THE last chances to see Ryedale actor Dominic Goodwin playing the dame, Nursey Goodnight, in the Richmond pantomime come tonight (FRI) at 7pm and tomorrow at 2pm and 7pm.

The wonderful intimate atmosphere of the Georgian Theatre Royal – and shame on any Yorkshireman who has yet to set foot in there – is the perfect setting for Babes In The Wood.

A cheeky ompah band greets you on the stairs, in the bar or the tiny foyer; the musos really are keen to share and build the excitement with you on the way in. Then you discover that half the band is acting in the show; darting up from the pit on to the stage or vice versa.

There’s fun to be had, trying to work out which cast member is working the hilarious puppets and marvel at the story opening out before you. It’s a compact cast, and they all depend on each other.

Enter the Holly the Woodsprite (Penny McDonald) not only elegant but beautiful. At this point, It comes as a pleasant surprise to realise that these actors are using their natural voices, no faking with body-mikes for them. When they belt out a number, they sing naturally, no auto-tune tricks here!

There’s a good feeling of ensemble playing, the players are all evenly matched, no huge ego can trample over others, so often seen elsewhere. They each seem to enjoy themselves too.

Then on comes Goodwin's dame, Nursey Goodnight, who uses audience members to mercilessly raise laughs, but he also is generous with his fellow cast members. He is a dame of great skill, timing and comedy talent with a deserved following, and this is certainly his best dame ever – and the best thing your reviewer has seen him do, better even than his Frankie Howerd, Henry VIII or Monster in Frankenstein.

The evil , very evil, blow-up-your-own-children evil Baron van Rentle (Garry Bridgens) is excellent, receiving plenty of hisses and boos but earning respect from us, doubling as Mr B Bear in full fur costume.

His boys, Prince What and Prince Who (Andy Kelly & Tom Burton), form a great partnership of hopeless, whey-faced ninnies. They dozily attempt to get a grasp on the story and to get themselves girlfriends - the Moves Like Jagger routine is a marvel.

One of the joys in this treasure-chest of a show comes from the delightful puppetry, the miniaturising of the characters, and – rare in these days – a rattling good story to follow. You could take your granny, you could take your mid-thirties bachelor vicar, you could take your five year old and all would relish the show.

There are some hysterically funny moments – the rat sent sailing down through the trap door for a start, and a glorious pom-pom snowball fight for all to engage in, and we did!

The audience's disobedience creates a new dimension in humour as the cast attempt to wither their assailants with clever ripostes, which of course invites yet another blizzard of secretly-held snowballs. They’re true troupers.

The singing is clear and in particular the lovely blend of voices of Amber and Willow Goodnight (Katie ‘Bunny’ Tranter & Sarah Kearsley) is well matched. They both play more musical instruments than is good for them, and can dance and act, too.

My only tiny criticism is that sometimes dialogue is missed by the audience, due to the speed at which they rattle it out, but that might be down to relative stage inexperience. Natural voice dialogue must go at a marginally slower pace; extra breath is needed to deliver each line. 

I’m still reeling from the brilliance of the wild slapstick in the recent National Theatre tour of One Man, Two Guvnors, also played without mikes. We in the Richmond audience need a little while to adjust as we re-learn to use our ears, now that we are all so inured to the use of PA onstage. 

However, with a huge blend of talent, an excellent script and direction from Tony Liddington and great musical supervision from Daniel Bowater, I might just sneak back to re-visit this show before the end of the run tomorrow.

I promise you, it honours the finest traditions of theatre and pantomime; Babes In The Wood will be remembered for a long time to come. I urge you to go!

- Stephanie Preacher


Babes In The Wood, Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire, ends tomorrow. Box office: 01748 825252.