If there’s one thing that is guaranteed to make me feel all festive and Christmassy, it’s a trip to the Pantomime. It takes me straight back to being a little kid and my parents taking me every year to The Regent Theatre to see their annual Christmas performance. This year, the performance was a recreation of one of my all-time favourite Disney movies – Robin Hood.
Thirteen years ago, I was seven years old (very nearly eight) watching Mother Goose, and here I am thirteen years on and Stoke-on-Trent born and bred Jonathan Wilkes is still the leading lad of the Panto. Some might say that having the same face year in year out could get a little tiresome. Those people are wrong. The Regent Theatre was absolutely heaving and Jonny received a very warm welcome home as he swung onto the stage on a wrecking ball – Miley Cyrus style – in green velvet leggings. That man has always known how to make an entrance.
“Ayup me Ducks” he shouts proudly. For anyone outside of Staffordshire, this is how we greet people in Stoke! That’s one thing I adore about Jonny and Christan’s Regent panto’s is that they are so exclusive and personal to their audience. From this moment forward, there was nothing but side-splitting laughter from the crowd.
Being a proud Stokie, the Stoke Jokes always get the biggest giggles, and Robin Hood was jam-packed full of them. “You can’t take her to McDonalds”, said Friar Tuck, played by Director of the show Christian Patterson “You’ve got to take her somewhere like The Slamwich Club! And now we can get 50% off because we mentioned them in the panto!” Patterson celebrated his 10 year ‘Panto-versary’ this year, and what a performance he gave to mark the occasion.
We were introduced to Robin Hoods band of Merry Men, who would eventually help him beat the evil Sheriff of Stokingham played by Kai Owens. He played Jafar in last years’ panto Aladdin, and the role of a vilan suits him very well. The Merry Men were introduced like a pop-culture show, with references made to the X Factor and The Undateables.
Delme Thomas playing Merry Man Will Scarlet was one of my favourite characters of the evening with his sassy and ‘camp’ personality, ‘uh huh hunnies’. He both sung and danced incredibly well and had the audience almost in tears with laughter. I particularly loved his reworked version of Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like A Woman, to make Friar Tuck ‘a little less manly’ to be the ‘Ru Paul of Hanley’.
The first act was hilarious, by Act Two stepped the comedy up to a new level, and that’s because half of it was accidental!
As soon as Will Scarlet sung ‘On the first day of Christmas Santa gave to me, a fairy for the top of the tree’, I knew carnage was about to commence, but not to the extent that it did! Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and The Spirit of Sherwood (Rebecca Lisewski) took it in turns to sing parts of the 12 Days of Christmas. Around half way through Jonny sent Delme on a wild goose chase in his blue unitard as he threw his ‘five toilet rolls’ into the audience, who taunted poor Delme as he chased them around the auditorium. As they went through the song again, Delme clutched his loo rolls in his arms to stop Jonny launching them, but he was caught out time and time again, chasing the chain of loo rolls as audience members tossed them around the room.
Delme, and the rest of us had the last laugh as karma hit back at teasing Jonny Wilkes. As he raced to grab his eight smelly socks, he tripped over the set, tearing down the backdrop and entangling himself in it. Behind the curtain, cast and crew looked stunned at the audience before dashing off as a curtain came down. Showbiz, ay? What’s wonderful about a Stokie panto, is no one takes themselves too seriously, and this actually added to the already hilarious performance.
The next part of the show had a 3D element to it, and so the 3D glasses went on as snakes, spiders and centipedes jumped towards the audiences’ faces as they shrieked in fear. The 3D animations led us through the forbidden forest to rescue Maid Marion, played by Finley Guy, who breaks the stigma of a damsel in distress and defeats the sheriff herself!
By the end of the show, the cast and crew had just about gotten over the giggles from Jonny’s trip – I’m surprised nobody asked him for a postcard! The banter onstage, alongside Jonny and Christian’s bromance is so admirable and is one of the things that brings people back to The Regent Theatre each year. The Wilkes Academy students sure did the organisation proud, and I can’t wait to see what Jonny, Christian and the gang have in store for us next year.