CAMELOT - THE PANTO
Bacup Royal Court Theatre
“Camelot” is not one of the ‘Big 5’ Pantomimes of the festive period but it is always nice to see a society tackle something different – and Bacup Royal Court Theatre Group, produced by Nick Daye, presented the tale of King Arthur and his Knights in a superb way.
The rather thin plot of Ben Crocker’s script was fleshed out by directors Claire Ashworth and Michael Haworth, who rounded up their company to extract the very best out of each performer – whether new or experienced. Adding new parts and ideas even into show-week, the duo have worked brilliantly to bring a high-quality Pantomime to life. With a full and very colourful stage, the audience were treated to a first-rate Panto, full of enthusiastic performances, dazzling effects and appropriate song choices.
Containing all the characters you’d expect to see from King Arthur’s story (although no Excalibur!) the impressive company of 31 characters, - plus two dance groups! - brought Medieval England to life with a range of colourful and appropriate costumes. From tabards and tunics to robes and gauntlets, the wide array of costumes on the stage was excellent – especially a change for the Dame every time she came on. (I would’ve liked to have seen a traditional ‘finale change’ though, as most characters kept the same costume all the way through).
Costumes were complemented effectively by make-up, with the team did an absolutely superb job in creating some brilliant characters. My particular favourites were the diamanté Unicorns, who alone must have taken hours to decorate; the over-the-top Dame makeup -with no glitter spared and also Valerin’s ridiculous tan and beard. Great characterisations and detail from the make-up team.
An interesting set design kept the stage mainly open with very minimal black-out scene changes. It’s a shame we saw some set shifting happen in the light, which took away from the Pantomime magic a little, but on the whole all changes were executed quickly and efficiently. This is thanks in the main to Adam Greenwood’s moving digital screen with projections of castles, dungeons and woods, as opposed to a traditional pantomime cloth, working very effectively and stylishly.
It’s always interesting to see how societies embrace technology and the opening ‘Storybook’ had my jaw open: a wonderful idea which I’ve not seen in an ‘amateur’ production. Then again, I was still happy to see modern technology hand-in-hand with traditional, with flash-pots on the villains’ entrances and two confetti cannons at the end of the production – with pyrotechnics under the watchful eye of Faye Singleton.
A hardworking team of technicians and stage crew must be complimented for their tireless work off stage, including some great set-pieces such as Merlin’s home and the ghostly bedroom: great work from Paul Ashworth and his team of stage crew.
Lighting is usually used sparingly in pantomimes, to highlight ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘day’ and ‘night,’ but this production’s lighting plot, I’ve never seen the like of before in a pantomime – let alone an amateur production. Words are difficult to describe the impressive and immersive lighting design, created by Andy Holden, with a whole range of blinders, LED strips, disco balls, two on-the-money spotlights and also special lighting effects. There were times I didn’t think I was in a theatre but a nightclub in Burnley! Many societies, amateur and professional, would have benefitted from seeing ‘Camelot’ to see just how creatively lighting can be used in a production. Really a sensational lighting plot with clearly no expense spared.
With such a huge ensemble of characters on stage, it is difficult to mention everybody in detail in such a report, so please forgive any brevity in describing any characters.
Director Michael Haworth’s Nurse Connie Clatterbottom was an interesting, glittery, mix of traditional and modern Drag. From his night-club anthemic ‘I Am What I Am’ to his Arthur Askeyesque boob-lifts, his cheeky performance was everything that a Dame should be -running the whole gamut of Pantomime asides and cheeky innuendos (‘dictionary,’ a particular favourite). Accompanied by fellow Director, Claire Ashworth, as ‘Teddy’ the audience immediately took the mute Teddy bear to heart – especially when was flossing and chasing King Uther unrequitedly around the stage!
With many of the noble Pantomime traditions upheld, the audience laughed, booed, cheered and joined in vociferously with the production. I would have liked to have seen a bit more movement in some of the full-company numbers, as at times Rachel O’Hara’s choreography was a little static. (Particularly the opening number which was lit darkly with little movement). With such a huge stage to fill, more could have been made at times from the choreograph point of view. The opening of Act 2 into the ‘Wuthering Heights’ ballet was greatly choreographed, as was the finale ‘Your Pantomime Needs You.’ (A great song I’ve not heard before which has been going around my head for days!)
Gary Haworth’s presentation of the Yoda-like metor Merlin was very understated, and sadly at times inaudible. Whilst looking the part perfectly, a lot of the dialogue was lost – perhaps due to the beard? This was especially noticeable when Charlotte Ferris transformed into the younger incarnation of the great wizard and absolutely stole the show: a fantastic performance from a very young actress. I expect that we’ll be seeing some fantastic things from Charlotte in the future and I wonder why she didn’t play Merlin all the way through the piece.
Our evil cohort was headed by Dawn-Marie Woodcock’s presentation of Morgan Le Fay, who dripped evilness and she gave us a traditionally wicked Pantomime baddy, who could belt out Bonnie Tyler at an impressive ability. A great performance – especially when paired with Charlotte with ‘Anything You Can Do’ – great work.
Stephen Woods as the lisping ‘Valerin the Vicious’ extracted all the comedy from the ‘evil’ part – with great comedy timing in the scene where he repeatedly introduced himself. His horse was perhaps my favourite prop of the season! He was assisted ably by Rebecca Smith (new to the stage) who played the evil Queen Mavis, providing her son everything from Subway sandwiches to Jelly Babies – amusingly tossed to the stage-hand in the pit. A
The ‘baddies’ were accompanied by the dancing Evil Sisterhood of witches, played by Rheanna Thomas, Ellen Pilkington, Georgia Smith, Cerys Pearson and Sarah Long who creeped, crawled and cavorted around the stage – kidnapping and scaring our Immortals. Again ‘Holding Out For A Hero,’ another stand-out moment where dancers, actors and technology came together to create an innovative scene. More evil dancing and assistance was given by the Dragons, with Feebie Thomas and Isabelle Woodcock in effectively cute dragon costumes and Julie Stainworth and Daz Owen appeared as Henchmen Ammonia and Bleach -although I’m not sure whether their names were ever mentioned.
Also assisting the evil crew was Janice Purslow as Garlon, who tapped her way through the woods to help carry out their evil plans. Janice’s understated playing was brilliantly effective and her performance all around caught my eye, without drawing attention away from others. Excellent and confident stage presence, a charming smile and a brilliant character presentation making a lot from a little. Great playing Janice – and thank you for getting the thigh slap spot on. (I cheered!)
Heading up our good Immortals was sausage-roll loving King Uther Pendragon, played with gusto and great joy by Karen McNulty. Extracting everything from the character, Karen was (in the group numbers) often the most audible and gave 110% to her character.
Patrick Duffy played the Jester, Sir Laugh-a-Lot. I know the society have secured the rights to ‘Shrek’ the musical in 2022, so whether Patrick performing the character in the voice of ‘Donkey’ was a nod to that, I am not sure? At times dialogue was rushed and lost because of this and more needed to be extracted from his interactions with the audience, especially in the initial introductory ‘get them onside’ routine. His performance of ‘Rainbow Connection’ as Kermit the Frog was excellent and a really impressive scene.
Lauren Downes gave a strong performance as King Arthur, determined and steeled to save Guinevere from the evil grasp of Valerin and co. Guinevere was played delicately by Helena Rose, with touching moments in the scenes where the pair worked together and established their relationship. Guinevere was assisted by Emmeline Greenwood as the comic-page sidekick Mavis who pines after Laugh-A-Lot.
Assisting the ‘goodies’ we had Danny Dunning as the double-crossing bishop and a cohort of Knights of the Round Table played by Dylan Bork, Tyler Holden, Tobias Holland and Alexander Woodcock. Three lovely and glittery unicorns, played Olivia Astley, Emily Jagger, Danielle Radcliffe punctuated the ethereal and magic element to the show and Lori-Mae Hooley’s performance of Cilla the Singing Snake and Colin Cropper as a talking-head added to the zany aspects.
If such a huge and talented cast weren’t enough, the audience were treated to dance performances (a tap and contemporary) from Dansworks Dance Academy of Performing Arts and a cheer-leading performance from the smiling (great!) and energetic Fusion Dance and Fitness. I have to mention specifically the performance of dancer Sam Hughes: a joy to watch his dancing, clearly enjoying himself and I am sure someone else to look out for in the future.
A hugely enjoyable evening and very successful Pantomime which ticked lots of boxes. The audience around me clearly enjoyed themselves as much as I did and it was very evident that every member of the cast on stage were having an utter ball.
Thank you once again for welcoming us most warmly (and with three cheers!) to Bacup Royal Court Theatre - it was a pleasure to watch the show and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour around the very impressive stage area afterwards.
As your motto at Bacup goes, it’s done “For the cause, not the applause” – and I wholeheartedly agree. A great job all around from FoH to stage, and I look forward to returning soon!