I reviewed the 2017 48-hour pantomime by GEOIDS so I knew they could do it, but I marvelled again at what had been created in such a short period of time when I joined the audience for the one and only performance of Hansel and Gretel at the London Oratory School's Theatre (John Mcintosh Arts Centre). This was a change of venue for the company but one which offers comfortable seating, good sightlines and a large stage with flying facilities. For those unfamiliar with the whole mad idea, GEOIDS audition, cast and start rehearsing on Friday evening, spend all weekend refining the show and then perform it once only at 4pm on the Sunday.
The script, by writer/directors Chris and Annabel Watson, offered plenty of opportunities for the cast of thirty-three, and an understandable sharing out of the parts, not providing anyone with too much of a principal role to learn in such a short time. It was particularly impressive to note that not only were the songs well-chosen and put over with verve and enthusiasm, but the lyrics had also been rewritten to suit the plot. That this could be noted by the audience was an indication of the mostly good sound balance between cast and the five-piece band, playing from a location to the side of the stage, and not overpowering the voices.
The use of handheld mics may have been the most sensible decision in the short preparation period, but some cast members were more adept at using them than others, with some not holding them close enough for them to be fully effective. A series of generic cloths set the scene, leaving plenty of space for the cast, but I am not sure the homely gingerbread cottage set far upstage right from time to time added very much – although it was always put in place with wit and verve (it is not often that I have reviewed stage crew with those words but wholly deserved here).
The hardworking ensemble were well-rehearsed and their numbers were a highlight, often with a group of lead dancers out front. Among the cast were choreographers Nichola Short, Charlie Welch and Pippa Welch, who are to be congratulated on their remarkable achievement. The cast were on top of the lines too: I only noticed one instance of a cast member talking over someone’s line and one character using a prompt card, and that’s not always the case with companies who have been rehearsing for months.
It must be a nightmare to try and sort out costume in such a short time period but several of the principals showed how much can be achieved on a minimal budget – the witch’s giant bow head-dress for example. It would have been good however to have a more colourfully-dressed chorus who, apart from the lead dancers, were mostly in everyday clothes. The speed dating section was a nice idea although it went on a little too long, and the ensemble weren’t needed there and tended to distract from the principals. The Bake Off references worked well and were not over-done and I liked the magic mirror being a mirror-glazed cake. The tongue twister audience scene was probably one scene too many however and the show as a whole was slightly overlong at 2hrs 40mins.
All these reservations pale into insignificance against the remarkable achievement of putting on an entertaining show so quickly and so well, with no weak performances and several strong ones. Among a large cast, Dan Saunders made an early impression as Jack Lumber the woodman and was a confident and amusing presence throughout. The forces of evil on this occasion resided in Hannah Parker Smith as a full-on and energetic Scary Berry, one of several actors to make good use of regional accents to enhance her character. Her sidekick, Paw Collywoof, was cleverly under-played by the laconic and droll Will de Renzy-Martin.
In the role of Kristy Kreme, James Newall was a commanding Scots presence, dressed as if in a drag role but very much the pantomime dame in delivery. He is a confident performer and has a great stage presence, but if he plays the role again give him Dame boots rather than heels. It’s impossible to mention everyone and this was in any case a celebration of what can be achieved by a large group of people working very hard; I look forward to future GEOIDS productions as they enter their 90th year.