26th January 2018
Maulden Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Richard Fitt
I only discovered this little gem of a village hall group last year when invited to review last year’s panto, Carry On Calamity, which has gone on to be nominated for best pantomime at our Awards Gala later this year. They had intended to take a year off, but due to the sad passing of their founder, Pat Struthers they decided to put this on in her honour. I’m so glad they didn’t have a fallow year! I never met the lady, but I suspect she would certainly have been proud of this one!
These are entirely a homegrown affair, which starts with the superbly witty scripts written by Director Tracy Canavan-Smith, who really does have a serious talent for writing. I see a lot of pantomimes in my job and this lady is certainly up there with the crème de la crème of pantomime playwrights. The jokes come at a machine gun pace, are rarely corny, often zany and the plots are refreshingly original whilst incorporating all the traditional elements of pantomime. This one, Robin Hood, originally written in conjunction with assistant director Alison Struthers back in 2002, now revisited and updated was no exception, and was of course absolutely top draw. It centred on a dastardly plot by the Sherriff of Rottingham to force Maid Marion to marry him and become the King of England, whilst (spoiler alert) Robin Hood of course has an uncanny knack of foiling such plots. Oh yes he does!
Aside from the writing this group are also overflowing with back stage talent and their sets are a feast for the eyes in their own right. Marion Hynes’ scenery is way beyond anything you would expect from a village hall society with limited resources. Incredibly ambitious and particularly well painted with an elaborately different set of flats for every scene, which were slickly changed by Stage Manager Phil Jackson and his team using quick fire front of curtain scenes. All I can say is I hope they have a large scenery dock back stage!
Lighting by James Canavan-Smith evenly flooded the stage with a good wash, highlighting the scenery perfectly, whilst the sound by Tom McGrath never gave my aging ears a moment of lost clarity. I still don’t quite understand however why some performers use handheld mics whilst most didn’t..? Looks odd and slightly distracts guys.
The costumes by the aforementioned director and assistant director, Tracy and Alison in conjunction with dressmaker, Angela Chimes were particularly vibrant (Will Scarlet’s costume will stick in the memory for a long time) and all very well chosen right down to the last villager. The outfits for Ivan Itch and Willy Scratchit disguised as trees were just comic genius. When the curtain opened It took a while for the audience to stop laughing before the scene could commence.
Props by Jill Sheppard, Kate Humphries and Phil Allen certainly had an eye on the comedic. Sunglasses for Robin Hood and of course those hobby horse heads to name but two.
Music was of course supplied by the excellent Ron Chimes with his Yahama Keyboard opening with his now traditional Booker T and the M.G’s, Time is Tight, whom I’m told is so a part of the annual panto it simply wouldn’t be this good without him and his keyboard! He also gave an overture of all the songs to come up in the show which included ‘On Top of The World,’ ‘Born To Be Wild’ and the very tongue in cheek ‘Afternoon Delight.’
Choreography by our writer/director again was simple but well executed and wisely kept within the ability of the participants. I hasten to add our young troop of ‘Mini Mistrels’ were extremely confident and well drilled.
Simon Jeffery was a comedic joy as Robin Hood. Arriving on stage as a complete, tongue in cheek ‘poser,’ he puts on a pair of sunglasses then gallops round the hall with his hobby horse head to Steppanwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild.’ From that moment onwards you just knew your ribs were going to be very sore the next day!
The rest of the Merry Men were none too shabby as comic actors and singers either. Mark Sheppard as Little John managed to extract a laugh almost every time he spoke just with the use of a Scottish accent. James Struthers as Will Scarlet is clearly an accomplished actor unfazed by anything, as demonstrated by the way he adlibbed a missing prop into a moment of pure comedy. Nick Endacott as Friar Tuck also provided a few comedic moments of his own especially whilst providing the accompaniment to a song whilst pretending to hide. Merry men would be a perfect description of this band.
Tayla Blackman suited Maid Marion oh so well, pairing Jeffery’s Robin Hood to perfection, whilst Zep Tocco as The Sheriff of Rottingham was born to play the panto baddy, and the excellent singing voice was a real bonus. Biddy Jackson did a sterling job in the unusual role as a non-gender change dame, which worked very well indeed, building the audience rapport with consummate skill. The comedic skill and particularly the facial expressions of our comedy duo, Ivan Itch and Willy Scratchit, played by Maxine Tocco and Natalie Chimes were for me the two standout performances, they just knew how to extract the maximum out of the audience with just a glance and an expression! Brilliant!
For the rest, Claire Lewis as Alan A Dale was an enthusiastic messenger between the villagers and the Merry Men, Ben Michaels a suitable downtrodden Scribe and Alison Struthers gave a cameo classic tour guides dialogue of Rottingham Castle.
One of the highlights was Kayleigh Wrigg as The Minstrel with her Mini Minstrels: Ava Struthers, Madeline Ashby, Ezri McGrath, Abigail and Charlotte Davidson. A well drilled enthusiastic bunch of very competent singers and dancers. Nice job girls!
Well done also to the excellent chorus of villagers and soldiers: Lisa and Francesca Ashby, Gavin Blackman, Rob Murphy, Paige Canavan-Smith, Bob Gale, Edward Frizzelle, James Forrester and Andre Sooknanan.
And I should also credit the youngest addition to the cast Chloe Frizzelle, enjoying her guest appearance as a villager.
This was quite simply a well written, well directed, pacey show with a great cast who can also hold a tune and have a high local reputation to maintain. As the gentleman sitting next to me said, “Not bad for six quid is it? (Yes, he did say six quid!) We wouldn’t miss it for the World!” NB: He also asked me not to be too enthusiastic with my review so that he could be assured of tickets for the next production.
So with apologies for ignoring his request I would say Maulden Players appear to be going through a purple patch and can certainly match any of the big boys out there for sheer quality of entertainment. If anybody wants a masterclass in how to do village hall pantomime they could do a lot worse that make a visit to Maulden. I hope it lasts for many years to come and please do one again next year as I’ve promised three youngsters a very special treat!