It’s proving a vintage year for panto as Bognor Regis becomes the latest venue to pull off a Christmas cracker.
This was the very first performance we were watching, but the entire cast were straight into their stride, helped by a fantastic schools audience determined to deafen everyone including themselves.
You just knew we were never more than a few minutes away from a song from Frozen, and when it came the kiddies were all word perfect - a lovely moment as they sang as one. This was the kind of audience performers would surely like to bottle for posterity, and it was great to watch the cast grow in response to all the warmth being thrown back at them.
Dean Winters was all energy and enthusiasm as Joey the Jester, egging on even when no egging was needed and constantly cracking jokes so awful they are just perfect for panto.
Kara Kingsward-Hughes makes for a lovely Snow White, just as Gemma Stroyen is spot on as the Wicked Queen. Stroyen is as good at being bad as Kingsward-Hughes is at being good - great pairing for that age-old battle between decency and evil.
Talking of evil, the Queen’s sidekicks Mac and Tosh (Alan Mirren and Jamie Lemetti) work wonderfully well together, keeping it all flowing nicely.
If there is a problem, it’s that the second half starts to seem just a fraction long. There’s no doubting the skill and the delivery. It just needs a quarter of an hour or so lopped off - maybe from some of the banter between the dwarfs.
Your heart always sinks just a little at the thought of Snow White as a panto. Those dwarfs, so difficult to render, always end up seeming either wrong or a compromise. Here, with false heads and assumed celebrity personalities, they work reasonably well... but they are certainly the element which slows the whole thing down just a little too much.
Otherwise, this is Bognor panto on top form, certainly the best Christmas show I’ve ever seen in the town... and just so incredibly polished for a very first performance.