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posted/updated: 16 Jan 2017 -
Camelot - A 48-hour pantomime
No Author Credits Listed
society/company: Geoids Musical Theatre (directory)
performance date: 15 Jan 2017
venue: LOST Theatre, Wandsworth SW8 2JU
reviewer/s: Chris Abbott (Sardines review)

Some large professional pantomimes are put together within a surprisingly short rehearsal period, rarely more than two weeks or so. Amateur companies, by comparison, especially those who only meet once a week, may take as long as three months, beginning the process before summer is even over.

For leading London amateur company GEOIDS however, two days are all they have to put together their famed 48 hour pantomime. The cast meet to audition on Friday, rehearse all day Saturday and most of Sunday, and then perform the show, only once, at 4pm on Sunday in LOST Theatre in Wandsworth, south London.

It’s a major undertaking for all concerned and they must have been exhausted by Sunday evening even in a group which features as many young performers as this one. Directors Daniel Paul and Chris Watson are to be congratulated on pulling it together and getting it on stage in remarkably good shape. The clear script from Rob Benton helped greatly, managing to give well-written roles to a large number of characters among the 35-strong cast. The inevitably partisan audience probably helped too; as the person in front of me said to the usher, “I don’t need a programme, I probably know everyone in it.”

First and foremost in this production – and so often forgotten in reviews or by audience members – come the ensemble. They were the backbone of the production, whether singing, dancing or engaging in some of the most animated chorus acting I have seen this pantomime season. Their song and dance numbers in particular were very effective, making good use of the strong dancers in this group. The choreographers also appeared and Charlie Welch, Nichola Welch and Pippa Welch (surely the only family choreographic team around?) deserve prime accolades.

The cast were remarkably good on the lines considering how little time they had to learn them, and only occasionally did it sound as if there might have been a little improvisation involved. All the cast rose to the occasion with strong characterisation and stage presence all round. Ed Curry had to carry much of the evening as Lester the Jester, a big role in every sense with his costume well chosen. He was a sympathetic and engaging comic lead, and did well with the rather too many one liners he had been given, as well as the longest and most difficult to remember call and response I have encountered.

As hero and heroine – or heroine and heroine as we discovered in the finale – Olivia Stearman and Philippa Cotton made a believable couple and Stearman in particular has a winning way with glances to the audience and engaging our support: good to see an expert female Principal Boy (even with the revelation at the end). Both sang strongly in their numbers but even they were beaten by the volume of the three piece band; the percussion in particular drowned out all but the ensemble numbers, and this was a great shame in a show that was otherwise musically very strong (and I was sitting near the front and not near the band, placed at the back of the auditorium).

Other performers who scored well including the ever-so-slightly Spamalot-influenced King from Ben Hiam, a confident actor who led the company well, especially when things threatened to go awry. Opposite him as Queen was Tal Hewitt, a performer who takes no prisoners and for whom a loud band holds no fears. There were appropriate cameos from Will Howells as Merlin and Annabel Watson as the Lady of the Lake, and others in the ensemble got their chance to play smaller roles.

For me, there were three performers who totally caught the spirit of pantomime and absolutely had the measure of the audience. As Dame Judy (or should that be Judi?), David Walker-Smith commanded the stage, whether on stage or off. He has the voice and comic command of a classic Dame performer, so it was surprising to see him costumed in drag outfits rather than the usual grotesque costumes of a Dame. Despite this, unexpected in a show where costumes were a strength considering the limited fitting time available, Walker-Smith is a performer who is totally at home in the role.

Also very strong were the villainous coupling of Black Knight and Morgan le Fay. As the Knight, Christy Hawkins has the essential ability to provoke boos and laughs at the same time, and is a quick and receptive performer, well able to play off others and events on stage. His sidekick was superbly played by the comic highlight of the production, Jamila Jennings-Grant as Morgan. Whether in offstage asides when making her way on through the chorus or through her attempts to engage the audience in her wrong-doing, this is an entertaining performer at the top of her game.

This would have been a good performance if it had been put together in the more usual way; to have created a show of this quality in 48 hours – and then to perform it only once – must make GEOIDS unique. I look forward to seeing many of the cast in My Fair Lady, A Chorus Line and Top Hat later this year – but first I think they will need a rest…

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