Just as it usually is, the Kings panto is the one to beat this year – a fantastic explosion of festive spirit and comedy mayhem.
Maybe, just maybe, the first half is a little slow at times, just a bit wordy. Five or ten minutes could comfortably be lost.
But the second half is pure panto gold. If ever you wanted to bottle the essence of panto, this would be it, capturing absolutely everything a panto should be. Warm-heartedness, familiarity and total bonkersness, it’s got the lot, with Matt Dallen as Simple Simon turning in one of the finest panto performances I have ever seen.
The madness verging on hysteria of The 12 Days of Christmas is priceless, but where Dallen really scores is in the sheer niceness and naturalness with which he talks to the kiddies when he gets them on stage for the traditional slice of audience participation.
Anne Hegerty from ITV’s teatime game show The Chase seems wholly out of her comfort zone as the villain of the piece at the moment. She needs to realise that even the baddie has to seem part of it all – and learn to move more naturally on stage.
But elsewhere The X Factor’s Jade Ellis is a bubbly, endearing Jill; and Marcus Patrick as the King works wonderfully well with Dallen for some of the night’s best moments.
Vicki Michelle adds hugely to the fun as The Fairy Godmother; and Phil Randall is surely one of the best dames in the business.
Put it all together, and it adds up to one of the best Pompey pantos in years – and the perfect send-off for Kings press officer Sandra Smith after more than three decades at the venue.
It was lovely to see her massive contribution so generously and warmly acknowledged on the stage at the end of the first night – the glowing farewell she richly deserves.
It is people who make theatres, and for all the years I have been covering productions at the Kings, Sandra has set the tone for one of the friendliest theatres you could ever come across. As the key contact for the press, Sandra has been loveliness personified, kind, caring and one of the sweetest, most capable people you could ever hope to work with.
Newspapers across the south will be wishing her the happiest of retirements – whilst also hoping to see her again soon.
Sandra has always done the Kings proud; it was fantastic to be present as the Kings returned the compliment.
Have you checked out our new Christmas section yet?
It's packed with ideas and tips to ensure you make the most out of the festive season.
There's recipes, suggestions for presents and everything from choosing your tree to recycling your packaging and paper.