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Sunday, 4 December 2022

REVIEW: Mother Goose at the Hackney Empire

The wonderful Hackney Empire has just finished celebrating its 120th year (though it has existed as a TV studio and Bingo hall for some of that time) with Mother Goose, a title first staged at Theatre Royal Drury Lane by the great Dame Dan Leno in May 1902. It stars and is directed by the irreprehensible Clive Rowe returning to the venue for his fifteenth pantomime of the last 23 years of Hackney pantomimes. It’s a magical venue with its impressive gold and red airy auditorium and uninterrupted views of the stage (thanks to Matcham’s cantilevered balconies) and a perfect setting for introducing young local audiences to the joy of live theatre.

As well as free tickets for Housing Association communities, refugees and young carers, the venue has an impressive track record with its Creative Futures programme which celebrates its 20th year of encouraging and developing young people and providing a safe space to explore new opportunities with a reported 20,000 young lives affected over that time. What better way to tempt new young talent to explore live theatre than a traditional Christmas Pantomime.

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Salisbury Playhouse

Salisbury Playhouse took a year off in 2021 from Pantomime and therefore Cinderella was their first in the venue for three years. They borrowed the script from the creative team behind last year’s Newbury Corn Exchange Pantomime, Clare Plested, Adam Brown, and Amanda Wilsher with its fresh take on the Ugly Sisters as social media “influencers” Hashtag and Viral and the Prince’s aide renamed Deldini. Curiously and disappointedly, they dropped the character Buttons from the show, a standard of Cinderella for years who usually adds comedy and pathos to the show. This places more weight on the shoulders of the Dame, Uglies, and Deldini with mixed results. For some reason, Deldini, originally written as a Del Boy character with lots of reference to Only Fools and Horses, retains only a few catchphrases like “plonker”, “lovely jubbly” and “cushty” but drops most of the other successful business from last years show including the brilliant bar fall.

Lucy Alston and Fergie Fraser as Hastag and Viral bring a fresh modern infectious energy to the Ugly Sisters full of self-confidence and social media references which will appeal to the younger audiences and their parents frustrated by the kids overuse of mobile technology and social! The comedy is broad and a little one level with the sisters being mirrors of each other in character and dress, but they are engaging and well-delivered characterisations including a good energetic Ball Cabaret routine.

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Corn Exchange Newbury

The creative team behind this year’s Newbury Corn Exchange Pantomime, as they have been for the last four years are Clare Plested, Adam Brown, and Amanda Wilsher (who also directs) and they had a clear concept underpinning this year’s show following last year’s success. The whole show is built around the musical choices of Musical Supervisor Dai Watts and played by the MD Josh Cottell and drummer Alun Watson and the thin plot is used merely to link the individual routines. It makes for a musical celebration and a party atmosphere that is fun and enjoyable but lacks some of the traditional laugh-out-loud moments and spectacle of Pantomime.

It opens very brightly setting the tone for the show with the arrival of Fairy Fabulous (played by William Beckerleg) dressed and impersonating Elvis Presley (definitely one for the older audience members as he includes Elvis’s lyrics throughout) who is then challenged about noise levels and singing in Newburyshire by Fleshcreep (a wonderfully silly and well-defined character by Matthew Cavendish). The Giant does not want any music and sends Fleshcreep down to stop them singing and playing music while the villagers want to burst into song at the slightest provocation. We then meet the chief culprit Jack (Sev Keoshgerian) who delivers two excellent songs from the 1944 musical Oklahoma! which give a bright upbeat start to the show. Despite the best efforts of an energetic young cast, it never quite reaches that level again during the show. Instead, we sit back and enjoy a jukebox show of familiar old hits with adapted lyrics.

REVIEW: Pantoland, the online streamed Pantomime

Peter Duncan, the former Blue Peter presenter and chief scout, and a director and Dame for many stage pantomimes has a great deal of experience in engaging young children and in 2020 his company Jack be nimble produced Jack and the Beanstalk in his garden and surrounding area and followed up in 2021 with Cinderella in multiple locations. They were excellent ways of bringing the Pantomime genre into people’s homes through streaming and entertaining young families in their sitting rooms. This year he has drawn on both the experience of those two films and his years as a Children’s entertainer to create Pantoland featuring chiefly himself as a Dame and written and directed by himself with Director of Photography Luke Roberts and music by Colin Cottle.

The result is a well-shot and edited mash-up of creative ideas and techniques based very loosely on Pantomime characters and business without any coherent thread or narrative running through it. It might have been better as if reading a video book with different chapters telling different short stories, like a modern-day Playschool or watch with mother. Chapter headings would have made good placeholders to stop as without a running narrative it is quite a long hour watch for an adult! It feels like the sort of programme that would sit quite happily on CBeebies or used as an audition tape for any number of Children's programmes!

Sunday, 27 November 2022

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz at the Curve, Leicester

The Wizard of Oz has had a strange relationship with the theatre. Of all the retellings of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel, the 1939 MGM starring Judy Garland is undoubtedly the best-known and as such, all adaptations will be compared to it. Despite its seemingly large potential, the wondrous world of Oz has often felt stagnant in the theatre and versions have only managed short runs before being relegated to endless performances by schools and amateur dramatic societies.

Just in case the one person on the planet who does not know the plot is reading this...The Wizard of Oz follows a young Kanas farm girl called Dorothy who is whisked off to the magical land of Oz via a cyclone and must follow the yellow brick road to meet the wizard and return home. Along the way, she meets a scarecrow who wants a brain, a Tin Man who longs for a heart and a cowardly lion but also has to face the wrath of the Wicked Witch of the West, who is after her magical Ruby Slippers.
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