The Millennium Forum panto is back after its Covid enforced break last year and nothing quite says ‘Derry Christmas’ like the sight of William Caulfield in drag poking fun and sending audiences home in fits of laughter. Returning as the Forum’s Panto Dame for a 15th successive year, the Co. Armagh native needs no introduction to local audiences with whom he’s built up a great rapport and after a year off, he’s anxious to make up for lost time in the guise of the wise-cracking Nanny Cranny whose targets are not confined to the stage.
A master of his craft, Caulfield gets the tone just right, keeping the age old tale bouncing along with plenty of slapstick to entertain the kids and even more one liners that fly over the little ones’ heads and force mummy and daddy to explain why they are laughing so hard, (including one jab at a Toy Story favourite which had parents exchanging knowing sniggers!)
He’s ably assisted in the silliness stakes by Pickles, played by another Forum regular, Keith Lynch, and this duo work off each other brilliantly to monopolise most of the laughs. Lynch ensures the younger members of the audience are totally engaged across both acts and scores more than a few laughs off his old ‘Nanny’.
Rachael O’Connor who plays Beauty was missing for our performance but her absence merely opened the door for Derry native, Ellen Hasson, to step into the lead role and it’s an opportunity she grasped with both hands, giving a faultless performance. No stranger to the panto, Hasson is both vulnerable and funny as the quintessential ‘damsel in distress’ but also brings a true Derry strength and attitude to what could be a one dimensional role of the princess requiring rescue. Her voice, like that of all the cast, is first class across a number of great songs that will be flying around your head long after you’ve left the Forum.
It isn’t often however that Caulfield has the panto spotlight stolen from under his high heeled feet but the undoubted star of the show was Karen Hawthorne’s evil fairy, Carabosse. From her show-stopping first entrance on stage, Hawthorne had the audience in the palm of her hand and totally steals the shows, whether it was engaging in traditional panto banter or drawing boos from a crowd that lapped up her villainous antics which carried just the right mix of sinister and silly.
The Co. Down native opens with a brilliantly powerful rendition of Guns & Roses ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and goes on to prove being bad doesn’t mean you can’t be very, very good!
But for every evil fairy, you must have a good one and that role sits perfectly in the safe hands of Orla Mullan whose Lilac Fairy is another who can turn a great tune. Like Caulfield, Mullan is a familiar face for Derry audiences and she delivers once again with a top notch performance.
And not forgetting Prince Charming himself, Conor O’Kane, another who manages to mix a strong singing voice with slapstick humour and some great quips. Indeed, his ‘Scooby Doo’ number with Nanny Cranny and Pickles as they search for Beauty is one of the highlights of the show.
Throw in a superb supporting cast that includes the likes of Leigh Chapman, some great dance numbers and even a fire breathing dragon and you have a real Christmas family treat that’s not to be missed.