IF THERE’S any art form that can be judged solely by audience reaction, then panto is surely it.
And if so, then this year’s Gala offering can hardly be deemed to be anything other than a hit.
Any panto is only as good as its villain, dame and fool, and here the Gala is particularly well-served.
Local lad Neil Armstrong leaves no piece of scenery unchewed as the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham, strutting about the stage and abusing the audience to his heart’s content.
And Paul Hartley, as Will Scarlett, demonstrates the physicality which has made him a much-loved mainstay of the Gala’s festivities.
Hartley and Armstrong are ably assisted by Alan French as Nurse Nellie, a vision in thigh-high rubber boots and day-glo dresses.
Comic support comes from David Tarkenter and Martyn Dempsey as the sheriff’s bumbling henchmen Stink and Stench and both demonstrate a real gift for physical comedy and improvisation.
By comparison, Gareth Leighton, Emma Devlin and Marcus Houden all suffer slightly in the straighter roles of Robin, Marian and Friar Tuck, though this is more a result of the emphasis panto places on booable villains and lovable clowns than any deficiency on their part.
Certainly each of the three makes the most of the moments in the spotlight they are afforded and they can all certainly carry a tune.
Speaking of tunes, there’s a distinct leaning towards the boyband this year, doubtless a nod to the target audience, but a less interesting accompaniment than previously.
Alas, there’s nothing to match Armstrong’s rendition of ‘You Know My Name’ from previous years.