Panto in a new dimensionat Alban Arena

PUBLISHED: 10:08 20 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:47 06 May 2010

The Little Mermaid runs at the Alban Arena until January 3

The Little Mermaid runs at the Alban Arena until January 3

IT S something of a misnomer to describe the Alban Arena s Christmas show as a pantomime. It may have a few corny old gags and a man dressed as a woman (and vice versa) but to dismiss it as knockabout nonsense is doing it a great disservice. The Little Me

IT'S something of a misnomer to describe the Alban Arena's Christmas show as a pantomime. It may have a few corny old gags and a man dressed as a woman (and vice versa) but to dismiss it as knockabout nonsense is doing it a great disservice. The Little Mermaid is genuinely a festive feast of fun for all the family. And if you're going to sample any live entertainment this season, you're unlikely to find much better outside the capital.

The story, such as it is, isn't standard pantomime fare either. No glass slippers, magic lamps or beanstalks. Here, we have the less familiar story of the mermaid who falls in love with a human and is willing to trade her life in the sea and her magical voice for life on land with the man she loves. And by and large it's superbly realised.

Sarah Jane Honeywell is excellent in the title role, gliding across the stage and performing the singing and dancing part with obvious relish. Despite being the star name, however, she plays second fiddle for much of the show to Buster whose Long John Silver is near perfect - clearly all that time as a Butlins Redcoat was put to good use as his rapport with the children was wonderful to watch. He wasn't the 'boo hiss' baddie though - that was Nessie, played by panto veteran Innis Robertson in some wonderfully ridiculous frocks.

Add to that Michael Crawshaw as the heroic Horatio, Phil Lawton playing King Neptune as Elvis ("the King", you see) and you have a recipe for success.

But that's not all. At various points the audience is told to put on its special 3D specs (handed out at the start) and the visual effects are simply stunning. Watching my four-year-old's face as he reached out to try to touch the seahorse apparently floating a foot or so in front of his face is something I'll remember for a long time (although he did find some other effects, the spiders for example, rather too real for comfort).

As far as criticism goes, there were occasions when the cast seemed to be fighting to make themselves heard over the music soundtrack and on three occasions during the songs my son had his hands over his ears. If he found parts of it uncomfortably loud, I'm sure others did too. It was also unnecessary since the principal characters - and particularly Sarah Jane Honeywell - can all sing very well so it wasn't as if any covering up was needed.

Also I couldn't help feeling the show needed a better ending. It kind of fizzles out rather than ending with the triumphant flourish it deserved. But whatever - it's a show the town can rightly be proud of. Miss it at your peril.

DAVID CROZIER

l The Little Mermaid runs until Sunday, January 3. Tickets are £15 full price but there are concessions available from the Alban Arena box office on 01727 844488 or go to www.alban-arena.co.uk


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