(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 4 December 2015)
It can be tricky for a theatre to decide on which traditional story is to be the basis for this year’s pantomime. One for the girls? or one for the boys? Aladdin was a favourite last year, and here it is once again winning the popularity stakes.
Matt Devit is the director for this year’s Hornchurch show with a script by Nicholas Pegg, designs by Mark Walters and original music and arrangements by Carol Sloman. This is a team which knows its audience and gives it a clever blend of twists on tradition to hold child and adult attention alike.
In a career first, Fred Broom plays Widow Twankey. He has clear ideas about how the Dame role should be played and has eye make-up which looks like a tribute to the 19th century’s favourite Dame Dan Leno as well as a nice line in outrageous frocks. Twankey also has a running “Chinese proverb says…” joke.
Starting it all off is Sam Pay’s Abanazar, as slinky and slimy a villain as you could wish to encounter in or our of his green follow-spot. That endangered species, the female Principal Boy, is represented by thigh-slapping, heel-booted Naomi Bullock. She has just the right degree of swagger which the part demands.
Rachel Nottingham doubles Princess Jasmine (not a lady to be walked over) and the Essex-girl Slave of the Ring. The Genie of the Lamp and the oh-so-obsequious Vizier are doubled by Thomas Sutcliffe. But of all the characters, it is Wishee Washee who the youngsters really take to their hearts. This year it’s Matthew Quinn’s turn to keep the audience returning his greetings and be the fall-guy at his mother’s laundry.
The Emperor is Callum Hughes – and look out for the Yeti once the snowy regions of Tibet are encountered. Dan de Cruz leads the three-piece band; the “we’re okay” number is particularly catchy and the choreography of Donna Berlin and Hannah Harris fills the stage with movement.
Aladdin runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 9 January.
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 October)
What sends shivers down the spine where tales of the supernatural are concerned is often less the visualised than the imagined. We all cast our demons from different moulds. Nell Leyshon’s stage adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story Don’t Look Now is given a production by Simon Jessop which knows when to make evil concrete – as little as possible.
It is the Venetian setting designed by Norman Coates with the visual effects projected onto its bridges, water and shuttered windows by Dan Crews and the trickling soundscape devised by Andy Smart which create the atmosphere. We begin by an open grave before which grief-striken mother Laura (Charlotte Powell) stands motionless. Hymns and part of the Requiem Mass are heard while we watch the image of Laura and John’s young daughter Christine drown.
John (Tom Cornish) whisks Laura away to Venice, where they spent their honeymoon. He’s prepared to move on – after all their son John is alive, well and safe at his boarding school. As one cannot help but empaphise with Laura, to whom Powell gives sincerity in her grief and inevitable feelings of guilt (“why didn’t I…?), Cornish balances this by showing John less as unfeeling but more as something of a pragmatist.
The hotel bedroom scene where his desire to make love with his wife at first meets resistance that (perhaps) melts into acceptance, is cleverly played on two levels with the live actors and their projected images. The mutual ground which constitutes terra firma for this husband and wife is quietly crumbling. Their encounters with two strange, identically dressed elderly women (Gillian Cally as the sister with explanations, Tina Gray as her blind mystic sibling) display brutally the gulf opening for Laura and John.
You probably know what happens next. Onlookers and participants in their own parallel civic drama are the police chief (Stuart Organ) hunting a serial killer, the hotel clerk (Callum Hughes) and the restaurant proprietor (Sam Pay). A mysterious beak-masked sacristan – a commedia dell’arte character or a plague doctor? – and a diminutive red-cloaked figure (Karen Anderson) haunt this winter Venice.
Don’t Look Now runs at the Quen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until14 November.