Tag Archives: panto

#Pantomonium Has Arrived!

My YouTube mini-series looking at panto and the state of British seasonal theatre is up! Go on over to my channel, #FreshOffTheStalls, or check back here for updates!

Episode 1: A Very Good Place To Start

[youtube http://youtu.be/8TSgXdgZzs4]

Episode 2: Panto After Hours

[youtube http://youtu.be/Gpkqv8AQJBk]
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Panto Review: Booty and the Biatch (LOST Theatre, London)

bootyRating: ****

In A Nutshell

A fantastic anarchy of panto, satire, and general filth, exploding into a larger new home with hilarious bombast.

Overview

In the French village of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, a cold-hearted prince is turned into a biatch and given sh*t Netflix connection as punishment for his insolence. In order to break the spell he must learn to love. Enter Beauty (aka Booty), who is trying to be wooed by UKIP candidate Nigel Garage. Her father, Crazy Old Maurice, after being capture by The Biatch, makes a pact to exchange his freedom for Beauty’s imprisonment. With a gaggle of mal-transformed servants, can Beauty teach Biatch how to love and break the curse, and enable Mrs. Pots to finish Orange Is The New Black?

Writing

Paul L. Martin, who until recently did bi-yearly adult pantos aboard the Battersea Barge, moves into the more generous confines of the LOST Theatre on Wandsworth Road. He continues to employ his trademark wit and knowing with gusto to create a colourful and daring panto, despite it being more risqué than the norm. All the trappings are there, including rousing songs and sing-a-longs, and high-spirited dance numbers. What’s great about Booty and the Biatch, though, is the cutting and no-prisoners-taken approach to satire, sending up everything from UKIP and Operation Yewtree, to the Disney version of the fairy tale on which the show has heavily stolen from based itself upon.

Whilst it’s not as out-rightly filthy as the capital’s other adult panto offerings, such as Sleeping Booty!, it doesn’t mean that Martin has lost any flare or frivolity. There’s still jokes about bum-sex and more than a few naughty words that slip through, but Martin still manages to ensure that a joy and magic that is crucial to panto is there every step of the way. Creating a solid panto as a basis for the evening is what takes precedence here, and therefore where the focus lies. If you take away the smut and the rudeness, you’d still be left with something that’s a hoot of a show because of this. With plenty of knowing jokes about the industry and it’s rivalries, along the sexual references and the send-ups, and you’ve got blistering funny moments left, right, and centre.

But most wonderful, as always, with Martin’s pantos, is just how relaxed they are. Yes, there is (vaguely) a script, but Martin and his company thrive in the fact that things are allowed to go wrong. In fact, these are some of the best moments.

Everything isn’t perfect, though. There are parts of the show aren’t as tight as others, and moments where the cast (and the audience) run away with themselves just a little too much. But it’s still all part of the fun, and are foibles that can be forgiven through affection, rather than becoming any major detriment.

Direction & Production

As well as these pantos have always worked very well in the claustrophobic space of the Battersea Barge, Director Vanessa Pope really embraces the larger venue. Even thought the audience is now bigger and more formally arranged, they are still as integral a part of the panto as before and are involved at every given opportunity, even if it is to trample through them and steal their booze! But specifically, what’s certainly most spectacular about this venue transfer, is that Pope has gone to wonderful lengths to include wonderfully ambitious song and dance numbers that were not possible before, and they’re delivered effortlessly. Couple this with Matt Overfield’s glitzy choreography, and you’ve got a fringe panto that can rival the shazam of larger more affluent affairs. For a company which is used to a very small space, you wouldn’t have known it seeing as how comfortable they seem here at the LOST Theatre. Pope also knows how to get the best out of panto pacing, whilst leaving enough flexibility for her cast to interact and improvise according to how the audience respond/heckle.

Birgitta Kenyon’s involvement on stage as Musical Director also adds a really nice sense of live music and interaction which the cast thrives off, adding fun and spontaneity that a backing track just can’t provide. Also, despite budget constraints, Miranda Evan’s costumes find a humour in their resourcefulness that forms as much a part as the panto’s jokes as Martin’s script.

Cast

Martin and his team couldn’t have assembled a better panto cast. Martin, as the dame/Mrs. Pots is not only fantastically camp, saucy, and ridiculous, but brings a side-splitting psychosis to his character, especially when interacting with Chip.

To point out but a few of the fantastic performances; Jamie Anderson as The Biatch is also as fierce as they come commanding an outlandish queeny bitchiness, with quick-fire put-downs and heels as sharp as his remarks; and Becky Finlay Hall is preposterously funny as Cogsworth, pulling in the laughs with her lovey-dovey professional-actor-in-panto demeanour, rapaciously sending up an actor’s sensibilities. But that’s not to say that these particular cast members are better than the rest. Everyone involved, even the cameo from the stage manager, all expertly contribute in propelling the illicit Pandemonium of this rip-roaring evening.

As a company, they all work off each other’s charisma, feeding off their own energy as well as the audience’s. Most surprisingly, however, is how well they actually sing together. There’s a real power, punch, and immaculate sound that they bring to the big numbers that makes them as incredibly slick as they are silly. It’s a unexpected touch of talent and professionalism for a production that knowingly postures itself as a little ramshackle.

Verdict

An anarchy most splendid. A manic panto with added naughtiness guaranteed to make you laugh your party hat off!

Booty and the Biatch plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU until 17 December 2015. Tickets are £18.35. To book, visit www.paullmartin.com.


Panto Review: Billy The Kid – A Panto Western

Ye-haw! The cast of 'Billy the Kid - A Panto Western'. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Ye-haw! The cast of ‘Billy the Kid – A Panto Western’. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Brimming with a side-splitting and unimaginable originality, Charles Court Opera’s brave campaign to blend the traditional with the different sets a staggering panto standard.

Overview

Billy The Kid is not the Wild West outlaw of legend, but a literal kid. And by kid, I mean goat. Under the companionship of Bukaroo Dan, who’s struggling to keep his ailing ranch afloat, this tripple “Best In Show” winning goat has attracted the attention of cockney snake oil salesman, Mumford. Mumford wants Billy to stuff as a prime and lucrative piece of taxidermy. To achieve this, he posts a fake eviction notice on the stead to get his hands on Billy’s hide. However, in a last ditch effort to save the farm, Buckaroo Dan and a motley crew of friends go on an adventure to find the legendary treasure of Riding Bareback.

(left to right) Amy J Payne, John Savournin, Bruce Graham, Matthew Kellett, and Joanna Marie Skillet. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

(left to right) Amy J Payne, John Savournin, Bruce Graham, Matthew Kellett, and Joanna Marie Skillet. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Writing

John Savournin has been penning original pantos for the Charles Court Opera for many years now to great acclaim, earning pride and place as one of the UK’s top 10 pantos. Whilst the stories might not be “traditional” fairy stories, it’s still very much traditional panto with all the elements there. Whilst the narrative is a tad unfamiliar, it still follows the expected ups and downs of a panto story without deviating one bit, and all the usual trimmings are there too.

Working with Musical Director David Eaton in Billy The Kid – A Panto Western’s creation, they tick all the panto boxes. But what they in their collaboration is an incredible imagination and comic ingenuity. They reworks songs with alternative lyrics, or inserts them in as is to create moment of bellowing irony, with devastating wit. We’ve got everything from Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” to Spring Harvest hymnals here, all bursting with tight jokes and punchlines. And it’s not just the musical numbers that bristle with hilarious genius either. There’s pop culture references agogo, plenty of shocking innuendo, and moments that just take you by complete surprise causing prolonged joyous torture to your already aching sides. The scene with the spirit coyotes (and I shan’t give any more away than that) absolutely broke me to the point I couldn’t breath. Likewise, the Ghost scene (not to be confused with the scene with a ghost) was gloriously too much to handle.

The key to the success here is that not only have Savournin and Eaton created a sound, solid, and superlative panto, is that it’s also a fantastic piece of comic farce: the belly-aching cherry on a rich gigglesome cake. If you stripped away the panto elements, it would still make you laugh out loud with incredible ease and would fare effortlessly as a piece of farce.

There are things missing in the sense that there’s no chase scene or an “it’s behind you moment”. But this doesn’t take anything away or make it any less a paradigm of panto. They’re not needed here, and therefore not forced into it for the sake of it, and whilst it might be a shame that such loved skits are absent, Savournin and Eaton keep the panto slick and effortless.

The only criticism I can offer is that it seems a little unsure of where to pitch itself. Whilst it’s certainly a hoot for adults, with so many references to things that weren’t around when most children of panto-going age weren’t born, it leaves a room for things to go over their heads despite the standard frolics, possibly risking their interest.

But over all, this is a youth serum better than anything Olay can concoct. Watching it, I felt twenty years younger, recapturing a distant childhood and making me lose all inhibitions to the point I got told to “calm down” by a fellow critic! But if this isn’t the measure of a successful panto, then I don’t know what is. By this test Billy The Kid – A Panto Western passes this test with flying colours.

Direction & Production

William Fricker’s set design is an astonishing feat of slick professionalism, and not just for a fringe venue. It’s Wild West Vaudeville veneer is incredibly colourful and impressive, but also brims with little details, such as the shadow puppet theatre-esque cyclorama, capturing the same sense of colourful variety as the show. Nic Holdridge’s lighting also embraces this effervescent sense of fun, especially with his green lighting and flashing strobe for the whenever the villain is saying his piece, adding more to an already pristine show. In fact, the entire production crew, from actor, set designers, and musicians bring and enhance each other’s contributions.

There are also fantastic moments of choreography from Savournin’s hand, bringing a sense of West End flare to this comparatively humble venue. It’s as fast paced and as high octane as the action and gags, giving the show a rapturous momentum.

Aright Jeremy hunt! Bruce Graham as villain Mumford. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Aright Jeremy hunt! Bruce Graham as villain Mumford. Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Knight.

Cast

All the cast, despite being established and professional opera singers, embrace the panto style and energy with grace and gusto. Particularly, Bruce Graham is an excellent villain, tripping through his rhyming couplets and hackneyed rhyming slang with grisly delight, making him an adversary worthy of every boo and hiss thrown at him.

However, it’s Savournin, as not one dame but two, who steals the show. He’s a physical comic performer of astonishing ability. As well as employing plenty of kitsch, camp, and knowing, it’s his little physical nuances, such as a single facial expression, that can make the audience guffaw with laughter alongside the groaners and the tongue-in-cheek.

Verdict

Quite possibly the best panto in London, maintaining it’s well deserved kudos as well as continuing to set a dizzying standard for it’s competitors. A monstrously funny unholy hybrid of the traditional and the original. If you happen to already have a ticket to their nearly sold out run, treasure it with your life! Otherwise, be prepared to beg like you’ve never begged before for a seat to this seasonal humdinger.

[youtube http://youtu.be/H7mfpOYR-BI]

Billy the Kid – A Panto Western plays at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, London, N1 3DT, until 10 January 2014. Tickets are £21 (concessions available). To book, visit www.rosemarybranch.co.uk.


Panto Review: Sleeping Booty (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton’s legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Filthy, puerile & disgusting, you couldn’t ask for a more expertly debauched adult panto. Laugh? I nearly wet myself!

Overview

Despite allusions to Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, don’t expect there to be much correlation between the fairy story and this panto. Exotic dancer Booty! wants to make it big. In fact, she’s destined to “take” the mystical golden schlong and thrust herself to stardom in the Pantoverse. With the help of her fairy godmother, Fairy Muff, and foppish Prince Willie Wontie, they’re on their way to achieve just that. However, Muff’s evil sister, Mangelina, has other plans.

Miss Dusty 'O' as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Miss Dusty ‘O’ as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Writing

Stuart Saint returns to the Leicester Square Theatre for a third year running with an adult panto offering. This time, instead of reviving Dick! for a hat-trick, Saint has penned a brand new panto. His previous experience with Dick! has certainly steeled him for creating the most shocking and outrageous pantos the capital has to offer.

The bulk of the narrative is mostly wallowing in absolute filth with an obscene amount of joyous knowing kitcshe. There’s everything from blow-up dolls, dildos, twerking, dogging, to some brilliantly revolting applications of “sexual detritus”, all aimed and shot directly at the audience’s faces without mercy, and it’s a hoot! NOTHING is sacred and this is definitely not for the easily shocked, the overly sensitive, or the sexually queasy. Even Operation Yewtree, as woefully inappropriate as it is to poke fun at, doesn’t escape Saint’s no-holes-barred assault. You’ll feel guilty for laughing, but you won’t really care. But as tongue-in-cheek as it all is, Saint’s application of satire, unexpected and unprecedented, provides as much a raucous source of fun as his puerile and salacious gags.

However, what actually makes this a great panto is not the filth (as brilliant as it is), but everything else. The filth is actually very mindfully held back and rationed, being far from going from one cock-gag to the next, leaving room for variety and never squeezing dry the sexual-comedy juices. If anything it’s an expert panto. All the familiar elements are there, from the sing-a-long to the “it’s behind you” moment, all executed with as much child-like aplomb as any more family orientated show. In fact, the best moments of the panto is the times when it pays homage to or sends up the “traditional” formula and genre. The “old school pantomime”/chase scene had my cheeks (the ones on my face) moist with tears of laughter, chortling with as much, if not more, glee than any quip about fanny farts or Jimmy Saville.

The only issues is that some of the moments get drawn out a bit too long, losing comic momentum in doing so and not being as tight as other parts of the panto. Furthermore, whilst Saint has done his best to make sure that as many of the panto “requirements” are ticked off the list as possible, some feel a little more shoe-horned in compared to others and/or don’t bring in as big a laugh in comparison.

However, in essence, once you strip away the explicit references, it’s an excellent panto: just as good, if not better, than anything Babs could conjure up from her career. Ultimately, without the presence of children, the stage is ripe for the taking by twisted-minded grown-ups, and Saint pulls an absolute heist!

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Direction & Production

The tiny lounge space might be seen as a hindrance, but with a bit of ingenuity and a smear of fairy dust, Saint and his team have done a wonderful job. It’s a simple stage adorned with ivy and fairy lights, with all but two entrances. The lighting, (low-budget) special effects, and music is enough to let the masters on the stage work their magic. Indeed, the entire production is just a splattering of scene and wonder that enables the talent involved to shine through. As much as technological spectaculars and outlandish sets are pulls for other pantos, Saint and his team have made sure that the essence of what makes a panto – the writing and performance itself – is what shines through, demonstrating that you don’t need a ridiculous budget or big names to make that happen.

A very special mention must also go to Miss Dusty ‘O”s costume designer, putting Ru Paul to absolute shame!

The cast of 'Sleeping Booty!'. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

The cast of ‘Sleeping Booty!’. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Cast

Saint could not have pulled together a better company to do this. Combing a mix of cabaret performers, professional actors, and comedians, all take like a duck to water to panto. Miss Dusty ‘O’, the show’s top billing, blends drag banter and panto patter perfectly to become a villain not to be reckoned with. Every punch-line is delivered with precision timing and tone, but most wonderfully it’s her spontaneity and cast-away quips that really make her a comic supernova.

Leon Scott as Prince Willie Wontie is also an absolute dream. Even though he’s a professionally trained serious actor (he’ll be in Shakepseare’s Globe’s upcoming production of Othello), it doesn’t stop him from being a tightly packed and bulging package of panto perfection. He’s got the energy and the tone that panto requires down to a “t”. Not to mention he’s distractingly handsome and probably the hottest prince (not so) charming ever!

The same praises can be said for the other cast members too. Rachel Torn as Mangelina’s side-kick, Tit-Bit, is outrageously saucy; Alice Marshall’s Booty! is brilliantly brash; Paula Masterton’s Fairy Muff is deliciously deviant; and Alexander Beck as You Look Familiar is a slick tour de farce.

They all bounce energy and delight off each other, often causing themselves to laugh on stage. They embody the very essence of panto: fun, silly, and care-free, and it absolutely rubs off onto the entire audience.

Verdict

Leave the kids at home, shut the blinds, and lube up your funny bone for a panto so dirty and hilarious it makes Ann Summers look like the Disney Store.

Sleeping Booty! plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 17 January 2015. Tickets are £22. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


#Pantomonium Sneak Peak – EXCLUSIVE Clip from ‘Nicobobinus’

In just over a week’s time, I’ll be launching a serial feature on my YouTube channel, #FreshOffTheStalls. Starting on 1 December 2014 “#Pantomonium” will take a look at pantomime and Christmas shows past and present, and look at the state of current day seasonal theatre.

Featured in the series will be DumbWise theatre company, who are bringing their family musical adaptation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus star Terry Jones’ children’s book, Nicobobinus, to the LOST Theatre this year in association with Red Ladder Theatre Company.

As well as chatting to them about what makes a Christmas show and how this differs from pantomime, I was allowed to film them during a rehearsal. Therefore, as a sneak peak for the series and an EXCLUSIVE clip of their upcoming show, I’m proud to present a rehearsal excerpt of “Morning In Venice”, the show’s opening number.

[youtube http://youtu.be/jiGI8eHKyCw]

Nicobobinus will run at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, from 11 December 2014 – 4 January 2014. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.