I swear Phylip Harries’ boobs are a couple of cup sizes bigger this year. Maybe Theatre Clwyd has located the company bicycle pump. He’s easily my favourite all-time pantomime dame and he appears in my all time favourite annual panto. He’s thick set and square – like a rugby prop forward with two doorknobs. He moves as if he’s permanently preparing for a scrum down. And he’s so amorous, if he really was a woman – no man would be safe.
Clwyd has a definite ‘no celebs’ policy for their pantos. The nearest they get to casting a soap star is some one who once appeared in ‘Pobol y Cwm’. So Phylips’ arrival on his super-decorated mobility scooter is the first highlight of the show. His patter is quick fire, raucous and ribald and his body language is devastating – especially if you happen to be a small furry animal caught in the slipstream of his bottom burp. I’ve never laughed so much at an anonymous glove puppet.
But Mr Harries has a problem. His familiar year-after-year audience is beginning to outsmart him. As always, he produces a range of ridiculous contraptions from his shopping basket and asks the assembled fans if they can identify them. And we increasingly can…which merely doubles the value of the joke. He got into even more trouble with his ‘humiliate the school party headmaster’ Mastermind game. The master had the better mind. But he’s an irrepressible star turn…a National Treasure – of Wales.
Also making welcome returns are the slimy, spiky-haired Alex Parry as the giant’s henchman, who’s not afraid to apologise to a fully-grown audience member when he really does scare her. And squeaky voiced James Haggie is brilliant, again, as Billy No-Mates; the Buttons/Wishey Washey/Simple Simon character who spends half the show picking himself up again after another expertly executed prat fall.
Of the non-humans, the giant looks and walks like one of those wonderful, shiny silver 1950s wind up robots. There’s an actor in there somewhere called Craig Anderson who somehow manages not to fall over. Judging by the fact that the giant and the cow are never both on stage at the same time, I presume the unfortunate man is also half of Bessie the pantomime cow. Bessie’s clearly an old panto pro…working her way through the classic sketches with four sure feet and a retractable udder. The routines are instantly recognisable and she has no quarms about milking them.
Of the fresh faces, Linsdsay Goodhand works her wand off as Fairy Aubergine. Her Adge Cutler accent opens the farm gates of the storyline with good, clean, rhyming puns and her singing is driving and delightful. She also plays a pretty mean saxophone …but you’d expect that. It’s probably where the phrase ‘fairer sax’ comes from.
The cast switch instruments in a twinkling and the rock and roll sound track neatly shadows the story. “Stairway to Heaven”, “Spirit In The Sky” and “Hey You Get Off Of My Cloud” could well have been written with ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ in mind.
Add to all that a baddie with a bag of beans who acts like a Pride Hill chugger and an exceptionally dizzy duck and it’s all rather like spending a wonderful evening with some favourite old friends. What could be better at Christmas?