NORTH WEST ESSEX THEATRE GUILD

Little Waltham Drama Group

Thursday 22nd January


Hickory Dickory Dock by Susan Butler & Gill Haysham

I hadn’t expected to be the adjudicator for this pantomime but I am now delighted to have had this chance as I spent a most exhilarating and amusing evening in the company of the time travellers of Little Waltham. On my arrival, I was duly searched by the security agents, Tick and Tock, who, later on, also wanted to see what I had written ! I was in the firing line for sweets thrown by the Dame -opal fruits hurt! not that I minded- but I laughed, shouted, cheered, booed, sang and thoroughly enjoyed the whole entertainment along with everyone else.
I was warmly welcomed and given splendid seats with an excellent view. The buzz in the hall was lovely and so friendly, the village obviously responds well to this event. It concerned me slightly that the seats not being reserved made it difficult for some families with very little children to get seats that ensured a good view for the young ones.

Considering the size of the hall, I thought that the FOH staff coped superbly with refreshments during the interval.
The programme is excellent with a great deal of interest as well as the necessary billings.
I do enjoy the chance to read personal comments from the cast and admire their openness.
The extra information on time quotes and its history is very good and fascinating, I’m always amazed how often we are given more rather than less with amateur drama groups, they certainly put commercial theatre to shame.
STAGE MANAGEMENT
Ian Thorpe must be congratulated; there was a huge number of scene changes, numerous entrances and exits to manage in a variety of places around the hail as well as very many sound, light and smoke cues to be timed immaculately with action often dependent on these. The slick running of the whole evening was superb and all the stage crew headed by Tony White deserve praise. Judging from the size of the hail, I guess that space backstage must be at a premium so I was particularly impressed with the changes in backdrops all effected so quickly and quietly. The cast was in the hands of experts and their confidence was enhanced by this.
SET AND PROPS
The scenes were depicted with beautifully painted backdrops, all true to the pantomime genre. The front flats contrasted well and gave a framework of good/evil; dark/light and life/death which illustrated the text. All the childlike pictures used in the scene painting were well chosen and executed but my favourite was Neptune’s court; I thought the blend of colours coupled wit the costumes was outstanding. The stage props that had had to be used were also superb, I assume that Billie and Mike Bond made these. It’s clear that Billie’s talent is a huge asset to this group. The two dimensional kitchen table worked splendidly and the clock was magnificent despite Equinox having difficulty opening the front towards the end. Was the handle on the wrong side for her? The jewel was excellent too, its size was impressive and right for its importance.
LIGHTING AND SOUND
Like every one else involved in this fine entertainment, there was much to do. David Marcus and Edwin Leach had hung a wide variety of lamps along with a mirror ball, colour wheels, gobos and follow/search spots. These were all put to excellent effect so that the many changes of scene or mood were constantly given new interest, colour and impact. I especially liked the glowing mace, the disco effects in” I will survive,” the green searchlights following Meridian and his sister and the gobo use in Neptune’s Court but the whole performance was exquisitely lit. At no time did I feel that David and Edwin were making do but rather were giving each moment the very best that it deserved with the copious effects that they had attained for the show.
Similarly the sound effects were excellent too, despite a confusion near the climax when we were treated to a variety of sounds inappropriate for the moment as I assume Dennis Franzen hunted for the important twelve chimes. But did it matter? No! We had had such a riotous time that it added to the humour. There were some highly amusing choices of famous musk to help define entrances all cued in immaculately and I particularly enjoyed the cacophony of clocks and lavatories that accompanied Dickory Dock Mansion.
The music under Keith Coleman’s direction was magnificent, what an interesting array of percussive sound was used to create different moods. Apart from the electric guitar that rather overwhelmed the chorus in the “Survive” song, I felt that the music enhanced the action. The singing was very good although at times it was hard to hear the words especially with the chorus but their obvious enjoyment was delightful to see.
What can I say? The costuming of all the characters was equal to what one would expect at a highly professional performance; I was amazed. I can only write in superlatives at the quality of choice, fit, detail and finish that had been given to them all. The Dame’s superlatively striking outfits never seemed to stop and they culminated with the outrageous clock dress bedecked with numbers and mice as fitted the storyline. The millinery throughout defied words and I loved the outrageous earrings that added further eccentricity to her costumes. Cuckoo’s multi-coloured suit and erratic hairstyle complimented both his character and as a partner to the Dame. The two fairies glittered immaculately, I liked the fact that they always looked so precise so that we could concentrate on their dialogue. The choke of colouring for these two was excellent, so very “girlie!” The choice of green for the malevolent characters was right but I did feel that maybe some more extremes could have been given to them as they were rather drab in comparison to the rest of the cast. I did like the green witch’s nose and make-up! The queen looked lovely, her tiara was one to die for- it reminded me of a chandelier and very suitable for this regal character but I thought the till of hair was a mess. As for Neptune, words fail me; he was gorgeous in looks, colouring, make-up, height, hair and manner and his attendants were equally gorgeous. The movement of their dresses, the shiny and sequinned material with its watery design just made this moment of the show a joy to watch.
On top of all the work put into the main characters, the chorus was treated wonderfully too with many changes of dress for them. The historical costume cavalcade was a feast for the eye as well as a history lesson in fashion and the small but effective male chorus were pleasing too. I particularly liked the French waiters.
I see from the programme that there were many of the group involved in the costuming and makeup of this show, I applaud you all. The organisation backstage must have been superb as we were privileged to see an astonishing array of outstanding costumes, all beautifully presented and all given a lot of detailed attention. Thankyou.
DIRECTION
There is no doubt that Susan is experienced at producing this type of genre as all the stereotypical pantomime ingredients were used to great effect and as she herself writes, the team effort was extensive.
The evening was incredibly slick, well rehearsed and choreographed so the action flowed virtually seamlessly throughout its convoluted storyline. The relationship between many of the characters was of particular note as this gave the whole performance a special quality. Tick and Tock worked the audience splendidly to create an hilarity even before the events unfurled the relationship between these two was one of the highlights of the evening with Tock always sensibly purposeful and Tick often sexually hopeful! Their ad-libbing throughout the show was excellent and kept the mirth constantly on the boil, I’m sure that those picked on in the audience thoroughly enjoyed the experience! Similarly the business and rapport between Equinox and Solstice was exceptional, the former commanding, the latter irritating (the continuous wand waving especially) and funny.
Cuckoo and the Dame were always a treat to watch but their ensuing relationship and courtship got rather lost in the course of the events which was a shame.
I had expected more from Meridian, his role had little development especially towards his sister and was too repetitive and him taking the Jewel was poorly staged and far too tame. This was a climactic moment and needed much more tension. Similarly his fate at the end needed much more audience participation and build up as the “baddie” gets what he deserves.
The moving of the large numbers around the acting areas was remarkable, the speed of exits and entrances was hugely commendable and although I would have liked the chorus not to stand in such straight lines often for their musical numbers, I do realise that the limitation of the stage might have dictated this. It was so good to see so many smiles though as they sang but they could have tried for a bit more projection if nerves would have allowed.
The use of the doors in the auditorium worked splendidly and helped the pace of the action enormously. The green witch must be applauded for being able to keep her cackling laugh going for considerable lengths as she nearly always exited through the audience.
I was constantly impressed with the clarity of diction that many of the cast used, although some of the cast played their lines more to the audience rather than the recipient of their dialogue. This was very much the situation between Jenny and Jack who had very limited eye contact and I was not at ease with the principal boy’s moments of recorded narration.
Christine held the poses splendidly but they interfered with the pace of the moment and were overused. It was a brave idea that didn’t work for me.
I did like the very many changes of mood and tension that were created throughout the evening. This type of performance can be rather fragmented but here, the variety used was inventive. I thought that the duets played in front of the main tabs to effect scene changes were presented very well although the “Remember” song was rather overwhelmed with spotlights. The climactic moment of the Baron hearing that the jewel didn’t touch any one with a brain was splendidly positioned and focussed on.
Two scenes that need especial mention are; the solemnity of the trio of waiters who backed the slapstick food throwing routine and the serious ballet star who was then superbly parodied by the fairies. Not part of the storyline but oh, so funny!
But the whole point of the evening was for everyone to enjoy themselves and it was very evident that that was the case both on and off the stage. There were references to local matters that pleased many, the awful puns were well delivered and received the expected groans, there were extras that added to the humour (the excellent rubber rings is one I must mention!) The mechanics of putting all the facets of this type of performance together is not for the faint-hearted, and Susan deserves huge accolades for spearheading this event.
Tick....Mike Lee
Mike clearly revelled in this role. His confidence both with the scripted words and his own improvisations was ajoy and his pairing with Richard was splendid. He was the less serious of the two and at all times was very sure in his characterisation and in creating the comedy moments. I particularly enjoyed the wearing of the goggles, he knew he looked funny and played on this.
Tock...Richard Butler
The comments given to Mike are applicable for Richard too although Richard gave his performance an edge of assertiveness and leadership. He used the communications through the earpiece superbly and this often moved the action on. Together these two created the bully business that linked with the Baron but never in an aggressive manner. Their working on the audience participation was very well crafted and timed and they were a comic duo of a first class.
Dame Foxtrot...John Richardson<
This Dame was awesome and magnificent. John wore his numerous costumes with elegance and style, the bulging hips along with the extensive headgear never phased him but rather confirmed the mastery of this performance. John’s enunciation was immaculate and he pointed the dialogue beautifully to ensure that the audience was aware of all the underlying nuances in his interpretation. Similarly he made his presence on stage most forceful, playing to the audience at all times. Being so self-assured it’s not surprising that any relationship with this character stayed superficial, but such is the nature of the genre.<
Jenny Foxtrot.. .Kirste Snellgrove
It is not easy playing the good heroine as the nonsensical business tends to favour the “baddies” but Kirste gave her character charm and purpose as well as beauty. I was especially impressed with the clarity of Kirste’s diction and the pitch of her voice was very pleasing. I should have preferred it if she had played her lines to the cast members rather that at the audience as her role became distant from the action at times. I judge from her comments in the programme that she is not a very experienced performer but she gave a lovely performance and hope that she does more.
Cuckoo C. Lock... .Andy Freeman
It’s a shame that the joke in Cuckoo’s name wasn’t in the script, it is easily missed. Andy looked superb and moved superbly too but his character didn’t really develop as much as I expected. His trepidation over proposing to the Dame got lost maybe this is the fault of the text but this purpose in the character needed constant focus. He was a good partner to the Dame but needed more zaniness to grab our attention. She had the constant changes of costume, what did he have?
Baron Hickory.. .Andy Perrin
At first, I was rather disappointed with this characterisation as the ruthlessness of this man was underplayed. Andy created a muddly, bumbly man with a ruddy complexion. As the performance progressed, I appreciated this idea more and grew to enjoy his portrayal enormously. It gave credence to his two henchmen and certainly fitted the notion of” a man wit no brain.” He looked perfect, the epitome of any fairytale Baron and he sounded right too. Shouldn’t he have had a means to communicate with Tick and Tock also? That could have also shown his ineptitude, maybe.
Jack....Christine Ketley
Another straight difficult role, but Christine tackled it superbly; I nearly wrote manfully as that befits her performance too! She presented an excellent picture of the hero and sounded so valiant and stirring throughout. Her enthusiasm to do right was splendid and one could believe that she would always be victorious.
The Green Witch... Julie Cole
With a nose and cackle that surpassed description, Julie made her role unpleasant, demanding and truly selfish. We were left in no doubt about her character and Julie was convincing throughout. I felt that she needed to get more precocious about wanting the jewel and maybe greater sibling rivalry throughout the play could have lifted the part more.
Fairy Equinox... Karen Wray
Both Karen and Jenny looked gorgeous, almost too good to be true which fitted their roles perfectly. Karen was the more organised and the driving force of the pair as she initiated the rhyming couplets so consequently didn’t get the laugh line but Karen’s timing and concentration during the couplets was outstanding. Her constant irritation at the wand been waved in her face or even hitting her was excellent too and although the joke was severely overplayed, it never failed to amuse. Karen used wonderful facial expressions throughout to cope with this and the soft tones in her voice match her “goodness.” Her moment of panic as the clock wouldn’t open for her was clearly unscripted but emphasised how well one could read her expressions.
Fairy Solstice.. Jenny Broadway
I shouldn’t have favourites but I loved this performance. Yes, Jenny often got the laugh line but she knew how to maximise it and often she got the silly moves too. Her dancing with fairy Chime was a masterpiece and she milked it well. I liked the fixed grin that she always had, it made me laugh even before she spoke and her insensitivity towards Equinox was lovely. I liked the fact that these two fairies looked so perfect and glitteringly “good,” it epitomised a child’s expectations of a fairy and helped contrast with the “bad.” Jenny’s timing in getting the jewel from Meridian was excellent her deftness was funny as well as uplifting.
Meridian...Glyn Jones
With all the good around, Glyn should have been far more fearsome, nasty and aggressive. I don’t think the action of the text helped him but he could have helped himself more. He was very static and unadventurous playing with voice, moves or eye contact. He was ordinary amidst the extraordinary and not the hateful arch villain of the piece and he certainly needed to use his sister much worse than we saw. Maybe too much nastiness would scare the younger members of the audience, but there was scant reaction to his demise at the end. A solid performance but underplayed.
Fairy Chime.. .Tanya Davenport
I must confess to being rather concerned as I sat down to write this in being unsure of this character. I presume that Tanya was the brave tutu-ed dancer who then kept up her beautiful display whilst the other fairies attempted hilariously to emulate her. Not easy to keep a straight face as well as position but Tanya was excellent.
Fairy Queen Snowdrift.. .Marea Irving
Marea made this queen very homely, soft and caring; I loved the wings on her throne! She developed a pleasing relationship with Neptune which suited the role and song “I remember” and her quiet diplomacy was very evident.
King Neptune... Jim Bell
I have already made glowing comments about how Jim looked, this was a high point of the show. He was wonderfully commanding with his words too although he needed female help to retrieve the jewel! I enjoyed The Batchelor Boy song but I did feel it went on for too long and the point became lukewarm and repetitious.
Chorus
Far too many to name but how orderly, expressive and effective they all were. The singing was lovely, smiley and enjoyable-congratulations to the soloists- the moves sometimes a little stiff but they wore their costumes with confidence. A superb team!

Tricia Stephens. January 2004.