Date 4th February 2024
Society Benenden Players
Venue Benenden Village Hall
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Bev Beveridge & James Conmy
Musical Director Graham Beveridge
Written By James Conmy


Author: Anne Lawson

We always receive a very warm welcome, and we had grandstand seats. The programme prepared by Sam Blakemore contained colourful artwork, an A4 size using the idea of the yellow brick road as a centre page cast list, with numbered pages, interesting content too and I took 5 copies to enter the annual NODA Programme & Poster Competition.

Live music was once again provided by Graham’s Band, always good to hear, with some great numbers included with vocals well put across by the cast. Loved the inclusion and rendition of the old Frankie Vaughan number ‘Green Door.’ Predictably ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and ‘Breaking Free’ well performed  too.

I was delighted to meet the writer of the piece James who transformed the well-known 1939 film of the ‘Wizard of Oz’ into a heart-warming, funny, familiar but new panto version with pleasing melodies and a bit of magic, together with the original theme of friendship and caring. I particularly liked the dry humour of Nick Snow attired in dark suit carrying his clipboard narrating us through the plot with asides between himself and the Musician Annabel Pook tinging her triangle beautifully.

Tilly Milnes, dressed in blue gingham, hair in ribbons made a  delightful Dorothy with Jen Conmy as faithful Toto performing tricks but not knowing the command ‘fetch the keys’ didn’t mean ‘feta cheese’ or fetch the quiche.’ Ian Aldridge was in his element with his great tongue in cheek charm as panto dame Aunt Em and the three are transported by tornado ‘down under.’ They come across a  jolly barbie and Fosters loving family of colourful Munchkins with rich Aussie accents. Unfortunately, the house has ‘squished’ Witch Griselda and all we see are her legs! The three are instantly sent away by good Witch Sweet Caroline before Griselda’s Witch sister Zelena finds out.  On their way to the Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard they find Lion, Scarecrow and Tinman who have magically been created by Caroline. Now the orange legged Munchkins are in trouble as Zelena and her Baboon soldiers have found them trying to dispose of Griselda’s body, discover the culprits of the ‘squishing’ and fly off to capture them. Meanwhile Seth Williams having clocked up a number in interesting panto characters complete with WD40 Tinman, most lovable Scarecrow Pierre Gautier and Ian Malaugh as the rather timid Lion try to enter the Emerald city seeking help. An excellent scene is played out where 3 Guards with precision opening and closing varying height double hatch doors and in labouring tones ask ‘how may I help’ you and as often found nowadays pass us on to someone else! Brilliant piece of set design. Em, Dorothy, and Toto now behind bars  meet a fellow prisoner who insists the Witch has not always been bad. Through sister jealousy a curse was set. Zelena took the curse on herself and this would break  only when  love struck at first sight. Luckily, the Wizard loves green and so perhaps as in all pantos there is a ‘happy ever after’?

Imaginative colourful set design throughout including an opening well painted cottage with front door under which two extending striped legs protruded, castle entrance, sparkling green back drop, castle dungeon cell with bars – a real team effort here. Some fun props too added. Well thought out costumes from the wardrobe team for characters created with particular attention to makeup from Sarah Calcutt. One incredibly special outfit was stitched by April Triezes  a wonderful bold  black and white frock with huge headdress bow to match for Aunt Em a triumph. Loved the stripes and hot pants of the Munchkins and the dungarees for Alf and Kylie, and the combat baboons even had tails!

I enjoyed the performances of the three witches with Claire Hughes as Zelena, Joy Rowlands as Sweet Caroline with Clare Jaques Griselda. Cameo roles of the Baboon platoon, Ozzie, Guards, the Wizard himself all in green including his eyebrows all contributed to a successful, funny, colourful and refreshing new panto jointly directed by Bev and James. There was an interesting line and ad lib moment that was overcome with the audience being  most forgiving. Well done to the whole team both in front and behind the scenes to produce this delightful new panto with a twist.