Humpty Dumpty

Date 11th April 2019
Society Urmston Musical Theatre
Venue Wellacre Academy
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Richard Gaffney
Musical Director Neil Ravenscroft
Choreographer Emma Bowyer

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Author: Kevin Proctor

A hundred years ago there were as many pantomime Humpties as there were Mother Geese yet these two pantos appear to be off-the-wall choices for many groups today. The usual rule of thumb when picking the next pantomime is if the title pairs with the name of a Disney feature film then you’re pretty much in safe territory (with ‘Dick Whittington’ being an unusual exception). This year, to coincide with Easter, UMT present the tale of the accident-prone egg, Humpty as their pantomime offering.

The riddle with Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall, falling and unable to be put back together again created a stir when it was first published. There were many theories of who or what the well-known riddle insinuated with King Edward III and Cardinal Wolsey being the two most popular perceptions following each of their demises. When in fact, it’s nothing nearly as shady as that. Humpty Dumpty was a nickname given to a canon which sat on Colchester’s city wall. The wall became damaged during an invasion resulting in the canon slipping off into an unrepairable state. But… what’s eggy about that? Well, in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’, a character - also named Humpty Dumpty - features sitting atop a wall, Alice remarks that his round shape resembles an egg then begins to recite the old poem. It’s believed that it’s this novel which began the fallacy of what Humpty Dumpty is known as today and he has since been referred to in many literature works – including pantomimes – as an egg ever since.

Tradition is - or should be - at the heart of any pantomime rendering, there are rules of what you must and mustn’t do so here it’s rather ironic that the silly billy character in this production is named Topsy Turvy as that’s what was presented. Although the reasons for it were briefly explained to me on the evening, I challenge any pantomime aficionado to not feel unbalanced with the good Fairy Soufflé always making her appearance from stage left (the baddies side), and Egg-nog The Bad always entering from stage right (the goodies side), it was all back to front. Whilst we’re on the fairy’s entrance (b’bum!), each time she appeared, Maria Valentine was every inch the good fairy complete with her glowing smile and perfectly crisp articulation opposite Daniel Mellor who savoured his evil execution as the wicked Egg-nog much to the audience’s delight.  

I find Alan P Frayn pantomimes to be relatively safe in terms of innuendo, I do enjoy a risqué giggle and each individual company is expected to take the script as far as they feel their audiences can go. I will always favour a panto which dares to push the humour as far as possible, I found this a relatively tame element to this production. I’m not saying we should be given pure filth but the humour pitch could certainly have afforded to go further. That’s not to say that this production didn’t proffer a few laugh out loud moments, there were indeed some comical surprises which is always most welcome!

Freya Gow gave an impressive recital leaving a memorable stamp on the production as Upsy Daisy. Freya brought such a wonderful spark to the entire presentation, competently holding her own against the cast of seasoned regulars. One of the shows highlights was the tongue twister skit with Freya coming out tops for the clearest enunciation. At no point did Freya appear deterred in her principal debut demonstrating she’s evidently a natural. Dominic Smith gave an easy portrayal as the afore mentioned Topsy Turvy, he excelled at addressing the crowd and, like Freya, didn’t appear unnerved especially when relied upon to host and interview the nippers from the audience, a notoriously daunting moment for many pantomime artistes.    

“All the King’s men…” well, here we got two, proffered a feature highlight. Just the name Reggie Mental had me in creases. Chris Haslam as General Mayhem and Lynsey Cassidy as Reggie were individually comical in their own right. Evidently written as a double act they weren’t portrayed as such but made it work in their favour.

This script lent itself to ample chorus involvement and I must congratulate this supporting ensemble - made up of all ages - who appeared to be a brand-new rejuvenated throng. Expressions were animated and most of the troupe demonstrated how invested they were into what was going on, giving an extra 20% to their acts which is a tremendously exciting improvement. Some individuals are getting left behind in this area as they’re now even more exposed than ever being in the minority but overall, it’s absolutely a leap in the right direction. Now faces have pretty much been sorted out - attention should now be drawn to posture amongst the chorus as we we’re getting some droopy shoulders and heavy plodding feet from certain members which is an on-stage energy drainer.   

We got a usual amalgamation of music selections to yield the score with some most welcome personal favourites. ‘Make Your Own Kind Of Music’ made famous by Mama Cass though most youngsters would associate it to the Paloma Faith cover with ‘Magic To Do’ from the musical ‘Pippin’ and Petula Clark’s ‘Colour My World’ making sure showtune lovers and the range of generations are covered. And yes, ‘Baby Shark’ featured too but I’ll swiftly move on from that…  

Rachel Mellor delivered a stout portrayal as Humpty, our principal boy, alongside Mia Robertson as a sweet Princess Petal. No pantomime is complete without the Dame, here played by Chris Silke, although at times appearing to be slightly swallowed up by such a bravado character he put in a respectable act despite giving the impression he’d not quite settled into it at times, he evidently understood what’s required of a Dame giving us good spirit for the tomfoolery elements but didn’t quite ignite during what should’ve been the shining moments.   

Despite the setback of the leisure centre being closed for refurbishment and with the struggle to secure a venue for the preferred dates this school auditorium appeared to be a virtuous alternative, I appreciate the issues faced but for a temporary substitute and from an outsiders point of view it appeared to host the production and your needs remarkably well.