IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? – NO, IT’S SANTA CLAUS…
My first panto review of the season took me to the Trinity Theatre in Cowes, where Isle of Wight group CAODS had chosen ‘Santa Claus the Panto’ as their annual pantomime. Written by children’s author Diana Kimpton, tickets for the panto were selling well. The theatre was very Christmassy and the front of house team made everyone feel welcome.
As an established pantomime writer there were elements of this production that, for me, didn’t tick all the pantomime boxes. ‘Santa Claus the Panto’ had some of the stock characters one would come to expect from a pantomime; dame, fairies, baddies, principal girl and boy - although the principal boy was not a thigh slapping heroic character. There wasn’t a comic lead or comic duo for the dame to bounce off which would have added pace and more visual comedy. Therein lies my dilemma – am I critiquing a panto or a children’s Christmas show? If it is the latter then this was a delightful story and a lovely romp through the North Pole and New York with some fun characters, colourful costumes, excellent singing, wonderfully nasty villain and some delightful comedy moments from the fairies and dame. The storyline was good and as one would expect, good triumphs over evil in the end.
The three musicians, all dressed as elves, opened the show with a medley of festive music and were then shouted down by all snarling all nasty Beatrix the Bad who stormed through the auditorium to find out where all the merriment was coming from - a very convincing performance from Dinah Bowman throughout. Her accomplice in crime, Agnes the Absolutely Disgusting gave Soph Pevreall the opportunity to show her bad side – I loved her steam punk look.
The good fairies were head fairy Gloria the Good (Amanda Robertson), Doris the Fairly Incompetent (Janet Coates) and Muriel the Miserable (Jean Cox). Dressed almost identically to the three fairies in Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the good fairies managed to reverse Beatrix’s evil spells. I loved their different characters and Doris proved her incompetency during the comedy kitchen slosh scene with the dame. Doris and Muriel also led the audience participation song, Jingle bells which we all sang with gusto.
Duncan Greaves played Santa Claus and was totally unaware that Nanny fancied him. Kevin Wilson, clearly enjoying his first appearance as a panto dame, played the part of Nanny and looked very fetching in his many frocks and wigs. Some lovely adlibbing when the feather head piece kept falling down. Nanny also looked after Santa’s adopted daughter, Crystal. Zoe Divers sang beautifully throughout and her distress when her love interest, Simon Snow (Chloe Ayres) started to melt really touched the audience. Once the fairies had given Simon a bubble of cold to stop him melting things were back on an even keel. But despite our booing Beatrix the Bad was persistent and kidnapped Santa.
Act two saw our intrepid group in New York searching for Santa and finding a few bell ringing Santa Claus’ on the streets. Nanny wore a Statue of Liberty frock and headpiece and there were some larger than life (well this is America) props in the form of a giant coffee cup and popcorn carton. I was delighted that they sang Fairytale in New York. Nanny’s face was a picture when Agnes started singing Santa Baby to Santa. But all’s well that ends well with Beatrix turned into a nice person – lovely moments here from Dinah Bowman. Simon Snow was duly turned back into a prince and Crystal was happy again. Nanny proposed to Santa and they all lived happily ever after.
The Saturday matinee audience flagged at times but soon livened up when the big bad wolf appeared and shouts of “He’s behind you” grew louder and louder. The children in this production were marvellous, as were the chorus. The children dressed as elves had good stage presence and played their individual elf characters well. I enjoyed the woodland creatures singing and dancing to Walking In A Winter Wonderland. Puddle the reindeer delighted the youngsters in the audience.
Musical Director Sue Raybould and musicians Tom Nuckley and John Rayner played well throughout. The set construction and painting team are to be congratulated for transporting us from Santa’s workshop and kitchen to New York and the lighting effects added magic to scenes. The costumes were very colourful and the overall visual effect during the finale looked good.
Congratulations to director Becky Giakoumelos on this well staged show. The song choices were Christmassy and varied – Must Be Santa was an excellent song choice well staged and sung. Good use was made of the whole stage and auditorium. The show lacked pace at times, but overall this was a lovely Christmassy story.