Posts Tagged ‘panto’

Review – Sleeping Beauty – Greenwich Theater

December 7, 2019

Andrew Pollard’s annual Panto offering at the Greenwich Theater has become one of my seasonal favorites … it has a genuine home-grown feel, with fresh talent, gaudy and cheery sets, and an emphasis on storytelling, music, and fun that make it heads above the very commercial outings that make it on the ATG circuit. Putting a TV star on stage, or the winner of a “talent” contest, might be a good way to sell tickets, but it does not guarantee a good show. But taking a talented team and bringing them back together year after year – and fleshing the group out fresh drama school graduates getting lucky breaks – ensures the show itself is the star, and lucky audience members get to see the results – a panto with lots of laughs at a price you can afford.

This year the panto is Sleeping Beauty and it’s a celebration of the Greenwich theater’s 50th anniversary. Now, it seems unlikely that this theater is actually only 50 years old, but it did actually wake from a “long sleep” in the 60s, when it was refurbished after spending many years as a bombed out wreck. So the story of a young actor discovering a treasure in the storage area of the old theater isn’t too far off – only in the version we see on stage, what Ewan (Regan Burke) finds is a magic egg – the Fairy Faberge (Funlola Olufunwa) that transports him back from the swinging 60s to Russia in the age of the Czar.

Now the Russia scenes were where I was really grooving on this show. The backdrops of painted buildings with spiraling eggs on top were so pretty, and I loved the interiors that had designs taken off of Russian eggs. It’s also not the fantasy world I usually think of for Sleeping Beauty, though it was very much a fantasy because the Tsar was “Ivan the Slightly Irritable” (Martin Johnston) and his enemy was Rasputin (Anthony Spargo), who got a loud accompaniment of “Rah Rah Rasputin” every time he came on stage, much to MY delight (I’m a fan of music of that era). I think Baba Yaga would have made more sense, but she doesn’t have a catchy tune. The Princess (Anastasia – of course! – Esme Bacalla-Hayes) was pretty and lovable and had SUCH a voice, can I say her version of “Seasons of Love” was my musical highlight of the evening?

Of course we all know that neither the male nor female lead can be the star of the show – it has to be the dame! And Andrew Pollard as Tsarina Bertha delivers in spades, with an endless series of corny costumes, many bad jokes (I honestly had no idea a black pudding was shaped like a sausage), and enough ad lib to keep the rest of the cast very much on their toes. The designated audience target was not playing along very well the night I went, however, and everything seemed fairly controlled – things will probably become even sillier as the run progresses (this review was on press night, a week after it started).

Things became VERY silly when the Anastasia and the court reconvened in the 60s – in fact, they went to the moon! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dame in a space suit, and I’ve certainly never pelted the stage with moon rocks before! Somehow the kids managed to NOT actually hurt anyone, and we of course had a happy ending – much like the Greenwich Theater has.

That said – I almost feel like this panto was playing it a bit safe – almost no political jokes, although a reasonable dose of off color ones. I wonder: has the political situation become so dire that even a smaller theater is afraid to tweak the nose of the rich? Or perhaps Pollard was thinking his jokes could go stale overnight with an election smack in the middle of the run! Hard to say but I think the rich and politicians could have used QUITE a bit more being made fun of. Hopefully next year we’ll get a bit of zip and zing back in it – Panto is one of the few places where the disempowered fight back, and I want to see more of this!

(This review is for a show that took place on Friday, November 29, 20119. It runs until January 12th.)

Dick Whittington and His Cat – Hackney Empire

December 7, 2007

I decided to attack my sour mood today with a strong dose of Panto. So off to the Hackney Empire I went – rushing a bit (albeit unnecessarily) to make a 7 PM start time.

The theater was sadly only half full (especially when you consider the rave writeup it got in the Metro this morning), and we were berated a bit for not cheering loudly enough (“You paid your money, you’ll might as well try to enjoy yourself, it’ll get you out of here sooner”) and laughing at the appropriate moments (I’m sorry, a pun on “Black Pearl”/Blackpool Tower is a bit lost on me). But the singing was very much on key, if too much toward the moderne style that I dislike so much (I don’t know, does it really keep the kiddies coming?), there was a fair bit of fun dancing (I have to say the extremely skinny four year old was cracking me up), as well as garish costumes, sexual innuendo, and actors cracking each other up.

There was an undersea dance number featuring a clownfish sculpture that was so heart felt I felt it should be called “Finding Emo.” I really don’t know how spending time in Neptune’s Kingdom fit into the legend of Dick Whittington, but then, since I’m American, it might just be one of those rather obvious things I hadn’t noticed (like the fact it’s the Tower Bridge that’s the coolest looking Olde Fashioned bridge in London, not the London Bridge).

And there were MONKEYS. A whole scene, I tell you, on “Monkey Island,” with a giant, King-Kong style puppet. And there was a ship that floated across the stage, split, and sunk; and a transmorgrifying fairy that turned from a smallish human into a tiny doll that was pulled up from the stage into the balcony on a string. It all basically made no sense at all (this cannot be considered a spoiler) and I had tears trickling out the corners of my eyes during the very first scene. W and I had a great time and I consider the evening a grand success.

(Oh, and I should mention, both the Cat (fabulous dancing; spoke only in “meows”) and King Rat (in leather trouser and knee-high boots) were VERY sexy – three times as much as short-skirted Principal Boy Dick, who sang fine and had a great and chipper attitude but was sadly not allowed the benefit of a leather costume.

Bitchslapped by God at the Drillhouse

December 7, 2007

Wednesday evening got off to a rather stressful start when I went to get some money for dinner and realized I’d very much like to be paid tomorrow, if not yesterday, but thankfully, Miss Booklectic repaid her theater ticket in yummy food for me (Ooze; on Goodge Street, a risotto restaurant and clearly the best named joint I’ve seen in ages) so I was covered.

Then it was off to The Drill Hall for Bitchslapped by God. Well, perhaps it might have been a good show, and I think the actor (Everett Quinton) was more than competent, but watching him play, I don’t know, some eight different characters, plus dancing puppets doing a jazz Nutcracker, animated dolls re-enacting some kind of Snidely Whiplash/Polly Pureheart drama, and a trio of cutout faces which he used to play a series of elves having a chat with Mrs. Claus was just a bit overwhelming. He went too quickly from one charactter to the next (just basically turning around and addressing the air where he was just standing) and wasn’t really capturing the differences between the “characters.” It was some kind of anti-war thing (black helicopters snatching away participants in the Million Santa March), but … well, it just wasn’t coherent. Or interesting. In fact, I was kind of dozing off. When intermission rolled around, I dashed away as quickly as I could, feeling guilty about leaving booklectic behind, but … well, closing eyes are a sure sign it’s time to call it a night.

Tonight I’ll be seeing Dick Whittington at the Hackney, and I’m very much hoping I’ll get in a much more Christmas-cheery mood.