Tag Archives: #Pantomonium

News: Meet A Python! Terry Jones to Make Book Signing Appearance This Saturday

Official artwork for 'Nicobobinus'.

Official artwork for ‘Nicobobinus’.

Terry Jones, Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumni and children’s author, is the inventive genius behind 5* “…maelstrom of colour, activity, and wonder” Nicobobinus, currently playing at the LOST Theatre, London.

After the matinee showing of Nicobobinus on Saturday 20th December, Jones will be signing copies of his book from 4:30pm. Fans of Jones’ children’s book, young and old alike, should not only miss this opportunity to have him scrawl something on a beloved personal item, but should absolutely, definitely, see Red Ladder and DumbWise’s stupendous musical adaptation.

[youtube http://youtu.be/hqR4ZWg4klI]

Nicobobinus plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions and family tickets available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.

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Musical Review: Nicobobinus (LOST Theatre, London)

Official artwork for 'Nicobobinus'.

Official artwork for ‘Nicobobinus’.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

An utterly spellbinding adaptation of Terry Jones’ much loved children’s book. Has children and adults alike awestruck and enrapt.

Overview

Nicobobinus is a boy who can do anything! But one day, when a Golden Woman turns his arm into pure gold, him and his best friend Rosie must travel to the Land of Dragons in search of the only known cure: dragon’s blood. But their journey is fraught with peril, including murderous monks, surgeon pirates, and moving mountains.

Aye, you! Eilidh Debonnaire (front) as the Golden Woman, and Max Runham (rear) as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Aye, you! Eilidh Debonnaire (front) as the Golden Woman, and Max Runham (rear) as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Writing

Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumni has written a children’s book with wild imagination and whimsy. Characters are flamboyant and improbable who both amuse and wonderfully boggle. John Ward’s adaptation absolutely embraces and matches Jones’ creative mind, but also adds a theatrical imagination that wholly and inescapably charms.

Ward’s adaptation is one definitely aimed at a younger audience. It’s face paced, silly, and larger than life enough to keep the smaller ones involved at every moment of the way: laughing, gasping, and even quivering at dragons and dangers. It’s an epic weave of a tome with tremendous highs and perilous climaxes. Taking on Jones’ novel, Ward seems to tap into a humour that children thrive and love – just the right amount of silly and unpredictable: a posturing precisely honed at the level for small-folk. But simultaneously, there’s plenty for the adults too, including things like Monty Python and even Les Miserables reference jokes intelligently and unexpectedly placed. But most fantastically, there’s a universal comedy and tone that both parties involved lap up with relish.

The only thing that could possibly be lingered upon is that new-age morality that Jones injects, and that Ward perhaps stays on this a little too long at points. But even in doing so, it doesn’t take away from anything that Jones and Ward have conjured, or even dampens the pace and wonderment that the production adds to it. It’s just a noticeable thing rather than anything critical.

But overall, the fact that a two hour long show can keep children’s attention hook, line, and sinker without them fidgeting or chattering, is a mammoth achievement.

Life's a drag(on). Lloyd Gorman (left), Jofre Alsina (centre) and Eilidh Debonnaire. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Life’s a drag(on). Lloyd Gorman (left), Jofre Alsina (centre) and Eilidh Debonnaire. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Music & Lyrics

Eilidh Debonnaire’s score is beautiful, catchy, and energetic. It’s simple enough to grab the attention of the younger audience and to keep it, but complex and varied enough not to sound infantile in the slightest. Her scoring for an eclectic gaggle of instruments, from double basses and various saxophones to accordions, adds a rich and quirky sound which is just as interesting as the songs are sweeping and bouncy. But it’s not just in the songs that Debonnaire excels. There’s also some wonderful underscoring that replicates the imagination, rhythm, and the energy of the rest of the production.

Lyrics are straightforward and easy to understand for children, but still have a basic poetry that makes them skip and aurally intrigue. There’s really nothing bad I can say about the score: it’s pitch perfect for our pint-sized patrons, and also delights the parents.

Row, Rosie, row, Samantha Sutherland as Rosie. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Row, Rosie, row, Samantha Sutherland as Rosie. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Direction & Production

DumbWise and Red Ladder theatre companies have produced a spellbinding production using incredibly resourceful means. All there is by means of set is the stage painted like a giant map, and two moving halves of a bridge that alter their positions to suggest everything from the canals of Venice, to giant walls, and even a pirate ship. Couple with this projected images and textures upon the set and stage, it prompts a fervid imagination among the audience to fill in the blanks. Where imagination can’t quite deliver, Joshua Pharo’s video work keep the pace going using luscious animated illustrations. It adds to further wonder and variation that keeps adults and children engrossed. Elsewhere, Ward, also directing, ensures that there’s rarely a static moment, also using length, breadth, and height of the space to almost dizzying effect!

Everything in this production is spot on and well thought out. A maelstrom of colour, activity, and wonder: it’s captivating.

Golden Boy. Max Runham as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Golden Boy. Max Runham as Nicobobinus. Photograph: Courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Cast

If the adaptation, the music, and the production wasn’t perfect enough, there is also an amazing cast involved. Max Runham as titular Nicobobinus is exceedingly sprightly, bounding about the stage with ferocious energy. Indeed, on press night his fervour and dedication was so much so that he ended up sustaining an injury, coming on for final bows with a bloodied nose! Samantha Sutherland as Rosie matched him stride for stride, and together they’re exude an almost exhausting power and child-like quality between them, perfect for the roles of our exuberant hero and heroine.

But they are supported by a trio of supreme comic talent: Debonnaire, Jofre Alsina, and Lloyd Gorman. As excellent entertainers, they are side-splittingly hilarious to watch. Excelling at everything from facial physicality to physical high jinx and marvellous vocal characterisations, they keep both adults and children in roars of laugher throughout. They also work effortlessly together to create a close-knit ball of comic energy that is unbearably funny.

Verdict

Out-rightly one of the most magical pieces of theatre I’ve seen as both a child and an adult. A dazzling Christmas show that will have each and every member of the family utterly dumbstruck with amazement.

[youtube http://youtu.be/hqR4ZWg4klI]

Nicobobinus plays at the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions and family tickets available). To book, visit http://losttheatre.co.uk.


#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]

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.


Cabaret Review: Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

A frantic festive frolic from our Aussie Queen of home shopping. The Christmas party you wish you could throw!

Overview

Richard Rhodes, also known as Cookie Monstar, brings his other drag creation, Sheila Simmonds, to the Leicester Square Theatre for a festive romp to end all festive romps. Party games, competitions, celebrity guests, and songs agogo, this sassy songstress, storyteller, and #busylady brings all the Christmas cheer to the yard.

Structure/Writing

Rhodes, in collaboration with Stuart Saint, has created a night of true variety: a one-lady music hall tour de force. The evening goes from camp indulgences to audience participation skits, all with meticulous kitsch aplomb. It means that no-one ever really tires of a particular sketch or skit before it moves swiftly onto the next. You’ve got everything from 1990s family entertainment throwbacks, to salacious (and sometimes beautifully blasphemous) Christmas tales, songs, canapes, prizes, a disco-dancing hunk, and even a spot of roller skating.

Most surprising about the show isn’t the wonderful tongue-in-cheek shocks that pepper Sheila’s act, but that, in comparison to the sin-sational Sleeping Bootybilled immediately before and other drag shows, Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker is surprisingly wholesome. Even though there’s plenty of cheek and innuendo, what Rhodes does marvellously in this show is bottle a wonderful sense of joy, celebration, and community that comes with the season. Yes, it’s more adult than Boxing Day lunch with the grandparents (or so I’d hope!) but the smut is second place to the abundance of old school festive fun and reminisce. Each step of the way, the show is an exquisitely gift-wrapped hoot.

There is also a great sense of satire here too, especially in the right royal send up of home shopping channels. This wit also runs through rapaciously fun songs such as “The Old Pound Shop in Croydon”, where you can’t help but laugh and smile from deely bopper to deely bopper as a result of Sheila’s scathing observations and knowing nods.

Performance

Rhodes is a superlative cabaret performer, having the honour of being the first male to be awarded the title of “Forces Sweetheart” for his work entertaining British Troops as Cookie Monstar. As Sheila, the same wit and warmth is still present, just dressed instead in an Australian accent and lots of pink polyester. As is critical with any cabaret act, Sheila is able to riff off the audience’s energy and interactions with inspired moments of improvisation and spontaneous wit, making them as just as crucial a part of the show as the scandalous quips and the Werther’s Originals. You can’t help but be charmed from start to finish by Sheila’s ineffable personality. Furthermore, Rhodes must be congratulated on the excessive energy he pours into Sheila and the show, both in charisma and physicality, never flagging and always exuding a brilliant sense of humour and hospitality.

Verdict

A Christmas variety show so glamorous and lovable it makes Kylie look second rate. A perfectly bonza capture of traditional Christmas mayhem with a twist of camp and cheeky flare. Expertly entertaining. #loveit.

Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2B 7BX, on selected dates until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


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.