After the run of ‘professional’ pantomime season ends, the turn of amateur societies to take up the mantle comes around. Whilst the trend to move away from convention continues in favour of ‘big’ stars and awe-inspiring special effects, this is certainly not the case in amateur theatre whose scripts instead tend to rely heavily on the traditionalisms of pantomime; lots of thigh slapping, the opposite genders in the roles plus the iconic “It’s behind you” segment. This works perfectly for the Swanage Drama Company whose community spirit lends itself to plenty of audience interaction, half of whom were rooting for their known favourite actresses and actors.
This year Swanage Drama Company incorporated many of those pantomime traditions we know and love into their fun-packed version of Dick Whittington. I admit pantomime is my favourite stage genre and I was not disappointed. Written by Pat Jones and Brian Travers and directed by Stewart Jones, the script promises plenty of the ‘aww’ factor, enough eye-rolling puns to keep your dad going for the year, a small dose of innuendo for the ‘big children’ and a bounty of traditional catchphrases to bounce back and forth with the talented cast.
None more so than multi-skilled Stewart Jones (who also directed and choreographed the production) in the stand-out role of the bumbling Alderman Fitzwarren. It takes a special actor to elicit laughs from their first entrance with body language and movement alone; add to that plenty of innuendo regarding his “foreign parts” and you’ve got an exceptional performance delivered by a clearly accomplished performer. The role compensates for the lack of a ‘buttons-esque’ character (a role which would have been demanding of a very charismatic actor with a seamless ability to improvise with audience members and one which tends to be omitted in amateur productions).
The dame is funny from costume alone but, in the part, writer Brian Travers ensures the audience is onside with his antics with superb comic timing – I particularly enjoyed the hilariously choreographed ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ performed with Stewart Jones. Similarly, Jeanne Lejeune as Tom the Cat embraces the character’s fluid mannerisms with gusto whilst Claire Leyman-Hobbs and Holly Gate (Dick Whittington and Alice Fitzwarren respectively) have the opportunity to show off their vocal prowess in the second half with ‘All I Ask Of You.’ Ava Muir as Fairy Bow-Bells and James Carter-Hobbs as Idle Jack keep up the standard in their roles.
Meanwhile, as pantomime ‘baddies’ Robert Diment-Davies and Ro Smith as King and Queen Rat are superb from the off with seamless onstage chemistry and offering an aura of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s Baron and Baroness Bomburst to their characterisation; their rendition of Chesney Hawkes’ ‘The One And Only’ is a stand-out number. They are ably supported by the Ratlings, especially Anthony Ayles in the role of their juxtaposed ‘goody-two-shoes’ offspring Timothy. I never thought a recorder would feature in a Chesney Hawkes routine but I continue to be surprised.
This is a production which offers plenty of big ensemble numbers of well-known songs to get the audience onside, including ‘Night Fever,’ ‘Tragedy,’ ‘Make Your Own Kind Of Music’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’. Unfortunately, sometimes the vocals were not quite suited to these belted pop numbers, particularly in the first half. However, this does not detract from a well-staged production. The shipwreck scene is a nice touch added by the creative team to give some ensemble members an opportunity to demonstrate their dancing ability and is a refreshing change from the more simple choreography of the bigger numbers; routines that the endearing youngest members of the cast do ‘make their own kind of music’, too – cue plenty of audience “Aww”s.
Overall this was a well-rehearsed and polished production – and the bonus of pantomime? Any technical blunders and misbehaving microphones simply add to the comedy. There is no other genre where actors could obviously corpse onstage and get away with it and that is why I love it! Well done to everyone involved.
Further performances at the Mowlem Theatre, Swanage, Friday 17 & Saturday 18 January at 7.30pm with a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets £11 adults, £10 concessions and £5 children.