The Broom and the Witchstick
23rd February 2019
Needingworth Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Rob Bristow
Two years after having reviewed Cinderella for Wellworth Players, I am back at Needingworth Village Hall to review The Broom & The Witchstick, an original pantomime written and directed by the wonderful Karen Bays. We received a very warm welcome and were once again introduced to Karen who showed us to our seats in the already packed out hall. The audience, comprising mainly families with young children are buzzing with excitement in anticipation of the afternoon’s performance.
We learn in the prelude from Fairy Floss, played with matriarchal assurance by Abi Pearson, that the action takes place after Snow White and Prince Charming have left the fictional land of Fantasia. The plot centres around the seven ‘Little People’ who were left behind by Snow White, and the evil witch Belladonna who is on the hunt for the broken handle of her magic broomstick. If Belladonna manages to find the missing handle there will be no limit to her power. Fortunately, as with all good pantomimes, the goodies prevail and they live Happily Ever After….
Karen Bays has once again put together a wonderful production. Her experience at the helm of these pantomimes has allowed her to develop a near-perfect formula for mixing family-friendly musical numbers, a well-written plot-driven script to move the action along, interspersed with some groaningly-bad jokes by King Cole, the Queen of Hearts and the Duke of York. Her choice of musical numbers cleverly pulls from traditional musical theatre, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Miserables and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum mixed with more recent chart hits by George Ezra and Bruno Mars to name a few. I particularly enjoyed Fairy Floss and her new recruits, Twinkle and Blossom’s rendition of Bop To The Top from High School Musical. Neal Dench as Twinkle is clearly a strong singer and also got to show off his vocal skills again in the Act II opening number, a re-worked version of Good Morning Baltimore from Hairspray.
The cast are all in great voice with energy matching the brightly coloured set. The construction team have done a grand job working within the limitations of the venue, it is simple but effective. It is a joy to see many familiar faces from Cinderella and a joy to read in the programme that Karen has written an original script aimed at showcasing the talents of her cast. Instantly recognisable are the comic trio of Georgie Porgie, Polly and Silly Billy played by Chris Thompson, Francesca Mann and Mark Ullyett respectively. These three light up the stage in each of their scenes and they should be commended for their excellent chemistry. I thought the ‘plant-watering’ segments each time the trio entered were a super touch. All three have great presence and also displayed strong singing voices in Count On Me by Bruno Mars.
Lizzy Elliott is superbly cast as the “beautiful but deadly” Belladonna, exuding a sinister and camp evil quality. She has excellent presence and projection and ad libs well to the audience’s heckles. Lizzy also demonstrates a strong singing voice in her Act I number ‘Be Prepared’ from The Lion King.
The cast have clearly been well-rehearsed. There is excellent diction and delivery by ever single member of the cast, and the energy and enthusiasm exuded by the company never dipped. As always, the quality of the costumes was top notch. Felicity Leonard, Marie Quick, Karen and Victoria Bays have done a fantastic job. Well done!
Dame Plumptious played by Paul Silver was a treat and added some classic camp comedy to proceedings. His song, I’ll Make A Man Of Any One Of You’ from Oh! What A Lovely War featuring the men of the ensemble was a delight.
The seven ‘Little People’ are all very good, as are the young girls who play the Witches. Of particular note are James Webb and Jago Pearson. I wrote about these two young men in Cinderella two years ago stating how great it was to see young men acting and singing in local productions with such character and conviction. I am very pleased to see they’re continuing with Wellworth Players. Karen Bays has done an excellent job featuring everyone in the show and the collaboration between the adults and youngsters of the company is seamless and splendid….the kids were definitely better at Flossing than the adults though!
My absolute favourite part of the pantomime was an inspired version of This Is The House That Jack Built featuring the comic trio talents of Georgie Porgie, Polly and Silly Billy and three boxes – Genius! Bravo!
The real strength of a society like Wellworth Players is the sense of community it has. There was clearly a lot of love and support coming from the families and friends of the cast within the audience, but it was also plain to see within the company that everyone onstage is having a ball and supporting one another. Flicking through the programme it is wonderful to see how much of a family affair these productions are, the Bays, Dench and Ullyett surnames all feature heavily in props, set construction and wardrobe etc. It really is testament of the passion and commitment of a few people that make these shows such first-rate productions and a joy to watch.
I can genuinely find very little to criticise with this show, however it did seem to reach a natural conclusion after Make Your Own Kind Of Music, so adding the Alternative 12 Days Of Christmas at the end of February was possibly unnecessary and by that time the children around me seemed to be getting fidgety. Honestly though, this was a wonderful pantomime, it is clear to see how much fun the company are having onstage and this filters through to the audience. The show represents exceptional value for money, the Wellworth Players are ‘well-worth’ the cost of the ticket. Long may they continue!