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Puss In Boots

Date

12th January 2018

Society

Centre Theatre Players

Venue

Burgess Hall

Type of Production

Pantomime

Director

Graeme Hammond

Musical Director

Mark Checkley

Choreographer

Tara Wilson & Katie Hammond

Report

Author: Julie Armstrong

As panto season continues well into January (and beyond) I found myself at The Burgess Hall in St Ives for The Centre Theatre Players’ production of Puss In Boots. Arriving amidst  a sea of people, it was a busy start to the evening - with endless opportunities to buy everything from programmes and flashing wands to sweets, crisps, and popcorn for the children and a bar for the adults, meaning that everyone began the evening in high spirits. I found my seat in the noisy auditorium, where the children around me were clearly excited to be at the show. Panto is a great way to introduce children to the theatre and it was lovely to see such a variety of visitors: a large group of scouts, whole families from toddlers to grandparents and even a handful of grown ups with no children, who had simply come along to support friends or family who were on stage and to be entertained.

And entertained we were! As Mark Checkley and his band struck up the chords to ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ the audience immediately responded with accompanying applause and continued to clap along for the whole of the opening medley. It was clear that this was going to be a ‘good audience’. However, an enthusiastic audience will soon wane if the show is not up to scratch. In charge of this was Graeme Hammond, as director, returning to the Centre Theatre Players and doing an excellent job of leading the cast throughout.

Fairy Poppins (Becky Keane) opened the show. With lovely diction, Becky played the character well, setting the scene for what was to come.  We were transported to the mill, where Hickory, Dickory, Jack and Puss continued the story. Hickory (Katie Hammond) and Dickory (Nick Thompson) made a great comedy double act throughout the show, with lovely comic timing and well rehearsed farce routines. Their antics had everything you want in a great pantomime: custard pies and soggy mops in the face and super-soaker water pistols in the audience. And yes, I did get wet! 

In true panto style the male lead was played by a female and Tara Wilson gave us a good performance as Jack, looking thigh-slappingly heroic in her tunic, tricorn hat and long boots. Tara and Katie also doubled up as choreographers. Puss was well played by Monique Loader, whose cat-like make-up and hair was superb! Dipsey the donkey was a wonderful - well done to Matthew Wilson and Jack Shirley. Although we did not see you in person, your dancing legs were fabulous and the Moves Like Dipsey number was a sight to behold!

King Vincent (Ed Martin) and Princess Bethany (Ellie Newton) were both entertaining characters. Ed, your characterisation of the king was fabulously camp in parts and always brilliantly funny - a great job, and Ellie, your portrayal of the princess was lovely. Simon J Webb gave us Olaf the ‘Orrible, with great make-up, some super improvisation and great characterisation -the perfect panto baddie. His hump- backed sidekick, Gunther (Paul Coker) seemed a relatively indispensable and inconsequential character, until he had his marvellous diva strop and had us all on his side. Super stuff Paul - well done.

The ensemble and dancers from the Vicky Grant School Of Dance all brought the big group numbers to life, although I felt that the ensemble needed a little more animation in their facial expressions. Louder, more confident singing would also help, especially as they were not mic’ed, meaning they were often drowned out by the band (Perhaps a note for the technical team there). The dancers however made up for this with their excellent ‘show faces’, big smiles and great expression. I particularly enjoyed the paso doble dancing mice and later the bats in the opening of Act II.

But now to the undoubted star of the show, Dame Cynthia Soggybottom. Graham Lloyd gave us the perfect pantomime Dame in every way. Holding the audience in the palm of his hand, Graham was laugh-out-loud funny throughout. The Keep Fit class ‘Let’s Get Physical’ was staged brilliantly, with Cynthia in her fetching yellow leotard, and had me howling! I was, however, feeling more cautious about the Twelve Days Of Christmas in mid January, but this thoroughly entertaining, excellent rendition won me round, and by the time we reached ‘Five Christmas Puds’ I too was singing along - a super end to the show!

There were plenty of cheesy one liners, corny jokes and hilarious mishaps to keep the children of the audience giggling - but I also found myself laughing out loud at the numerous jokes that went straight over the heads of the children, but had the adults in stitches! This was the perfect panto mix, with everything you expect from a classic pantomime. We were throughly entertained with pop songs, silly sing-along songs, ghosts, an ogre, a dancing donkey, plenty of enthusiastic audience participation, and great improvisation from the actors on stage. What some may have lacked in singing and dancing  ability, they certainly made up for in the feel-good factor of the show - and the audience agreed with me: calling out “It’s behind you” or “Oh yes it is” at every opportunity, clapping along to the dance numbers and clearly having a thoroughly good time.

As the show neared it’s end, everyone appeared on stage in their super-sparkly finale costumes,  for the closing number, ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ which left us all clapping and cheering for more. This production gave its audience a great, fun night and I can honestly say that I enjoyed myself far more than I was expecting to. I left with a smile on my face and toes-a-tapping! Thank you to the Centre Theatre Players for, as Fairy Poppins would say, a practically perfect production!