Originally planned as a curtain-raiser for Christmas, the much-anticipated pantomime had to be postponed until the festive season was well over, due to the busy lives most Wootton folk lead. It proved an insurmountable problem to find rehearsal nights everybody could attend and, in the end, there were only four run-throughs for which the entire cast was present and, to be brutally honest, it showed. However, the capacity audiences on both nights, when the show was finally performed at the end of January, were most forgiving and indeed joined in the fun with unbounded enthusiasm.
With a cast ranging from some, barely into their second decade, to others fast approaching the end of their eighth, it was indeed a great pleasure to watch them so palpably enjoying themselves and the general happy atmosphere was utterly infectious.
It is always invidious to single people out for special mention, but I know that, equally, cast-members and audience-alike, were in thrall at the skilful way the young members of the company handled their rôles, extracting the maximum of comic timing and delivery of their lines.
Jacob Oliver, for his dry delivery and knowing smiles, made much of his attraction to the very obvious and physically feminine charms of Karen, our principal boy, as well as to Millie Knight, who comically looked less than flattered by his earnest attempts and attentions. Ben Davies, skilfully manipulated his audiences and had some very long speeches to deliver as he begged them to keep an eye on his magic pot, and call for him if anyone approached too close. Albert Warner milked much comedic potential from his lines, and even inserted a few of his own, as he formed a very memorable partnership with his father, Andy.
Len Seymour, looking very like Henry the Eighth, but with a richly glorious Mummersetshire accent, made an excellently wicked Sheriff of Killingworth who lusted after the fetchingly lovely dedicated follower of fashion, Dame Tottie Glyme.
One of the many memorable highlights of the Reverend Stephen Jones’s performance – above and beyond his appearance – has since been often mentioned by countless folk who saw the show, and that was where the Dame left the stage to greet the Rector and try to persuade him to join her. “Do come in, Rector,” she wheedled ingratiatingly. “No, I won’t just now, thank you,” he responded.
The audience was prevailed upon to call out: “Hallo, Rector!” and, rather sheepishly, the offstage clergyman responded: “Hallo, everyone”, much to our delight. And then the dame came back on and said: “What a nice man our Rector is”, and you could tell that everyone agreed.
The very English notion that all foreigners are funny was amply catered for by having a character with a heavy German accent played by a Frenchman. The excuse for his being there was that he was supposedly visiting his niece, the fragrant principal girl, Angelina.
“I am Hans’ niece,” she explains to Dame Tottie. “Are you, lovey? Then where’s Boomps a-Daisy?” . . . that was one of the better jokes, only you had to be a certain age to understand it!
Of course, she falls head over heels in love with Jolly Jack Glyme, the hearty, thigh-slapping principal boy, down on his luck, maybe, but not down-hearted, and played with bravely butch braggadocio by Karen Braden, heavy with an untimely cold and consequent loss of her usually soaringly powerful and sweet voice.
The cast were well-served by a splendidly talented group of musicians under the baton and keyboard control of Anne Leggett.
As for the plot, well, there wasn’t one – something that drove the poor frustrated Demon King to drink, sliding down Marlene Fisher’s splendid backcloth at the end. But for the rest it all ended happily – well, it had to really, as everybody’s fortunes were protected throughout by an ever-watchful and versifying over-forties punk of a fairy in day-glo’ tutu fetchingly set off by Doc Marten fourteen-lacers and a wand with erectile dysfunction.
Will there be another panto’? There seems to be an audience for it, judging by the way this one was received. It’s just so difficult to get everyone together to put one on, though. And also you need to find someone willing to write one