In the broad church of theatre, village hall pantomime has its own niche. It may be a comparatively lowly and insignificant niche, but don’t underestimate the pleasure that it gives to performers and audiences. People who appear on stage only once a year and have no great pretensions to serious dramatic talent work their socks off to put on the best show they can, often for charity. The rapport with the audience, which is such an integral part of panto, is already there because most of the audience out front are friends, family and neighbours who revel in the local jokes and the inevitable minor disasters which are part of the fun. But it is important that the performers are taking it reasonably seriously: a bit of ad libbing may be OK, but once they start to think that the funniest thing about the show is their own shortcomings, it is surprising how quickly the whole thing falls apart.
Broadstone Productions’ latest offering avoids that trap and is a classic example of good village hall panto. A huge amount of work has gone into it and one is left in no doubt that every member of the cast is giving of his or her best. The programme pulls no punches about the difficulties encountered during rehearsal, but they don’t really show. The script is by Ron Kite, who also plays the Dame in a performance as flamboyant as his amazing technicolor wig. The director, also responsible for designing and painting the simple but colourfully effective sets, is Mike Rustici, who shows his versatility by taking the part of a magisterial Alderman FitzWarren – and playing the accordion to boot.
Kym Cox is a convincingly evil King Rat, and at the start of the show, she is celebrated by six cute little rats from the Jan Mizen School of Dancing; they pop up in several more guises and receive a well-deserved ovation each time. The regulation comic duo, Charlie Dim (listed only as Freya in the programme) and Sid Smart (Val Smith) tell the expected corny jokes and do so well. As the Town Crier, a sort of MC, Jacquie Hall – who is the real live Town Crier of Wareham – holds the whole thing together confidently. Helen Tucker plays Captain Haddock (of course: this is panto, after all), helped by a magnificent pair of ginger sideboards.
As our hero, Samantha Hill is resourceful and brave and has all the audience’s sympathy; she showed these qualities not only when in character but also when she forgot her words in the middle of a song. Frankie Shannon Jade acts charmingly and sings sweetly as Dick’s true love, Alice FitzWarren. Emma Singleton makes a delightful cat, with a wider range of facial expressions than is found in most felines. Jenny Davidson comes close to stealing the show as Fairy Bell, with her sparkly cleavage and her excellent ad libs: think of a jolly but slightly schoolma’am-y great aunt.
When the relevant committee meets to consider this year’s Olivier awards, this production may not detain it long, but what does that matter? If it’s the sort of thing you like, you’ll like it very much.
Future performances: 14 and 21 January at 2.30 and 7.30; 15 January at 2.30; 20 January at 7.30.