reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 30 November
Daniel Buckroyd’s take on this popular pantomime theme might be described as traditional, but with twists. So Jack (Craig Mather) is a likeable but not brilliantly intelligent village lad and Princess Jill (Madeleine Leslay) is a girl who’s not afraid to step in when the men are making a mess of things.
Then there’s Day-Z (Dale Superville), the Trott family’s pet bullock. Yes, that’s right – but, given Superville’s superb comedy timing and mime skills, I suspect that he’s the one the audience really wants to take home. The part-projected, part-manipulated Giant is a clever device of director Abigail Anderson and designer David Shields.
If Carli Norris’ Fairy Gladys is a bumbler on the side of good (she’s failed her Fairy Godmother examination yet again – a concept I seem to recall being introduced in last year’s crop of pantos), then Ignatius Anthony’s Fleshcreep is the epitome of power-hungry evil. It’s a well-balanced performance with some neat touches.
If Superville and Mather contribute much of the comedy, then Antony Stuart-Hicks’ Dotty Trott (gorgeously costumed bewigged) takes the lioness’ share. Lots of double entendres for the grown-ups, but plenty of more accessible earthy humour for the young’uns. her sidekick is Phil Sealey’s King Norbert.
Choreographer Charlie Morgan has devised some sparkling and energetic routines, with a particularly effective one in a stratosphere peopled by robots and space-travel paraphernalia. The score devised by composer Richard Reeday under musical director Dan de Cruz mixes original with audience-familiar tunes; Callum Harrower and Harrison White occupy the pit.
Four star rating.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 20 January. Performance dates and times vary – check the box office (01206 573 948, www.mercurytheatre.co.uk) for details.
reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 1 December
Daniel Buckroyd’s pantomime for the 2017-18 Christmas season at the Mercury Theatre manages to avoid all the Disneyfied traps which so often make stage versions of this story pallid film clones. He tells the legend straightforwardly enough, but there are sufficient plot tricks to keep the audience fully alert.
Visually it is sumptuous with court costumes of the late Middle Ages and the Dame (Antony Stuart-Hicks), her son Muddles (Dale Superville) and the small chorus in what might best be described as theatrical late 18th century. David Shields’ settings, like his costumes, are cleverly created to catch the eye, move effortlessly from one scene to another and – through the use of a central bridge over the orchestra pit – using the forestage to its best advantage.
The immortals are Ghemisola Ikumelo as the cuddly Fairy Blossom and Carli Norris as the most slinky of evil Enchantresses. Norris revels in the audience’s instant dislike of this insinuating creature and plays it for all it’s worth. The King, Snow White’s bereaved father (James Dinsmore) doesn’t stand a chance once she has taken his late wife’s place.
Megan Bancroft’s Snow White charms the audience from her first appearance and sings as well as acts very well. it is not a prince who awakens her once she has tasted the poisoned apple but Rupert (Alex Green), the bookish younger brother of Simon Pontin’s Lord Chamberlain.
The dwarves are human-sized rod puppets, a sort of EU/UK nationality mix, and very well manipulated. Comedy is safe in the hands of Stuart-Hicks and Superville; the former’s deceptively dainty even when working the audience and the latter is a theatre favourite, for very good reason. The mirror scene where Nurse and Muddles alternate as the new Queen’s reflexion is hilarious – and not just for the quick changes required of them.
Richard Reeday s the musical director, letting the pleasant if not memorable score make its own impact, often involving Charlie Morgan’s choreography. Those forest animals – field mice, squirrels and hares –which come to Snow White’s aid once she is left in the woods are particularly well handled. The associate puppetry director is Abigail Bing.
Five star rating.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 14 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre website www.mercurytheatre.co.uk for availability.
Classic French farce, especially the plays of Georges Feydeau, aren’t easy to translate into English. The words aren’t the problem; rendering Parisian life during the belle époque for a 21st century audience is the difficulty. Take Bang Bang, John Cleese’s version of the little-known Monsieur Chasse!.
The first act establishes the situation. Duchotel (Oliver Cotton) has told his wife Leontine (Caroline Langrishe) that he’s off on yet another hunting trip with his old friend Cassagne (Peter Bourke). When another friend, Dr Moricet (Richard Earl), throws doubt on the nature of her husband’s quarry, Leontine decides that what’s sauce for the gander is definitely sauce for her particular goose.
Act Two takes place in a most peculiar lodging house run by a déclassée countess (Sarah Crowden). Designer David Shields and director Nicky Henson effect a deservedly-applauded scene change before our eyes, as set pieces swivel and furniture is transformed to an infectious waltz (mainly by Sophie Cotton), accompanied by the violin-playing maid Babette (Jess Murphy).
The trouble is that our willing suspension of belief – that sine non quo of all theatre – keeps on being pulled up short by phrases, expletives and even the occasional gesture which destroy our illusion of a vanished past and its society. You certainly can’t blame the cast for this. The actors’ timing is exemplary throughout.
Langrishe swoops and swirls through Leontine’s emotional and moral crises with the precision of an excessively elegant battle-axe. Earl’s Moricet, a physician with seduction on his mind rather than medicine, counterpoints her precisely. Cotton’s increasingly frantic attempts to achieve his aims ar balanced by the efforts of Simon Hepworth’s police inspector to frustrate them.
Also pursuing his own agenda is Duchotel’s nephew Gontran, a born flaneur in Robert Neumark Jones’ portrayal. Bourke has a telling appearance as he arrives in the third act to keep an appointment which is definitely not one of the ones mentioned so far. It’s all fast, furious (in a nice way) and thoroughly farcical. But somehow I feel that Feydeau has been short-changed.
Four star rating.
Bang Bang continues at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 11 March with matinées on 9 and 11 March.
(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 3 De ember)
The book for this year’s Mercury pantomime is by Fine Time Fontayne and the theatre’s arttistic director Daniel Buckroyd, who is also responsible for the staging. Both the sets and scene drops are by David Shields; his costumes are colourful with some marvellously over-the-top wigs for Antony Stuart-Hicks’ Sarah the Cook. Stuart-Hicks has a flirtatious way with the audeince, suggestive of high camp but always remembering the younger members of the audience.
Two theatre favourites are in the cast – Dale Superville as Idle Jack and Ignatius Anthony as Rayy King, a tycoon with a novel approach to rodent recycling and designs on the London mayoral dignity. Fairy Bow-Bells (Barbara Hockaday) needs all her magic to keep his amibitions in check. Fortunately naîve country-boy Dick (Glen Adamson) has his own aide, in the shape of Gracie Lai’s zebra-striped black-and-white Thomasina, indeed a moggie with attitude.
Grace Eccle makes a charming Alice with Richard Earl bumbling around in his spice emporium as Alderman Fitzwarren. Three hallowed gag scenes – cake-making in the kitchen, “The twelve days of Christmas” and the bench ghost – are all given a novel twist (I won’t spoil their impact by describing these – find out for yourself!) and Charlie Morgan’s choreography makes a real impact. Musical director Richard Reeday provides some sympathetic accompaniments.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 8 January. Check the theatre website (mwrcurytheatre.co.uk) for performance times.