Sunday, 13 December 2020

REVIEW: Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff at the Garden Theatre

A moment of taking things a little less seriously, after a year that has been downright difficult in so many ways we can all agree is needed. Never has the tradition of going to a Christmas pantomime held such gravitas for our sanity and that's for the adults. Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff is an adults-only pantomime full of all the kitsch, silliness and energy you are craving but with dirty jokes thrown on top.

Proudly claiming the spot for the UK’s first production to open after lockdown during summer, the Garden Theatre is a beacon of light amongst the dimly lit theatre scene. They have slickly created a formula to put on socially distanced live shows in their outdoor heated and covered space that is not only comfortable and entertaining for an audience but that even stands up to the traditionally interactive nature of pantomime. From the moment I entered The Eagle, I was confident I was in good hands.

Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff is set in a Germanic alpine village of Vaüxhallen where all is happy and well until the Demon Frostbite (Nathan Taylor) embarks on a mission to freeze the hearts of all mankind! In a battle between good and evil, we are introduced to an array of larger than life characters who steal our hearts, and innocence, as they endeavour to save their village. Dame Herda Gerda (Dereck Walker), her son Garbo (Shelley Rivers), Fairy Snowflake (Kingsley Morton), snowman Lumiukko (James Lowrie), the youthful and edgy Gretta (Bessy Ewa) and her wealthy father Bergermeister Kai (Tom Keeling) become our eccentric warriors.

Overall this is a silly and fun show but its magic is in the detail and fitness of the direction by Robert McWhir and Gareth Joyner’s writing. It leaves space for the very capable cast to take liberties while also holding a middle finger up to 2020.

The entire cast supported each other with real confidence, stamina and command of the stage. In particular, Dereck Walker as Dame Herda Gerda and James Lowrie as the snowman Lumiukko offer standout performances. As the larger than life Dame Herda Gerda, Walker manages to effortlessly find the comedy, heart and warmth of the character, even when handling a basket full of sex toys. Lowrie as Lumiukko is like a puppy you want to take home but one that might also mount your leg.

Although audience participation on the stage is not possible at this time due to social distancing, you are certainly not safe in your seats. Quick-witted audience observation and interactions seamlessly weave into the narrative and very early on we knew we were very much part of the show. Booing, hissing, cheering and singing ignited collective youthful energy in the crowd.

The costume design by David Shields is sophisticatedly fun and outrageous while the lighting design from Richard Lambert is impressive and dramatically strong in parts despite the small playing space. The musical numbers cleverly enticed the audience to sing along on several occasions and as an Australian, I have to give a special mention to the heartwarming rendition of the Home and Away theme song that got everyone joining in.

At the end of one of the strangest years we have arguably all encountered, Frostbite, Who Pinched My Muff is a welcomed distraction from the rest of the world. Leave the kids at home and corrupt yourself in the land of Vaüxhallen!

Running from the 3rd of December to the 10th of January at the Garden Theatre at The Eagle.

The venue employs social distancing measures both in the bar and theatre itself, and customers cannot book in groups of more than six.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★

Price of Ticket: from £18.00 + booking fee
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