Great fun, great performances in a Bognor panto to savour

The Wizard of Oz, Regis Centre, Bognor Regis, until Saturday, January 4.

Bognor panto - credit
Bognor panto - credit

The Regis Centre has long been the friendliest venue in the area, with by far the warmest welcome – and that’s one of the many, many reasons, it’s unfailingly the perfect place for panto.

And this year they’re offering a cracker. Just as they do every year, in fact.

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It was difficult to believe this was only the show’s second performance we were watching. The Wizard of Oz has hit the (yellow brick) road running, with a couple of hours of splendidly spirited festive fun.

It all gets off to the best possible of starts: a warning that special technology has been fitted which will melt the “bum” of anyone whose phone goes off.

And then on comes Katie Bennett as an immediately engaging Dorothy. It’s Dorothy who holds it all together, and Bennett does so beautifully. Her singing is superb.

Just possibly the show takes just a little too long to get into the actual story of The Wizard of Oz, but then again, this is The Wizard of Oz such as you’ve never seen it before. There are plenty of liberties with the tale we all know, but there are also all the traditional panto routines, all of them delivered with style.

Drew Donnell, last seen in Bognor as Cruella in Cinderella, is terrific as the Wicked Witch, completely green and mean, a vain villain through and through – the perfect counterpart for Bognor favourite Vicky Edwards as the pinkest of pink good witches, a lovely performance full of heart and kindness. No one’s ever going to come to harm as long as she’s around.

Scottish duo Lemetti and Mirren as The Scarecrow and Tin Man become a trio with the addition of Jamie Bannerman as The Lion, and together they keep the laughs coming, great performances from all three – not least at the start of the show as the Kansas hicks Zeke, Hunk and Hickory.

Early on, they deliver probably the show’s best moment – a hilarious sketch in which they point out how the lyrics to a number of a famous songs actually sound. It’s always fantastic to get a blast of The Rolling Stones wherever you are, but oh dear, Start Me Up is never going to be the same again… And the pleasure is a panto routine which is so wonderfully original.

Great work too from Kevin Short as The Wizard among a host of other characters.

Adding plenty of colour and artistry are the Lisa Jayn Dancers on top form. Our munchkins over the festive period will be provided by Art of Dance and Fitness, the Arabesque School of Performing Arts, the Rosemary Bell Academy of Dance and Razzamataz Bognor.

Put it all together and it’s a slick and smooth panto, but even more importantly a panto full of heart and soul. Great fun from first to last. The yellow brick road has probably never been more inviting than in this, our most inviting of theatres.