Puss In Boots

Lyndhurst Drama & Musical Society  Vernon Theatre, Lyndhurst Darren Funnell 26 January 2024

If you’re a fan of a charismatic cat with an affinity for footwear, Puss In Boots delivers a purr-fectly delightful experience that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Lyndhurst Drama and Musical Society (LDMS) again opens its pantomime to largely younger performers offering them a “Purrview” of community stagecraft. It helps LDMS look to the future and, hopefully, is the first step on a path for the talent of tomorrow.

I would normally start explaining the plot around about here, but it’s Puss In Boots. It’s Panto. Let’s talk about the star of the show, instead – Elspeth Dyer. This pint-sized kitty stole the spotlight with every flick of his itty-bitty paws and strutted across the stage with more confidence than a cat who just discovered a fresh pile of catnip. The boots were a tad too big, but hey, it’s all about the swagger, right? Alisha Kirk (Dick) certainly gave Elspeth some stellar competition with amused asides, natural body language and a skill for milking a scene-changing, man-donkey gag (Glen Blackburn).

The supporting younger cast is impressive, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the stage. If ever you want a Herald to lift a scene, then Hugo Garfath is your man. Hilarious. Pippa Maidment and James Dyer played multiple roles with amiable nonchalance which shows method acting when a guard or a yokel, so they nailed that. The Housekeeper (Matilda Wilks) was positively Shakespearean! Miley Ashworth was having a ball as the Great Evil Ogre. Monty Wilkins and Matilda Wildner were refreshing and fun. It was great to see all of them making it their own. What was also impressive was that LDMS chaperoned ‘within the play’ so everyone was at ease.

Of course, this does mean there were some older (!) cast strutting their stuff. Amy Godfrey-Arkle (Dame) and Charlotte Dawson (Halibut) were absolutely cracking throughout. Who doesn’t love a lugubrious Halibut? Then again… oh no, here I go… there is nothing like a Dame. Rachel Dyer (Queen) was wonderfully ‘aristo’, John Gardner (Lord Chancellor) did a nice line in bumbling opportunism; Gemma Wilks managed to maintain a brilliant smile for well over 2 hours. I am not quite sure how she managed it. Lots of amphibious fun from Megan Rhodes, plenty of (not) Tom-boying from Alisha Kirk and to round it off – the Chairman does a magic trick – The Great Watsono, perhaps?

It didn’t seem to me that Peter Dawson (Director) or the production team had any trouble finding the spirit of pantomime. Intentional slightly rough round the edges scenic design and wardrobe is absolutely the right way to go. It’s what the audience expects, so well done. Simon Hannay blew the budget on the lighting design and was a dab hand on the follow spot. The only noticeable adjustment was the absence of musical numbers, though they made up for it with the finale. Quite a reach!

What sets this version of Puss In Boots apart is its ability to cater to a diverse audience and give a LDMS platform for any age group who wants to get involved. Everyone will be enchanted by the whimsical characters and playful humour, and the wit and nods to classic fairy-tale tropes. The production strikes a good balance. And that’s really all you want from a Panto at the end of the day, isn’t it?

You can still catch this on Saturday January 27 January (2:30pm and 7:00pm) so get down to the Vernon Hall for returns. Don’t be caught cat-napping… (I can’t believe I just did that).