Christopher Biggins arrives on stage as Widow Twankey in a cake emblazoned with a great 20 and the curtain call ends with a round of “hip, hip, hooray” for Billy Pearce. It’s Pearce’s 20th year as the heart of Bradford’s pantomime.
His performance makes the show what it is, but he makes sure that the show is never about him. He’s a consummate showman, and, as ever, it’s all about the audience. Pearce has music hall skills in his bones and this pantomime is a perfect showcase of his talents.
It strikes you at several points throughout the performance that you are essentially watching a few people doing a series of ‘bits’ and holding the attention of an audience of over one thousand while doing so. But when those people are Biggins and Pearce, playing Wishee Washee this year, you’re watching a lot of years on stage – their experience shows.
What makes the Alhambra’s pantomime such an enormous success this year, is that it combines this simple stagecraft with quite spectacular set pieces. The best of the bunch is the flying carpet: you can hear jaws drop.
Ed Curtis’ production cracks along at a real pace and the choreography, though a little underused, raises the energy. The 3D section is the best it has been.
It all feels so slick, unsurprising given how long this team have worked together. Newcomer Simon Webbe has a decent stage presence and a pop star’s vocal skills, but this is really a celebration of old fashioned stagecraft with a dash of modern wizardry thrown in.