Back in 1984 – with the initial ‘Aladdin’ – they said it might not last. But the Gateway Theatre group has magicked up its annual pantomime every year since then, playing to packed houses at Portadown Town Hall.
Classics like ‘Cinderella’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Mother Goose’ have thrilled audiences over the 34 years, and the panto just ended, ‘Dick Whittington’, followed in the entertaining footsteps of all the others.
It wasn’t without its crisis. Paula Rogers (who played Alderman Fitzwarren), was admitted to hospital prior to the final three performances, and director Marie Tiffney had to step into the role, on top of the fact that this was her initial stint as director.
Suzanne McDonald – in the title role – made her Portadown debut and her experience in the Queen’s University drama scene shone out.
Kyle Emerson (with a voice like Brian Blessed) roared his way through the ‘villain’ role of Sir Rat and had the children booing every time he appeared. Adam Gracey took on the ‘joker’ Idle Jack and also had the kids roaring in approval.
Of course, the old hands also shone, none more brightly than the ever-present Eddie Drury – this time as the far-from-seductive Sarah Suet.
As ever, he sang, danced (sort-of!) and regaled the audience with jokes about Brexit, pellets, and that (like the ship in the panto that sank rather spectacularly) Portadown Football Club is going down!
The entire cast was superb – the long-serving Kirsty Fleming (Mr Mussel); Hannah Leckey (Captain Cockle); Louise Welsby as the lovely Alice Fitzwarren; Paula Rogers during the first weeks of the show; James Carson as Sheik Dabottal; Sarah Willis as Tuffazell; Jessica Peters as Tinkle Fairy; and Boaz in multi minor roles.
The role of the Tommy the Cat was shared by Elle McLaughlin and Katie McCallen – and both girls fairly purred through the role!
The dancers, choreographed by the experienced Deborah Fleming, were particularly excellent this year, and included ballet, tap and modern. And the costumes were magnificent.
Full marks to musical director James Cunningham, who – along with guide dog Bart - was magnificent. And not forgetting stage manager Robin Black and his team, plus the backstagers Elaine Hanvey, Lloyd Montgomery, Ryan Harris, Jamie Douglas and Jim Aughey.
Front of house were Stanley Liggett, Sally Thornbury and Trevor Hutton, and a plethora of other helpers.