The time for pantomimes is almost over, but a brand new company ‘Star Pantomimes’ have one last stab at the old favourite in a new piece by Liam Mellor, Anastasia.

Whilst Mellor has a fairly impressive repertoire of training experience, and production work, I fear he has fallen short of that glittering goal of pantomime. It is easy to say that any story can be made into a panto – this is true as with enough slapstick, cross-dressing, and bright colours you can make anything look like pantomime. But unfortunately, Anastasia cannot be put up there with the likes of West End Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk. As a new and emerging company, I fear this first step may have been more of a leap, landing the cast and crew in a pit they must try and climb out of.

The star role was given to Meg Rayner, a newcomer with incredible potential as singer and actress, and one who should be placed in far more exposing roles. She was a great strength to the piece and carried the titular role very well, with a beautiful voice and emotive acting style that would work easily in both pantomime and straight theatre. A name to look out for I should hope.

Next to her, Phil Bishop’s Dimitri and Stuart Brannan’s Rasputin were spot-on stock characters, played with enthusiasm whilst maintaining the true depth which can often be lost in more farcical theatre.

The dame, played by John Triggs, was humorous on occasion but was let down by too many ‘current affairs’ gags and contradicting costume design setting him/her as a badly dressed 90s pop star next to Russian royalty. Unfortunately, Kit Allsopp’s Tushi (Rasputin’s sidekick) looked almost like a second attempt at the dame – I was looking forward to a hunch-backed ogre named Igor, or some equivalent. However, this disappointment may have been heightened by the lack of children in the audience; as it was opening night, it seemed that majority of the audience were friends or family of the other cast members, and so the night did not have the same childish enthusiasm that bigger pantomimes flaunt and draw off.

That said, members of the Pam Howard’s School of Dance made up a small chorus of young girls – their sweet smiling faces did have echoes of traditional panto, but their costumes were irrelevant and their dances erratic and uncomplimentary to the scenes. This is not a criticisms on the talent of the dancers; more a note on the direction and use of their ability in this situation.

For me, the final push that sent this piece away from the edge of success was the appearance of Mr. Bean – or rather, a man with a large Mr. Bean head costume. Had there been a younger audience in the theatre tonight, this ‘special guest’ may have gone down as a piece of entertainment rather than satire.

The three stronger cast members did help make Anastasia endurable, however the range of talent differed so greatly that it is hard to give a truly diplomatic review. I take my hat off to Star Pantomimes for performing their debut show in such a lovely venue, perfect for budding companies; and Liam Mellor has faced the industry head-on by braving both a new script and a brand new cast. But I would suggest if you wish to see Anastasia, see it with children who will be less cynical in their view of talent and performance, and embrace the comedy that is innate in pantomime.

Anastasia is playing at the New Players Theatre until 8th January. Ticket and information here.