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Dolly Does in Again

Jack and the Beanstalk – Royal Spa Centre, Leamington, 9 December – 7 January 2024.

Review by Hilary Hopker

It’s our third year visiting the Leamington panto and one thing, or rather one person keeps us coming back, and that’s the amazing panto dame Dolly played by JP McCue.

As Dolly’s sidekick Simon, played skilfully by Shaun Dodds, bounces onto stage I feel the same rush of joy you feel when you see an old friend. My son and I settled back in our seats knowing what was to come, yet eagerly anticipating it.

This year’s story, Jack and the Beanstalk, has been fully milked for all the cow jokes it has to offer. Dolly mesmerises me tottering across the stage in vertiginous high heels. In a post-pandemic world of flat shoes, the fact anyone wears stilettos at all astounds me, but Dolly’s agility in them has to be seen to be believed.

This year my son is twelve and as I turn to him throughout the show with its slapstick, songs and magic I see him laughing, not just at the kid’s jokes but also at the adult quips. This is panto in its full glory. There’s lots of audience participation, silly songs, foam and an embarrassed Dad called Jez.

As the story winds along the costume changes get more and more elaborate. By the time we come to the predicable ‘it’s behind you!’ scene Dolly appears to be riding a peacock. Things get wilder and wackier still when Barbie and Ken make it into the script and onto the stage.

The pantomime cow is predictably constructed, but the giant is next level theatre magic. While Dodds and McCue command the stage, a sprinkle of glitter is provided by the dance ensemble. My eye was particularly drawn to one teenage boy singing and dancing his heart out.

As the show ended and the packed auditorium emptied, I asked my son what his best bits were. He answered the moments the audience got wet and toilet roll was thrown around. Indeed, a girl next to us screamed with utter delight when she caught a soft paper missile.

Then I remembered my son took home a strip of toilet roll from last year’s show and kept it folded up carefully in his room as a treasured piece of panto magic made real. And that’s what panto does, it makes the ordinary extraordinary, it takes song, dance and story and truly transcends it.



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