It is the stuff of West End legend that BELLA BARTOCK once delivered the finest performance of Widow Twankey ever seen outside the London Palladium. Until it was discovered that she was not a proper Dame. But this week, even she was impressed by the performances in Croydon’s annual pantomime
It’s worth finding out where Waddon is to see this professionally staged barrel of laughs and Christmas family entertainment.
As one effusive parent told me on the way out from the Waddon Leisure Centre, which is staging the lavish production, the Aladdin show is “fantastic” and “as good as Wimbledon used to be”.
There was a lot of self-mocking from the performers about the location not being that Wimbledon Theatre, with having to compete with Bromley’s Craig Revel Horwood, a lack of changing rooms for actors, the alleged ever-present aroma of chlorine from the pool next door and the theatre being (an expertly) converted sports hall.
There is no need for such defensiveness. This was a very well staged and well-lit colourful panto with great dancing and well-delivered songs, as well as a number of talented young locals performing in the chorus.
The staging probably benefits from not being in the outdated Ashcroft Theatre in this more intimate setting, with much seasonal audience participation. The production is definitely up to scratch with great scenery backdrops, 60 theatre lights and a specially built stage.
As one song noted whimsically no Christmas panto is complete without two CBeebies stars to appeal to the very young in the audience. In Waddon’s case Abe Jarman (The Let’s Go Club) is in the title role with a sharp and polished performance with excellent singing and Jane Deane (Dee Livery in Justin’s House) acts as the Slave of the Ring.
KM Drew Boateng is a most engaging Genie of the Lamp, Steve Edwin gets impossibly drowned out at times by his accompanying musical malevolence as Abanazar and Steven Fortune’s Widow Twankey got the audience going quite shortly after urging the hesitant parents near the start: “Go on, laugh, it’s a panto”.
You are probably not meant to take too seriously some of the traditional banter that would grate with some parts of Croydon’s communities. Some of the barbs about people from Bromley, Sutton and Carshalton Beeches and orientals being allegedly diminutive fell flat.
It was not clear whether the consistent reference to “the highly delectable Emperor Wing Yip of Purley Way” had been sanctioned by the family business across the other side of the A23. Jokes about Brexit, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage did only a little bit better. There was a warm response to the suggestion that not even the genie could deliver a refurbished Fairfield Halls on time and within budget.
The producers, Q Productions, are already advertising Waddon’s 2017 panto (Jack and the Beanstalk, in case you were wondering; expect lots of gags about Councillor Newman at the Town Hall not having two beans to rub together). The thing is, staging a professional panto in a leisure centre’s sports hall does work. The parking for the leisure centre is easy, with Morrisons just across the Fiveways junction officially providing spaces. And the event is ably looked after by the Fairfield Corps of Stewards and there is a café to hand.
It’s great that panto continues in Croydon while the Fairfield Halls is refurbished. And there’s plenty of opportunity to see the show over the holiday season, as it runs right through to New Year’s Eve, with several matinee performances, too.
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