Sinbad, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
HOWARD Ella and Andy Welch are at the helm of their sixth Rowntree Players pantomime, Sinbad.
If they are all at sea, it is only in a good way, because this writing team is so skilled and quick witted now that their sea-faring adventure/misadventure is plain sailing to a big success. Tickets are at a premium, so don’t delay. In fact, book now, then resume reading this review…
…Director Ella and his co-writer and Old Man of the Sea, Welch, have delved into The Arabian Nights: Tales Of One Thousand And One Nights and then decided to give it a blast of bracing Yorkshire sea air: Whitby and Scarborough Harborough, as it seemed to be called at one point at Sunday’s raucous matinee.
It starts in olden storytelling mode, but Ella and Welch quickly establish they will be putting the naughty into nautical. That means Irreverent, rather than saucy, although Graham Smith’s dame, Tilly Tinbad, will sail pretty close to the wind, without ever being as blue as the Scarbadian sea.
More of Graham later. First, there are a couple of Brexit jokes from narrator Welch that both Leave and Remain camps can enjoy (but maybe not after Thursday’s General Election result). Even climate change pops up.
Laura White’s villainous, spiteful Abadun is out to spoil everyone’s party, turning Geoff Walker’s King Olaf into the Monkey King (cue plenty of funny monkey business and cartwheels from Josh Roe).
Can the two Hannahs, Hannah King’s resolute Sinbad and Hannah Temple’s plucky Princess Talida, find the Old Man of The Sea to revoke the spell and defeat vainglorious Abadun and dogged dogsbody Neckbeard (Sian Walshaw)?
Who else could be on hand to help/hinder them but the redoubtable mother-and-son comedy double act of Hapless Smith and McDonald, Graham and Gemma’s very silly Tilly and Gilly Tinbad.
You surely remember Madonna’s iconic cone bra? Smith makes the dame’s entrance wearing squashed ice cream cones, an amusing Scarborough variation with another cone for a hat. This is but one of many fab-u-lous costumes assembled by Leni Ella, Pam Davies, Jackie Holmes and Heather King to complement Howard Ella, Paul Mantle and Lee Smith’s delightful sets, ship decks, ultraviolet submarine and psychedelic rocks.
Smith’s ever-so-slightly tetchy brand of Les Dawson dame and McDonald’s cartoon-esque sidekick in a shrunk Annie wig, daft voice and all, are comedy gold, rich with quickfire interchanges, whether reeling off every fish name under the sea or a series of words that rhyme with “sailor”. Here’s one: “he retired from the panto but didn’t leave…Berwick Kaler!”
The marriage of Ella and Welch’s waspish wit and Smith and McDonald’s irrepressible playfulness grows ever more fulfilling by the year. As promised by Welch too, the duo’s slosh scene below deck is their best yet, so well timed in its physical clowning.
Smith’s running gag of playing a heap of helpful aunts – with terrible accents, as McDonald teases him – is another joy, but please don’t think this is merely their show.
Far from it. King, Temple and Walshaw thrive in action and song; Welch has his moment in Old Man beard, wig and cape, leading the ever-responsive ensemble like Wizzard’s Roy Wood in one of the show’s best set-piece numbers, Light At The End Of Tunnel.
Better still is White’s Abadun, to the villainous manner born, with a dash of panache in song and dance, an eye for humour and a singing voice that keeps hitting new peaks in The Smell Of Rebellion.
Musical director Jessica Douglas is on top form with her band, and when they combine with Ami Carter’s choreography for the likes of Pretty Little Gangplank (as in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Blondie’s One Or Way, in the climactic fight scene, the results are both spectacular and fun.
If you still haven’t bought a ticket, despite the earlier advice, do so NOW for this ridiculous, but ridiculously good Rowntree riot of a pantomime.