It’s odd to be going to shows not as the wide eyed novice, but as the return visitor who has pretty clear ideas about what to expect. I love being surprised; but there’s a lot to be said for choosing a known quantity with an anticipatable payout. In the case of the Above the Stag panto, this means lots of crude jokes, a queen for a dame, and a gay lead character. They’re shows meant for adults (it is in a pub after all) and they go down best with rather a lot of drinks. Sounds like a winning formula, don’t you think?
This year we have a new script (one I hadn’t heard of as a panto piece before), “Treasure Island,” which, with usual subtle humor has the add-on title “Curse of the Pearl Necklace.” Now, this is plenty rude enough, but as it turns out the necklace in question is a major part of the story line and has absolutely no connection to whatever sort of dirty thing you might have thought it meant. It’s a piece of jewelry, it is held together (a bit too tightly in some scenes) with a clasp, it draws misfortune on the wearer – and, unsurprisingly, it draws rude jokes at the end of the show. And in the middle, if I remember correctly, and possibly even the first time it appears on stage. In fact, one might think this item was chosen for its endless ability to feed tasteless humor; even at the end of the show I was still laughing as the jokes had become fresh again (as had my drink).
So, plot! This year we are transported to Cornwall, where Sally Hawkins (Philip Lawrence, on good form) runs a trashy little pub called the Royal Bumboy with her son Jim (Lucas Livesy, bandy legged and believably on the make) and his friend Marina the adorable young lesbian (Briony Rawle, very sunshiny). Into their lives walks baddy Long John Silver (Alex Wood, not quite evil enough for the part) and Prince Daryl of Atlantis (Luke Webber, hunky). Silver wants a map to buried treasure, Daryl wants to get home, and everyone else mostly seems to be looking for love. Will happiness be found for all (except those who have lost certain parts of their anatomy, not their hands, and had them replaced by a hook)? Will The Captain (Andrew Truluck) find his missing daughter Miranda (Ellen Butler) before his other daughter Josephine (also Ellen Butler) can take over her share of her trust fund? Will Merman Ethel become human again? Will the man in the front row that Silver keeps flirting with ever take offense? Will the audience be able to finish their drinks after they’ve been shpritzed with silly string? These are the kind of questions this show raises, and, believe me, it’s definitely not Chekov.
I was actually a bit disappointed with this production despite really liking the characters and enjoying some of the clever settings (the boat was great) and ideas (an island with tide pools filled with booze cracks me up). We had some great characters to work with (Marina was great, our dame Sally was extremely strong, and Ellen butler was hysterical in her dual role), but it didn’t really gel for me. The songs were few and forgettable, but mostly the cast didn’t seem like they’d gelled with each other. I was also really hoping for some slightly more subversive/political humor than we got … was this just too grim of a year to poke fun at the politicians? Still, this was my third panto in a row, and early in the run, so I expect the show will firm up (ho ho ho) as things settle in. If you’re looking for a gay old time, this is the right show to see, and it will only be more charming with a bit of pirates’ punch poured down your throat. Arr, mateys! No kids and just the kind of people you’d want to hang out with in the audience, why not make this where you find your Christmas cheer?
(This review is for the performance that took place on December 3, 2014. It continues through January 10th.)