A traditional triumph at the Thameside

By Neil Speight

6th Dec 2021 | Local News

FOR the past 17 years, with the exception of last year's Covid-caused cancellation, it has been my joy and privilege as a local journalist to attend the annual Thameside Theatre pantomime.

Today, if the worst case scenario comes to pass, I may have seen my last.

I can only say that would be a huge shame and a travesty on the integrity of those decision-makers within Thurrock Council that want to close this community theatre.

That's the politics of tonight (Sunday, 5 December) done and dusted – hopefully the weeks to come will see a plan brought to fruition to save the theatre and I will be back next year for one of the highlights of the borough year.

As a reviewer I have to be honest and say that the Thameside is never going to be at the top of the national tree in terms of production, scale, star-names and theatrical excellence. Resources don't allow it. Pantos at the Thameside are what they are, and I will say it bluntly – they are bloody good fun and highly entertaining.

Whether you are four, 14, 40 or fortified by a pension book you will leave a Thameside panto with a smile on your face and a skip in your step.

This year's panto – dragged together at the eleventh hour and in spite of adverse circumstances - sits high among the pantheon of previous great performances.

Cinderella is a roller-coaster of traditional pantomime fun from start to finish – and the sheer joy it brings to all who see it was exemplified by two people sat close to me. One was a tot of about four or five who bounced and giggled in her seat throughout. Her enthusiasm for the show was unbridled. Next to her was her nan, who had a hankie in her hand throughout to wipe away the tears of joy.

This is a panto for all ages.

The stars of the show are undoubtedly ugly sisters Luke Coldham and Josh Handley. Local lad Luke is rapidly writing his own legend as an iconic Thameside figure. He's simply a cracking dame and he has huge rapport with the audience which he knows so well. And this year he shares the comedic role with Josh Handley and it's quite simply double the fun.

They are a joyous pair to behold.

For those who follow such things, this Polka Dot Pantos version of Cinderella starts with the surprise appearance of 'Fairy Flustered' played with great enthusiasm throughout by Jasmine McIvor, who redeems her fairy skills throughout the production under the guidance of 'Fairy Superior', Jess Herring – clearly no stranger to belting out a tune and enchanting her audiences.

Not only do we get two dames - we get two fairies!!

In quick succession we meet Cinderella, who is extremely well played by the delightful Katie Brennan and her best friend and unrequited secret love Buttons, played with character, cheek and pathos by John Oakes, who has more than a little of the magic of Norman Wisdom flowing through his veins.

After our first comedic encounter with sisters Elsa and Anna Hardup we speed on to meet Prince Charming, Alexander Emery, and Dandini, Jordan Hammond, and then the story unfolds.

I must add in a little personal note that brought a tear to my eye. The anthem for the cast is 'Together We'll Be Okay', the signature show tune of Cannon and Ball, and I couldn't help thinking of little Bobby Ball who passed away after contracting Covid last year. It was an entirely appropriate tune, signifying the best there is in traditional British showbiz on the boards. Bobby would have loved Thurrock's show.

We all know the outcome of the story but it's how we get to the wedding that's the magic of panto and this production has a couple of outstanding moments, most notably Cinderella's cute encounter with her animal friends and then a magical conclusion to the first half when you really will believe a coach can fly. You have to see it for yourself, I can't say any more!" Supplemented by a talented ensemble of Emily Jeeves, Thorpe Mills, Jenna Moffatt, Elisha Smith, Maddie Smith and Dylan Snowden time skips by very quickly as we get to the sparkling conclusion – via all the traditional panto moments (He's behind you!) and guess what – the singing competition ends in a draw. Its great, great fun and Christmas in Thurrock just wouldn't be the same without a trip to the Thameside. Long may the laughter reign and the fun continue. To nick a catchphrase from Bobby ball, Rock on Thameside! You can find details of future shows and can book via this Link. Cinderella runs until Sunday, 9 January.



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