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Phil Hewitt takes a look at Bognor Regis and Southsea...

Bognor Regis

Robin Hood and the Babes in the Woods, Regis Centre, until January 5.

Before an actor had stepped on stage, we’d been warned that we might get our bottoms barbecued – and the snow had started to fall.

Small wonder the kiddies – the vast majority of the 10am schools’ performance audience we saw – were instantly up for all the fun that this year’s Regis Centre panto richly delivered.

The stars of the show were undoubtedly the villainous double act, the Sheriff of Nottingham and his doting mum, Oliver Paterson and Vicky Edwards respectively, who gave everything a lift each time they appeared, foully hatching their dastardly plans to kidnap the Babes and so trap Robin Hood.

Both are performers who know instinctively how to work an audience and they did so beautifully to ever-increasing effect, helped at every turn by Dean Winters, the Buttons of the piece in this slightly-strange mash-up of Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood.

Plenty of jokes fell flat, unnoticed by so young an audience. With some judicious pruning and a rather livelier opening scene, the producers will reap instant benefits –for in every other respect, all the elements are there (sweets, water guns, balloons etc) for a panto which looks sure to soar, already full of all the spirit (and not just Spirit FM) which makes a good panto a great one.

There is some lovely dancing, an excellent selection of songs very nicely delivered, and some gorgeous support from young performers

from the Art of Dance – all ably showcasing the key characters.

It’s great to see Vicky Edwards on stage again after too long away; Bryn Lucas is suitably hunky as Robin; Dave Short is tall on laughs (and extravagant costumes) as Nanny Annie Fanny; and Katie Oughtibridge is the sweetest of Maid Marions. Meanwhile, Dean Winters shows himself a seasoned hand at keeping the noise levels high as once again the Regis Centre proves itself the most welcoming of panto homes.

The venue was a winner in last week’s Observer Community Awards – and rightly so. It’s difficult to think of any theatre where you will get a friendlier welcome than you do in Bognor – and that’s immensely to the credit of the Regis Centre’s lovely team of volunteers.

Phil Hewitt

Southsea

Sleeping Beauty, the Kings Theatre, Southsea, until January 5.

Christopher Maloney is the surprise package in yet another excellent panto in Southsea.

So often the Prince role is the dullest on stage, not helped by the fact that it’s usually filled by a big name with little or no theatre

experience.

But 2012 X-Factor runner-up Maloney throws himself into it with great good spirit to deliver a winning performance which, just as you’d expect, sparkles every time he starts to sing. His enjoyment in the whole thing is evident and infectious.

Similarly impressive is former EastEnder Danniella Westbrook as the good fairy, ensuring that goodness can be interesting too.

Opposing her as the baddie is Home and Away

star Lynne McGranger as the villain who isn’t so much villainous as lonely. All together now: ahhh!

But much of the momentum throughout comes from Matt Dallen as Chester the Jester, ever ready with a gag and always whipping up the audience – a natural panto performer.

Portsmouth-based Christopher Marlowe offers a stunning array of outrageous costumes as the never-less-than Gorgeous Gertie, and Tony Adams combines all his years in the business with perfect comic timing to do the rest.

Put it all together, and it’s the perfect panto treat, all delivered in the perfect panto venue. It’s always at panto time that you realise/remember just what a very special venue the Kings is, absolutely beautiful after long years of painstaking restoration.

Cram it full of screaming kids just before Christmas, and panto is the icing on the cake. The music is great; the sets are lovely; and the dancing is energetic. Every ingredient is there; the Kings adds its own very special magic; and once again Southsea’s is the panto that sets the standard this Christmas. With The Twelve Days of Christmas, in all its chaotic madness, the cast bring the house down.

Phil Hewitt