Christmas Variety as you’ve always loved it: the Royal Hippodrome has traditionally been the People’s Theatre, and following massive houses for its midweek “turkey and tinsel” performances, the Grand Old Lady is delivering proper Christmas entertainment this week.
Walk into the Hippodrome, and you practically hear the echoes of its theatrical history. The closeness of stalls and stage, the glorious gallery of photos from the stars of decades past, the very slightly faded rich crimson of the rows of seating. She has never quite lost her grandeur, and she plays gracious hostess this week to a new and youngish generation.
Seasoned comperes Cliff Bendall and Clem Jackson, the RHT’s Statler and Waldorf, are amusing and genial, although their material does feel a little tired. The show itself has a truly seasonal feel. It needs a more dynamic opening than the rather languid first number, but it soon gains pace, with talented young performers spanning ages from early teens to early twenties, all energetic and giving their very best.
First-half highlights include a stylish Baby, it’s Cold Outside duet from Tanya Grace and Oliver Menzies, a hilarious dance routine of three, yes three, pantomime cows and a whole troupe of tapping penguins. Multi-talented Tanya reappears later as a delicious ditzy “Noo Yoick” secretary, and in a preposterous trio of crazy elves with Solly and Luke Adlam.
Also prominent among the (relatively) older cast members are an assured Tyler Chambers, sweet-voiced Megan O’Hara and versatile pair Amy Wakeling and Summer Giles. And – embodying that special Hippodrome community – Laura West is the fourth member of her family to take to the theatre’s stage.
The dancers’ standard is uniformly high – and a credit to their directors Susie Blundell and Sarah Dormady of Goldmans Stage School – and the Finale Act One is absolutely smashing: a brief classical Nutcracker dance turns into a full-on Nutrocker sequence which just bursts with life. Juggler and mono-cyclist Giancarlo Olivera is brilliant, and twins Carys and Sian Clarke dazzle with their fusion of dance and gymnastics. Megan Hume, Millie Walker and Ellie Mizen complete the line-up of younger dancers, all with terrific zest and tight discipline.
Vocals are strong and forthright, with a true feel for the songs, although sometimes the singers go for passion and dramatic effect at the expense of intonation. Get your tuning right, guys: it’s the bedrock of all your vocal music. And it’s a missed opportunity to sing several numbers only in unison, when some harmony lines would add so much.
Outstanding in a high-quality second half are the excellent Melodie Gibson with a smoky, sultry Santa Baby, and a fine lilting tenor with a hint of Bing Crosby from Josh Beaney-Ford.
But upstaging the lot of them is eleven-year-old Olivia Sorrell-Fleet, mischief in uniform. Sharp as a pin, she delivers a sensational and utterly convincing Naughty from Matilda, which would have them cheering at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End, never mind the Hippodrome in Seaside.
So much to enjoy, then, in a show which seeks out, and delivers, that special Christmas tingle. It glows with the warmth of a large glass of Glühwein. By Kevin Anderson