Memorable panto brings a touch of Dallas to SW19
Although it's impossible to forget that Dallas legend Linda Gray is billed as the star of the show in this year's New Wimbledon Theatre panto, she's not the performer who brings the real Christmas magic to SW19.
Comedian Tim Vine is a captivating Buttons, getting both young and old laughing at his one-liners as the story of Cinderella unfolds.
He is assisted by Matthew Kelly and his son Matthew Rixon in their roles at the Ugly Sisters - wearing a series of remarkable costumes and wigs which had the audience gasping before they even spoke!
Their foil was twinkle-toed Wayne Sleep in the role of Dandini, who took every opportunity to ably demonstrate his range of dancing skills.
Not forgetting this is Christmas, the show had added sparkle in the shape of Shetland ponies, fireworks, fake snow and a clever 3-D interlude. It all came together in a memorable production which really would appeal to all ages.
Of course, the 'Dallas' theme is never forgotten and I did wonder if anyone aged under 40 would quite follow every quip which was linked to the 1980s TV series.
Half the audience groaned on cue when Fairy Godmother Linda Gray gave directions in the forest and said not to take the "North fork", but the......."South fork"! The Dallas link I really enjoyed came with a cleverly filmed opening sequence showing shots of Wimbledon town centre in the style of the iconic Dallas 'split screen' starting theme.
In panto tradition, the show was peppered with a few more quips to keep the locals happy. I spotted mentions of Morden, Tooting, Raynes Park and Worcester Park.
The fast-paced show opened with a lively dance sequence to Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' and other music and dance segments included 'Putting on the Ritz' - enabling Wayne Sleep to let rip with his tap skills. I wasn't surprised that 'Let it Go' from Disney's 'Frozen' also featured.
Cinderella, played by Amy Lennox, looked and sounded the part of the down-trodden step sister transformed into a Princess. Her evolution included a clever costume change as she was instantly transformed from dreary firewood collector to the belle of the ball.
It has to be said that Linda Gray as a 'vodka-swilling' Fairy Godmother had a couple of stuttering moments, and I felt she needed to let the panto tradition really soak into her core. But I'm sure she will get there, and once she got a stetson in her hand nearer the end, she relaxed into the role and helped get the audience bopping along.
Dallas was not the only TV theme to get a mention, as the Ugly Sisters were clearly named after X Factor judges Cheryl and Mel B. The two Matthews were as large as life as you can imagine and looked to be enjoying their performances. Seeing tiny Wayne Sleep, the height of their padded chests, sandwiched between them was a striking image from the show!
The interval came and, as 3-D glasses were handed out, I wondered what was coming next. We had to wait a while, but the 3-D segment in the forest was unforgettable. Some of the audience were jumping out of their seats at the ghostly and creepy goings-on in the woods.
It was the appearance of Tim Vine as Buttons throughout who helped the many quite distinct segments come together. His joke-telling skills were at their finest and the most 'pun-tastic' section involved creating a pun out of almost every chocolate bar imaginable. It's hard to explain, but it really worked!
Another clever routine involving a hat that stopped hearing (again hard to explain!) featured Vine teaming up well with Cinderella's father, the Baron of 'Hardup Oil' (yes, another Dallas reference) played by James Doherty. The show's line-up was completed by Liam Doyle as a confident Prince Charming.
Of course, this was an occasion for all the family and so we had four children from the audience on the stage to be quizzed by Vine. He proved to be a good improviser as one of the stage struck youngsters repeated a garbled version of her Christmas present choice.
You all know how the story of Cinderella goes (oh yes, you do), so I won't summarise the plot. And while I can't exactly say the show re-created the old Dallas magic in Wimbledon, it certainly made me feel that Christmas was on the way and I left the theatre on a positive high.
The show runs at New Wimbledon Theatre on The Broadway until January 11.
By Sue Choularton
December 15, 2014