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Dick Whittington – and – Sleeping Booty

Dick Whittington – and – Sleeping Booty

The newly reopened Bridge House Theatre in Penge is celebrating Christmas with a pair of pantos – one for children and the other for adults using almost the same cast. I saw them consecutively on the venue’s gala night. And, seeing two pantos in one evening, I can report first that it’s like watching a traditional rep company or being at Edinburgh and is therefore a pretty powerful showcase for versatility. Second, it’s an experience almost as long as seeing an uncut Hamlet. We started at 6pm and finished just before 11pm. If nothing else, it speaks volumes for actor energy.

The first half of Dick Whittington, set mostly in a Penge fish and chip shop, is stronger than the second in which some of the incidents and numbers are a bit protracted. I quite liked the “educated” jokes such as the running alliteration gag and I admired the use of uncompromising vocabulary: “Nubile” and “most verbose of vermin” for instance. That said, the whole show is a bit wordy for young children.

The reactions, though, tell their own story. The playing space at the Bridge House is a simple, informal square, with seats on three sides and no larger than the average classroom. The complete absence of any semblance of a fourth wall makes the children feel effortlessly included. One boy (maybe 9) put his hand up and demanded of Steve Banks (good) as Rattigan, the dastardly rat, “Who exactly are you?” At the end a very small girl (probably under three) took over the space near her front row seat and happily joined in the dancing. It certainly keeps cast members on their toes.

Sleeping Booty – in which co-writer Brendan Matthews gives us a menacing Wagnerian-horned Carabosse  is, of course, a very different sort of show. In a sense “adult pantomime” is a contradiction in terms but it worked for the audience I saw it with who showed their enjoyment with gales of raucous laughter at the many sex jokes, the funniest of which was a series of escalating sweet puns delivered by George Lennan with nicely judged nuance and timing. Lennan, incidentally, is interesting to watch as two contrasting dames. His Dame Sarah is funny and ridiculous without being especially camp. By the time we’re over the 9pm watershed his Queen Constance is up several notches with lots of filthy flirtatiousness.

But the best thing in Sleeping Booty is Alex White delivering a hilarious but understated Bojo. Nothing as cheap or obvious as a blonde wig but he has all the gestures, umming and erring and mannerisms perfectly especially the very serious injured tone. He is also fun as Tom Cook the straight guy in Dick Whittington and I like his singing.

Ellie Walsh is an outstanding actor. She brings oodles of panache and neat dancing skills to a Dick who manages to be charismatic without too much swashbuckling or thigh slapping. And her sweary King Cole, catching eyes in the audience and stomping around crossly is excellent.

I also reckoned Olivia Penhallow’s cheerful cheeky cat (good singing voice) but I was less taken with her work as narrator in the second show. Sarah Louise Hughes screams, shouts and pulls faces, first as a drunken Fairy Good and later as a very spoiled Princess Aurora, among other roles. It’s initially amusing but soon gets wearisome because it’s relentless. She should have been directed to dial it down occasionally.

There is no space at The Bridge House for a built set but it is learning to do clever things with projection on its back wall. Simon Nicholas’s projection mapping gives us, among other things Penge East Station with a moving train, a desert island and a castle with bats.

Luke Adamson and Joseph Lindoe have done a marvellous job in getting Bridge House Theatre up, fitted and running again in its new upstairs space. It would have been a challenge at any time but they’ve achieved it against the pandemic. I wish them all the best for the new year and look forward to seeing more shows there soon – whether “received” or home produced.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Launch photo: Paul Johnson

Sublime in 2019 to disaster in 2021!

Lame, Tame and almost devoid of any atmosphere. This year’s panto review from Croydon…

What a difference a year or two makes.

Twenty-four months ago The Fairfield Halls brilliantly sprang back into life in the venue’s concert Hall and presented Imagine Theatre’s digitally designed set as Cinderella thrilled its audiences with a little help from its stars Tim Vine and Ore Oduba. This week Imagine Theatre opens Beauty and the Beast but not in the luxury of the concert hall, the pantomime has been moved back into the Ashcroft Theatre – complete with its traditional proscenium arch. This time the stars are CBBC’s Dick and Dom as well as Derek Griffiths – arguably all from yesteryear. What’s more, this year’s pantomime – which lacked a plethora of expected special effects –  just isn’t very funny. In fact, compared to the other pantomimes I’ve been to in the last fortnight, tonight’s festivities in Croydon were second rate.

It all started upon arrival at so-called press night. I fully understand that the new Omicron variant halted any hopes of a potential press reception but not to have any kind of welcome at all was just plain weird. In addition, the lack of any kind of show programme (until I was sent a digital version via email two hours after the event) and the staff that were there behaving like a chaotic event of some kind had just occurred – didn’t kick the evening off in style. Two years ago I couldn’t move without bumping into a smiling producer or venue manager. This year, they’re nowhere to be seen.

Poor Dick and Dom – whom I interviewed at the launch – were full of energy and really trying their best. But when the script isn’t good enough you can only go so far. I remember Derek Griffiths (whom I also interviewed) from Play School and Play Away before seeing him as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opposite Michael Ball at the London Palladium, and, ironically, as the Candelabra in the West End’s original Beauty and the Beast from Disney. In December 2021 he does tend to look like he’s merely turned up for work. But it’s really not our stars’ faults. I’m sure Ant and Dec would gabble or talk over each other’s punchlines without good direction.

The trouble is Croydon’s Fairfield Halls is a big deal and audiences will expect to be blown away – just like they were two years ago. I’m very sorry to say that the ATG venues, with all the inventiveness and tradition all mashed up together win hands-down.

Of the rest of the cast, the lack of any children onstage this year is something to overcome, and with an ensemble of just three (plus Fairy Fairfield!), you’re always going to struggle. I need to bite my lip a little here for fear of getting personal but suffice to say I overheard other members of the audience saying that they thought Nic James’ Benedict Bourbon brought the best-drawn character to the party (he’s the Gaston figure who chases after Belle.)

I really hope that BH Live – the company that runs the Fairfield Halls – is prepared to grovel on all fours to bring back the snubbed Evolution Pantomimes who were breaking the venue’s box office records before the venue mysteriously closed for three years. We need the brilliance of Paul Hendy’s writing and direction. Sorry, Eric, your panto has gone to Potts!



There are some excellent things in this Aladdin. Cavin Cornwall, whom I fondly remember at Caiaphas in Open Air Theatre Regents Park’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, is the best Abanazer I’ve ever seen. Styled as a slimy estate agent in a very loud striped suit he minces, wheedles, cackles and commands the stage every time he appears. He also has hilarious legs – very slim in tight trousers, completed by show off pointy shoes and attached to an actor who has a John Cleeseian knack of making them funny. Then there’s that basso profundo voice. Yes, even the six year old I took with me said she thought he was the best thing in the show.

Siobahn Athwal gives a witty performance as both Genies – with different voices, two costumes, a lot of quick changes and a crack about theatre having been through two terrible years and therefore  unable to afford two actors. Emma Ralston is entertaining as Frankie, Aladdin’s sister who replaces the Wishy Washy role and Rosie Cava-Beale sings beautifully as Princess Amirah. Toby Miles as Aladdin is a fair singer once he gets going and he can certainly dance and act convincingly.

I was also impressed by the use of projection including the Horsham photographs which form part of the set and the flying carpet sequence which uses images to create the illusion of movement. And putting the (very good) four piece band stage left in a band stand, steps to which form part of the set, is an original idea which makes deals with potential timing issues and makes the music feel coherent. It looks pretty too.

But  –  and of course there has to be one if not several – Morgan Brind’s script is witty but far too wordy and some of the songs are too long. The long narrative preamble is not a happy start when you have an audience full of very young children. There are a lot of good jokes tucked away but most of them are also thrown away. I have rarely seem comic timing so woefully mismanaged by so many actors in a pantomime. There is, for example, a sequence of quite clever fish puns which ought to produce a lot of laughter and groans. In fact it’s raced through so fast that most of it is lost. Of course there’s a place for word play in a panto but children need a lot of visual humour too and there’s very little slapstick in this show which has no slosh scene. The only time the children really got excited in the performance I saw was during the ghost scene (Yetis in Iceland in this instance) –  just five minutes in a two and half hour show. The result of all this was that many children in the audience were very restive although “my” six year old was more engaged in the stronger second half than the first. If panto doesn’t fully work for children then it’s missing the point.

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

To get a maximum five stars the pantomime needs to be brilliant; this year’s pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre is quite brilliant! All credit should be given right across the board, from Ian Talbot’s direction to Aaron Renfree’s choreography… from Alan McHugh’s script to Ian Westbrook’s design… and from The Twins FX’s visual effects to Michael Bradley’s five-piece band. But perhaps top honours should really go to the cast led by the amazing Shane Richie who, two days after press night, completely owned New Wimbledon Theatre’s half-full audience.

Supported by his long-term collaborator, Peter Piper, every hilarious twitch, look and glimpse from Richie appears to be completely natural as the ex-EastEnder plays the role he was born to take on. Whether he’s choosing the best-looking ladies in the audience (or not!) or he’s slapping Peter Piper’s bald head (ad-lib?) or realising Iain Stuart Robertson’s wonderfully northern dame (he’s really Scottish!) is really ‘a bloke’ the effortless way he leaves the audience in stitches just has to impress.

You can see why Peter Piper works so well with Richie in scenes such as the tongue-twister where Sarah (Robertson), Dick (Richie) and Captain Cockles (Piper) desperately try not to say the s-word. Incidentally, this is the only scene that repeats completely, in whole, from Tuesday night’s press night in Woking. Tonight’s raw comedy wins the battle – if such a battle even exists.

Another thing I’ve only just noticed is the absence of any children on any of this year’s stages – obviously as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Usually the ensemble features children as does the traditional act II song-sheet, but not this time. However, It doesn’t appear to matter as the spaces are being filled with deft skill.

Perhaps the true ensemble nature of Alan McHugh’s clever script is the secret of the show’s success. In fact the plot of Dick Whittington probably takes the longest and most diverse journey (literally) of all the pantomimes. Another example of Richie’s power over the audience comes as another slice of excellence from the writer. As in Woking on Tuesday, one scene features snippets of songs used to great effect, climaxing with Robertson screaming at Richie to ‘Let it Go!’ Both audience and the ex-landlord of the The Queen Vic know what’s coming. Richie pauses, looks at the audience, smiles, slowly walks centre-stage, throws out his arms and we hear those immortal lines from Idina Menzel. The scene is wonderful, as it was in Woking.

Richie’s West End colleague (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), Hiba Elchikhe, makes a great love interest for Dick – boasting a great voice – without making the large age gap seeming weird. Shona White and Rachel Izen play good and evil as Spirit of the Bow Bells and Queen Rat respectively. She has the best-looking rats I’ve ever seen by the way. Finally the lithe and versatile Briana Craig makes her panto debut in style in the only non-speaking principal role of the show – Kitty Cat.

The icing on the cake was the song-choices used. From In the Navy / YMCA to I’m a Believer, they were all well chosen. That and the support from the young, eight-strong ensemble who never put a foot wrong all night.



Image: L-R: Anton Du Beke (Buttons), Oonagh Cox (Cinderella) and Rosemary Ashe (Fairy Godmother) – Cinderella at Richmond Theatre. Photo: Benjamin Mole

You enter the auditorium dazzled by the fairy-tale front cloth ahead. And, from the moment the band strikes up, the show goes on scintillating right up to Cinderella’s wedding and the playout. If you don’t want to leave that’s partly because it’s cold outside. More importantly, you’ve been having such an enjoyable time inside. Cinderella is possibly everyone’s favourite panto. Well, it is mine. And this is a good one. It was a stroke of genius inviting Anton Du Beke to head the cast at Richmond: his affable and endearing manner makes him a natural for the role of Buttons.

I was lucky enough to see the show at an early preview. The previous day Du Beke was miles away in Elstree adjudicating back-to-back episodes of Strictly Come Dancing before making the fifty-mile journey to Richmond for a matinee and then this, only his third, performance. How does he manage to keep so buoyant? Ah, the elixir of Dr Theatre! If there was an occasional fluff, it was hard to tell if it was, as I suspect, genuine, or a carefully rehearsed gag. Either way it was used to good comic effect. I particularly liked the way he milks the audience by means of a subtle back-handed flick of his wrist – a repeated gimmick which pays dividends as the evening wears on.

But this is also an ensemble show, brilliantly coordinated in Stewart Nicholls’, as always, meticulous direction. Everyone sings and dances impeccably and enters enthusiastically into the fun. Rosemary Ashe, fresh from her recent, triumphant Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, makes the perfect Fairy Godmother: glamorous yet homely; everyone’s favourite no-nonsense aunt. Her comic timing is a joy. Oonagh Cox, in her first starring role, is a delightful Cinders: a triple threat as a strong actor-singer-dancer and surely destined to be a valuable addition to the UK’s musicals scene. Edward Chitticks’ full-throated Prince is as charming as his name and faux Eighteenth Century attire certainly sets off his good looks to best advantage.

As the Ugly Sisters, Bobby Delaney and Darren Bennett (although wasn’t it a teensy bit unkind to name them Beatrice and Eugenie?) look hideously stunning in way-OTT couture creations – a different wig for each millinery concoction. Three days prior to opening, Bennett had replaced another actor as Beatrice, but you’d never have known as the two actors work like a long-standing double act – and are two of the meanest ‘Sisters’ I’ve seen. Jonny Weston brings his own special brand of comic ineptness to the often-thankless role of Dandini.

In my youth, panto audiences were accustomed to stages spilling over with singers and dancers. These days, as here, we are down to just six. Thanks to Alan Burkitt’s imaginative choreography, however, Thomas Charles, Tom Fletcher, Nancy Harris, Natasha Scrase, Rosie Southall and Laura Swan manage to fill the stage with cheerful, swirling movement. Having Du Beke in the cast means there must be a big number to show off, both himself and the dancers. Sure enough, it comes appropriately in the Ball scene when Buttons, now in top hat, bow tie and tails, catches a cane Astaire-style and the dancers swap their old-fashioned glad rags for contemporary evening gowns. The result is an enchanting highlight of the production.

Until very recently, second houses provided panto comics with the opportunity to introduce sophisticated and/or blue humour into the script. In the interval, some of us reflected on the extent to which political correctness has affected writers of family entertainment. Panto humour was never very subtle, but you can have one fart gag too many – though, to be fair, the kids seem to love it. It is interesting to note, however, a greater and healthier reliance on verbal comedy involving accumulated misunderstandings and repetition of the ‘Old Macdonald’ variety.

Cinderella more than any other panto, needs to look and sound good. The sets and costumes here are fresh and attractive. The work of Ramon Van Stee (Sound) and Richard G Jones (Lighting) is first-rate work, as is that of Gary Hind and Pierce Tee who are responsible for the musical side of the show.

Oh, and the glittering coach and white ponies are gorgeous, darling!

It is so good to see pantomimes back in the theatre after a two-year absence. With such a promising start to the festive season in Surrey, one can only pray that the current pandemic won’t discourage audiences from attending this and other Christmas shows. It was great to shed the years and join in the chorusing along with the enthusiastic youngsters in the audience.

We had – cliché spoiler – a ball. Bravo to everyone involved!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Photo: Ian Olsson

How the sound of hundreds of screaming (and I do mean ‘screaming’) children has been missed – even for a single year. That’s arguably why the famous ghost scene has survived all these years. Put three people on a bench and have them totally unaware of the approaching ghost, and the auditorium erupts. And so it should. It’s a free license to make as much noise as physically possible. ‘It’s behind you!’ is the yell, as if their very lives depended on it.

The biggest pantomimes in the UK come under a new production name post-lockdown. Qdos is replaced with Crossroads; everything else remains the same apparently. My first venture in my 3-ATG panto week is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre, and it was packed to the rafters last night (also good to see considering the current state of affairs). Anton du Beke’s Buttons beckons in Richmond tonight followed by Shane Richie as Dick Whittington tomorrow in Wimbledon. But before all that, Gok Wan, Harriet Thorpe and Aaron James thrill Surrey’s audiences in the Woking area. And ‘thrill’ is probably the best description for it.

I would have given this performance a fifth star but the combination of Crossroads deciding to ditch the use of real dwarfs in favour of real actors performing on their knees (think Lord Farquaad in Shrek The musical) with several tunes that went right over my head (including the horrendous use of a Cher-style auto-tuner) means that I have no choice but to invoke my Craig Revel Horwood marking style – sorry. Whether or not it’s more discriminatory to deny the little people roles at a time that could be their biggest payday of the year OR to use fully grown adults when little people are inevitably available… is for another conversation. But I don’t really blame the producers for their controversial decision; only a few Warwick Davis-style little people know how to act and, apparently, five years ago the aforementioned Mr Davis’s entourage of little folk trashed a Woking hotel room around the festive period. Talk about unprofessional. Anyway, that’s from an anonymous but reliable source in last night’s audience.

Back to this year’s panto and Gok, Harriett and Aaron are obviously having a ball, with the three enjoying a genuine bit of equal billing. All three enjoy plenty of stage-time, which is how a pantomime should be written. All credit to Alan McHugh sharing the honours. In fact Gok Wan – who leads from the top, make no mistake – is probably the first to admit that he’s not an actor but a TV presenter. To that end he makes the most of his involvement with Harriet Thorpe (an actor-singer) who does exceptionally well as Queen Lucretia (Snow White’s evil step-mother). She can sing, she can act, and she can be very evil – as, no doubt, the warmed-up children in the audience will testify too. Stealing the show, however, is Aaron James as Muddles, hilarious throughout and not without his own talent to give some convincing impressions as well as sucking the ‘aaaahs’ from the audience when Snow White declares her love for the Prince instead of him. James enjoys plenty of funny scenes; the only trouble is I don’t know which parts he brings to the party himself and which have been scripted by McHugh.

Elsewhere. Rebekah Lowings and Benjamin Purkiss make a perfect Snow White and her Prince. Snow White even gives the marriage proposal – how times have changed. The ‘Magnificent Seven’ dwarfs aren’t featured very much in this production but all the same give a good account of themselves, as do the ensemble of dancers. There’s no song-sheet or children brought onstage either, but that could reflect the pandemic more the any political stance I guess.

I’m hoping that not too many jokes have been spread across all the ATG venues but we’ll know by the end of Thursday.


Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

Pantomime, beloved by children and adults alike, is the mainstay of many amateur theatre groups. Trinity Theatre in Cowes have staged pantomimes for decades, their matinees are usually full to the rafters with families enjoying a pre-Christmas treat. Audience numbers were low on the afternoon I went to see the show. Whilst some people are still reticent about returning to large social gatherings, I was still quite surprised to see so many empty seats at the first matinee.

For those who don’t know the story of  Dick Whittington, it is the classic rags-to-riches adventure where Dick goes to London to seek his fortune. Soon after his arrival in the capital, Dick is befriended by Tommy the Cat, who, along with Fairy Bowbells, helps him to thwart King Rat.

On reading the programme it was evident that that this was a scaled down production, that, plus illness, resulted in a depleted cast. The whole ensemble, fourteen in total, were on stage for the uplifting opening number ‘A Pantomime Tonight’ – a lovely tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim. It was a stellar line up, with years of experience between the veteran panto actors. Dinah Bowman was superbly sinister and scary as King Rat and was booed on every entrance. Fairy Bowbells was played by Helen Clinton-Pacey who gave a heartfelt rendition of Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty.

Paul Stevens was on excellent form as Sarah the Cook and delivered his lines with excellent comic timing. I loved his rendition of ‘Hey Big Spender’. A consummate dame, Paul worked the audience throughout, telling them it was going to be a long afternoon when they weren’t as responsive in the first half. The object of Sarah’s amorous affections was Alderman Fitzwarren and his identical twin brother Captain Horatio Fitzwarren – a joyous double whammy of a performance by Steve Taverner.

I was very impressed with the three younger principals. With good chemistry between principal boy and girl, Ruby Beaman delighted as Dick Whittington and gave a confident and accomplished performance. At a few days’ notice Aimee Howard stepped up from the part of Idle Jack to that of Alice Fitzwarren and, although on book for some of it, did a magnificent job. Dick and Alice’s duet, Eternal Flame, was well sung. Lexi Skeldon-Downer captivated as Tommy the Cat with plenty of cat-like actions throughout, using the stage well.

Director John Abraham threw himself into the role of Idle Jack and was the perfect foil for the dame. Another pantomime stalwart, Duncan Greaves, gave a suitably regal performance as the Emperor of Morocco.

The three named chorus members were down to one, with assistant director Nessa Law swelling the ranks. There were only five youngsters in the children’s chorus, but they all gave an energetic and enthusiastic performances.

The set looked good with the use of cloths to define a sense of place. I particularly liked the London cloth and ferries sinking during the shipwreck scene. Tommy the Cat waving from the crows’ nest was a lovely visual.

Music Director Luke Mulhern had fallen foul to Covid and had to record the music. Drummer Ed Jager added percussion in all the right places. The choice of songs fitted the action well. I enjoyed the dance routines, and Steve Taverner’s tap solo.

The wardrobe team were in fine form as the costumes were ideally suited to the characters, from the bright sparkly fairy to the leather jacket wearing King Rat. The dame costumes were colourful and over the top.

This was a technically accomplished production, though the telephone ringing after it was picked up allowed for a funny ad lib from the dame who quipped, “I’ve picked it up, Dear.” Hilarious.

There weren’t loads of laughs to be had from this script, however there were some funny set pieces, like the blackberry and apple crumble sketch in the shop scene. The topical ferry and floating bridge jokes worked well, as did the ad-libs.

First time director John Abraham, ably assisted by Nessa Law, are to be congratulated for this production, especially as they had so many last-minute changes to contend with.

I love matinees because you always get that child with the infectious giggle. You know the one – the giggler who turns your smile into a beam, then a chuckle. Childish giggles soon transformed into loud chuckles at the sight of the dame on her back, legs up, baring her Union Jack bloomers. The loud ‘farts’ from King Rat raised plenty of laughs amongst the children as well. I missed the traditional audience participation section and feel that the production would have benefitted from an ‘Oh, no he isn’t!’ or ‘He’s behind you!’ gag in Act One, rather than later in the show.

Congratulations to all involved with this production. It was such a shame that there weren’t more people in the audience to enjoy this entertaining show.

  • Dick Whittington continues at Trinity Theatre:
  • Friday 10 Dec 7.30pm
  • Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 December 2.30pm matinee performances
Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

Photos: Manuel Harlan

I felt quite moved when I arrived at Frank Matcham’s stunningly beautiful Hackney Empire and saw the Jack and the Beanstalk screen. This was the first pantomime I’ve seen for two long years.

I think a lot of the audience felt like that too because there was a lot of excited whooping and a sense of excited relief.

In the event, once this decent, reliable panto got underway it felt as it we’d all been there yesterday – the comfort of the very familiar. Yes, they do The Twelve Days of Christmas (“and a bra that was made to hold three”) at a accelerating speed with several upward key changes, combine it with the slosh scene (“five custard pies”) and there’s splendid work from Mark Dickman’s fine five-piece band underneath it. Yes, we get a (very abbreviated) ghost scene and all the usual “oh yes you will” stuff as well as the obligatory sing along at the end so they can prepare the set and costume up for the finale.

But a successful panto needs some fresh material too. The ensemble cockroach number – a very slick tap dance – in the giant’s castle ticked lots of boxes for me as did the rescued harpist (Victoria Anderson) singing “An die Musik”. Bit of Schubert as a change from the running Queen gag with Tony Whittle doing an ongoing Freddie Mercury impression? Why not? – you can do anything in a panto which is one of the genre’s USPs.

Clive Rowe (who also co-directs with Tony Whittle) has been associated with the Hackney Empire panto for so long that he gets a round of applause as soon as he appears. He just has to stand still, flutter his eyelashes and show the retail bags (“Marks and Dentures”, “Dreggs” and the like) that his first costume is made of. He goes on, of course, to give the competent, practised performance that you’d expect.

Rochelle Sherona is interesting as Jack. None of the traditional thigh-slapping principal boy for her. Instead, in dungarees, she finds a sort of feisty vulnerability – and realisitic gender ambiguity – in the character. And, Urdang- trained, she dances beautifully which is unusual for someone in this role.

Kat B as Simple Simon grated on me at the start – too much anguished “pity me” and pathetic fall guy with a whining voice. But gradually he grew on me and he’s certainly an accomplished, slick performer who works well with others.

It’s a generally enjoyable evening and the little girl (maybe 9) next to me was clearly having a good time. At that age you don’t notice the cheap sets, the post pandemic reduction in production values, the lacklustre (silicone?) giant or that Clive Rowe has to put on a face shield to come down into the audience. It’s simply good to be there.

A Bard in the Hand

A Bard in the Hand

Main image: 3 Citizens – Dianne Aspinall, Ellis Russell, Isobel Russel,  Mistress Quickly – Libby Pike, Kit Marlowe – Jason Harris, The Earl of Oxford – Simon Lynch,  2 Citizens – Martie Cain and Angela Burton,  Ferdinand Romeo – Mitch Hammer

Reviewed by: Glenys Lloyd Williams

The centre of Bembridge was buzzing with boos and hisses. But it’s not Christmas I hear you cry! It’s not even winter! It would be, though, for the eager audiences who filled the village hall last week to see Maureen Sullivan’s new panto entitled A Bard in the Hand.

Evidently time travel is possible in Shakespeare-land because Will himself (sporting a very high forehead) starts the show with “Is this the winter of our discontent?”  The prose morphs into panto banter, and we discover his discontent is because he has writer’s block. Will confides in his chum and superspy extraordinaire, Kit Marlowe, smoothly and 007ly depicted by Jason Harris – so elegant in black and gold and in total command of all his weapons. He suggests Will might get inspiration by listening to local some chatter of the Citizens of London, energetically played, danced and sung by Martie Cain, Dianne Aspinall, Angela Burton, Debbie Gills, Ellis Russell and Isobel Russell. Even ‘Thriller’ and ‘Fame’ got in there!

Aha, the Baddie? The Earl of Oxford is after Will’s plays so that he will be remembered forever; portrayed in dastardly fashion by Simon Lynch. Strangely, he felt over-booed, so we booed some more!  He curries favour with Nettie the tire-maker (‘wig’ in Elizabethan parlance – hence our word, ‘attire’) who is Will’s landlady.  Dame Barnet, is exuberantly played by Amanda Gregory in a blue hooped dress, orange tire and doll-like make up. Mistress Quickly from next door (fabulously characterised by Libby Pike), often pops in, all in green, to entice (any) man with her tarts and opportunely placed Belgian buns.

Ben Jonson, (Karl Whitmore) with sidekick, Barnet, (John Hammond) had to get to the pub to think up a name for his ground-breaking book of words and their meanings, which he hopes will be in every home.

There were lots of Ba(r)d jokes and quotes from various plays completely out of context and entwined in one big ball of laughter and mishap. For example, Ferdinand Romeo (Mitch Hammer) is really Hamlet and falls for Miranda Barnet (Ella Gregory) and her teddy bear.  Yes – “exits pursued by a bear” is squeezed in there too, along with “a horse, a horse…”, “is that a dagger I see before me…”, “to pay or not to pay that is the question..” “Alas, poor Yorick” and “the quality of myrrh-tea is not strained..”   The Earl was carted off by Batman and Robin!?  Will’s wife (Jane Robert) even turns up, complete with brummie accent.

All the actors were amazing, throwing their energy into every step and word.  The costumes created by Andrew Wilson-Jenner were totally fabulous. Andrew also expertly took the role of Will himself with a wily mixture of patter, perplexity, pathos and panic. The band added depth to the songs and punchlines.  Well done to those behind the scenes and front of house.  All volunteers of course.

Watch out for the sequel.  Could it be ‘a Summer’s Tale’ in the depth of winter?

Next BLTC production in November is ‘NUNSENSE’.

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  • : 13/08/2021