Bishopstoke Memorial Hall was warm and welcoming tonight as a nearly full audience settled to enjoy the annual January pantomime, again supporting Action for Children. This entertaining adaptation by Paul Reakes is filled with quips, songs and (perhaps a little too much) audience interaction. The largely adult audience had come prepared to enjoy themselves and readily engaged with the actors. This was as well as the plot relies in places upon the audience making the expected and traditional responses, not to mention being required to sing along to cover the final costume changes.
This production, the directorial debut of Emma Braggins, is a colourful feast with a named cast of sixteen, plus a chorus of nine – no small undertaking for a novice director and it is greatly to her credit that I would not have suspected it to be her debut if I hadn’t read it in the programme notes. Opening night nerves were apparent in the opening song and dance but the confidence of the main cast soon set the mood for the evening. This company contains some fine singing voices, most notable tonight in Cinderella (a charming and appealing Kate Robbins), Prince Charming (James Gould – looking suitably handsome) and Buttons (Owen Pugh). Owen Pugh in particular had a lot of audience interaction and quickly gained their goodwill and participation. Sadly some sound inbalance, and a tendency to sing directly to one another instead of cheating it out to the audience, resulted in some of the singing being lost. However, I’m sure this will have been sorted by the next performance.
The set design (Jon Morgan, Caz Gradwell) is excellent, adapting to represent at least eight locations very effectively. It also contributed to the success of the extended chase sequence, which, to everyone’s credit, was well-timed and entertaining. Lighting and sound, except in those songs, and props were just what was needed. High praise must go to the costumes (Julia Forster) and particularly to the sisters’ myriad dazzling costumes, separately credited to Wendy and Jon Morgan. I lost count of the costume changes!
We were treated to two genuinely funny comic double acts – the sisters Mattie (Pete Burton) and Hattie (Jon Morgan) and the guards Nip (Dale Yarney) and Tuck (Adrian Barrett). Both pairings had some excellent moments and worked well at engaging the audience.
In a universally strong cast it is difficult to single anyone out, but I particularly enjoyed the hapless Archie (Neil Sharman), the evil Duke of Verruca (Drew Craddock) and the interplay between Baron and Baroness Beaujolais. Richard Bevis-Lacey as the meek Baron had some lovely asides but tended to speak them a little too quietly. This created an amusing contrast with Katie Pink’s Baroness, who positively thundered in places, but it was a shame to be straining to hear the asides.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The show runs until Saturday with a matinee as well as an evening performance on the Saturday.