You really should go to the panto ball

Things are turning ugly now that pantomime season is in full swing at the Alban Arena in St Albans, writes Steve Sims.

Join Cinderella and those Ugly Sisters and you’ll be having a ball with former Pop Idol singer Gareth Gates as Prince Charming and CBeebies presenter Andy Day as Dandini.

The show (I saw it on Sunday) is full of fabulous singing and dancing, hilarious comedy scenes, incredible sets, gorgeous costumes and two beautiful Shetland Ponies to pull Cinderella’s magical carriage.

With five number one hits to his name, you won’t be surprised to learn that Gareth can belt out the songs with great aplomb – even if most of the cast refer to him (deliberately on purpose) as infamous Pop Idol contestant Darius just to rile him. Gareth also takes on the chin the inevitable references to Pop Idol conqueror Will Young, Kate Price and his stutter.

And at the other end of the singing spectrum there’s the Ugly Sisters’ performance of One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful which was truly awful – but magnificently done at the same time.

In fact Matthew Daines and Sam Rabone as Beatrice and Eugenie (good job there’s not a Royal Box in this theatre for the Duke of York to sit in!) play their nasty roles, err... beautifully, building a real rapport with the audience who they tell to “shut it” at the end of most scenes.

Speaking of royalty, Gareth enters the fray in one scene to Dandini singing the 1980s classic tune Prince Charming. Andy, who himself played an Ugly Sister in Yeovil in recent past, explains: “The prince didn’t want us to sing that but I was Adam Ant.”

That’s what I love about panto, you’re guaranteed to find jokes and puns worse than the ones I churn out in our office to colleagues or for newspaper headlines!

And one gag was even aimed at poor old Luton.

Dandini and Prince Charming were learning to speak posh and common.

First they learn “OAR-Y-MAY”. It wasn’t immediately obvious what the phrase was supposed to be until you speak it quickly (all right mate).

Once the Prince had cracked it, Dandini explained: “It’s commoner speak, like they do in Luton!”

There was also a great scene where Buttons was selling some toys/games and reveals that Single Barbie was cheap as chips and Divorced Barbie was £350.

Why?

Because Divorced Barbie comes with Ken’s home and car (boom boom)!

Buttons is played by Bob Golding who is in his third consecutive panto at St Albans. I’ve seen them all and he’s been the stand-out performer in each one.

The board game exchange of puns with Dandini is a real highlight of the first half of the show (he performed a similar gag with chocolate bars and Mister Maker last year).

Bob has recently completed a nationwide tour of 260 performances and a West End run of one-man show Morecambe – based on comedian and former Luton Town director Eric Morecambe. And like Eric he’s certainly a great entertainer and had the audiences in fits of laughter.

Memorable moments in Cinderella are too many to list, but watch out for the knock-knock joke, Cinderella’s (Jemma Carlisle) lightning quick change from rags into her glitzy ball gown, the stocking gag as they try the slipper on an ugly sister, and Bob’s impersonation of Bruce Forsyth as the second half opens with a Strictly Come Dancing-themed ball.

> Cinderella runs through until Sunday, January 5 and has already broken all of The Alban Arena’s previous pantomime box office records. Tickets have also gone on sale for next year’s pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk. See www.alban-arena.co.uk for more details.