Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Days that make a splendid night

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Youth Onstage

Dovehouse Theatre, Solihull


Make no mistake about it: this is a little cracker of a pantomime. It has a happy young company that sparkles with promise – including one member who appeared on opening night with an arm that he broke the previous evening when he became another victim of the weather. 

It does, however, contain one basic mistake, a flouting of pantomime tradition. It was evident on the first night, when the wonderfully wicked Wizbad (Jasmine Rawlins) walked up to the delightful Fairy Queen (Ellie Snowdon). This is something that should never happen – though  it is easily rectified – because tradition decrees that Good and Evil shall never meet. Good appears and remains stage right; Evil's place is stage left. They are separated by an invisible line in the middle of the stage and they must never cross it. 

This said, however, their every appearance is a bonus. Both of them have excellent diction and are a pleasure to listen to. Both of them command the stage when they are there. Ellie has a twinkling prettiness; Jasmine has confident authority, provoking the boos and handling them splendidly. These are opponents who make a splendid team. 

It was only hours before curtain-up that director Deb Brook was told that 15-year-old Chris Tierney (Izzy) would be able to appear. The previous day, he had slipped while getting into a car and broken his arm. During the interval, the word was that he was not very well – but no one in the audience would have suspected this for a moment. He gives a lively performance as the son of Gertie Gusset, whom James Hudson creates with a brashness in the best dame tradition. 


Izzy and Gertie, with the happy Suzie (Georgia Towler) re-create the classic Wilson, Keppel and Betty Sand Dance when the action moves to Egypt – a location that finds the name of that famous tomb being interpreted as Toot and come in – a line that was new to me and well worth its place in a script whose writer unfortunately receives no credit in the programme. We also meet the nine-carrot necklace, composed of pointed orange vegetables. 

Other dance moments that score splendidly as we follow the action round the world in search of the vital keys that unlock the secrets of the days before Christmas are the Can-Can, The Lambeth Walk and Living the Vida Loco. And we must not overlook those unexpected penguins, who prompt chuckles with such apparent ease – though as the peaks of their caps are supposed to be their beaks, it would help if their wearers bent their heads a little to hide their faces. 

Also in line to charm the birds from the boughs with their Little People dance are the green-suited and top-hatted Leprechauns. And there is an amusing ultra-violet sequence on a blacked-out stage – all skeletons and heeby-jeebies. But it loses marks because the black-clad cast members involved are unnecessarily visible when they get in front of those three large luminous caskets. Solution: put the caskets downstage, so that the bony bunch do their stuff behind them. 

So there's plenty going on for a company equipped to make the most of it. Laura Hawkins and Claire Ford-Terry and are in amusing form as Stampit, the council official, and Klampit, the traffic warden – who has  a yellow band round her hat so that nobody will park on it. And there are happy contributions from Ellie-May Murphy, who gives us Queen Cupcake with an infectious grin, and Adam Brown (Prince Rupert), who has a pleasing duet with Georgia Towler's Suzie.

It's a pleasure to watch and a credit to everyone involved. To 4-12-10

John Slim 

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