Date 20th March 2020
Society St Bernadette's Parish Players
Venue St Bernadette's Parish Hall, Bispham
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Bernard Melling
Choreographer Geraldine Brown
Producer Barbara Brown


Author: Clare Higgins

Having been welcomed with a very professional looking programme, I took my seat to join what was unfortunately a very small audience; I have no doubt that the thoroughly rotten weather played its part here!  I mention this because as everyone knows, audience participation is essential with a pantomime and this committed and energetic cast of 11 adults and 9 children didn’t let the limited numbers phase them at all – they worked hard throughout the evening and elicited a great response from those present, who were clearly enjoying themselves. 

As soon as the curtain went up, I was struck by the quality of the costumes and the set.  Anne McGann, assisted by Rio Slaney-Sanchez, had done a stellar job in ensuring the whole cast well and truly looked the part and one of Widow Twanky’s hair dos was my favourite ever!  The fabulous costumes were complemented by an impressive and very effective set, designed and painted by Chris & Bill Barcroft from Cleveleys Park Players.  It’s lovely to see this kind of inter-company collaboration as members of one group support another; bravo!  

Bernard Melling’s clever direction ensured that no matter how many of the cast, props and set pieces were on the small stage, there was never a sense of the space being cramped or over-crowded. The scene changes, efficiently managed by stage manager Lynn Davies, were well covered by front of curtain action and the black light neon journey to Egypt was particularly effective.  A range of popular songs were sung to backing tracks and these were well chosen to enhance the story telling with their lyrics, having been appropriately edited in length to maintain the pace of the show.  Limited lighting facilities were put to good use throughout, most notably in Abanazar’s Egyptian lair. Well done to Neil Oldham and Kath Davies-Oldham for their technical input.

The show kicked off with a suitably sneaky entrance by Abanazer, played by River Slaney-Sanchez who earned every single “Boooo” of the evening!  His interaction with the audience was very natural whilst maintaining his ‘baddie’ image. River shamelessly ad libbed, played to the audience and ‘died’ quite spectacularly but perhaps most impressive was his handling of sudden beard loss syndrome, which he managed to make quite a feature of multiple times – very entertaining!

This was Anne-Marie Stephens’ first time treading the boards of St Bernadette’s and she handled the role of Spirit of the Ring very well.  Her dialogue, made up solely of rhyming couplets, was delivered in a very natural conversational manner with great expression.  The other magical character - Genie of the Lamp - was played by Heather Walton who had stepped into the role unexpectedly just 3 weeks earlier, which I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been told.  Heather had learned the part thoroughly and delivered a confident performance – well done!

Widow Twanky, played by Rio Slaney-Sanchez was a very likeable, suitably bold and cheeky character with great stage presence.  There was plenty of fun interaction with the audience and Rio certainly made the most of his entrances, never letting his character slip.  Wayne Walker played a very energetic, karate kicking Wishee Washee, who instantly built a rapport with the audience and also had excellent stage presence.  Rio and Wayne made a very entertaining duo.

Aladdin and Princess Mandarin, played by Hope Miller and Hannah Smith interacted comfortably with each other, portraying a believable relationship and there was some good, clear singing from them both.  They delivered confident performances and had the audience rooting for them.  The bumbling policemen played by David Charles and Linda Barnes coped very well with the constant tongue-twisting mispronunciation required of them and did a good job of leading the obligatory audience sing-a-long competition, particularly with the aforementioned low audience numbers.

Victoria Gatenby took a little time to get going in her role of So Shy, Princess Mandarin’s maid but gradually increased in confidence and character.  The Emperor appeared to be under rehearsed; he struggled to portray the character and seemed uncomfortable; he required the prompt multiple times – the prompt was very much on the ball throughout. 

Some of the children did very well with their background reactions to the main story telling and were working hard to stay in character but a couple appeared quite uncomfortable on stage and there was some interaction with parents in the audience which was a little off putting…..I’m sure this will improve with experience!

Choreography will not have been easy in such a small space but Geraldine Brown made good use of the whole stage and the simple, yet effective choreography worked well for the youngsters.  There was good projection throughout from the whole cast and both speech and singing were easily heard making the show easy to follow.  I was thoroughly entertained and enjoyed the evening; particularly as the cast were obviously enjoying themselves too.  Well done all!