12th January 2018
Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre
Type of Production
Author: Richard Fitt
So the masters of Pantomime in South Bedfordshire are at it again. Another three week run with sold out performances! So much so that despite being booked with plenty of notice my tickets arrived with an apology for being seated further back in the auditorium than normal. I hasten to add the seats were fine and sitting anywhere in the excellent Library Theatre provides a perfectly good view. In fact it was terrific fun to be with the rowdy lot in the back rows!
The set by Mike Ward and Colin Delamore and painted by Carl Russell was a mixture of well-chosen back cloths and super quirkily constructed props such as the washing machine for the laundry. The entrance to Aladdin’s cave was a bit special with a shiny gold rock that positively glimmered and probably the smallest secret entrance I’ve ever seen in any production! Good job boys! It certainly set up the magic.
Lighting designed by Dave Miles was its usual excellent mixture of appropriate washes, which filled the stage well. Couple of moments where an actor or two disappeared into shadow downstage stage left, which made me smile as my own home theatre has always suffered from that problem!
Sound by Tom Davies was crystal clear without a single mic problem and all sound cues pretty much spot on.
I do have to say however some of the cues for the special effects were a tad late. Both the Spirit and the Genie entrances were followed by the puff of smoke not preceded, creating some unintended but good humoured laughter.
The band under the musical direction of Gemma Aguilar, with Pete Bellamy (Bass), Felix Asdkew-Conti (Guitar) and Mikey Ciancio (Drums) were extremely competent and a delight to hear, a good live band such as this is so much better than sequenced music.
The costumes team, Ann Kempster, Sheena Ward, Wendy Poynter and Jenny Roberts had certainly gone to town with some quite stunning numbers, particularly with the use of fans and butterflies used in the dance numbers. The colour contrast were excellent.
The most memorable part of the overall production was undoubtedly the choreography by Rachel Long. The standard of Choreography in amateur theatre generally has improved out of all recognition in the past decade or so and with a musical it is now almost expected that it will be of the highest standard, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a well drilled troop for a pantomime before. Very inventive and quite complicated routines were well mastered by all members of the cast. Usually there is somebody in the back row trying to hide their two left feet, but not here, absolutely A1 job!
Kim Aguilar the director is fast becoming one of the most experienced panto directors around and it certainly shows. She knows exactly what to do and how to do it, with a deft touch and some well thought out and often surprising direction. For example her ‘behind you’ routine when trying to find Wishee Washee’s missing spots from her washed dress was particularly clever.
This is also a very experienced cast with some familiar names leading the way with great aplomb, superb comic timing and enthusiasm. Hannah Rourke is a natural choice for the principal boy (Aladdin) and was well complimented by Clarissa Busson as her love interest Princess Mandarin. What can you say about the tour de force that is Tony White (Widow Twanky), excellent rapport with the audience if a little near the knuckle with one or two of the very funny ad libs often leaving out the ‘double’ in ‘double ententre.’ Deryn Rhodes not only turned out to be an excellent ‘So Shy,’ but also a pretty competent dancer, taking part in most of the complicated choreographed chorus numbers as well. A great panto villain should always be affectionately booed during his bow and John Stone as Abanazar achieved that with ease. Thao Nguyen and Maggie Duigenan contrasted well as the spirit of the ring and the genie of the lamp respectively. Loved the two comedy Chinese cops, Yu dun wong and Hu dun pong, very Keystone and their use of truncheons was painfully funny. Corrina Brodie as Wishie Washee build her own rapport with the audience making an enthusiastic entrance every time she arrived on the stage. Lauren Waters had a fabulous poise as The Empress and nailed both the walk and the posture of an Empress perfectly. The way she used her arms particularly was so spot on Chinese. And finally, the chorus of Lucy Dudley, Heather Brodie and Xenia Kitchen were a very tight outfit indeed, bringing the whole show to light every time they sang and danced.
My stand out performance does however have to be the audience, which means the cast did an excellent job on them. I said earlier I was in the ‘cheap seats’ amongst the unruly lot and in the spirit of the show some of the comments from the back row in reaction to a couple of mistimed effects were comic timing personified. From cries of ‘Liar’ from a young lad, to ‘It’s Roy Wood’ as a reaction to Abanazar’s disguise as the new for old salesman, or when one of the dancer’s fans collapsed across her face and the way she went with it really made the evening so very enjoyable. We all left having had a ball and laughed till it hurt – you can ask no more of a production. Job jobbed – Oh yes it was!
Once again thank you Leighton Buzzard for your usually excellent hospitality always a pleasure to visit the outer reaches of my district!