Thursday, 31 December 2020

REVIEW: Nurse Nellie saves Panto at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury (Online)

Paul Hendy's Evolution produces some very good shows and the Marlowe in Canterbury is home for one of his productions. It won Best Pantomime (750-1500 seats) in 2017 and its regular Dame, Ben Roddy, won Best Dame in 2018. Also his Musical Director, James Harrison won best musical supervision in the 2020 Awards. As the usual Pantomimes were cancelled, Evolution created a short-form show which is available in an online stream for both the Marlowe and the Sheffield venues. Hendy has written the script and directs the shows and uses the same basic script for both venues, although thanks to Walker Construction, the Marlowe show is available for free. It distils the essence of Panto into a high energy, high-quality capture from the stage of the venue with a limited audience of employees to provide some reaction.

Nurse Nellie runs the Panto Emporium from which Professor Von BadApple (Ian Kirby) plans to steal the props and the essence of Panto. Can the Dame with the help of her son Billy (Lloyd Hollett) and heroine Jill (Cara Hodgson) stop him with the help of the Fairy, Clarice Alexander Burnett? This thin plotline provides the connection between a series of clever new jokes and classic old gags which are brilliantly delivered by the cast. They know how to point the joke, repeating the setup line before delivering the punchline, to maximise the effect. The show has plenty of Covid jokes, those that "take two weeks to see if you get it" and mocks the shortage of toilets rolls by making them the item the audience must watch to stop it being stolen. It also pokes fun at the awful Government Advert for non-essential jobs, such as actors, retraining by referencing Fatima. ( NB. Like the script itself this review is an edited version of the Sheffield review!).

The Dame, Billy and Jill deliver a cleverly written sketch with a trolley of images of well-known celebrities photos to support a well-executed tale featuring puns on their names and is one of the show highlights. Another good excuse for a string of silly and clever punchlines is the machine that Nellie straps on her head. Hendy also reminds us of all the pantomime titles with references to Snow White (the apple), Wizard of Oz (Robot's voice) and Jack and the Beanstalk (bag of dust). They also include the legendary Bench Ghost scene with a specially adapted bench to maintain social distance and instructions to the audience to not shout out as usual but signal with their arms! 

Music plays a large part in all Pantomime and a prerecorded track from James Harrison backs various tunes with lyrics rewritten for upbeat and amusing songs. The Fairy raps, Jill sings a very good version of "Confident", there is an excellent "Don't stop believing" dance and a Blues Brothers Finale. Evolution also pays tribute to the great double acts with Morecambe and Wise's "Bring me sunshine" and Cannon and Ball's "Laugh me a Laugh". 

With some very good looking sets including some projected graphics on the backcloth by Dr Andy and a brilliant idea of cut-outs of famous people in the audience to separate the actual audience, this feels like the "real thing". It is well captured with a clear audio by Spark Film Production. 

It runs to an entertaining eighty-plus minutes delivered with energy and enthusiasm by people who know and love pantomime. As one character says, what is Pantomime? It is pure joy, quirky humour, warm energy, familiarity and nostalgic If that is the essence of Pantomime, this version is the nearest to the real thing you'll find online. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: Free
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