Pantomime Adjudication Michael Gray

group little Waltham Drama group

date seen 18. 01. 0 1

title Tom the Piper's Son

Thank you for inviting me to adjudicate on another of your pantomimes. As you know, I have long considered Little Waltham to be a benchmark for local community pantomimes. I have seen a good many of your productions over the years, and I was privileged to adjudicate for you in 1998 and 1999.



Overall impression


This was as funny a show as any I can remember, with a high standard of writing, acting and singing. The packed audience enjoyed it hugely, as we both did, though I thought it was a little bluer than usual.


This show was adapted from the oeuvre of Norman Bobbins, one of the best exponents of classic pantomime. Reading the script, it was not possible to judge exactly how much of it was his, since the re-written pages would seem to have been drawn at least partly from his stuff. The adlibs were yours, of course, and the local references - I'm still waiting for an invitation to a pantomime at Notley Garden Village [ my spell-check wants Motley Garden Village, I see ! ] so that I can see them get their revenge. Bonnie and Reggie were less topical than Posh and Becks, but much more dangerous, though in the hands of these two performers they proved as inoffensive as Bill and Ben. Other topical references included Bob the Builder and Anne Robinson, whose catch phrase has turned up in practically every panto this season.


All the perennial ingredients were there, with several beautiful routines, as traditional and as polished as anything in the Commedia dell'Arte. The verse was often good, though occasionally it sounded clunky and unmetrical.


The nursery-rhyme plot - strengthened by many clever references to other rhymes - was quite strong enough to carry the evening. As before, there were lots of nods to other genres, other shows. The characters were strongly drawn, with opportunities for many of your finest players to shine, and for wardrobe to do their worst.



I have spent many evenings wondering about the secret of pantomime success. I've seen the old Palladium Pantos, I've seen Roy Hudd and many classic dames, I've seen village pantos from Stock to Bucking.

I now think that confidence has a lot to do with it. You can have thin characters, tired old jokes, wobbly sets and a morose audience - only the second could possibly apply to Tom! - but if you've got confidence you can get away with it every time. You need confidence in your material, in your fellow actors, in your back stage team, and especially in your director. She's the one who needs to tell you when to push, when to hold back, when you've gone too far, and when there's no top to go over. And I suspect that this is at least in part the secret of Little Waltham's success. On a more mundane level, the tiny stage was excellently used, together with the apron and the whole auditorium, [ five different entrances ! ]to make sure that we were wrapped [ ?rapt ] in the action all the way through. In the more intimate moments, I was conscious of a lot of profile - maybe the more experienced double acts could give master classes in how to angle your body for the best effect.

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Pantomime Adjudication Michael Gray

There weren't many children in the audience - I know you did a couple of matinees for them - and there was no chance for them to go on stage - an opportunity but also a potential cringe-making experience - though they did get ((used)) and were given the chance of an Opal fruit or two.


The audience song - a particularly gruesome example - was well organised, though there was little rivalry between the two halves.


There was no walk-down, which meant that those special frocks weren't perhaps greeted as they deserved, [ I loved the pheasant headdress ] though the final number which replaced it was very effective if perhaps one chorus too long.

front of house


We arrived at 7.30, to a typically warm welcome. Still no door on your porch, but once the show was underway the Memorial Hall warmed up nicely. The seats had a promising cushion provided, though by the end of the show a certain numbness was inevitable. There were two A4 warnings about the strobe, also mentioned in the programme, but no spoken warning. The emergency lights were not lit at all during the show, I think. It was difficult to deal effectively with late-comers. If you had a foyer, I think your licence would require you to have some-one stationed in it throughout.-.

The 50 pence programme - incredible value these days, for our Christmas Treat at the Savoy Theatre it cost ten times that much - was sponsored, as was the production as a whsle. It was a fascinating read, with reminiscences is it really your 29th time?, a useful article on pantomime, the origin of the _rhyme; and a plug for Edwin's website.

The curtain rose promptly at 7.45.

And I particularly admired the efficient way the cast got out of their frocks and into the pub by 10.45.



As usual, the proscenium arch to each side held the promise of things to come - the queen and the Knave - with a clever teaser in the shape of a big red arrow stage right.


The sets were mainly cloths, beautifully painted, especially the one with all the Nursery Rhymes on it, There was a spooky cave for Medusa, too. The rock in the same scene had lights chasing over it - a technical triumph I'm sure, but I wondered what was the point. The tree with the falling apples, called for here by tradition and indeed the script, was deftly substituted by a bolt of lightning. A lot of the action was out front, some of it inevitably front of cloth.


Pheasants and fish. The former wisely suggestedby splendid tail feathers but mostly left to the imagination, the latter throw-away puns. Was that a real fish ? Does the RSPCA know ? Was it fresh every night ? Who kept it in their freezer ? 1 was slightly disappointed not to see it fly out into the audience.

Medusa's head deserved its titter, I'm afraid.

I liked the pastry pigs, though of course they would have been more the size of Eccles cakes. A marketing opportunity missed here, perhaps ?

.. page 2 21/01/01

Pantomime Adjudication Michael Gray stage management


I've already mentioned the multiple entrances. We take all this for granted, but as last year's revival of Noises Off reminds us, there is often chaos backstage. Did I notice two-way radios ? Essential I would think to the split-second timing required. There were only or two very slight delays, well covered by business and ad lib. As l said in my remarks about direction, it's all about confidence, really, and it was clear that we had a reliable, professional team here. Smoke was effectively used.



An incredibly high standard. Nanny, for example, was dressed in period correct grey, complete be with her glasses, little watch and bossy boots. Medusa too was beautifully costumed, with her hair and her gloves. The fairy had fluffy wings, and hair and her gloves. The fairy had fluffy wings, and there was a good jerkin and hose far Tom. The Princess was not flattered by the metallic blue puff-sleeved number - I much preferred hex dress with the gold detail, though it did have something of Be birthday cake about it. The peasant disguises with the give-away hearts were a witty touch. The chorus were brightly costumed - Laura I wrote on my notepad well before the throwaway joke came along. Not sure about those felt hats for the men, though. Amy panto costume designer worth her salt will go to town on the Dame, and we were rat disappointed. The fashion far bare MISS K the most inclement weather was neatly guyed, though a stronger stomach was needed for the tight close-ups to which we were treated...




As usual, wonders were achieved. The strobe looted good, and the follow-spot got its moment of glory in the funny business with the moon -beautifully executed with a steady hand. I did feel that in this same scene do singers were underlit. Stronger lighting, but from a single source with bluer gels would have been my ideal solution. And maybe the hand-held torches needed to have a bigger beam..

The lightning effect sounded better than it looked.




Recorded music was sparingly used to good effect. Medusa was I think alone in using a radio mic. Was this to enhance her voice, or because she was suffering from a throat? If the former, more distortion would have made the purpose clearer.




The usual line-up, but with a much improved piano, gave sterling support to the cast. Another tradition is the walkabout music, though I failed to recognise it this year.

I began to feel that the pumping guitars heralding every entrance of the men in black was getting a tad repetitive, but getting the running joke with Ronnie saved the day.

The numbers were very varied in style. I liked the Boogie and the Knave's big number. I was less happy about the use of Cabaret - too precise, too well known to adapt, perhaps. What's wrong with that old favourite Come to the Fair ?

All the numbers were well put across, with good attack and sense of style.



There good deal of quite demanding dance work; the chorus were, good on the nifty footwork, though the detail tended to be lost for want of a rake.




Medusa had an excellent make-up, topped oh with her trade-mark snaky hair (echoed, bizarrely, in the Fairy's messy wand ). There were some clever touches, like the sparkly mascara [?] for the Queen.

Elsewhere the effect was variable. I felt that generally there was too much make-up. Admittedly, the Dame must have the full slap, but Nanny, for example, was quite capable of creating the character without painting on so many lines. And it you are going to paint lines, we ideally need a highlight for every shadow, as those old Leichner charts used to tell us. The chorus make-up was waned too, and often over-done. A little colour to hide the winter pallor is probably enough. Make-up at this distance is not going to make us look younger, or thinner. Some make-up was stylised, others were natural, for no apparent reason.



Cast in order of appearance


The Knave of Hearts


Started the proceedings very strongly. With his costume and Crookback wig, he could have been in Shakespeare. Beautifully delivered lines, and as 1 suggested earlier, very good in his song.




Underused in this version. Looked brilliant, moved very effectively, and spoke, or hissed, her lines in a really menacing fashion.


Fairy Harmony


This Good Fairy looked the part. Pure, strong and very attractive. A bit of a cipher, as a character, though, as is often the case. In panto, as elsewhere, the Devil often gets the best character and the best lines, as well as the best tunes.


Jack Horner


A blonde Londoner, this little Jack Horner. A boldly conceived character, with a good leg for the obligatory tights - though no fishnet, I note with slight disappointment.


Kitty Fisher


a simple village girl, who made the most of what opportunities she was given


Tom Sprightly


Despite one ironical slap of the Hugh, there was little of the cliched principal boy about this character. Well acted, though occasionally colourless - <<Mother, Georgie, come back ! ; he kept the plot moving, and provided a useful foil for the others, notably


Dame Sprightly


A near faultless performance from a Little Waltham favourite. Stepping easily in and out of character, he milked the terrible jokes for all they were worth, and showed the proper respect for those set routines unique to panto - the pound coin, for example. Timing was exemplary. My only regret perhaps, was that this casting robbed us of another one-off character, such as Cuckoo in '98.


Princess Diamond "


I very much liked this performance. It was fresh, unfussy and warm. She looked as if she was enjoying every minute of her rote, which meant that we did two.





A beautifully observed character performance. It was exaggerated just enough for effect, and never faltered. I admired the way she ad-libbed, in character, when her dress got caught in the door. She also resisted the temptation to corpse much better than some I could name.


Georgie Porgie


All right, so this was a performance we've seen once or twice before, but you could say the same of Arthur Askey, and it didn't harm his pinto career. It was excellently projected, and the fluency of the patter betrayed the seasoned performer.




Again, the character - a very unusual one for pinto, and very well done - was only intermittently sustained, but this performer is always a pleasure to watch - he times his laughs so easily, like taking candy off a baby, which he also did with considerable charm.




The other half of this East End duo. Superb use of dead-pan, and timing to equal his ((brother). Their battered fish routine was excellent.


Old King Cole


Another doddering old monarch from this reliable performer. His soft Scots brogue is always a pleasure to hear, and he sang well in his numbers.


Queen Matilda


A Little Waltham debut of considerable style. She made of this consort a slightly bitter, entirely ridiculous woman.


Pie Seller


This equal opportunities pie man was only there for the plot really, but delivered her crucial lines with confidence and clarity.


Ship's Captain


Promoted from the ranks of the chorus to give a hammy reading of this stock role. I liked his lank hair and the grubby frock coat, which looked as if a parrot had been spending some time on his right shoulder ...




Was this another reference to Cabaret, I wondered. Good at pursuing people in time-honoured fashion.




Could have been bigger, even given the restrictions of your tiny stage. I still miss the razzle dazzle of the old days. The singing had plenty of guts and enthusiasm, though this didn't always extend to learning the words of the songs. I don't know what the solution to this is - with so few you can hardly take offenders out to be shot at dawn ... And don't forget, girls, keep your eyes up to the balcony - helps your posture and stops your gaze straying to friends and family.






Every one of us packed into the hall had a wonderful evening. I have made some niggling criticisms [ about the make-up, for instance ], but nothing detracted from the overall effect.

This is how village pantomime should be, indeed always has been in the best run societies, and I trust it will continue for many years to come.