Archive for December, 2013

“Not Dead Yet!” – a Report on the London Comedy Forum’s roundtable on the Art of Pantomime – Greenwich Theater

December 23, 2013

I was shocked to see a newspaper article declaring that panto was dead. What? How could this be? Considering that I was struggling to find time in my schedule to fit in all of the pantos on offer in London – and occasionally struggling to even get tickets – I wasn’t sure just what sort of death they were describing. I mean, come on, panto is so popular that it’s even got a fully-rampant adult genre, with three shows (at least!) in London this December, and even two spoof pantos (“Peter Pan Goes Wrong” and the “Jack and the Beanstalk” at Southwark Playhouse).

Looking closer, the article claims that it’s the lack of trouser roles, the “end of the dame,” and the movement away from “traditional” stories that mark the death knell of the “traditional” panto. (Being that this article was in the Telegraph, this was, unsurprisingly, blamed on political correctness gone mad.) Now, I’m obviously no expert on what “traditional” panto looks like – I only saw my first one in 2005 – but I hadn’t noticed a fall-off in dame action, and (unlike CAMRA’s hysteria about pubs closing) I haven’t noticed a single theater call off producing their annual panto in the last eight years. What was this article really going on about? Was there a shred of truth to their claims? In the spirit of inquiry, I decided to attend a talk hosted by the London Comedy Forum on the future of panto after a Friday night performance of Greenwich Theater’s Puss in Boots.

Speakers at the talk were Chris Abbott, author of Putting on Panto to Pay for the Pinter – a history of panto’s “golden years” (or just the 1950s and 60s, depending on how you see it), speaking for pantos past; Simon Sladen, webmaster of “The National Database of Pantomime Performance,” speaking for panto present; and Andrew Pollard, author and dame of Greenwich’s panto for the last 5 years (I think!), on behalf of Panto Future. Well, actually, he was speaking about the present as well, about the reality of creating pantos, dirty things like budgets and marketing (apparently cost of cast heavily influences how he structures his plays). And between the three of them they were a panto knowledge powerhouse. So what was their take on this subject? (I’m afraid I’ve had to muddle the answers into one voice, as I didn’t bring a tape recorder. But there was one there, and if you want, you can probably get a transcript.)

First attacked was the question of whether traditional panto is dying because of a dearth of Puss in Boots (and Dick Whittingtons). The speakers noted that there has always been an evolution in Panto stories, and that, in fact, one now “traditional” panto was originally written (around 1900) as a role for a famous male comedian. Both Snow White and Peter Pan became done as pantos after the Disney movies came out, and, they said, there is no way to escape the effect of Disney on the Panto consciousness; while Disney had no Widow Twankey in Aladdin (and truth be told neither is there one in the original story, in The 1001 Nights), the addition of a princess and a flying carpet to the Panto tale has come in response to audience expectations in the post-Disney era. Oddly, Andrew credited Disney for making his Puss in Boots possible, thanks to the raised profile the character has received courtesy of Shrek. Who knew? But the emphasis was on panto evolution; there isn’t a fixed repertoire, it is continually changing as new stories rise in the public consciousness. Lots of things have changed in the past fifty years, such as the end of scenes with water fountains and the ones that have acrobats diving through curtains (I’ll have to refer back to Abbot’s book for the proper titles of these things – I’d never heard of them before).

Next up: the supposed end of breeches/trouser/”principal boy” roles. Historically, many plays had women in men’s roles; but these days, people get their flash of leg in other ways, i.e. with Pamela Anderson as the Genie in Wimbledon’s Aladdin a few years ago. Dancers are also dressed in somewhat scantier clothing than before; and overall the accessibility of sexy fun in the theater is just much, much more than it was even fifty years ago. The numbers show that, while smaller theaters may be doing breeches roles less, that the number of people who see them per year has not been decreasing (as the tradition is continuing in the larger productions). Is it a matter of kids being uncomfortable with cross dressing, or parents wanting to shelter them from it? The consensus was no: kids saw C-Beebies, parents saw Little Britain; it’s still very much a part of British popular culture. This argument simply didn’t hold up to the numbers. Andrew said that casting in “expected” genders made for the ability to do stronger love scenes, but it’s not not being done because people won’t accept it.

Finally, what about the panto dame role? There was a general acknowledgement that this was a problem, that there were less dames in panto, but this was seen as due more to a lack of talent than a lack of desire. Pantos were being driven by celebrity casting, and the people who were taking on these roles were not familiar with the kind of skills that made a successful dame. (But later, anecdotally, I was told that some people who have done dame roles simply aren’t asked to come back. There may be more to investigate here.) Oddly, in America, where the panto is being introduced bit by bit, some uptake has been had in daming by casting a former Mrs Turnblad (the male-played mother role from Hairspray) in one of these roles. The group bemoaned the lack of training opportunities for people who want to do panto – apparently it’s generally ignored by acting schools, with only 5 or less UK theater programs offering panto as part of their curricula. In fact, when they did Aladdin at the Young Vic (the first panto I ever saw), they had to bring in “experts” to help make the panto funny – apparently skills such as timing and jokes and “magic” (and keeping children’s attention) do not come ready-bred out of RADA.

Looking at the discussion, what I heard overall was that panto was a lively, continuously evolving tradition, that takes on new forms and new technology as society continues to change. But what is decreasing is the quantity of locally produced and staffed shows. Only four major theaters in the UK write their own pantos – Hackney, Greenwich, Salisbury, and York. What is happening is that panto is becoming a corporate product, built by companies who aim to put butts in seats and turn a profit doing this. So while panto is alive and well, I think there is an argument to be made that there is a movement away from “traditional” pantos – written in a local theater with locally pointed jokes and a cast that evolves with each other and the audience year after year – to more of a cut and dry business. And I think it’s these shows that could both be drying up dame talent – because a skilled cross dressing comedian is rarely a famous actor as well – and choosing more “Disneyfied” story options. But we all agreed, when asked, “Is panto dead?”

“OH NO IT ISN’T!”

Review – A Christmas Carol – Charing Cross Theater

December 20, 2013

Who’d expect there to be two London debuts of Christmas Carol musicals in one year? But so there is, the first a remounting of the popular American one by Menken and Ahrens, the second a home-grown effort making its first showing in the Big Smoke after two regional tours. Last night was the opening of the second, a British-created A Christmas Carol (book by Stephen Leask and Joshua Sills, lyrics Jessica Rufey, Music Patrick Rufey), featuring fourteen songs and a big cast (two rotating casts of five children each!). This is what I went to see at the Charing Cross Theater, and I have to say I was seeing it as a bit of a competition: how would it hold up?

This show sticks pretty closely to Dickens’ story, skipping a few minor details while hitting the majors – Scrooge’s rejection of his first love in favor of money, the Fezziwig’s party, the Cratchits, et cetera. It’s all tied together with music, from the opening crowd scene “Christmas Eve” to “A Life of Regret” and “The Man I Meant to Be.” After seeing the Tabard show’s visibly thin budget, it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into this musical, with multiple costume changes, live accompaniment, and several dance scenes.

But many of the details grate in a way I find less forgiving in a bigger show. The costume designer has made a general sort of Victorian looking clothes, which use fabrics and colors unknown to the period and cuts that range from Gone with the Wind to Mommy Dearest. This seems unbearably sloppy given the wealth of data about clothing of the period. The dance scenes also seem to have been done by someone who’s never done historical research – gentlefolk waltzing in the early 1800s? Can can dancing at a company party? Some attempts at research would have really helped add an air of authenticity. There’s also scrimping on special effects, from the missing Marley knocker (come on, even the no budget Christmas Carol did this) to the Ghost of Christmas present flying moment (which consisted of the actors standing in front of the stage extending their arms, then lights out while they ran to the back of the stage). Much better was the Ghost of Christmas future, a simple black curtain that faces were pressed out of – both spooky and a nice transition to Scrooge waking up in his bedroom, wrapped in the curtain. And the Christmas lights that illuminated the theater when the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared were simply magical.

Unfortunately, this magic did not extend to the music. The songs were melodic but entirely unmemorable, and the decision to have extended child solos in several of the songs was an affront to the ears. And somehow, Tiny Tim’s character was left nearly completely hollow by the script, which never really explained (or showed) why Scrooge was so enamored of him. A Christmas Carol has been to Weston Super Mare, Dunstable, and Bridlington, where it probably easily earned accolades, but in London, it’s in the right place in the Charing Cross Theater. There have been many excellent productions of this story, but this is not one of them, and while it isn’t terrible, it’s not really one to get enthusiastic about.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013. It runs through January 4th and was originally reviewed in The Public Reviews.)

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Mini-review – The Last March – Tinder Theatre at the Southwark Playhouse

December 17, 2013

Right, a “comic” retelling of Robert Falcon Scott’s total failure to be first to the South Pole (in 1912) seems extremely unfeasible, but when I’d screwed up my 7:30 booking at the Southbank Center and had exactly 20 minutes to find or give up on a Saturday night theater outing, the 7:45 start time for this show at the Southwark Playhouse seemed just the thing. (And they answered the phone and said that they weren’t sold out, they’d just stopped selling tickets online. Bless the box office staff for helping me!)

But why would I have thought of this show? Well, I know rather more than I want to about the Scott expedition, because my husband is a big polar/mountain adventure history fan. This makes buying Christmas presents for him fairly easy. It also meant I went with him to see The Great White Silence a few months earlier, a silent movie about this very expedition (him: Antarctica me: silent movies us: win!).

The Great White Silence was incredibly spooky and sad; I was obsessed with the scenes of the ponies being loaded up on the boat with the intention of their being slaughtered after they’d done their work. And I knew Scott hadn’t succeeded in some way and “there were deaths” but not until I saw the movie did I realize that he actually DID make the pole, only he wasn’t first: and, I found out, all of the men who actually went on the final stage to the pole died, basically of starvation and exhaustion, while the people at the base camp just sort of carried on for some time waiting for them to return, making movies and sending news dispatches to parts north. (I’m pretty sure this formed the basis of the early 30s H.P. Lovecraft story “Mountains of Madness,” also about a journey to the South Pole, only, for Scott, without the hostile alien intelligences.)

Giant penguins aside, it’s hard to imagine where the funniness was going to be in this performance. But the three characters found much to be silly about, from slapstick and physical comedy (i.e. people pretending to walk down stairs while on the set, throwing fake snow in an actor’s face and making him splutter, spit takes) to the, er, far more depressing irony available when looking at the historical reality of the expedition: Scott’s hunger for media attention; his abandonment of his wife; his near total absence of experience dealing with bitter cold (versus his Norwegian “competition,” Roald Amundsen); the way coverage of this event has tended to ignore Amundsen, much in the way Norway is ignored in general; the ridiculousness of the “we’re British upper class, therefore we shall succeed and what we are doing is sensible” attitude.

In the end, the tragedy comes full to fore, as Scott sits hallucinating in his tent; the production becomes truly lovely at this point. I think, though, just a bit more history would have been good in this case; but at one hour, it was a good return on my £15 and I enjoyed myself greatly.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 14th, 2013. It continues through January 4th.)

Review – Puss in Boots – Greenwich Theater

December 16, 2013

Hot on the heels of the “Panto is Dead” non-story that cited a dearth of Puss in Boots performances as one of the bellwethers of the erosion of the art form, I was on my way to see my second Puss in seven days. I was enthused because last year’s performance at the Greenwich Theater was a real “scales falling away” kind of moment where I realized another hotbed of panto brilliance was just under my nose, yet had evaded my notice for seven years. Mr Andrew Pollard, you have been hiding your candle under a bushel basket!

I guess it would be hard to really say he’s been hiding it under a bushel basket, because he’s been writing and dame-ing at the Greenwich Theater for five or so years (six I think for just writing), but in all of that time they’ve not received a review in a single one of the majors, so little reviewers like me didn’t have the heads up we need to head to pastures new. (Hey, it’s part of what I do for YOU … provide you tips about shows you wouldn’t necessarily hear about if you just read print media.) So yay for Puss in Boots and yay for a locally produced and written panto!

To my GREAT excitement, I discovered that none other than Cutesy McHotpants from Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens – I mean, Kate Malyon – was there as our princess. Normally this kind of love interest is a throwaway role in my eyes, but with her tremendous charisma, good singing voice, and sassy charm, she was entrancing to watch as she navigated the role of girlfriend, pawn, hostage, schemer, etc. etc. She seemed to be a bit of an anchor for poor American Luke Striffler (as Sam), who was being given a hell of a ribbing by the rest of the cast, by which I mean Andrew, er, I mean, Fifi the fruit seller, who kept saying that Luke thought he was there to do some Shakespeare. Poor Like had to stare at the set and desperately try to not giggle while Kate quite successfully pretended nothing unusual was going on.

And this spirit of joy, of improvisation and bubbling happiness, just oozed infectiously through this whole production. It was embodied in Puss (acrobatic and sexy Alim Jayda), who bounced and purred and fought and was generally amazing, but the entire cast had the energy. You caught it in the songs, the audience bounced it back (like the balls they tossed around), the supporting chorines (so young!) stamped it back off the floor, the whole theater was echoing with laughter and “it’s behind you” and the whole vibe of a very very large room full of people having a good time. You plop “Live and Let Die” and a psychedelic spinning cat universe on top of all of this excitement, and it just works. This is what panto is: not big name actors and floppy jokes and an anticipatable list of slightly hacked pop songs from this year’s top ten, but brilliant improv, sparkling topical/timeless jokes (“It’s my Charlton bra – no cups and very little support”), and a total connection between the actors and the audience that goes beyond just teaching us our callback and leading a singalonga.

Oh my God, I’m raving. It’s not like I had a good time. But OH YES I DID! And oh yes you will if you can get a ticket. God d**m this was so much fun! It singlehandedly justified the other four pantos I saw before that should have left me sated but instead I went looking for more. ANDREW POLLARD YOU ARE A PANTO PUSHER and I can’t wait to see what your Beanstalk looks like next year!

(This review is for the evening performance that took place Friday, December 13th, 2013. It continues through January 5th. Many shows are sold out but there is still some availability.)

Review – Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Mischief Theatre at the Pleasance Islington

December 14, 2013

The night before going to Peter Pan Goes Wrong, I had the misfortune to drop into the Southwark Playhouse’s Jack and the Beanstalk. It said it involved squirting cows and Mexican jumping beans, but what it didn’t make clear was that only the second half was going to be the actual panto – the first half was all the actors talking about the panto they were going to do, while acting like an outtake from a Three Stooges reel – bopping each other, taking pratfalls, pouring paint down each other’s backs. Supposedly all of this was because they were not yet ready to do their panto but, in fact, this was part of their panto, and it was boring. Panto is supposed to be for the whole family but I couldn’t see how this dull thing could be appreciated by anyone over the age of ten – I mean, forget slipping in political jokes, it was just so juvenile and dull that I was considering trampling the bored 7 year olds in the front row to make my way to an exit before the interval ever rolled around. Only thirty minutes and yet it seemed at least an hour fifteen! Consider me terrified as I sat down at the Pleasance and realized I was about to watch another show that was, essentially, a panto where people hadn’t got their act together. GOOD GOD WAS THIS REALLY GROUNDHOG DAY?

Okay, well, I didn’t feel that way beforehand – I was all excited because I had been comped in as part of a “tweet up” and I actually had had a really good time at their previous show, The Play That Goes Wrong. But it’s a tricky thing to do a play about people making mistakes that doesn’t actually just feel sloppy (as I had been reminded the night before) – it takes really tight timing, impeccable stagehanding, and the perfect light touch of comedic acting, with a connection like adamant chains between the actors and a constant awareness of the audience’s mood.

So: the concept of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is doing Peter Pan, with certain limitations due to their Lost Boys having all been in an accident. This is explained to us before the show by the director, with additional flourishes by the codirector, who makes it clear that all of CPDS’s shows have been fraught with misfortune. The list is long, there were “comic” (read: irritating and, to me, forced) interruptions by gurning cast members, and the two of them start bickering. I think it was sometime during this bit when I began to wonder if this really was a play that was going to go very wrong as I was finding it tedious.

Thus when they finally started the play proper, I found absolutely nothing the least bit funny. Ooh, the nursery door won’t open, ooh, everyone acts like cardboard cutouts, ooh they’re having to “pretend” the scissors are a spoon, could it be any more forced.

Then something happened that completely surprised me. The look of shock on the affected actress’ face was wholly believable. Suddenly, I was sucked in. The mucked up sound cues, the stuttering Lost Boy, the mid-show replacement for Peter Pan … I bought it all, even the resurrection of Tinkerbell. Never has a revolve stage been used to such perfect effect, not even in His Dark Materials (may the NT take note). I was laughing at a pitch only audible to dogs.

In short, it was great, both faithful to the source material and a fine work of comedy. Truth be told, it’s funnier than many of the actual pantos out there right now – the only one I had more fun at was Cinderfella. Be grateful this is being done at the big space at the Pleasance, so there’s far more room than there was when I saw this company at Traf 2: go, go now, and go often.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 12th, 2013. It continues through January 5th.)

Mini-review – Puss in Boots – Hackney Empire

December 13, 2013

Well, it’s year two of the Clive-less Hackney panto, and, while I’m thrilled to be seeing him on the National’s stage, I’m beginning to think that, without him, it’s not worth the trek to the Empire. I’ve grown to think of panto as necessarily involving sparkling improv and gigglicious audience interaction, but it’s just not happening this year. Maybe it really was just Clive? Both the Evil Witch and the bad queen of Hackneydonia are fabulous villainesses, and there was originality in the geeky daughter of the dame (“Amnesia”) and the anti-romance between Puss’ owner and the princess, but I missed the political jokes and the formerly wow dame outfits. In fact, I was a bit bored. It was still a solid show, but not one for me. Oh well, I’ll try again tonight in Greenwich.
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Review – Cinderfella – The Divine Miss M at The Green Carnation

December 11, 2013

Lost in one of many identical streets in Soho, The Green Carnation doesn’t seem a likely home for the most rib-bustingly funny panto on stage this holiday season. But after checking out five other shows, I’m convinced this is the place to go if you want a really fantastic evening with a holiday theme. Now, it’s only fair to mention this play is not just not suitable for children, it’s to be avoided like the plague by those of a prudish nature: they call it “adult” but it’s not just rude jokes – there are (gasp!) sex toys on stage and way more descriptions of bits and bobs than you’d hear anywhere outside of the staffroom of a GUM clinic. I’d also recommend people that can’t take being teased or interacted with (most likely at the same time) stay home – we had a girl brought on stage and put on the naughty step for not cheering as instructed. I know some people that really wouldn’t enjoy that kind of thing – in fact, I know there’s people who would have rushed out in a huff within the first few minutes of the show starting. Fortunately, none of them were at last night’s show, so we were all free to laugh and sing and poke fun at each other and generally laugh ourselves sick last night. Whee!

The plot is, well, Cinderella, only with Cinderella (The Divine Miss M) being a drag queen (which is really different from being a panto dame). For your extremely rude dame action, we get the two Uglies, Rhiannonnon and Gaga, who are not just homely but positively obnoxious in a way that had me braying like a donkey. Yeah, the jokes (like them) were old and rude, but they (the jokes, and them) were great, and when they (the sisters) got out in the audience and started flirting with anything in trousers and mocking anyone they could get their hands on, well, there was a reason I’d wanted to sit in the front row, and this was it.

Musically speaking this was much more in keeping with what I enjoy, with a rehashing of “Sisters” (from White Christms) and enthusiastic versions of “It’s Raining Men” and “Dancing Queen,” although there was a One Direction song thrown in (complete with cute male dancers in very cheap masks). The energy level stayed high throughout the show, and, frankly, I can hardly imagine more fun for £15. On the other hand, in Soho, who knows? But this was so much fun I think I’ll be going back for a second round before the end of the run. Perhaps this time MY prince will come.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013. It continues mostly Tues-Thursday through January 5th.)

Review – Menken & Ahren’s “A Christmas Carol” (the Musical) – Tabard Theater

December 9, 2013

It seems that, when introducing a musical production of A Christmas Carol, you shouldn’t need to differentiate it by listing the composers, but as there are at least two musical Christmas Carols happening this year, one at the Tabard and a second at the Charing Cross Theater, a “by” line is necessary. I’ll note, though, that the second is not just newly written but not yet opened: this review is for the Menken (Little Shop of Horrors) and Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical) show, originally written in 1994 and receiving its London debut at the Tabard. For my money (or for £17 of yours), I’d bet on the known quantity over the “we haven’t opened yet but have given ourselves five stars” gang; and with a love of this story and an excitement for seeing a new musical, I was off to the distant reaches of the District line for an afternoon’s fun.

The story is fairly traditional, with a bit more focus on Marley and less on Fezziwig (and school) during the “Christmas Past” scenes, and a much more active Tiny Tim (he somehow limps up a ladder) than I’ve come to expect. The three ghosts are done in a Wizard of Oz fashion, with each of them appearing earlier in the story and then returning to haunt Scrooge later. I loved seeing cheery Fred Ebenezer (Anthony Hott) back on stage to chide Scrooge with his very happiness; but the use of Scrooge’s old girlfriend Emily (Grace Osborn – my apologies if I’ve miscredited this, Dickens’ naming was not followed) as the ghost of Christmas Past was less successful. Although she looked lovely in her fairy light dress, she gave confusing messages by changing character mid-scene. And I genuinely disliked the authorial choice to have the blind woman of the earlier street scenes (Elizabeth Bright) play the ghost of Christmas future – it just ascribes a level of malice to her I found unappetizing and deleterious to the message of this story.

A Christmas Carol (“the musical”) is written in the style of the modern “tuneful” musical (as opposed to the works of Sondheim), although the styling seems very much designed for the screen (big or small) rather than the stage – the words and melodies aren’t given the kind of importance they would normally received in a world free of closeups, and the chorus do a lot to create a setting (complete with movement) rather than being there to make pretty musical experiences for us. I’m not saying there was anything to complain about in terms of the quality of the singing, but I did have high hopes for a new musical and these weren’t met. I was also disappointed with rather more cheerful approach taken for this show than in many of the adaptations I’ve seen. However, it was fun to watch and moved along really quickly, and it did really fill the intimate space of the Tabard straight up to the rafters. I’d say it’s really solid holiday entertainment that is a good buy for £17 – I’m really glad I got the chance to see it.

(This review is for a performance that took place at 2:30 on Sunday, December 8th, 2013. It continues through January 5th.)

Review – Jack Off the Beanstalk – Above the Stag Theater

December 8, 2013

Just how much booze do you need to imbibe to have a good time at an adult panto? Based on my recent experience at Above the Stag, I’d suggest at least two doubles before the interval and a second during. This all depends, of course, on what kind of stomach you have from for the vagaries of the Scratch and Sniff card. Jasmine? Pine? Oh my God … is that Stinking Bishop? PHEE-YEW!

Jack Off the Beanstalk is the opening production in Above the Stag’s new space, a railway arch about 5 minutes walk from Vauxhall Station. It’s very easy to find and not at all dodgy (no matter how much that would add to the experience, but, hey, there’s always Chariots in the other direction for the truly bereft). It was having some early days hiccups the night I went, but the bar was in full working order, the seating was comfortable enough, and the layout of the theater still worked just fine for a light-hearted show – I mean, we weren’t really expecting them to put a full sized helicopter in the rafters, were we?

Plotwise, we’ve got a hunky Jack (Chris Clynes) and his dorky brother Simon (Toby Joyce) trying to save the Trott family farm, with some help from the friendly fairy, Fanny Goblin (Stephanie Willson), and the amenable Maisie (Rosie Bennett). There’s a fair amount of rural vs urban and northern vs southern competition going on, but the corruption of people like Lord Fleshcreep (Ian Hallard, unexpectedly yummy) is universal, and ever so much more fun when he’s trying to repossess a farm so he can use it for a lame rock festival. And, bonus; we have the mockery of silly reality TV celebrities with Cillian O’Connell (the rather tasty Joseph Miller), whom you can’t help but hope will hit it off with Jack so we can watch them both kiss and perhaps take their shirts off. Phwoar! Er, or maybe that was just me.

Unfortunately the first act dragged a bit (way too much time in the farmhouse with Dame Trott (Matthew Baldwin), who was certainly funny and a good actor but didn’t have enough material), and I found myself, oddly, wishing for more songs. I was also wanting some more political jokes – oddly, something that seems even easier to slide into an adult panto than a family one, and something which I really enjoy. But I liked the gags that got us scratching the numbered smell spots on our cards, and I was having a lot of run booing Lord Fleshcreep (and watching him flirt shamelessly with the guy sat in front of me), and then the next thing you know it was the interval and I was all set for a good gossip. My guess is that since this was early in the run, it’ll probably tighten up a bit (insert joke here).

Act two pumped it up (snicker) with the introduction of “The Giant” (Steven Rodgers) who managed to ruin both my memory of what “golden” thing Jack stole from him (wasn’t it a harp?) and what exactly got him known as a “giant” in the first place (I swear it was HEIGHT!). We got the opportunity to see Jack dance around in a tiny pair of golden pants and the much more horrifying prospect of Dame Trott in a giant golden pinnie. And did I mention Kylie the Cow?

As anticipated, it all had a happy ending, especially for the various star crossed lovers. I’d say it was a good night out for everyone – except for Lord Fleshcreep – and can happily report that you did get to see the people you wanted kissing at the end. Hurrah!

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013. The show continues through January 5th. Book quickly if you want to go as the groups of 5 and 10 that get block seats make it sell out long before the end of the run. And make sure you have a drink before and during the show.)

Mini-review – A Christmas Carol – Beyond Theatre at Baron’s Court Theatre

December 6, 2013

The Christmas season is now well and fully upon us, with most pantos open and about four hundred different versions of Messiah on offer. In the spirit of December theater going, I decided to scratch my Christmas Carol itch with a performance at the Baron’s Court Pub, which publicity materials had touted as “funny” and “interactive.” My hopes were high, especially given the promised 80 minute running time – hey, if push came to shove, we were already in a pub, so it would just be like a break in a night of holiday drinking.

I think, though, I was not expecting this to be done with in a sketch comedy style. Scenes were constantly interrupted by actors talking off book, we (the audience) were asked to provide background noises (bells, clanking chains), perform (as the guests at Fezziwig’s party, for example), and were being interacted with quite directly by the performers from the moment we walked in the door. I wasn’t really up for this: I didn’t want to hold sausages or play games or otherwise engage in forced jollility. I wasn’t convinced that what was happening was particularly funny and I just wanted to be left alone.

Unfortunately in such a small space this was almost impossible, and with no place to escape it all became rather oppressive. (Have I mentioned I don’t like sketch comedy?) There were some highlights – I did love the special effect they used to create Scrooge’s door knocker (two sheets of paper) and (spoiler alert!) having Bob Marley instead of Jacob Marley was just genius. But so many of the distractions and horsing around just didn’t tickle my funny bone at all, and it made me grumpy. This was my idea of hell: being trapped in a room with five comedians, twenty audience members, and no place to go.

For raw comedy, this didn’t touch the infamous Black Light Christmas Carol I saw in 2004 (child actors drinking and being hostile, I loved it), and it just didn’t really move me the way this story can. So, in summary: bah humbug. Wish me better luck at the Tabard this Sunday.

(This review is for a performance that took place December 5th, 2013. Tonight is the last night.)