Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
City Varieties – A Hard Act To Follow
There is something joyously pleasurable about a pantomime that is so devoid of political correctness that it is likely to send the great and overly good of Leeds into anaphylactic shock!
But, if there is so much as a murmur of protest about Red Riding Hood and the City Varieties’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto’, rest assured, I will be supporting every last member of the cast in any banner waving protest that ensues because this production was bl***y hilarious!
There are no big names, no gizmos, other than a few flashing rings in the audience, and nowt else apart from a wonderful, hard-working cast that had so much fun on stage, that their enthusiasm crossed the footlights and spilled onto an appreciative audience with the efficiency of a tsunami.
Simon Nock as Grandma Millicent Merry, is one of the best dames I have ever seen, because he has that rare ability to respond in the moment, to improvise and run with what comes back. And audiences just love a script that ‘goes for a walk’ because it causes temporary chaos, the very raison d’etre of good panto.
“I could watch that dame bloke all night,” commented one chap as the crowds exited the theatre and, whilst that’s certainly true, Simon Nock would be a lesser man without the great cast around him, because his light shines that much brighter because of them.
Claire Greenway is largely at the keyboards but, in opening and closing the show as Fairy Cherry Blossom, she nailed her space beautifully.
Kenny Davies as Ruffles and Jack Frost showed his diversity of characterisation and also has a great voice, whilst Benjamin Stratton as Sir Jasper De Ville / Lupus the Wolf (the baddies!) was as nasty as a bottle of medicine force fed to a child in the name of good health.
Lucy Keirl (Red Riding Hood), Rachel Garnett (Bo Peep) and Laura Sillett as Little Miss Muffet were all excellent and played a key part in keeping everything moving seamlessly.
But as Simon Nock set out to make them corpse, just for sheer devilment, the panto got funnier by the moment. “I have never been so happy since Paul Hollywood gave me his cream horn,” said Dame Merry in a reference to the TV baking man. I thought I was going to wet myself but had to bring my laughter to a swift halt so that I did not miss the next dubious gag.
This highly talented cast give more bang for your buck than a Black Friday sale. They perform, sing, dance and harmonise and, when they are not on stage, they are playing instruments
And when the Wolf enters to the heavy rock of Metallica’s ‘Of Wolf and Man’ and, later in the show, the audience are on their feet singing along to Sweet Caroline, you can get the measure of this great, extreme, wacky, unpredictable, unconventional but amazing show.
Go, you will love it and it’ll cost you a helluva lot less than the big name pantos!
Red Riding Hood
City Varieties, Leeds
Until 12 January 2020