Lichfield Garrick Theatre


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The Stage

Published Monday 7 December 2009 by Neil Bonner

The Garrick panto has been a winner for some years now and topping the previous offering must get harder and harder. But Hiss anAladdind Boo and the Garrick have managed it again - so it's no wonder that extra performances were quickly added as soon as word got out about the show's all-round quality.

It's a particular triumph for Ian Adams, who not only wrote the script but directs, in addition to playing a fabulous Widow Twankey. His confident acting, fine singing voice and perfect comic timing is a joy to behold. And he is more than ably supported by hard-working Garrick regular Barnaby, a warm and genuinely amusing entertainer, this year in the guise of Wishee Washee.

TV cook Rustie Lee joins the action a good hour into the show, when she pops up as Genie of the Lamp, but doesn't take anything away from the others. In fact, her stumbled lines, whether deliberate or not, become a little wearing after a while, though her trademark laughter and good singing voice help make amends.

Clearly, there is no skimping on costumes, which are glorious and changed frequently. The scenery, too, is classy.

All in all, this is a joyous affair with a strong feel good factor.

By Roger Clarke

Pantomime is a distinctly English institution which has been part of the Christmas festivities for almost Aladdinfor two centuries - some of the jokes I suspect date back even earlier- and the Garrick is building quite a reputation for its traditional pantos.

Lichfield does not have the glitz or gloss of some of the bigger name pantos but it does have a homely feel and bags of charm - and can be enjoyed by toddlers and maiden aunts alike.

The story of Aladdin stems from The Book of One Thousands and One Nights and apart from a setting in Peking rather than the Middle East the plot of this version sticks fairly closely to the Arabian Nights original, not that plot is usually a major factor in panto where happy endings are compulsory.

We all know that Aladdin (Paul Martin-McDowell) and Princess Balroubadour (Rachel Matthews) are going to live happily ever after - the fun is all about how they get there.

And much of that comes from comedian Barnaby, back again for his third Garrick Panto, who has an easy relationship with audiences and particularly children -even when a small child wandered up on to the stage.

She had seen a group of four selected children go on stage for a chat with Barnaby and a song. They left with lucky bags so, with the steps invitingly close, she decided she fancied a bit of that so wandered up on to the stage for her presents...

Foil for Barnaby's Wishee Washee was the writer and director of the Panto, Ian Adams, who delights as a traditional dame with a fresh frock for virtually every sentence.

Baddy of the piece is AladdinTom Roberts, the producer of the Garrick Rep, who does a nice line as Abanazar. He manages a tongue in cheek performance as a sort of Basil Fawlty baddie, a mix of likeable and despicable although not everyone saw him in quite such as benevolent light.

He is the first character on stage and as soon as Abanazar walked out, without even speaking, a child at the back started crying very loudly screaming in terror and anguish over and over again "I don't like him".  Nice one, Tom.

Amid all that arrives Rustie Lee as the Genie and she brings not only a larger than life personality but chaos with her freestyle interpretation of the script. You suspect that every scene with Rustie is a journey into the unknown for the rest of the cast - with Barnaby delighting in putting her off as much as he can.

You can guarantee that every performance will be different - and great fun. This is traditional panto, corny, silly, a little saucy, and sometimes hilariously funny.

It also has a touch of satire - at one point a character in a Gordon Brown mask appears and, as a sort of instant opinion poll, managed the loudest and most convincing boos of the night.

As I have said in other reviews, Christmas shows are often the first time children will visit a theatre.

Tom Roberts, first on remember, notices that expectant hush each performance as the house lights dim and stage lights come up and wide eyed children get set to experience the wonder of theatre. "That is what it is all about", he said. And there is enough in this show to bring children back again.

By Phil Preece

In ancient times this darkest part of the year was known as the season of misrule when normal laws Aladdinwere reversed and everyone could relax.  Well that's just what happens down at the Garrick's new panto.

Did I hear you say oh no it doesn't? Oh, yes it does.

The Garrick's Christmas offering has been one of my favourite theatrical fixtures for the last few years for sheer seasonal fun, and this joyful production of Aladdin is no exception, just what we could all do with right now.

There's a lovely air of kindness and geniality about this whole show that got us all smiling right from the start. Pretty soon everybody young and old was laughing, shouting out loud and enjoying themselves as much as the cast on stage, and that's got to be good for us all.

The mainspring of all this enjoyment is the ferociously talented Ian Adams, the panto's author, director and superb Widow Twankey. Now Danny's gone and Lily Savage has hung up her bra Ian must quite simply be the best Dame in the business. His laundress Widow T is warmly saucy and silly, singing like a soubrette, dancing like a trouper and twinkling with sly jokes that are innocent to the pure but pack just enough naughtiness to satisfy the most worldly of adults at the same time.

Regular favourite Barnaby plays her daft son Wishee Washee and what he doesn't know about entertainment isn't really worth knowing either. Watch him working with the shy (or bolder) youngsters invited up on stage. It's an object lesson in how to make the merely difficult look like a breeze.

The general ALddinair of kindness even extends to the Garrick Rep's own Tom Roberts as evil Uncle Abanazer who is enjoying himself so much in what I know is his first panto that he's more cuddly rather than cruel.

There's love interest too with the winsome Paul Martin-McDowell as Aladdin and the lovely Rachel Matthews as his sweetheart Princess Balroubadour who can both sing up a storm. Special mention must go to Whittington lad and Old Edwardian Rob Pass whose policeman Officer Pong betrays a real comic talent I feel will get even surer during the run.

And then of course there's the larger-than-life Rustie Lee whose infectious good humour as Genie of the Lamp spills over the footlights and who in this show's lovely relaxed atmosphere got some of the first night's biggest laughs merely by getting so excited at being on stage she forgot her lines.

The show's a tad shorter than last year, to my regret, but then I don't have two tired two toddlers to lug home at the end of a long night. Panto's often a child's first taste of real theatre, so I reckon anyway this show is sure to have them coming back for more.

If you like laughter don't miss this show, a slice of pure theatre history brought bang up to date.