Phil Gillam: Oh yes I did enjoy this year's Shrewsbury panto!
"The circus collects the outsiders like a flame tempts moths" - so wrote the novelist Laura Lam in her book Pantomime.
And, indeed, if we substitute ‘circus' for ‘pantomime' in that sentence, we will still – I think – not be too far from the truth.
Because, including in our definition of “outsiders” the naturally hilarious, the outrageously extrovert and the prodigiously talented, such folk are there in abundance at Theatre Severn’s superb production of Mother Goose.
This is a show that – all at once – is laugh-out-loud funny, energetic, heart-warming and life-affirming.
I loved every minute.
“You don’t get this at the Telford pantomime!” has become a Theatre Severn catchphrase as the Shrewsbury show takes you to places other pantos can only dream of … in this particular case, jokes about existentialism.
Obviously, I can’t go into details about the show as I don’t want to spoil the many surprises for audiences yet to attend, but, suffice to say, it’s a real cracker.
Once again – and celebrating his eighth consecutive pantomime for Evolution Productions – the show is led by the extraordinary Brad Fitt, a comedy genius who, like the great Norman Wisdom, can pull at your heart strings one minute and have you laughing your head off the next.
He has previously directed and played Widow Twankey (Aladdin), Dame Trott (Jack and the Beanstalk), Nurse Nellie (Sleeping Beauty), Mrs Smee (Peter Pan), Dolly the Cook (Dick Whittington), Buttons (Cinderella) and Nurse Nellie (Snow White).
As his biography points out: When he isn’t wearing lipstick in Shrewsbury, Brad is a freelance producer, a writer of pantomime scripts for various theatres, writer of children’s work, tour booker, foster carer and matinee ‘idle’ (he also does very little in the evenings).
I just love this man.
This is now four years on the trot that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Shrewsbury pantomime, and Brad never fails to sparkle.
It’s curious really, but, as a child, I never actually liked pantomimes at all. It might have had something to do with the fear of being dragged up on stage. I was a painfully shy little boy.
But as an adult, there’s very little chance of having to go up and join the cast. I don’t think the audience would find me very cute – and they wouldn’t be terribly interested in what I wanted Father Christmas to bring me.
They certainly wouldn’t enjoy watching me play air guitar (which is what the youngsters from the audience were invited to do this year).
But, as a grown-up, I now love the complete silliness of it all.
Pantomime is another universe in which nonsense reigns supreme.
Once again, BBC Radio Shropshire’s Eric Smith appears as ‘the straight man’ – this time Squire Squashem – and is again very often the butt of Brad Fitt’s jokes.
Like Brad, this is eighth time around for Eric.
And the popular broadcaster has become a much-loved Shrewsbury pantomime institution.
Lisa Davina Phillip was wonderful and great fun as the completely over-the-top Fairy Goodfeather. Matt Daines was suitably sinister as the baddy, Demon Vanity, a character whose arrogance, outrageously egotistical behaviour and deep self-love reminded me of a couple of people I know.
Victoria McCabe was charming and perfectly cast as the lovely Jill Goose, and Matt Dallen was brilliant as her brother Billy.
Clearly, Matt has pantomime running through his veins, and – like Victoria, Eric and Brad – is no stranger to the Theatre Severn Christmastime production. He’s another natural comedian who keeps the show moving with his exuberance and love of the ridiculous.
Mother Goose, written by Paul Hendy, and produced by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, is another winner that will find favour with boys and girls of all ages.
Meanwhile, looking ahead to live entertainment next year, I see that tickets have already gone on sale for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. Two of the UK’s top solo stars Kate Rusby and Martyn Joseph will be topping the bill.