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Laughter for all with mischief and magic

Reporter: Paul Genty
Date online: 14 December 2016


Opera House, Manchester

(to January 8)

FROM his first entrance as what looks like a tin of biscuits to his walkdown, done up in the (very strong) colours of a Jaffa Cake box, Eric Potts is never less than the star of this year's Opera House panto.

Which is as it should be: he might be billed after John Thomson and Sherrie Hewson (and even Ben Adams, the personable former member of boy band A1, now a writer and singer in his own right), but Eric Potts is the show's comedy driver on the colourful, glittery stage, as well as its writer and director off it. He gets the best lines, and he knows to the inch (and in his case, that's a lot of inches) how to deliver them.

Panto isn't just about having a funny script - and to be honest I've seen funnier ones. It is also about delivery, timing, the right appearance and a sense of mischief, the last of those perhaps at some point in rehearsals suggesting a repeated phrase here, a movement there, to punch an audience's funny buttons.

In this show the movement is that strange "fluttering" movement ballerinas make, quite ludicrous when performed by a big chap in a tight tutu and pulled-back hair, dancing rather too seriously. And the phrase is his simple "thank you" to the conductor, in lieu of "play now". And it's not so much the words but the nasal, clipped way he says them. If you are in the mood to be silly, Potts is a master, liberally spreading innuendo, stares and suggestiveness throughout the hilarious evening.

Elsewhere, this year's panto is much as before; Potts is surrounded by actors persuaded to do panto once a year without knowing they necessarily have a feel or a flair for it.

To be fair this year's other comedy character, the Wishee Washee of illusionist Neil Henry, isn't bad; confident, energetic and silly without hitting any comedy heights (Tam Ryan, ditched a couple of years back, is still unmatched in these roles).

John Thomson has been playing panto baddies for a handful of years now and is much better at it than he used to be, but Sherrie Hewson as genie of the ring is a bit, well, unnecessary. She gets quite a lot to do but it's all too understated and mildly endearing, rather than silly.

Overall though, this is another hugely popular city panto, and long might they continue.


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