Put simply, pantos should deliver good-hearted, jolly entertainment – and that’s exactly what Wellington Pantomime Group’s ‘Puss in Boots’ does.
Set in Holland with a plot very loosely based on the fairy tale, the show presents a roll-call of ridiculous characters and even more ridiculous events. There’s a dotty Queen, dim King, nasty villain, nutty professor, a prince who’s neither rich nor noble (nor even male), a cobbler, a pair of foolish millers and a cat who’s a hero. Around them is an ensemble of citizens, spooks and rabbits who add to the madness and make many a song and dance about the story.
As Puss Jack Glanville leads the way. He is, in effect, the Master of Ceremonies and has the required confidence and performance skills to generate wholehearted audience participation. His movement is hardly feline but is big and bold and his expressive voice allows changes to pitch, pace and tone – literally hitting all the right notes. His dynamic performance is all the better for persuading his audience to love the cat rather than love the actor. Does his make-up suggest more ‘night-on-the-tiles’ than cat? Perhaps.
Mary Lewis is, as always, delightfully overstated and totally at home being silly. Here, as Queen Tulip, she is a sceptre-twirling Dutch windmill, generating her own energy beneath an extravagant red wig. Her partner, King Bulbo, is played with dithery dopeyness by Pete Watts, only saved from his wife’s sceptre-bashing by John Skittrel’s sensible Major Domo, Lord Edam. Alice Luke as their daughter, Princess Daffodil is simply sweet.
Of the three Millers, Glen, Max and Arthur, two are baffoons. Kathryn Fear and Dawn Morton are a double act whose role is to generate laughs; and they do – with big, physical expressiveness and, appropriately for millers, corn. As their romantic ‘brother’ Arthur, Caz Redstone steps easily into the Principal Boy part and delivers both the earnest poetry and the role’s songs with vocal class.
Michael Coles’ Blackleather, is a caricature villain, exaggerated physically and vocally. He looks perfect, all black leather (of course), chains and skull-like make-up. His nasty, gleeful joy at his own evil is clearly conveyed, but lacks a little variety in tone and cadence – and with three performances on one day during the run, his vocal chords are likely to be under strain. His transformation to Postman Pat is a delight but could have been more pointed without the Blackleather make-up.
The casting of David Waring as his master, Doctor Frankenstein, provides a successful and witty visual contrast and his running gag with his own stick works beautifully. When dress rehearsal teething troubles with his evil machine are solved, his major moment will get the laughs it deserves.
Accompanying the major roles, Penny Bradnum’s Magic Cobbler is a charming character from a children’s book – a good elf who speaks in rhyming couplets and dispenses magic; Margaret Liddel’s Tabitha, Queen of Catland is a startling apparition in diamanté and Kirk Shepherd stomps around as monster Klonk Nutbolt with all the flexibility of a spanner. His make-up suggests an unfortunate fall into a muddy puddle – or is it rust? The chorus of citizens, cats, rabbits, sinister spooks and a lion all contribute fully to the action both in the exuberant musical numbers and in visual detail.
Ashleigh Payne’s choreography adds valuable spectacle to the show. He is a very accomplished dancer himself but, sensibly, has provided the cast with varied routines within their movement range, ensuring a cohesion in delivery.
Costumes are, as always with this group, superb – right down to the clogs – and the set, whilst simple, is in traditional panto style. The lighting team have produced some wondrous colour and variety and the stunning disco lights will surely tempt the audience onto their feet and into the aisles.
It comes as no surprise that Director Geoff Cross is also band leader and percussionist. He has punctuated this pantomime with strict, noticeable physical and vocal rhythm, underlined by sound cues. This works to the show’s advantage. It is brisk, lively, clearly directed with an emphasis on pace whilst, at the same time, incorporating all the traditional elements of panto – and never missing an opportunity for overstatement. Well done to the whole team. All seats should be taken for every performance and there should be a queue for returns.