Review by Simon Lewis - The Gloucestershire Echo


Promenade Productions
Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham
Sunday 21st January 2018


Think of January and what springs to mind? Forgotten new year resolutions, miserable weather,
the FA Cup 3rd round and the annual pantomime by Promenade Productions, a deservedly
permanent fixture on the Cheltenham theatrical calendar. With good reason; each show
is a fun-filled affair that overflows with jollity, and their 2018 extravaganza was no exception.

     Laden with a laundry basketful of jaunty songs, a string of corny jokes as long as the Great Wall
of China, including the Great Nile, Brexit and Laptop Gags, the sprawling Peking gang was all here,
their ranks swollen by the customary legions of disciplined young dancers basking in the limelight.
Add to that the usual whacky characters, pratfalls and, somewhere in the mix, the desire to rule the world,
and this seasonal serving of oriental anarchy lit up an otherwise dismal and wet Sunday afternoon.

      Mind you, I have to admit to a few misgivings early on; the leaden first act needed some tightening up
and a much-needed injection of pace. The glittering cave scene that concluded it, however, was a joy to behold,
and the far more spirited second act never let up. The wardrobe team had clearly been working overtime
to create dozens of eye-catching costumes, whilst elsewhere in the Forbidden City, there was plenty more sparkle. Ceri Holder radiated buckets of cheer in the title role, as she wooed the beautiful Princess Mandarin,
delightfully played by Melanie Warren. Jasmine James turned the incidental role of Aladdin’s dim-witted
brother Wishee-Washee into a tasty Chinese takeaway (Ah, so!), before losing some height and years in his
mother’s washing machine. April Marsden was all sweetness and light as the princess’s loyal handmaiden
So-Shy, while Angie Aston and Martin Giles clowned around chirpily as the buffoonish Peking police force. 

 For the first time in ages, society elder statesman John Pannett was unable to play the pantomime dame,
but all rise for Neal Carter-Lewis who capably filled the godfather’s shoes with a gloriously smooth portrayal of winsome Widow Twankey. Jordan Phillpotts excelled as the suave, matter-of-fact genie, crooning in his
richest Frank Sinatra voice, indeed did anyone consider the subtitle The Jazz Singer ? Looking more like a magician than a sovereign, Sam Taunton invested the role of the grandiloquent emperor with a
wonderfully Old Etonian quality. How many times have I said it, though? Give me a good villain anytime;
Alan Wollaston stirred up plenty of hostility as the scheming Abanazar, even if he did rather overdo
the evil laugh at times. Leave it to assured Jessica Avery as his glamorous nemesis the Spirit of the Ring
to cancel out his wicked influence and ensure the good guys won the day, bringing the curtain down on another winner from this gifted company. On a grey and rainy day, it certainly coloured my world!              


Simon Lewis