Puss in Boots

Date 31st October 2014
Society Dragon Tale Theatre Group
Venue Prudhoe Community High School Arts Centre
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Wendy Neal
Musical Director Doug Younger
Choreographer Wendy Neal, Abi Neal


Author: Michael L Avery

I am becoming something of a pantomime aficionado since becoming a Regional Representative for NODA North.  From not seeing any pantos for over 20 years to seeing around 5 a year was a steep learning curve.  This was my third visit to Dragon Tale Theatre Group and I am starting to feel like an old friend on my annual visit to Prudhoe Community High School Arts Centre.  As before, the production was like an inclusive party, involving everybody in the audience and on stage.  There are a lot of people onstage although, as there were two alternating teams, I am not sure of exact numbers on the night I attended.

“Puss in Boots” is a traditional pantomime so I will crib a very brief synopsis from the programme.  It is based upon a 17th century Italian fairy tale about a magical talking cat who guides his master, a poor miller’s son, from poverty to wealth and title. The cat’s master is Jack, played here by Vicki Hurst. I recognise Vicki from previous productions.  I preferred her as the Wicked Witch in “Sinbad” two years ago but … well, you can’t have everything.  She seemed to be on stage almost constantly, and with a long running time that was quite some feat.  My praise this year, however, is reserved for Hayley Baxter who played Puss on the Friday night I was there.  I thought she had a great deal of charm and stage presence and I looked forward to her interjections into the proceedings.  Also, I must say a word of encouragement to Ashleigh Young who played the Narrator that evening.  She found herself very exposed, alone onstage, whenever she had dialogue to present to the audience.  In the second act she lost her way a little but managed to hold it together without any other players onstage to assist.

As I have already hinted, the cast was huge, as it always is at Prudhoe.  In addition to a Stage Manager (Kay French) there was also, I notice, a Show Co-ordinator (Louise Latham).  I suspect, with the number of children involved in some of the bigger production numbers, they would have their work cut out for them.

The show itself was great fun.  Occasionally, with so many young people on stage at the same time, there were one or two younger children looked as though they had wandered in for the first time that night and didn’t know exactly what was going on.  Most of them, however, were a well-rehearsed team who followed the instructions of their two Choreographers (Wendy Neal, also the Producer, and Abi Neal) and seven dance captains to create some quite impressive numbers.  It did not really matter to the audience made up, as it was, mainly of friends and relatives plus a large team of “audience participation helpers” ensuring appropriate responses from the audience.  The “boo/hiss” placard was, once again, in regular use although the audience didn’t really need it.  Neil Wilkin, who deadpanned his way beautifully from beginning to end as Lord Rodger, almost turned the placard into a character in the proceedings.  My infantile fear of pantomime dames seems to be abating and I enjoyed Daniel Gowens’ turn as Dame Hettie Quette.  Stephen King and Ray Moore were an amusing double act as Nosmo and Nopar King, especially when they wandered off script!

Although the children in the audience were very well behaved, the running time seemed a little long for such a young audience.  As a rather aged member of the audience, I know I was becoming a little numb in parts by the time the curtain finally fell!