There’s no doubt about it, the York Theatre Royal Pantomime is clearly a much-loved family tradition for local people across York. They know the regular cast members, and cheer when they arrive on stage, and understand why a song about loving carrots is hilarious. And, goodness, throw a wagon wheel into the audience and you’ve got yourself a party.
For the rest of us, the panto feels a bit like an in-joke we’re not privy to. I love a good pantomime – the sass, the audience participation, the sheer daftness of it all – but this seems to contain all of the odd bits of panto, and none of the gags.
I think the only time I genuinely laugh is a filmed segment involving an unexpected couple of stars (I won’t spoil it for you, but look out for it). The rest of the time the jokes are a little obscure and silly, almost tricking people to laugh along in case they look like they don’t have a sense of humour. No classic panto innuendo, no slapstick, no key comedy character to hold the whole thing together.
The actors are great, there’s just a real lack of a shining star to bring out the best in the audience and make us feel involved. Martin Barrass is neither a Dame or a “serious” character, which is confusing, but he does hold his own with the audience. David Leonard has plenty of swagger as our villain Evil Diva and sidekick A.J Powell as Darth Diva is particularly likeable. We don’t see too much of the show’s heroine, Suzy Cooper, but that’s okay because she’s great in short bursts but the overblown character has potential to be grating.
The set and costumes, designed by Anthony Lamble, steal the show for me. They’re perfectly panto and beautifully themed. It has all the extravagance and ridiculousness that I love.
If you’re a York local, I can see why seeing the panto at York Theatre Royal could quickly become “the thing you do” each year. But there are plenty of other options out there if you’re a fickle panto-goer like me.
Catch Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal until 25th January 2020.
Photograph credited to Robling Photography