Theatre Review: York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Panto

Three cheers to York Theatre Royal for producing a travelling Panto this year!

By Angie Millard

Yesterday I was lucky enough to see their matinee and it was superb.

We went to The Folk Hall in New Earswick to taste the full pop-up experience, masks and full government guidelines were applied and away we went for a unique trip through Pantoland.

The show makes clever use of the conventions and focuses on the idea of the baddie stealing the ‘essence of panto’, which is in a bottle. We were allowed to choose between Dick Whittington or Jack and the Beanstalk and the latter won.

The pace is fast as they achieve the ‘essence’ with incredible energy.  In just over an hour we get the lot. I don’t know about you but, frankly, I find that pantos can be too long so it was great to reach the finale wanting more.

Only five actors are used but to full effect. The fairy played by Anna Soden is a guitar and saxophone-playing-trainer-wearing dynamo. Faye Campbell as Jack is a perfect principal boy who sings and dances accompanied by Josh Benson as her break dancing, acrobatic brother. The Dame played by Robin Simpson has a wonderful combination of funny one-liners and silliness with just the right level of sophisticated references to please the adults. Finally, the giant, a very tall actor named Reuben Johnson, was an absolute treat to watch with his deadpan humour, frenetic dancing and handsome stature.

This show was not traditional in many ways yet there were brilliant set pieces like the trolley full of magazines whose titles were held up as the dame and Josh used the words in a fast, very slick routine. This same trolley was used to hold props from every panto and was filched by the giant in exchange for the magic beans. There was an inflatable beanstalk, a fight with the villain and even a custard pie.

As in all truly good pantos, there were many topical references from stockpiling toilet rolls to COVID coughing but all in the best possible taste.

Paul Hendy wrote a fast moving and clever script. The set and props designers produced a perfect world for the actors to inhabit but let’s not forget the director, Juliet Forster. Her attention to detail and carefully rehearsed pieces were what held the show together. I was amazed that York Theatre Royal had pulled off what was a spectacular success.