North Essex Theatre Guild
Showcase Festival 2013-14
Little Waltham Drama Group
Saturday 25th January 2013 (matinee)
Adjudicator: Will Hooper accompanied by Andrew Hodgson
There are any number of elements that go towards a successful pantomime. These include a very good story, colourful scenery and costumes, some bright and confident acting and singing, as well as the usual elements of good versus evil, a dame, slap-stick comedy and decent audience participation.
Above all, some pantomimes just convey a real spirit of fun, of genuine enjoyment and warmth. Right from the beginning, my colleague and I warmed to the qualities of this show, thanks to the spirit of the performances, and the evident determination and hard work that had gone into preparing it.
It had all the components we could hope for and some real quality as well. Most of all, it was performed in a great, whole-hearted spirit that, I’m sure, sent everyone home in as jolly a frame of mind as we were (despite the rather dramatic storm!).
First impressions are, of course, always important, and can help create the right mood for the arriving audience, or indeed, ruin it! In this case we were greeted very warmly and shown efficiently to our seats. As I mention elsewhere, our mood and general positive feeling was enhanced by the musical tour de force from the band. They really helped put us all in a jolly mood and ready for the action to come.
The programme looked professional, and was colourful and very informative.
Set design, construction and properties
There were a number of backdrops used for this pantomime, complemented by various items of furniture and props, all of which served to create an effective setting for the show. I loved some of the attention to detail, such as in the kitchen with the various items of furniture, in the opening scene which conjured up the rural, village idyll, and in the forest, where there was a real sense of being surrounded by the trees. These all worked very well and the changing of scenes happened very smoothly and without any problems.
There were a number of good and highly effective props used in this show, from the items deployed in the kitchen, through to the baskets of sweets and, of course, the cauldron at the beginning of act two. We felt that the large cabinet, used for the denouement worked extremely well. The business surrounding this could have been rather tricky, but was carried off with great efficiency. A good effort all round to create such an effective and appropriate setting.
Lighting and Sound
There was some lovely use of lighting in this show to denote the changing mood and create atmosphere during various scenes. The variety of lighting settings on offer, from the general, bright, day-time lighting, through to darker settings, with specific colours, or spots for various scenes, all worked to conjure up an appropriate atmosphere. The strobe scene with the monster was highly amusing and worked well. We particularly enjoyed the scene with the three witches, which will filled with atmosphere. The lighting contributed hugely to this and, as with elsewhere in the show, really added to the quality of the pantomime. Well done.
Costumes and Make-up
My colleague and I both felt that the costumes for this panto were spot-on. All the principal characters were garbed in appropriate costumes, with some really noticeable attention to detail. The likes of Robin Hood and Maid Marian looked spot on, while the costumes for Madonna were great – wonderful colours and head-wear. Friar Tuck, with his wig was splendid, the witches were excellent in their outfits and, in particular, their wonderful hats, and the chorus in suitable peasants’ outfits all looked the part.
Make-up was, likewise, just the job. It wasn’t over-done, except in the instances where it was appropriate, such as with Madonna and, of course, the witches. Very good indeed.
I’m very aware of how much work goes into preparing costumes for a pantomime, with a large number of people involved, and sometimes a number of different costumes for individual characters such as the dame. In this instance, they looked really good and certainly added greatly to the overall effect and enjoyment of the show. Well done indeed!
Music and Choreography
Firstly, I must commend the band! Both my colleague and I were extremely impressed with their contribution. To come into the hall and be greeted by such accomplished musicians reeling off a highly-enjoyable series of evergreens in such easy-going fashion got the show off to a great start. It’s so good to have a live band, and they led proceedings in a bright, pacy manner, keeping up their standard through in high-quality fashion and struck just the right note for the action that was taking place on stage.
The choice of songs was very appropriate, adding nicely to the story lines and the situations in which the characters found themselves. Crucially, the songs never outstayed their welcome – doing their bit and then coming to an end.
Singing was generally good and confident. Meanwhile, choreography was reasonably simple, but no less effective for that. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, with confident movement and lively expressions as they danced.
If I have one tiny quibble, it would be with the setting of ‘I’m Wishing’. My fellow adjudicator and I both felt that the moment of sentimentality and emotion could have been allowed to take place without the need for the comical additions from Madonna. I often sense that people feel that the humour quotient has always got to be maintained, when actually, there is room for straight romance in pantomime, and a touching scene like this one would have worked well with the touching song sung straight.
But, as I say, that is but one tiny quibble, and, overall, we were both very impressed with the musical element to this pantomime. Well done all!
This was a well-conceived pantomime in which each scene worked, and the actors had a clear sense of purpose. The blocking was generally very effective, notably in the group scenes, where there is always the potential for masking. Some of the stage pictures that were created added greatly to the visual aspect of the piece, and the cast looked well-drilled and confident in what they were doing – always the sign of productive rehearsals.
The vision for individual scenes worked very well, particularly the witches scene at the beginning of act two, where the performances were complemented by very atmospheric scenery and lighting to create just the right appearance and sense of drama.
Overall, the pace was good, the story moved along well, and the mixture of scenes fitted together effectively to tell the story in an enjoyable and visually-effective way.
Both my colleague and I were impressed by the general level of commitment in this pantomime. I know from much experience of the hard work that goes in to the various elements that make up a successful pantomime. So many different facets, from romantic scenes, to slapstick, to musical numbers and big Group scenes. All the cast seemed to know what was needed, understood their character, not just in itself, but also in terms of the part it played in the overall show. Lines were delivered with confidence and movement around the stage was clear and effective. Relationships between the characters had clearly been worked on, and the chemistry within the individual relationships, such as between Robin and Marian, Friar Tuck and Little John, Twiddle and Twoddle, and the three witches, stood out as being particularly effective.
Alana A Dale – Vicky Weavers
I really liked the concept of the minstrel, punctuating the performance with her singing, to keep the audience up with the plot developments. Vicky helped get the show off to a strong start, in her ever-smiling style. She looked the part, moved confidently, and sang well. Despite the fact that the words didn’t always fit particularly comfortably to the tune, Vicky navigated her way through her singing interludes with varying degrees of cheerfulness, sadness and sympathy, as the story demanded, and, as such, played an enjoyable part in the proceedings.
Much the Miller’s Son – Darrel Drake
The role Darrel played is, in many ways, a brave and challenging one to take on. You’ve got to be a live-wire, full of energy, likeable and willing to work hard with the audience to elicit the response you need. I’m seen many such characters – typical in all pantos – who have fallen a bit flat in this regard. Happily, Darrel, as Much, succeeded in getting the response he needed. He burst on to the stage with fitting energy and conveyed a genuine quality of youthful innocence and likeability, which make the audience warm to him. Darrel projected his voice well and spoke and moved with confidence. He kept up his energy levels well and carried the audience along with him.
Hastugo – Jackie Crane
Jackie really got into the spirit of the character of Hastugo. It was clear, without having to hear her speak that she was perpetually in a state of needing to spend a penny, and her facial expressions and posture said it all. It was an enjoyable running gag and one that didn’t out-stay its welcome at all. Jackie also spoken her lines with confidence and good projection, and acted extremely well with shoe around her in her scenes.
Hasbeen / Monster – Nicola Ayris
Nicola really managed to live up to her name, and looked every inch the old hag and, indeed, old has been! It’s great that in this panto, not only did some of the characters have these utterly silly names and live up to them, but that also we didn’t have to wait to hear the lines to guess who was who – we could guess very quickly that Nicola must be Hasbeen (in the nicest possible way, of course!), and, with facial expressions, a fitting speaking voice and her movement, she really conveyed the part well and added to the enjoyment of her scenes.
Hasnowt – Sally Brierley
The final of a trio of enjoyable character parts with the silly names. Sally captured the essence of her character very well, as the woman without a bean. She created a nice personality which was well conveyed to the audience. Her expressions were highly fitting and her lines were spoken with confidence and good projection. As such, she made up a confident part of this cast of enjoyable characters.
Friar Tuck – Glyn Jones
Glyn had quite a job on his hands living up to the sheer quality of his marvellous wig! However, he certainly did so, and extremely effectively. He ambled on and off stage in his friarly garb, with suitable facial expressions and a confident delivery of his lines. His interaction with Little John, with whom he formed a highly-endearing double act, was great and highly entertaining to behold. The fact that he was able to generate a titter simply by appearing on stage speaks volumes. He contributed greatly to all his scenes and his interpretation was very enjoyable.
Little John – Bill Murphy
Clearly, the role of Little John can be played in a number of ways, but I’m not sure I’ve seen it played in such a joyously camp way as this before! It was consistently enjoyable to see Bill appear on stage and his asides and general demeanour caused a great amount of amusement. He worked extremely well with Friar Tuck and, with his confident and funny characterisation, generally added greatly to the levity of the occasion!
Twiddle / Twoddle – Ken Little / Karen Wray
Every panto needs to good comedy double act (or trio), and Twiddle and Twoddle, as played by Ken and Karen did not disappoint! Whilst you would expect such roles to be great fun, and hopefully they are, they are still not easy to get right. Happily, Ken and Karen were right on the ball in this show – portraying the two silly characters with real style and no little amusement. They got the tone of their parts just right, achieving a good balance between silliness and believability – reacting well to others, playing off each other well and generally causing much laughter. Their facial expressions were good, their movement around the stage entirely in keeping with the characters and their voices conveyed pretty much everything you needed to know about them. A very enjoyable double act!
Sheriff of Nottingham – Martin Final
I can well understand why Martin was cast in this role! The moment he came on stage he really looked the part of the evil, miserable sheriff! Martin really got into the spirit of the role, looked thoroughly evil, spoke with menace and didn’t shy away from being nasty to the audience – in my experience audiences love being abused by the villain, and martin didn’t disappoint! He moved around the stage with menace, snarled his way through his scenes and generally oozed evil through every pore. Nice work!
Robin Hood – Verity Southwell
Robin Hood, in this panto, is cast as the principal boy, and Verity really got into the spirit of this in her performance. She was evidently well aware of the need to convey both an heroic posture and fulfil the audience’s expectations of what a principal boy should do. She was bright and confidence, moving with calm assurance across the stage, speaking and singing with real clarity and diction, and eliciting real emotion at the changing fortunes that Robin Hood experiences during the story. She worked very well with all the characters around her, and in particular worked extremely effectively with Marion when they had their scenes together. A good, thigh-slapping performance!
Madonna – Mike Lee
Many people think they can play a pantomime dame, not so many are able to carry it off. Happily, Mike did so with aplomb. He bestrode the stage with real confidence, portraying a character full of brightness and personality. He spoke and moved with great confidence, projected his lines and timed his jokes extremely well. His reactions to the events and characters around him were just right, and he coped with the various and unique demands of a dame with élan. Well done!
Maid Marian – Hannah Walker
Entrances are so important. The way a character comes on to the stage conveys such a lot and helps convey to the audience the kind of character they are looking at. Hannah’s first entrance was extremely confident, with a strong posture and voice, and it was very clear that here was someone whose fortunes we’d be happy to follow. Hannah sang well, projected very well – dialogue and singing - and portrayed the frustrations of her position in a sympathetic and believable way.
Sergei – Brian Corrie
A funny part this. Sometimes, running gags can become a bit tiresome, but on this occasion, Brian managed to retain its freshness and humour. Perhaps it was the accent, or his general manner, but whatever it was, Brian certainly created a lot of amusement in this role. He had real presence on stage, delivered his lines extremely well, well-timed and with a great accent. He really looked the part as well and contributed greatly to his scenes.
Prince John – Ryan Chapman
A slightly difficult part this, I felt, as Prince John is clearly a baddie, in cahoots with the Sheriff, but not quite so overtly evil and still retaining a semblance of his position. So, a difficult balance to get right. However, Ryan made a decent job of this role, with a suitably sharp tone and some menacing looks. He managed to convey the sense that he was a cut above the Sheriff in the hierarchy, but with equally low motives. He spoke well and helped contribute to some highly-enjoyable set-piece moments.
Bubble / Hubble / Trubble – Marea Irving / Jenny Broadway / June Newman
What a trio you were! This was, for a number of reasons, one of the most effective scenes in the show. Not only did it look good with the lighting and the set, but the three performances were highly enjoyable. Each of the three witches had a clear persona, and conveyed them extremely well. The interplay between the three was highly enjoyable and funny, as was the dialogue between them and the sheriff: good clear voices, appropriate characterisations, good timing and the right balance between evil and comic, which really worked well. Well done.
Will Scarlett – Alex Lee
Alex is another confident performer, who strode across the stage with real presence. She clearly understood the need for clear, strong gestures, good expressions and a good speaking voice. You really felt with Alex that she was one of the goodies, looking comfortable and at ease on stage and interacting and reacting well to all that was going on around her.
King Richard – N P Ayris
Even though this may be a small role, it is nevertheless a nice one to have – appearing as the heroic warrior king at the end of the show and treated with great respect. ‘N P’ really looked the part as the medaeval king and moved with great stature. He delivered his lines in confident and fittingly regal manner and generally conveyed a kingly air.
Villagers – Maria Herbert / Louise Louth / Helen Langley / Ryan Chapman
Group scenes can be really hard to get right, to conjure up the appropriate atmosphere. Those in these scenes, even though they may not have any lines, still need to work hard, create the right sense of life and bustle, excitement or dismay, as the scene demands. Those involved in these scenes as ‘villagers’ did a really good job in fulfilling these demands. They all kept focused and looked interested in what was happening, and generally added very much to the drama and enjoyment of these scenes.
I hope I’ve conveyed how impressed my colleague and I were with this pantomime, and the spirit in which it was performed.
Thank you all for a very enjoyable afternoon, and I look forward to coming back again soon.
With best wishes
Will Hooper (adjudicator)
North Essex Theatre Guild