Script by Tom Whalley
Directed by Martin Chadwick and Kayleigh Hindle
Burnley Pantomime Society
As we know, English pantomime is a type of musical comedy designed for family entertainment. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, comedy and dancing. It employs gender cross dressing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known folk tale or fable. Pantomime is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of music and shout out phrases to the performers. This production of one of the most popular pantomimes ever, had all these elements, and when put together with talented performers, a production team that understands the genre, and proficient backstage crew – the audience got a cracking nights’ entertainment.
As I state, the audience is expected to be a large part of any pantomime production and have its part to play, especially booing the baddie and joining in with the silly character, who usually has a catch phrase, and the song at the end. For this level of participation, the audience (especially those who have never been to the theatre or experienced the wonder of pantomime) need to be shown that it is all right to be vocal, and indeed, given permission to do this. Sian Maymond did this very well. Right from the start she appeared as the Emcee in the audience, eliciting responses from audience members, many who were reticent at first to join in but she persevered with humour, and within a couple of minutes the audience was booing the nasty stepmother, Baroness Grizelda, played by the expressive Rebecca Wright.
There was a lovely, gentle start to the stage performance of this production. Behind a gauze a young Cinderella (Grace Chadwick) and Cinderella’s Mother (Amy Foulds) share a moment of kinship as we start our “Once upon a time…” story.
Everyone looks forward to seeing the two stepsisters of Cinderella, usually referred to as the Ugly Stepsisters when, in fact, they are usually the most glammed up and outrageous people in the company. Greg Wharf and Kevin Kay, aka Stella Artois and Bella,-needs-a fella, Hardup, did not disappoint at all. The entrance these two, made to a mashup of the Spice Girls tunes, was inspired and had the audience rocking, joining in and laughing at the sight before us. From any duo to be effective there must be an understanding and bond between them. It is not just a case of knowing the script (ish) but allowing each to finish a gag before carrying on. In some ways, one hase to be able to read each other’s minds. These two actors were adept at doing this, which meant interactions with others on stage, and with members of the audience, were great fun and not awkward. These two were an absolute joy to watch!
For the title role, Laura Kay was everything you would expect from a Cinderella, demur, vulnerable but with a big heart. She interacted well with all other characters and sang and danced beautifully. She was absolutely stunning in her dress for the ball and radiated a glow of contentment that sent us all off into the interval very happy.
Of course, Cinderella needs a Prince Charming, and Gary Leonard fitted the bill perfectly. Both he and Laura worked well together and carried us along on their romantic journey of found love, lost love and regained love. He also, complemented the singing with Laura. I also noticed a lot of lifts in the dancing.
This pantomime has loads of scope for audience participation and has another larger than life character in Buttons, the servant to Cinderella’s family, and who we know, from the start, is in love with Cinders. Sam Parker really brought out the ahh factor in us all. He engaged immediately with us, breaking the fourth wall to get us to join in with a catch phrase, making us laugh with the local jibes at surrounding places, and getting mixed up in the silly goings on. His, adlibs (if that’s what they were) were a hoot!
Leighton Hunt made the transition from a very amusing tree in last year’s production to an equally likable Dandini. Pete Morville joined in the silliness as Cinders’ father. This role is sometimes portrayed as a downtrodden and hen-pecked character, but in this production, it was played much lighter and with humour, much more in keeping with the colourful production.
Not all Cinderellas have an animal character, that aspect tends to be left to Dick Whittington, but here, Jamie Leigh-Hindman did well as Muffin, the Cat, the Baroness’s side kick, the one to whom she explains her plans, but who, in the end, moves away from the dark side. For every nasty character there is always the opposite and the Fairy Godmother (Louise Young) led us gently through the plot.
This was a big production, and for those on stage to have confidence in their delivery, a large amount of support and creativity must have been given from those backstage. It was quite obvious that the directors, Martin Chadwick and Kayleigh Hindle, had a good understanding of the genre and must be pleased as punch with the finished product. The choreography by Lynn McCheyne was super, I especially enjoyed watching the point work. The music, under direction of Jonathan Chalker, was fresh and enabled all ages to join in. The lighting of Paddy Keane really contributed to the spectacle as did the video wall which depicted the scenes. This use of technology meant that pace was maintained as there was very little time spent on scene changes but added a bright backdrop.
Talking of all things bright, I think the costume and wardrobe department, led by Lesley Johnstone, and helped by Molly Limpets, Glenise Kay and Hazel Hodder, deserve a round of applause themselves. While some principal costumes would have been hired, many of the other costumes will have been hand made. The finale really did have its WOW factor!
This was such an enjoyable evening. As the panto saying goes … "we’ll have to do it do it again next year then, won’t we?" I for one cannot wait, and I thank the society for their hospitality.