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posted/updated: 04 Dec 2019 -
The Nativity Panto - A Not-So Silent Night
Written and directed by John Savournin with original music and lyrics by David Eaton. Co-produced by The King’s Head Theatre and Charles Court Opera.
society/company: West End & Fringe (directory)
performance date: 03 Dec 2019
venue: King's Head Theatre
reviewer/s: Caroline Jenner (Sardines review)

LtoR Catrine Kirkman, Matthew Kellett, Jennie Jacobs, Meriel Cunningham & Emily Cairns in THE NATIVITY PANTO. Photo: Bill Knight


If you are looking for a light-hearted, frivolous and totally mad-cap Christmas event then this is the one for you. Find a few friends, grab a drink, squash your way into your seat and then sit back and enter a surreal world of Christmas nonsense.

The Kings Head program covers an amazingly eclectic range of productions. They struggle to raise the funding they need, at least £100,000, to produce and present throughout the year and they do not hesitate to remind you that they receive no income from the pub, despite the fact that the audience happily opens up their purses and wallets to imbibe from the bar. Every show I see mentions this and reminds me of loyalty schemes and merchandising. Pantomime traditionally incorporates outlandish costumes, slightly risqué jokes, audience participation and just like its forbear, Commedia del Arte, it also takes great delight in social satire where any subject is fair game. This gives author and director John Savourin, ample scope to plug the theatre mercilessly and leave us in no doubt that we should help support wherever we can.

On arrival we are greeted by a set that seems to be a cross between Hansel and Gretel and Jackanory. An armchair stage-right, a chalet style house with giant candy canes to one side. The armchair is to allow the narrator at the outset to tell us something about what we are letting ourselves in for, to warn us to look out for plugs for merchandising and to rant at the unfairness of the lack of shared profits from the bar! Nothing new there then I thought. Having dispatched with our narrator the piece begins.

Imagine the nativity story meets a cross between Cinderella and Elf and you might be half-way to having a glimpse of the insanity of this piece. Joe Christmas, failing toy maker, his wife Mary and their depressed reindeer, Rudolph have to flee the evil Jack Frost who wants to kill Mary’s unborn baby, the new elf king. Sound vaguely familiar? Add a talking bush, three kings, a star and a snowflake and you have the makings of a storyline.

This talented bunch of actors multi-role constantly giving us a great range of cliched pantomime style characters. Matthew Kellett as Joe Christmas transitions from a kindly, slightly eccentric inventor into a seedy king, full of raunchy risqué jokes, and is the solitary male actor alongside Catrine Kirkman as Snowflake, Meriel Cunningham as Mary, Emily Cairns as Rudolph and the wonderfully evil Jennie Jacobs as Jack Frost. Jacobs particularly engages with the audience – responding to the boos and hisses with suitably vitriolic ripostes. This is a pantomime with all the elements we love – within seconds the audience was shouting out with gusto and heckling the baddies while cheering the underdog.

Mia Wallden and Catrin Short Thyrsson’s garishly overstated costumes worked perfectly as we laughed, sang and chuckled along to this Christmas mayhem. Supported by Dave Jennings on drums we enjoyed good old favourites from the Spice Girls to Christmas Carols – all with cunningly disguised lyrics. Irreverent, funny and highly enjoyable this is one Christmas show you should definitely try to see.

LtoR Emily Cairns, Matthew Kellett & Meriel Cunningham in THE NATIVITY PANTO. Photo: Bill Knight

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