At first I thought that I was going to see an amateur Christmas show, featuring probably some carols and Christmas music, probably very cheesy and possibly of indifferent quality – but I was wrong. The Glad Rag Production Company is a professional outfit and most of the performers in tonight’s show are local (Bournemouth, Dorset, Hampshire) professional actors, singers and dancers – and how they showed it! There was also a team of young performers ‘The Babes’ and tonight (according to the programme) I saw ‘Team Merry’, who were also very good.
There are some elements of pantomime here and some songs, jokes and routines that I have seen, and even performed, in pantomime, but this is not your traditional panto. The plot, such as it is, concerns a plan by Count Dracula (Rob Dorey), the ruler of Hallowe’en Town, to invade Christmas Town, the demesne of the benevolent Santa Claus (Bryan Newman) and his elves. The plan involves inserting the least frightening character from Hallowe’en Town, Max the Monster (Luke Beavis), into Christmas Town – but Max finds his loyalties divided. It sounds cheesy – but the execution is such that it doesn’t come out that way.
Along the way there are lots of songs, dances, and some fairly corny jokes that you may, or may not, have heard in panto. The average age of the audience tonight was probably about 50 – and that’s not because it is unsuitable for children but (you know) kids these days just don’t know how to enjoy themselves like we do.
Max Stockham plays a great lead as the love-struck elf, Squash (“Squish – Squash – Whatever”), Kim Holder, as Ivy, performs an amusing drunken rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ (probably based on a version by Barbra Streisand, which may have been based on an original by Fanny Brice). There are hilarious, and not over-long, versions of the comedy ‘12 days of Christmas’ and ‘If I Were Not on Santa’s Team’. The junior team do a charming number, ‘I’m a Little Christmas Cracker’, complete with confetti cannons. There is also a cracking tap routine, led by Rob Dorey, who isn’t playing Dracula on this occasion. Jilly Ingle, as Joy Christmas, has a lovely singing voice, particularly in ‘Finally’, while Max the Monster (Luke Beavis) reveals a remarkably good falsetto in ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’. In and amongst the singing there are some very good dancing performances by ensemble members. These include not only the aforementioned tap routine, but also a ballet sequence and some very nice contemporary lifts, which would have the Strictly audience baying profusely (and annoyingly), but which tonight’s audience just admired, quietly.
The costumes are bright, cheerful and sophisticated. The music is by London Arrangements, who have a large catalogue of professional orchestrations and if they haven’t got it, they can create it for you. The lighting and technical equipment is by Skrypt, who crop up a lot in our area – I particularly like the synchronised illumination of the hanging snowflakes during the Gloria Estefan number ‘1-2-3’ (see – it’s not all cheesy Christmas music). The sound is by Keith Monteith, who hits (almost) every microphone cue on opening night – in some shows the microphone technician has not seen/rehearsed the show before and is “taken by surprise” every time someone speaks or sings.
I had a chat with the writer/director (Ben Rawlings) and the producer (Sue Simmerling) during the interval and, apparently, they put together this whole thing, which is almost perfect, in just eight Sunday rehearsals. Now that’s how to produce a show! It highlights what can be achieved with a gang of trained professionals. Every movement is synchronised with the music, every jump, every step, every other motion. No-one is looking vacant, everyone smiling – or scowling if they should be. There is negligible fluffing of lines, no-one is mumbling or inaudible. If you want to see what can be achieved with the right people and the right direction then come and see this show!
It runs at 7pm every day, up to and including Christmas Eve and there are matinées at 2pm on Saturday 21, Sunday 22, Monday 23 December and Christmas Eve itself. Pay no attention to what I said about the average age of the opening night audience! Bring your 3 year olds! Bring your 90 year olds! This is a great show for kids and adults of all ages.