Posts Tagged ‘I Heart Panto’

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 – 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.)

Review – Snow White and the Seven Poofs – Green Carnation Cabaret

April 2, 2013

Easter is certainly not panto time, but with the downer of cancelling my holiday plans due to illness casting a gloom over everything, the idea of going to see a raunchy retake on a children’s classic seemed like just the thing to cheer me up. A posse of drag queens doing Snow White in a gay bar the day before Easter (and for £18.50 top price)? Sign me up!

I’m pleased to say that before the first act was over I’d 1) seen the crassest costume ever to “grace” a London stage (the prince’s, not Horrible Hilda’s, if you were wondering) 2) been amazed by the rudeness of the front row drunk girls (and the manly attempts of the cast to keep them in check) and 3) heard a song so shamefully inappropriate for children that it had somehow entirely failed to get a reworking in a single one of the standard pantos I’d seen during the Christmas season (“Whips and Chains,” which I’d actually never heard at all before thanks to quitting the gym a year back). Not a bad start, eh?

The story was, of course, fairly standard, but the subtext was front and center (the huntsman – Horrible Hilda, I mean – had an orgy with Snow White and two well-endowed squirrels rather than just leaving her to her doom) – and if we were short of subtext, then that meant it was probably time to pull a dildo from the box (AHEM the prop box!). There was also lots of profanity (the Magic Mirror’s greeting was “Fuck off, mirror,” which isn’t quite standard if you’re familiar with the tropes of panto) and general vulgarity. And just in case you thought you were safe, the cast came out and mocked you where you sat, one by one through about the fourth row (I got it before the show started, with some wrinkled geezer giving me shit for not knowing the dance to the Birdie Song).

Of course, it’s the drag queens that made this show fabulous, and who wouldn’t want not one but THREE egotistical, bitchy “dames” giving you all of the sassy ad-lib you could ever hope for. Well, actually, Snow White (Tanya Hyde, far more personable than the person they hired to do this role in Wimbledon) herself didn’t entirely go for it the way that the Evil Queen (“Mrs Moore”) and Horrible Hilda (Simon Gross) did (not that she didn’t offer to beat the drunk girls with her shoe), but two dames is more than most shows get, and Queenie and Hilda weren’t just over the top, they jumped the shark. Not only did we get double entendre, we got single entendre; and then of course there was Hilda’s quite literally minging costume not to mention the way Queenie felt herself up every time she got booed (another break from the usual panto tropes).

But you’re asking yourself, I’m sure, what about the dwarves? The whole key to Snow White (and only saving grace of the Wimbledon production) was the seven people of lesser stature they got to entertain us while Snowie was chirping about in the woods. And looking at this tiny cast, I was wondering: just where the heck were they going to find seven people period? As the various “poof” characters marched onto stage (including the confused Prince), we got up to six … and then, charging from the back of the house, the light board operator came on in full lumberjack regalia to round out the set with … a lesbian. The crew was basically like an expanded version of the Village People, with the addition of characters like “Subby” and “Fag Hag” – and rather than a cute little version of “Our House,” they did some kind of song that seemed like something from Benny Hill with absolutely filthy limericks. It was the total opposite of “normal” panto but then was as utterly, perfectly British as a raunchy seaside postcard … I was almost in tears.

While I missed the chances the show might have taken with political asides (like the deliciously topical Above the Stag’s “Get Aladdin”), the fun it did have with panto traditions (the visit of the Dick Whittington asking if anyone had seen a pussy was rich) and the genuine talent of the cast, both at singing (nice pipes, Snowy!) and at flinging the saucy ad libs made for a roaring night out. And me? I may have suggested that what the evil queen really needed was a serious makeover, but I was stone cold sober.

(This review is for a performance that was seen on March 30th, 2013. It continues through April 7th.)

Mini-review – Robin Hood – Greenwich Theater

December 8, 2012

It seems churlish to complain that I’ve just been seeing too many shows lately, but, well, I’m backlogged three reviews from the nine plays I’ve seen in the last seven days and I don’t know how I’m going to catch up. So I’m writing about what I enjoyed most first, and in this case, I want to tell the world that Robin Hood at the Greenwich Theater is a damned fun show and absolutely worth heading out into parts somewhat less known in order to see it (it’s only ten minutes walk from the rail station and really not that hard to find).

The story really isn’t much – Robin Hood is tweaking the nose of the Sheriff of Nottingham (which was very much reminding me of George Osborne, only slim and sexy with some really killer boots) by stealing money from him that the Sheriff is stealing from the poor (of course in real life the “sheriff” forgets to steal from the rich, i.e. Starbucks and Vodafone – really, the parallels with modern politics were so obvious!). Meanwhile, the Sheriff has got his hands on Maid Marion, Robin Hood’s childhood sweetheart, and has decided he’s going to marry her to get his hands on her wealth. So far so good – but the supporting characters are SUCH a hoot, starting with the “Camp Minstrel” (in a blue kilt and tam o’ shanter), Friar Tuck (the cook – lots of “fryer” jokes going on), and the Sheriff’s evil henchwoman (Caroline Koutsoudes), who for some reason was a Spanish witch (go figure). My favorite amongst ALL the characters was not, however, the Naughty Nursey dame (Andrew Pollard, who as he wrote this thing as well as starring in it is a genius in my book), but Arabella Roderigo as Marion, who whips off her damsel rags and tosses distress out the window to reveal herself as a warrior princes! She shoots a bow, she defeats evil, she belts out a ballad and makes it all look fun. What a talent! After complaining about how damned saccharine all of the female leads seemed to be, finally one that makes me want to cheer. Hooray for Caroline!

Er, I mean, “Robin Hood,” at least per the audience call back. As for the REST of the show, it was a good time from start to finish, with lots of bad puns, slightly risque jokes (pulling on my dingaling, MY) that I think were entirely understood by the audience of eight year olds, a slapstick number involving Tuck and Nursie “curing” the bum-hanging-out Sheriff, a running joke about the Minstrel’s unsung song, and piles and piles of songs that ranged from disco to modern. Bonus: when THIS show did “Gangnam Style,” the ENTIRE AUDIENCE leapt to their feet and danced along! My God! Such enthusiasm! That said, it was SO well placed and so well deserved, because this was a fun, fun show that had me clapping and giggling and booing and shouting at the stage all the way through. Greenwich Theater’s Robin Hood is an utter success, and I know I’ll be back to see it again next year.

(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on Thursday, December 6th, 2012. It continues through Sunday, January 6th. Nice job, Mr Pollard, you are my panto hero this year!)

Mini-review – Red Riding Hood – Theatre Royal Stratford East

December 18, 2010

I loves the panto. To me it makes Christmas feel like Christmas … in England. So when my friend Exedore said “Hey! We must go to Stratford and see the black Red Riding Hood!” I was all up for it, especially since I’d never been to Stratford and thought it would be a cool opportunity to check out a theater I hadn’t seen before. I am also frustrated by how London’s theater is very non-representative of its ethnically diverse population; the few shows I’ve seen that really made an effort either through choice of show (August Wilson) or casting to oomph it up to make me think that there’s a talent base here that isn’t really getting a chance to shine.

It turns out, though, that this is (appropriately enough) a mixed-color cast, not all black, but with the perfectly cast Chloe Allen as “Red,” I was not particularly bothered about the overall breakdown of the performers, but utterly charmed with an actress with style, presence, and a creamy singing voice. Adult actors aren’t always so good as 8 or 12 year olds but as the “I really want to do good, but I keep messing up” little girl, Allen was utterly convincing and a treat to watch.

Less successful, I’m afraid, was Derek Elroy as Granny. Now, I loved the idea of a Jamaican granny off in the woods waiting for someone to bring her a little broth to eat (and pretending to be sick because she doesn’t feel like cooking), but I expect my panto dames to have a huge presence, and Elroy just wasn’t there. He’s got a fine singing voice, but the “I own the stage” attitude was not out in full force. I blame a bit the costumes, which I think needed to be cranked up by a factor of 11, but there’s also a bit of blame to be passed to the script, which I thought was rather weak.

The writing did have some highlights, particularly in making the Big Bad Wolf (Michael Bertenshaw) as a property developer. Given the shenanigans going on in this part of town, this put a light political sheen over the whole evening I found most appropriate. And the ongoing jokes about the Woodcutter (Marcus Ellard)’s “big axe” (and how it wasn’t the size that counted, and the way he held it during the scene when it was biggest) cracked me up. I’m pretty sure it mostly coasted over the kids’ heads but I really enjoyed having a titter of my own.

However, I was bored by the whole “three pigs” subplot, and I found the musical numbers and dancing just not nearly up to the quality of the Hackney panto. Still, it was yet another sold out show, the kids screamed throughout, and the whole audience waved their glowsticks in unison for the big number that took place in the belly of the wolf, so clearly the target audience was eating it up. My opinion will have little impact: Theatre Royal Stratford East already has a hit on their hands.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, December 10th, 2010. It continues through January 22nd, 2011. Don’t worry if the show is sold out online; many tickets don’t appear on their map – in my browser at least – so you’re best off just calling the box office directly.)

Review – Jack and the Beanstalk – Hackney Empire 2010 panto

November 29, 2010

Early this fall my friend Exedore (that’s his twitter handle, anyway) gave me a heart attack when he told me, in short, Christmas had been cancelled this year. That’s right, Clive Rowe was NOT gonig to be in the Hackney Empire panto – instead, he was going to be in The Three Musketeers. Massive OH NOES! My one major holiday tradition (since I moved to England) dashed! I felt like I should go, just to show my support of the struggling Hackney, but Clive is my Dream Dame … in my eyes, There Is Nothing Like a Clive; in his absence, so much panto is just hackneyed. But three weeks ago I got the good news: Clive was in, and Christmas was on! I signed up quickly for opening night tickets and eagerly awaited the show.

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is … well, kind of different from the one I remember. As in many pantos, this one has a much bigger role for Jack’s mother, and (unsurprisingly) rather a long turn on stage for the cow. In addition, we get Jack’s best friends, Molly and Billy; two evil henchmen (the Beans, who fart and eat boogers and are generally revolting even without their green spotlight); and the most mysterious Mr. Snowmaaaaan, who appeared to be a Jamaican guy in a white afro wig and an equally terrifying fake fur coat. I was, again, pretty amazed at the complete lack of congruency with my expectations of the story, which was more about magic beans and giant’s gold and not a lot about fairies or who was in love with Jack.

Still, part of the fun for me is settling down into the familiar ride, with Susie McKenna tossing in topical jokes (the “demolition” government), reworkings of extremely familiar songs (“Easy Money” and even a song from Royal Wedding), and some fun dance numbers (I was shocked to see Mrs. Bean setting the floor on fire). Jack was a real star, both a talented dancer and a fine singer, though I was surpised somewhat that it was actually a guy in the role – still, I in no way felt short changed. The Billy/Molly bit was all rather long, though, and I found myself hoping that in later editions, Billy’s solo song might get cut – the loser male anti-hero in so many pantos (a la Buttons) isn’t my favorite element, and while he and Molly were big hams, they just didn’t enthuse me.

Clive, of course, was fantastic. His voice was as rich as ever, and his skill at ad-libbing got good use when Mr. Bean’s wig came off with his hat during the (inevitable) cream pie scene. Unfortunately, his Dame costumes weren’t as brilliant as in years past, even though they changed with every scene – there was just a certain simplicity and lack of whimsical detail that spoke of, I’m pretty sure, budget cuts. Still, the golden egg laying bird was better outfitted than anyone I saw at Wimbledon last year, and how often do you get to see a chicken tap dance?

Overall the second act, with its big musical numbers, was much more energetic than the first, but I enjoyed the entire evening. This wasn’t the best show I’ve seen them do, but I feel confident that with its street smarts, top-notch performers and well-written songs, once more Hackney will be the panto for the others to beat.

(This review is for the 7 PM performance on Saturday, Novemer 27th, 2010. The show continues through January 9th, 2011. Running time is approximately 2 1/2 hours based on my experience.)

Review – “It’s Behind You” – Union Theatre, Southwark

January 22, 2009

I am a big panto fan, no doubt about it. I spend the year looking forward to my next trip to the Hackey Empire and the most fun I’ll have in a theater all year long. I’m also a big fan of the Union Theatre in Southwark ever since seeing their Annie Get Your Gun” last spring. So I was very excited at the thought of this intimate, gritty space being used for a panto, especially on that was billed as “not for the kiddies” (as The Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella should have been). So off I went, adult companion by my side, to a Saturday afternoon performance for which I had very high hopes.

Things got off to a good start as our deliciously creepy narrator (Phillip Lawrence) escorted us into the tiny theater (set up with back and side seats, the stage itself forming the other side of a rectangle in combination with the seats). The set was particular low budget – just two painted drops showing “Pantoville.” We had a song and dance number featuring our various bizarre cast members – Stinkerbelle (Victoria McKenzie), “Mayor” Hook (Anton Tweedale, whom the narrator encouraged us to boo), a wheelchair-bound Cinders (Alison Edmunds), the bearded and hairy “Ugley” sisters (Warren Rusher and Richard Aloi), and the shockingly gay looking Buttons (Darren Munn). (By “shocking” I mean in a 80’s Richard Simmons kind of way, with a sweatband, fluffy hair, and eyeliner completely encircling his eyes.) These seemed to be a much darker version of the normal Panto crew, and quite the contrast to the various members of Mother Goose. The Ugley sisters were sex shop proprietors, Prince Charming (Victoria Jeffrey) was a corset-clad dominatrix, and, well, our Narrator appeared to have snuck off from Cabaret. So far, so good.

Our leads then appeared – a sort of Brad and Janet, but in this case, a Gary (Ross Henry Steele) and Karen (Carina Reeves), a couple who were apparently about to get hitched in the registry office before the male half disappeared into the loo (and Pantoland), leaving his very pregnant bride behind. The various plots then began to manifest – Gary (who kept not being found by Karen) seemed to be unwilling to admit he was getting married, Karen was hiding the fortune she was to inherit if she married, and (dah dah DAH!) people were being mysteriously murdered in Pantoland. A runaround began as Gary and Karen tried to find (or not find) each other, and various people attempted to either solve the murders or pull Gary and/or Karen.

Unfortunately, the energy for most of the first act just wasn’t enough to sustain all of this to-ing and fro-ing. There were some songs and a bit of dancing and some comedy, but I wanted things to be way more up and in your face. I’m not sure if it was because this was a matinee and almost the very end of the run, but the sparkle just wasn’t there. So much of the fun for pantos for me is watching actors hamming it up and having a good time, especially when things go not quite right and they have to start improving. For It’s Behind You, the line delivery, special effects, and acting all seemed to be quite where they wanted to be … and it was lifeless. Sure, the vanilla characters are always a bit dull, though Carina was actually quite on depicting a rather poor girl trying to make the best of a bad situation, but the rest of the characters just weren’t able to pump it up enough to make up the difference.

Oddly, I actually got intrigued by the late-arriving plot twist: Gary was actually gay and only with Karen to keep his reputation up. This actually got into a more nuanced analysis of this kind of situation than I would have ever expected from some silly flip of a play – how do you deal with this? It’s really just all too common, both pretending to be what your not and dealing with a person who doesn’t really love you even though they really want to – but can’t. It reminded me of high school rather a bit too much. This was enough of an impetus to get me to come back for the second act, which did manage to get quite a bit goofier and had a truly amazing ball scene in which people were sprayed with perfumes (“Anger!” “Honesty!” “ORGY!”) that made them all act most amusingly. It was a bit like the “Time Warp” scene of Rocky Horror, only far more pleasant. And there was a nice twist at the end as it turned out the bad guy wasn’t the person we thought, and Karen gets to (mostly) solve the murder, as a new mother – and comes to accept the fact that she needs to move on and let Gary find his own way … with Buttons.

Ultimately I found this show rather disappointing though it wasn’t wholly bad – I think I might have just caught the cast on a bad day. Or, who knows, maybe it did need a lot more editing and more fun stuck in the first act. At any rate, my enthusiasm for Union Theatre does continue and I look forward to seeing their next in-house production, which I think is going to be Jeckyll and Hyde (but can’t verify as their website is down as I write this).

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 17th, 2009. This production closed on January 17th after the 7:30 performance.)

Review – “Mother Goose” – Hackney Empire

December 11, 2008

It was three years ago that I went to my first Panto – the Old Vic’s Aladdin with Sir Ian as Widow Twanky. It was great fun and a real change from any theater I’d seen before – rather like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with more audience participation than I would have guessed possible. After I moved here, I made going to Panto one of my new traditions (along with fireworks on Bonfire Night) – it’s something I really enjoy! And for the last two Christmas seasons, the Hackney Empire has put on the best Panto in London, so this third round I went in with my hopes high.

One of the neat things about going to the Hackney is that I’ve become familiar with the cast and the style of the productions. This year once again featured Clive Rowe as its dame, rather appropriately the big star as “Mother Goose,” giving him the maximum opportunity to show off his pipes and the many fantastic costumes Lotte Collett cooked up. (He seemed to have not nearly enough stage time as Ma Whittington last year and I was glad to see him in nearly every scene this time.) We were mostly saved the trauma of the ever so dull “lead boy,” and instead had Abigail Rosser as “Princess Jill” and Kat B as Mother Goose’s postboy son. Both of them were fine, but as usual it’s the baddies that are fun to watch. This year we had Tony Whittle as “Baron Bonkers,” the henchman of Mother Goose’s arch enemy, Vanity (a sort of evil fairy), and Tameka Empson as Frightening Freda. I’m pretty sure I saw Tameka as Cinderella’s evil mother two years ago – her height and distinctive voice rang a bell – but one way or another she was just great to watch in this show. Her character, dressed in gold lame and with a million cell phones dangling from her belt like severed heads on Kali, was sassy and sharp and allowed Tameka to display her great comic timing.

Whittle had a hard time holding up against her, but he showed his brilliance this year (as last – I am thinking he was Dick Whittington’s employer?) in some top-notch improv, both times when Mother Goose made a mistake – first when a gag with some plates fell flat (as it were – they refused to break), the second time when they were doing a sort of love scene and they both were fighting so furiously to keep from laughing they were having a hard time getting their lines out. Frankly, Whittle would make it worth coming back to see the show a second time just to see what kind of goofy quips he came up with.

The show overall was full of fun, with lots of unnecessary singing (I just couldn’t get enough of Charity, the good fairy, played by Sharon Clarke, and apparently neither could the woman sitting next to me, who sang along with her rather a lot), cheesy rhymes, and a hysterical bit of tap dancing from the tiny tykes they have performing in the background (several times as sheep, which was also cracking me up). The show really went OTT during the “hell” scene, when Mother Goose goes into the bad part of the forest to try to get an elixir for eternal youth (or something of that sort). The black light scene, which included popping and locking skeletons, was far cooler than I had any right to expect; and the creepy trees were straight out of MGM’s Wizard of Oz. There was a moral lesson at the end (maybe two or three), and of course a singalong, which was as horribly unpoetic as anything you could hope to be forced to participate in whilst flapping your arms like a goose. In short, the Hackney has once more produced what I’m sure will be a grand success – and at the best price of any of the big house pantos I’ve seen, showing their real commitment to making family friendly entertainment. Me, I’m already looking forward to next year’s show!

(This show is for a performance seen on Friday, December 5, 2008. Mother Goose continues through January 10th.)