North-West Essex Theatre Guild - Full-length Drama Festival, 1989-90.

 

"Little Miss Muffet" by PAUL REAKES - Little Waltham Drama Group,

 

 

The Pantomime is unfamiliar to me - I have never come across it before. The author has taken the basic nursery rhyme and embellished it with all sorts of deviations, some original, some "borrowed" from a variety of other sources and other pantomimes. Nothing wrong with that - after all Shakespeare was notorious for the practice - as long as things are given a fresh slant with the usual things employed in new ways and unfamiliar things served up as normal.

This, for the most part, held good and the material was certainly as pregnant with stage possibilities as many examples of the rather tired and hackneyed stuff that has become threadbare from constant exposure.

 

The Presentation was reasonably well set with the different locations suggested by backcloths that, without being brilliant, showed off some bright, clear painting with cheerful and disarming touches of wit and charm. The initial quayside, with the schooners at anchor in the bay, set the tone for this aspect of the visual appeal immediately and the Forest Glade and the Weird Woods of Valador continued the process to some effect. The lighting served its purposes. well. The green spot for the sea-sick session a splendid, stomach-heaving touch and the dramatic haralding of MORAC's first entrance very atmospheric. So too the wind-storm and thunder and lightning which was quite spectacular. However the light for the pianist was too bright to make JASPER's disappearance completely convincing and needed to be switched off momentarily. and the paper bag gag didn't really work despite the token reinforcement from the band, which was its usual skilful and sympathetic self. The bang for the cannon too was pretty feeble when what was wanted was an explosion that shook everyone in their seats and a monumental flash and cloud of smoke. Ditto the exploding parcel which was rather tame.

 

The wardrobe was of the right style and type with some extravagant costumes for the Dame - I loved the see-through skirt and the statutory Union Jack knickers and the gleaming blue satin finale outfit - and the subtle enhancement of the Fairy from her "futile" outfit - were they really surgical stockings to begin with? - to the glimmering glamour of the finale raiment. The Princess too looked lovely in her shining pink and MORAC's gear and that of her Demons was first rate in its malevolent quality.

The blue-and-white theme for the nautical nature of the chorus was a clever idea but ideally its members too needed something extra far the finale. Little Miss Muffet looked lovely all her clothes but be careful with that mob-cap which, so far forward tended to diminish the effect of very pretty eyes. The gorilla skin very lifelike.

 

Make-up was first-rate in every case with MORAC's and that of her demons very effective indeed. Her long, long hair flowing behind her was splendid and the light colour a telling contrast to her toad-like complexion and basically sombre robes. The Fairy nicely coloured up.

 

Stage management reasonably swift and. efficient and Front-of-House welcoming and anxious to assist in answering questions.

 

 

The Production was a trifle long and might have been slightly cut by either leaving out the preliminaries to the wall- papering routine which is so old these days it has whiskers on it, or speeding up the taking up of cues which tended to leave infinitesimal gaps. Taken singly these were of no real consequence but in accumulative form over the evening, I reckon you could have knocked off nearly ten minutes to advantage. I hasten to say that the excursion into the audience of the Comedians, FLIP and FLOP, with paste-brushes at the ready was among the funniest moments of the entire show, partly because it was done at speed and partly because the pregnant threatening pauses paradoxically hastened the whole gloriously messy episode on its merry way. (More of this under Acting,)

 

There were some good gags in the dialogue and shrewd direction exploited these very well. I have never heard a Communal raspberry before - Smashing! Shades of the Two Ronnies! The "second Shirley Williams" allusion very funny also, and the local references clearly amused the audience, even if they were Greek to me. Movement was purposeful if sometimes cramped. The "Three Wise Monkeys" grouping with the Gorilla a clever touch with its lead-up synchronized limb positions and the "frozen" postures well held The Community song went on a bit too long but obviously this was cover for the costume changes of the finale. There was a rousing end to the Fist Act and the conclusion of Act Two was exactly as the song had it - "Delightful, delicious and De-lovely".

 

The Acting generally had a happy air of tongue-in-cheek about it from almost everyone and there were a handful of very strong performances to raise the average level higher.

 

LITTLE MISS MUFFET Pretty and dainty. Played up well and established pleasing relationship with her Principal Boy. Sang pleasantly and generally did what could be done with the p.

 

CAPT. JACK DAUNTLESS A good positive swashbuckling performance with a real thigh-slapping presence. Long slender legs with or without the kinky boots, effective attack and sense of the romantic. The singing voice never really matched up to the rest of the playing but she cheated her songs very cleverly. Well done:

 

DAME DOLLY DRINKUP  Straightforward rustic Dame with good projection and rapport with the audience. Managed the grotesque bit well and left no doubt that this was, as in my book it should always e, a man dressed up as a woman and having fun doing so.

 

GRANFER FUDDLEWICK Coming through all that face-fungus was a very funny characterisation A drunken old reprobate with spirit to match his accent, his "You do something to me" splendily in character. One monumental "dry" but otherwise a telling contribution.

 

JASPER GRASPER  Dastardly and thoroughly nasty - exactly as this sort of villain should be: Strong vocal attack and expressive body language. Enjoyed the boos and hisses and we enjoyed him.

 

FLIP & FLOP  An extremely droll pairing, with the former very funny in his own right as well as rein in the wilder excesses of his extrovert partner. The first named a very good stooge indeed and the second like a rampant NORMAN WISDOM hyped up on his obvious and very attractive linking with the audience. Bags of dash and attack, very comical vocal and facial expressions and instinctive timing - I wasn't aware of the threat of being sprayed until it happened despite his cleverly-arranged proximity and found it as amusing as the rest of the audience.(Thank you for the seemingly genuine note of amazement in your voice with "My God: an adjudicator who can sing:") One tiny note of caution to the second character - do be aware of outstaying the limit of credibility on any one sequence - you can go on just too long!

 

PRINCESS VALTINA Not easy to s lend most of your time as a Spider but spoke up well to explain the situation and transformed very sweetly at the end.

 

KING VALENTINE & QUEEN VALTORA A long, long wait before appearing and then not an awful lot to get the teeth into. Looked good and voiced their joy quite pleasantly.

 

MORAC Has the Noise Abatement society heard about her? I have seldom heard a more "everyone in sight with unspeakable torment. The cackling maniacal laugh, the sweeping movement and the command of the character very impressive indeed. Very well done:

 

THE GOOD FAIRY An absolute hoot as an adversary to the Powers of Darkness. I loved the wilting wand which seemed to have a life all of its own and the arthritic, near geriatric dancing gait. The accent beautifully calculated to highlight and underline her controlled absurdities and the "Why am I always a Trainee?" a knockout. I made this the outstanding performance of the show despite some fierce competition elsewhere. Very well done indeed:

 

BOY & GIRL Bright, clear and mischievous with good unforced projection from the male element and pleasant appeal from the female. Well done both:

 

GORILLA  More exposure for this refugee from "KingKong" than is customary but took full advantage of all his opportunities with zest and vigour. Splendid animal movement and grunting growls. Filled in with the front-row of the audience very cleverly to cover a gap and played up the threesome very amusingly.

 

BARMAID, SAILORS All played and sang with energetic vitality and praiseworthy lung­power. Looked to be thoroughly involved instead of merely making up the numbers as id so often the case. Well done:

 

DEMONS Gyred and gimbled in true eldritch fashion in pursuit of their loathsome craft as acolytes of their ghastly mistress. Well done:

 

Summation A fairly lengthy but always absorbing pantomime with some unusual features that entertained me thoroughly nearly all of the time. Well done:

 

Best Wishes, r

 

L.R.James Adjudicator.