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What did an American make of her first-ever panto?


Let me start this review with a confession - I'm an American who had never seen a panto before last night, and I had no idea what to expect from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Each time I told one of my friends that I was going to see my first panto, I was shocked to see how excited they got on my behalf.

Of course, I was aware of the tradition of the pantomime, but I did not know the extent to how beloved it was in the UK. So it was with joy that I took on reviewing Goldilocks and the Three Bears: The Greatest Panto on Earth at Richmond Theatre. The show is written by Alan McHugh and directed by Matt Slack.

Walking into the theatre, I was greeted with the front-of-house staff selling things that one would typically find at a circus in the States - light-up swords and wands, fluffy pink tiaras, sweets, and of course, programmes. The pre-show music playing inside was bright and exciting and stars were projected on the ceiling of the theatre, giving the historic venue a more youthful and fun atmosphere.

Suddenly, the lights went dark, the curtain rose, and from the minute the ensemble came out singing a parody of "Opening Night" from The Producers, I was hooked.

I went in confused as to how the traditional story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears would fit into a circus, but quickly realised that the story is not what makes a panto good - it's the jokes. At some points, the story was completely abandoned for mischief and hilarity, with an entire scene dedicated to making jokes based on the names of countries.

The main character is Joey the Clown, played with enthusiasm by Matt Baker, who immediately impresses with his entrance on a unicycle. Joey's love interest, Goldilocks (Tamara Morgan) is sweet and has some lovely solos but ultimately serves as a fourth wall break, asking the audience questions and sweetly singing to them.

As someone who had not seen a panto before, the tradition of having a "Dame" was quite a surprise, but Nigel Ellacott plays Dame Betty Barnum in a truly spectacular fashion with quick improvisational skills and impressive costumes, designed by Mike Coltman and Teresa Nalton. Ellacott pairs well with Phil Walker, who plays Ringo the Ringmaster, a character who tells jokes in every line he speaks on stage. Many are groaners but are still quite entertaining, especially the puns!

The three bears, Mummy Bear (Nova Skipp), Daddy Bear (James Paterson) and Baby Bear (Lucy Conley) play only a small role in the show as victims of the evil Countess Von Vinklebottom's (Jessica Martin) plan. Martin is an absolute delight as Countess Von Vinklebottom, graciously accepting the loud boos thrown her way each time she appeared on stage and letting out evil laughs fit for a Disney movie. The ensemble was made up of students from Laine Theatre Arts (Tia Gyngell, Reece Kilminster, Zara Liu, Jack Palmer, Pep Ribas, and Emily Megan Shepherd) who performed beautifully and helped enhance the panto with their dancing (choreographed by Gerry Zuccarello) and singing.

But what truly makes this panto stand out is its magic and entertainment! There are two main acts that perform during Act II - The Magical Mysterioso (Phil Hitchcock) and El Mariachi Marquez (Gordon Marquez). The Magical Mysterioso is a thrill to watch with classic magician tricks like pulling scarves out of his sleeves and making doves appear out of thin air (a personal highlight for me). El Mariachi Marquez shows off his brilliant juggling skills with various objects, including glowing spheres and fedoras! The acts are enhanced by special effects from The Twins FX and an eye-catching set designed by Ian Westbrook.

Ultimately, Goldilocks and the Three Bears was a delightful way for me to be introduced to the British tradition of pantos. I couldn't help but feel like a kid again, cheering and jeering along with people of all ages as the characters fought to save their beloved circus. If you're looking for a silly and engaging show (which I have learned is exactly what a panto is for), I would definitely recommend taking a trip out to Richmond Theatre.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is at Richmond Theatre from 3-31 December

Photo Credit: Craig Sugden

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