Bishopstoke Players Durley Memorial Hall, Durley Anne Waggott 27 January 2023
A pantomime set in space about an electrician protecting the Earth’s electrical supply… Surely that would never work? Oh yes, it would – and oh yes, it does!
When the evil Emperor Ping of Planet Pongo plots with his henchmen, Pang and Pong, to take control of all of the Earth’s electricity, holding every one of the planet’s citizens to ransom, who else can save the day but bungling electrician Gordon ‘Flash’ Bennett? (There’s a reason he has his nickname, but I won’t spoil it!)
Assisted by his man-mad mother, an eccentric German Professor and his gruff girlfriend, Flash sets off in a converted yellow van to the Planet Pongo, to save the citizens of Earth from Emperor Ping’s outrageous demands, faster than you can say “Martin Lewis”!
Pantomime is often a child’s first introduction to theatre, so it’s great to see how Bishopstoke Players have interwoven child and adult actors so well into their production (also in keeping with their ongoing support for Action For Children).
Beth Bowers more than holds her own as the eponymous hapless hero, even brushing off a minor line mishap in a manner that is beyond many adult actors! Steve Hunter is totally engaging as her mother, Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Bennett, bringing every essential essence of the pantomime Dame to the stage, and holding the audience in the palm of ‘her’ hand. Dr Hans Zupp may be a stereotypical character, but Richard Bevis-Lacey brings hilarity and high entertainment to the role, while the twist in Dale’s character is unexpected and very well brought to life by Bernice Bevis-Lacey.
Obviously to have a hero, there must be a villain – and what a villain Mark Woodcock brings to the show! He produces an authentic, dynamic and slightly manic evil intention in the character, which works so well, while he can just as easily slip in and out of light-hearted asides to the audience. Kimberly Jones (Pang) and Alison Pugh (Pong) compliment each other perfectly as Ping’s duo of partners in crime, and also have an excellent rapport with the audience.
This is a script packed with enough corny jokes, Sci-Fi references, literary nods and pop-culture references to cater for every taste, working on a level to keep both children and adults entertained. Overall, it runs at a very good pace (with only a couple of slightly awkward hesitations between scenes) and there is an excellent rapport and interaction with the audience.
Act 2 has an array of cameo appearances from Planet Pongo’s inhabitants: Arthur Dent is instantly recognisable and faithfully portrayed by Pete Burton as the first human to live on Planet Pongo; Lola Barrett is delightful as Tom the Cat (despite the dreadful jokes!); Tim Ponsford is very entertaining with an Elvis impression down to a T (sorry, Arthur!); Bex Hobbs is full of teenage temper as the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Aurora; and what would a pantomime be without a pantomime horse? Step forward Ella Cannavo and Amber Bailey as the very cute Beef Burger!
Many childhood Saturday mornings were spent watching with my Dad repeats of Buster Crabbe’s black and white Flash Gordon series and I am a self-confessed Sci-Fi buff, so I really appreciated the way that Star Wars, Star Trek, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and, of course, Flash Gordon itself were seamlessly interwoven into the script and production.
This very entertaining community pantomime has just two more performances at Durley Memorial Hall (Saturday 28 January at 2.30pm and 7.30pm). Catch it if you can – you won’t be sorry!