Having a panto ball

Pictured at Sheffield City Hall, for Manor Operatics, 'Dick Whittington
Pictured at Sheffield City Hall, for Manor Operatics, 'Dick Whittington

IT is, as usual, excited bedlam until the lights dim and human noise begins to fade away, replaced by a palpable, collective intake of expectant breath.

The orchestra strikes up and the curtains part to the familiar strains of Welcome to the Pantomime.

“The famous Sheffield pantomime where we all have a ball” – Manor Operatic Society’s annual pantomime at the City Hall, of course – and, boy, do we have ball at this year’s Dick Whittington.

The gags come thick and fast – punch lines on occasion, little too fast, perhaps.

What’s the difference between a tea bag and Sheffield United? A tea bag stays in the cup longer!

Have you been to sea? enquires Captain Cuttlefish of Scupper and Barnacle.

The latter replies: “I’ve been to see Sheffield United,” to a chorus of boos from parts of the audience; the former: “I’ve been to see Sheffield Wednesday,” the louder chorus of boos suggesting more Blades than Owls fans are present.

But that’s a skull and crossbones? No it’s not, it’s Victoria Beckham with her arms folded!

Dame Dolly Dumpling tells us she’s always in the stew, and wonders why her son Idle Jack is pulling a cabbage on a lead – “I’m taking my collie for a walk!”

Such is sampling.

The Baking Scene seems to throw up more flying pastry missiles than usual as kids try to catch them before bouncing up and down in their seats to Tiddly Winky Woo – and wasn’t just young kids reacting to it here.

Half a dozen or so people who left childhood behind a few years ago were on their feet singing and clapping to it!

Slightly more serious singing values among Manor’s cast are not wanting, Bob Spink bringing his grainy, baritone-coloured voice to bear on the music chosen for Dame Dolly, not least her entry song which just had to be Hello, Dolly with ‘Men in Tights’.

Emma Holmes and Christina Rice make a vocally well matched Dick and Alice Fitzwarren, although there isn’t much thigh slapping from the former. One instance, actually, and a very lukewarm one – purely an observation!

Hollie Denton displays her highly respectable soprano voice at the end of act one as Fairy Bowbells, while Simon Hance revels in the role of her arch-enemy King Rat and another Manor panto veteran, Paul Hill manages to get a twisting tongue round some elongated alliteration as Alderman Fitzwarren.

The talented Alex McVeigh enjoys himself as Dick’s cat, Tom, and another gifted young performer, James Smith makes a highly favourable impression both dancing and singing as Idle Jack.

Suffice to say each role in the production is well taken, the Maureen Law Dancers (including four ‘ratlets’) make their usual reliable contribution, the speciality rope act is back and so is the humorous ‘underwater’ UV Scene – the kids love that!

Space has left to mention some of Manor’s best-combined chorus singing, movement and dancing yet, the latter especially in Dancing with the Captain before a superbly staged storm scene.

Producer/ director Richard Bradford and co-director/ (chorus) choreographer Linda Kelly, generally, have created scenic splendours with swathes of colour, fabulous costuming (this must have cost a mint) and still have spectacle left for the final stage picture after the Bucket Game.

What will they come with next year, Manor’s 25th pantomime at the City Hall?

Dick Whittington, meanwhile, continues until January 7, although there are limited performances after this Saturday – see Listings.