Posts Tagged ‘Alim Jayda’

Review – Red Riding Hood – Greenwich Theater

December 27, 2015

I thought I’d hit all of the panto staples, but it turns out Red Riding Hood was completely new to me, so, whether it was for its tradition of excellence or because i wanted to try a brand new panto flavor, Greenwich Theater was a must visit show for me this year. Always done on a shoe string, their pantos have the benefit of an extraordinary dame and writer in Andrew Pollard. His knowledge of panto history and good panto structure has been endlessly on display over the several years I’ve been going to see his productions, and, in a sea of identikit productions with talentless pseudo-celebrities and an emphasis on glitz over wits, Greenwich has floated right to the top, horrible puns, silly costumes and all.

So, what is the plot of Red Riding Hood? Right in keeping with December’s headlines about Tory end of session giveaways, Red Riding Hood features an evil villain, Count Frackula, who’s headed to Red’s forest home with the plan of destroying it to get at the gas underneath. Red’s grandmother (played by Pollard) runs a theater in the forest, near a ski resort where … um … the three little pigs work and … um … a charming prince has come in disguise to find a bride. Really, the story is a bit of a mish mash, but we have comedy, romance, and villainry, so despite my confusion as to how the actual story was supposed to work (we’ve got two hours to fill after all and the traditional story just doesn’t have that much to it).

Pollard once again delivered, with fantastic dame outfits, songs that captured pop moments of the past and present, and piles of improv, which fairly destroyed the handsome prince’s ability to finish scenes but turned the evil count into an even more hysterical character than he would have been without the silver spangled codpiece (and a physique that filled out his black spandex body suit quite nicely, phwoar!). And while the three pigs might have been a fairly disposable add-on, Alim Jayda’s acrobatic performance as the boy pig took a side role and gave it real pizazz. Add on squirt guns, bondage, lycanthropy, and what do you have? A darn good time out. If every panto were this enjoyable, they wouldn’t be so quickly dismissed as seasonal children’s theater but recognized as the staple of British theater that they are. No wonder they sell out so regularly!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 18th, 2015. It continues through January 10th.)

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Review – Jack and the Beanstalk – Greenwich Theater

December 20, 2014

As the lights darkened inside the Greenwich Theater, my companion turned to me and whispered, “Is this one of those pantos starring some sort of washed up soap star?” “No,” I said, “That’s not really what they do here.” “Oh,” she said, “do you mean they actually hire people who can act?” “Yes,” I said, “and they can sing and dance, too.”

And yes, for it was the annual Andrew Pollard panto extravaganza, a.k.a. the Greenwich Panto, this year manifesting itself as Jack and the Beanstalk. Looking at the fairly simple set (front drop with snowy village; town consisting of two angles with a well), you couldn’t help but notice the difference between this and the glitter-ganza of the Richmond panto. Twenty courtiers, including acrobats? Here we had about six townspeople in total, all of whom looked like they may not have quite graduated from acting school yet. And with all of the extra curliques taken off, we’re forced to focus on what is in front of us; a simple, jolly setting for having a good time. We are told jokes old (the one about Jack’s father being squashed is at least 50 years long in the tooth) and new (the dame says when she knocked on the castle door, she said she was from UKIP “and they let me right in”), rehash physical comedy routines that are still just extremely giggle inducing (the rocking, farting couch just slayed me), and get to have a singalonga. The height of excitement (for me) for the evening was the end of act one, when the whole cast (including Daisy the cow puppet, hysterical and so adorable) came on stage to do an updated “Bohemian Rhapsody” with lyrics that cunningly mirrored the original while making it clear Jack was just going to have to climb that beanstalk. It was really worth the price of admission and a moment of pure panto madness, the kind I wait for all year.

Some time during the middle I asked, “So is this a good panto or a bad panto?” and my friend said, “There is no good or bad in panto: they are all inherently panto.” Well, some pantos are more panto than other, and if you want one that’s going to have you laughing, singing, and wiping the tears away, I highly advise a visit to Greenwich this Christmas season. And don’t feel too bad for Alim Jayda: I think he loves being a baddie.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 18th, 2014. It continues until about January 11th.)

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.)