Former S Club 7 pop star Rachel Stevens tops the bill at this year’s Alban Arena pantomime, and on Sunday I took in the show to find out if there “ain’t no panto like an S Club panto”!
Rachel plays the Fairy Godmother as Evolution Productions bring festive fun to the St Albans venue once more.
But would her rhyming couplets help the cast Reach for the stars with Cinderella?
Supporting Rachel were Ben Faulks as Buttons (Mr Bloom from CBeebies), the returning Bob ‘local legend’ Golding (Dandini), Ian Kirkby (Baron Hardup) and Jemma Carlisle (Cinderella), plus Kane Oliver Parry (Prince Charming).
There may have been lavish sets, a spectacular carriage to take Cinders to the ball, a snowy surprise for the audience and Rachel, Kane, Ben and, especially, Jemma excelling with their singing (including an inevitable rendition of a Greatest Showman track), but it was when things turned ugly as Cinders’ step-sisters took to the stage that the antics were most enjoyable.
Hugh O’Donnell and Aaron Alexander played despicable duo Donaldina and Melania. They wasted no time in picking their love interest from the audience early and scoffed: “Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to sit in the front row of an Alban Arena panto?”
The boos were coming as thick and fast as some of their costume changes - including one incredible ten second switch into two amazing fast food outfits.
These dresses - usually Bob Golding’s forte (but he was more subdued in trousers this year) - were more outrageous than ever before and there were plenty of costumes to gasp in amazement at.
Bob did get to perform his popular party tricks, with Ian Kirkby partnering him for the enjoyable pun wagon set piece, and several of the cast joining him on the ghost gag bench.
There were jokes for young and old (with neighbouring Luton and Watford notably on the receiving end). Baron Hardup got all the corniest wisecracks, but I got the impression this year that a few one-liners delivered by other cast members weren’t quite hitting the spot.
Some punchlines appeared to take a little too long for the audience to process (and with a fast-paced panto there’s no dwell on a gag as the next one isn’t far off).
However, Buttons certainly brought a smile to my children’s faces with a touch of flossing, the ‘Take the L’ Fortnite dance (ask your kids!) and a PS4 reference in the I Am The Music Man song.
When it came to the ball, Cinders obviously got to the big glamorous shindig despite being forced to tear up her tickets by those wicked sisters. But why did she make her grand appearance at a rather belated 11.45pm on the palace clock giving her just 15 minutes to woo her prince before having to do a runner!
The ball provided good laughs, with some S Club 7 music and (arrgh) that Baby Shark song sneaked into the playlist much to the annoyance of Prince Charming.
Cinderella had a tough act to follow after the supreme pantos we’ve been treated to at the Alban Arena in recent years. But while it didn’t quite hit the heights of those great shows it was still great family fun and I’d certainly still recommend you get your ticket to the ball which runs until January 6.
Just get Bob back in those wacky dresses for next year!
Alban Arena Box Office 01727 844488 http://www.alban-arena.co.uk