Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide - Review by Chris Eldon Lee
No single man has ever endeared himself to Shrewsbury like Brad Fitt. Ten years ago, he took the town’s flagging pantomime and turned into the Rolls Royce of entertainment; directing the show himself and playing the Dame with amazing ability.
Deprived of panto this Christmas, he has bravely taken to the stage – possibly prompted by the tax man – to present his one man, one woman show about the art and history of panto; exploring what he calls his Pantomime Toolbox.
Brad has the enviable knack of being incredibly funny – in a most subtle and personable way. And, of course, he has a ridiculous wardrobe of weird and wonderful frocks. But what is this! With dozens of costumes to choose from, he made his entrance last night in jeans and tee-shirt. For we were about to enjoy an evening with the unplugged, stripped-down Brad … for one split second a little more stripped-down than he intended.
It was all akin to being invited backstage, into his dressing room, for a cosy, fireside chat in which Brad laid bare his life-long passion with panto.
It all started when he was just five years old and was taken to see his first pantomime, Cinderella, at the Norwich Theatre Royal. He recreated that experience before our very eyes; the lights, the music, the dancing girls and the dazzling entrance of the star of the show, Benny from Crossroads, complete with bobble hat. But that first injection of fairy dust set the stage for the rest of his lucky life.
From school he got a job as an usher at the same theatre and then he just fell into making comedy panto props there. He then fell again, from an equally great height, into stage management – which meant he could watch the professionals from the wings – and eventually, as we know, he just dropped into the role of Pantomime Dame.
He was schooled by the great Welsh comedy actor Victor Spinetti and the perennial Pantomime Dame Christopher Biggins. But Brad takes us way back to the origins of panto, paying homage to the long-lost greats such as Joey Grimaldi and Dan Leno… and the more recently departed stalwarts like John Inman, Danny La Rue, Roy Hudd and Dora Bryan.
And only then does he start to put his make up on, on stage, revealing tricks of the trade such as Prit Stick and Copydex. “It’s alright ladies, they’re water soluble and non-toxic.”
He’s not alone on stage. His regular music director Simon Hanson is seated at his grand piano (decked with toilet rolls) and suddenly we can appreciate what a superb pianist he has been all along. His fellow panto stars Harry Winchester and Victoria McCabe pop in to sing some Christmas Classics … and his old mucker Eric Smith drops by with a mug of tea to reveal Brad’s wicked habit of making him giggle at inopportune moments, like Snow White’s funeral scene.
And now, in full face paint and befrocked, Brad launches into the Coronavirus comedy routine that would have been in the panto, had it happened. “Covid 18. Have you heard of it?”. “Hands, Face, Space, Knees and Bumps-a-daisy”. And his redefinition of the phrase “Bubble Bath” is worth the ticket price alone.
It is a lovely, heart-warming, confessional evening. Yes, he really was Christened Brad Fit, and, yes, another actor with a similar name really has been the bane of his life. His rendition of the song “The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom” took me right back to me very first panto when I was 5 years old watching Sandy Powell (I think) in Manchester.
In my first review of Brad, a decade ago, I wrote, “If Noel Coward had ever done panto, he would have been quite like Brad Fit”. But I doubt The Master could have held an audience like Brad did last night.
The show is a great success, and more performances are now scheduled for after Christmas. So, he’ll have to do it again then…won’t he. Wooo!
Lauren Cole Whats On Live - Reviewed on Friday 4 December 2020
With the majority of theatres cancelling or postponing their festive shows, Shropshire audiences were thrilled to learn that pantomime favourite Brad Fitt would be staging his own one-man/woman show at Theatre Severn through December and into the new year… Oh yes he is!
We’ll Have To Do It Again Then, Won’t We?! is a delightful look at pantomime through the years and, more particularly, through the eyes of seasoned Shropshire 'Dame' Brad. Part playful history of pantomime, part biography and part talk show, the production centres around Brad’s “pantomime toolbox” - all the ingredients that make up our favourite festive frolic at the theatre.
Brad talks pantomime legends: from Christopher Biggins through to Danny La Rue & John Inman as Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters. Taking the audience on a journey along his own career path to Theatre Severn, he recounts tales of humble beginnings as an usher in Norwich and time spent as a props assistant, a stage manager, a contributing writer & director, and, latterly of course, as the delightful Dame we see today - or, as he refers to himself, “the fat man in a dress”.
One of my favourite parts of the evening came in this section of the show. Brad’s retelling of his first step into a theatre to see pantomime as a child is incredibly evocative, with audience members reminded of their own similar feelings of joy and wonder.
Brad's anecdotes and pantomime memories are punctuated by mini performances and entertainment from cast members of recent Theatre Severn pantomimes. These include local radio legend Eric Smith, Musical Director Simon Hanson, and Aladdin panto prince and returning princess, Harry Winchester and Victoria McCabe.
Victoria channels Mariah Carey with a rendition of All I Want For Christmas Is You, Harry brings his best Bublé to the stage in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and the pair unite for The Greatest Showman’s wonder number, A Million Dreams. Even with social distancing, there is tangible chemistry between these two young performers.
Simon Hanson’s tinkling of the ivories sets the tone of the show throughout. Another of my highlights was his Overture Through The Ages - a trip down memory lane featuring some of the very best pantomime music, including hits from the musical Hairspray, the Black Eyed Peas and S Club 7.
The special-guest performances all play their part in moving the show towards its crescendo, as we slowly watch Brad don his makeup, fake breasts, red wig, and pun-adorned dress. Seeing him emerge from his cocoon as the transformed and beautiful butterfly that is Widow Twanky, we are reminded of the quick wit and topical gags that place the Dame at the forefront of every successful pantomime.
Brad Fitt and his special guests have provided Shropshire theatre-goers with a much-needed escape this festive season, even proving it’s definitely not too soon to throw in some coronavirus gags! We’ll Have To Do It Again Then, Won’t We?! strikes the right balance between panto nostalgia, marvellous music and a good laugh. I, for one (and one of many!), can’t wait to be back at Theatre Severn for pantomime in 2021.