neighbouring towns such as Luton and Stevenage and you’re on to a winner.
I really can’t recommend this brilliant production enough. It runs until Sunday, January 8. Tickets are available from the box office on 01727 844488 or see www.alban-arena.co.uk