Pantovia is in turmoil! Prince Rupert, heir to the throne, has fled the land and the evil Count De Cash is ruler! However a dashing young man turns up with his butler to try to solve the crisis. But what can he do and why does his butler keep him close by? Will Pantovia once again become a bustling town or is it doomed forever?
Bishopstoke Players have produced an entertaining pantomime under the watchful eye of debut director Samantha Evans; with apparently new talent both on stage and behind the scenes, the potential is certainly there to develop. Some of the elements didn’t work quite so well for me, but these were as much to do with the idiosyncrasies of Paul Reakes’ script and the limitations of a village hall venue as anything else. As it is billed as a ‘traditional family pantomime … full of songs, dances, jokes’, I was hoping for a lively, colourful, energetic evening of entertainment, and after a rather hesitant, static and lacklustre opening musical number, there are indeed many elements of this production that bring fun and laughter to an appreciative local community audience.
There is only a cursory nod in both the script and costumes to the eponymous heroine being Little Red Riding Hood (reluctant to wear Granny’s annual birthday present of a red cloak), with even the Players’ publicity for the show failing to mention her at all; however, Marie Radley brings a girlish, naïve charm to the role of Rosie Rumple, courted by her charming Prince-in-disguise (Steve Hunter). Tim Ponsford’s physicality, timing and comic touches are very appropriate to his role – to say more would be to reveal spoilers!).
Mikey Porter raises the energy levels from the first moment he appears as Rosie’s brother, Reggie, remaining dynamic and charismatic throughout, with great rapport with the audience, apparent ad libs flowing naturally and enjoying a terrific relationship with his mother. Reggie’s mother– what can I say? Jon Morgan chooses to portray Roxie Rumple as a rather butch Dame with the depth of ‘her’ voice, but this works very well indeed. With every appearance accompanied by a new garish outfit and wig, his physicality, comic timing and delivery, both towards the audience and with Porter in particular (bouncing off each other verbally), make him an ideal pantomime Dame.
There is a good chemistry between man-hungry yokel Gertrude (Katie Pink) and the object of her affections, the Prince’s starchily precise butler, Sternum (Pete Burton); she is persistent in her attempts to woo him with gritty determination, while he is equally as determined (initially!) not to be pursued.
Richard Bevis-Lacey is fascinating as the foppish villain, Count De Cash, his performance enhanced by every gesture, his character’s consistent inability to pronounce his Rs properly and beautiful Regency costumes. His footmen, Cringe (Owen Pugh) and Cower (Dale Yarney), match him for sartorial and comic effect and are well appreciated by the audience.
There is a good attempt at depicting a story-book illustration with the scenery, although I was disappointed at the grey final scene for the walkdowns – it looks so drab for an uplifting finale and doesn’t seem to depict the opulence of a Prince’s palace for his wedding at all; in all honesty, it looks unfinished, while the costumes also seem a distracting mismatch of styles to me. However, the sound effects are very well done.
Musical numbers are an integral part of what turns a good pantomime into a great pantomime: not just instantly recognisable songs (altered lyrics not withstanding) that flow within the performance, but numbers that are full of energy and enthusiasm, with good musicians and chorus/principals to really bring the songs to life, along with lively choreography that has the audience tapping their feet and humming or singing along. A lone piano, here played softly but nicely, lacks both volume and depth to support group singing or enhance the songs. Personally, I missed the bass range or some percussion that would have helped the chorus to sing with more energy and gusto; the addition of a guitar, perhaps some drums, or even amplifying the piano would help. However, there are pleasing attempts at harmonies and the solos are much more balanced musically. Unfortunately, both the opening number and duet between the Prince and Rosie are pitched too low for the female voices, which could be easily rectified by transposing the solo piano accompaniment, but both Rosie and the Prince’s solos showed that in an appropriate key for their voices, they can sing very well indeed.
Community theatre and pantomimes in particular are a great way of introducing the youngest to the wonderful world of theatre and imagination (the vocal appreciation and advice from a child in the audience was so sweet), as well as bringing the community together, and in these areas Bishopstoke Players have achieved very well indeed, with the audience seeming to thoroughly enjoy their evening’s entertainment.
The run continues until 27 January at 7:30, with a 2:30 Saturday matinée.