Once Upon a Time
21st January 2018
Type of Production
Author: DeeDee Doke representing Julie Petrucci
With two Prince Charmings, Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, Tinkerbell, Red Riding Hood, and Captain Hook all written into the same show, Once Upon A Time… by Paul Barron and Sarah Dyson is without a doubt the most star-studded pantomime on the planet.
Consider it the Celebrity Big Brother of Pantoland, the imaginary country where this cleverly written entertainment takes place. Cambridgeshire’s Swavesey RADSOC populated Pantoland in their production of Once Upon A Time… with a cast of 34, the group’s largest ever, and spun out two hours of silly fun for capacity houses in January.
Once Upon A Time… involves the impending nuptials of Princess Lottie (Jemima Woolverton) and Prince Marvellous (Chloe Fegan-Webb), who are the children of, respectively, Cinderella (Nathalie Balzano) and her Prince Charming (Malcolm Cox) and Snow White (Rachel Isham) and her Prince Charming (Alan Winfield). Another chapter in the “happily ever after” saga seems likely. So far so good.
But the evil witch Evelyn (Amy Smethurst) has other plans – as you can imagine. As Evelyn plots to prevent the wedding, it’s up to jesters Nick (Amelia Gargiulo) and Nack (Olivia Balzano), the dame Gertie (Phil Bailey), and Jack (John Pickering) of Beanstalk fame to embark on a series of adventures to save the day.
Nicely costumed, with brightly-coloured painted sets that let you know immediately where the action was taking place, Once Upon A Time… reflected loving attention to the identity creation and environmental aspects of the show. The mature Cinderella and Snow White were, for instance, immediately recognisable after all those years of happy matrimony to their princes, and the rest of the story characters also immediately identifiable, as they should be in any fairy tale worth its salt.
This reviewer’s favourite scene in the show took place in the sea, where a multitude of colourful fish, octopi and other charmingly costumed sea creatures cavorted in front of a curtain adorned with cutouts of fellow ocean dwellers. The choreography was cute, the cast was fully engaged, and from set to action and song, it was a delightful episode from start to finish.
A live band may not have been present for this production, but musical director Martin Avery ensured that his singers made their vocal entrances into song on time and stayed in time throughout the musical numbers.
From a technical point of view, the only problematic issue arising during the Sunday matinee was that the lines of some of the younger, more soft-voiced actors were barely audible – and we wanted to hear what they had to say!
Sporting violent green make-up, Amy Smethurst was an elegantly and coldly witchy Evelyn, whose vocal delivery was so reminiscent of The X Files’ Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson on TV’s The Fall. Another strong villain was the surprisingly swashbuckling Captain Hook (Sam Smethurst). As Gertie, the man-hungry dame with the best wardrobe of sunglasses outside of Elton John’s, Phil Bailey was joyously giddy, and the junior jesters Nick and Nack were played with panache and derring-do by Amelia Gargiulo and Olivia Balzano.
In a small spoken role as Wonderland’s Alice and as one of a troupe of ballet dancers, Sara Pascual distinguished herself in both with sparkling poise and a bright, beautiful smile.
Director June Hinchliffe and assistant directors Phil Bailey and Adrienne Sharman clearly tapped into real community can-do spirit with Once Upon A Time…, attracting and entertaining loyal audiences who now can’t wait until next year’s production to see their local stars.