Happy New Year

On Saturday I took Katie and my parents to the Billingham Forum to see a pantomime. It’s the second time I’ve done this: last year we went to see Cinderella at the Middlesbrough Theatre. This time round it sounded more fun to go to somewhere just a little bigger and Billingham seemed the ideal place and size for a four year old, though Darlington might have been another option.

The Forum is looking its age now, to be honest, but is about to undergo a major overhaul. This is a great thing because it really is a focus for Billingham and a great place, with a pool, an ice rink and a theatre amongst other things. The last time I was the theatre there was to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s ‘The Bible – Abridged’ which was wonderful, including its ability to annoy the militant God-botherers who stood outside hassling me when I went inside.

And so it was that, after a quick bite to eat in the ice rink diner, off we went to the auditorium to take our seat and watch the show. Who was in it? Well, the headliners were Darren Day, Ken Morley, The Patton Brothers, Day’s wife Stephanie Dooley as Goldilocks and Martin Gold. You could tell DD has done the West End because he had bags of charisma. My mum doesn’t normally like him and even she was won over. Quite apart from having a good voice he rolled out some half decent impressions, including Liam Gallagher and Ozzy Osbourne, as well as having a nicely self-deprecating joust at his own tabloid travails. Ken Morley was a great dame and looked like he was having a great time, possibly because this was getting near the end of the run and they were all into a groove with the material. Actually, this was a common thread. A couple of times there was some serious corpsing going on, showing that lots of fun was being had. Martin Gold took the part of Muddles, the comic relief. He was great and had a nice rapport with the kids, especially the ones he got up on stage later on. Katie got into it as only a four year old can, booing the evil mayor and dancing along with the best of them. She had a great time.

For me though, as good as everyone else was (and they were), the highlight for me was the Patton Brothers playing Bill and Ben. According to the programme this was their 53rd straight year in panto and you could tell. It was fantastic to watch something from another era, though they work with their younger brothers Paul and Barry on Chucklevision. There was a great little moment with a ‘Poundland radio’, blasting out No Limits (which Katie was bopping along to), where, just for a moment, there was a brief segue into what looked like Wilson, Kepple and Betty’s sand dance. And there was also the joy of watching the three-man custard pie routine with the mayor. It was all lovely to watch. Getting the company parading through the theatre and later firing water pistols through audience was a nice memory too.

Another great thing was the inclusion of some old style variety and circus acts as part of a sequence about Dame Tilly’s Circus. Two acts came in here: one a local juggler, who was really rather good. He was followed by something quite spectacular: a gymnast, who spent a great deal of time suspended above the audience, whirling and spinning. The kids, and quite a few of the adults, spent their time looking up in open-mouthed admiration of such skill.

It was a great show. And Katie loved it. She spent quite a lot of Saturday and some of Sunday re-enacting it, so it must have made an impression.

So what else have I been watching over the festive season?

Well, I finally saw Mamma Mia. Yes, the plot’s ridiculous (DNA tests anyone?). Yes, watching Pierce Brosnan ‘singing’ was like watching a pissed-up uncle doing karaoke. Badly. And yes, it’s a chick-flick par excellence. But. The songs are just totally bulletproof. They could have got the chimps from the PG Tips adverts to act this and the film would still have been great, just because of those songs. And it was nice to see Benny and Bjorn sneak in there too. Did you see them?

I watched Wall-E. A masterpiece. No other word for it. It says something about Pixar’s quality control that they can sustain a film for well over half and hour without any discernible dialogue and still make the characters sympathetic and warm, even though the lead is a robot. I also watched Bill Bailey’s Tinselworm, which I liked just a little less than Part Troll, though it was still wonderfully funny.

On the Saturday before Christmas I watched V for Vendetta on BBC2. I’d never seen it before, though I had read the graphic novel that inspired it. How had I missed this? Well, I was impressed. So much so that I searched it out when I went Christmas shopping. I’ve watched it several times since. Well worth six quid of anyone’s money and now one of my favourite films.

Christmas Day telly was pretty good this year. Doctor Who, The Royle Family, Wallace and Gromit and Stanley Baxter. All worth watching. I also watched the Shooting Stars evening and thought the documentary was a peach, though the anniversary special was a bit flat. Except for Jack Dee’s face cracking into laughter in the final challenge.

And now, it’s back to coursework and marking. The joy of it…

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