12th January 2018
Civic Arts Centre and Theatre Oswaldtwistle
Type of Production
Author: David Slater
I have to admit to having very little prior knowledge of the Grinch and his nefarious doings before I settled into my seat at the Civic Theatre. Other than being aware that he’s a green furry variation on Ebenezer Scrooge from the pen of Dr Seuss, his antics have escaped me thus far. It’s always a bonus to attend a production with no preconceptions and just settle in to enjoy the show: to leave the theatre pleasantly surprised is always an added extra and that’s precisely what happened here. Fusing the Christmas tale of the fiendish Grinch with the traditions of pantomime, this was a refreshing take on seasonal theatrical entertainment. Clearly aimed at a very much younger audience than myself, there was however much to be praised in this fun filled entertainment and the production was a credit to the Civic Arts Centre.
We were introduced in very short order to the citizenry of Whoville, the town’s leading civic figures handily resembling the cast list of a pantomime. Anthony Moorcroft’s Nora was a wonderful panto Dame and her dopey sidekick Colin (John Kirby) provided the comical support needed for a traditional panto double act. John Dewhurst was a treat as the Mayor or, as Whoville appeared to be located slightly to the West of Accrington, ‘Myrrh’ seemed to be his title. Perhaps a nod in the direction of the Three Wise Men?! A happy linguistic accident on a seasonal theme in any event. In all seriousness though, the way the cast embraced - nay, one might say luxuriated in - the beauties of Northern accent was very refreshing and added much to the straightforward humour of the proceedings. The comedy was worked into the narrative very well indeed, with Anthony Moorcroft leading the way here quite superbly.
Stacy Anderton was a sparky presence as Annie and Stef Baron really threw herself into her role as the nasty Pinchit - the evil side of Colin as removed via the agency of the Grinch’s twisted magic - and the energy and enthusiasm of the entire cast in general was a real tonic. Mandi Ashton managed to oversee the madcap antics with some style as the Fairy Spirit (rhyming couplets with a Northern accent a speciality of course) and Steve Jackson was a pleasingly buoyant presence as a very piratical Santa Claus who thankfully, only occasionally came across as being rather too full of himself. Chris Knight’s turn as the naughty Grinch himself was a pure delight. In a performance which could only be considered as the curious offspring of Derek Jacobi and a green bath mat, Chris walked the fine line between instilling fear into the hearts of the younger audience members and then making them chuckle with glee superbly. A masterclass in being all things to all men (and all excited boys and girls too of course.)
The rest of the cast had an exhausting night doubling and trebling up as citizens of Whoville, Imps, Bats, spooky Echoes and Elves. Toni Sage was a delight as both Widget and Rudolph and Rachel Bamford was a very imperious Snow Queen. The Civic Theatre’s studio space fairly teemed with life and energy throughout the evening and the audience clearly loved every minute.
There were several lively dance numbers thrown in to the evening and if much of the music was a little perfunctory- I wasn’t too keen on the ‘sing along to a recording’ nature of the musical choices - at least the tunes were nicely chosen. Audience interaction was pitched just right and the most impressive part of the production was the way that the youthful imaginations in the audience were allowed to blossom forth and paint their own way through the twists and turns of the plot. Simple scenery and easy changes of scene made the whole event a fast moving journey which galloped along at a furious pace. Technical support was also first rate with sound cues and special sound effects timed to perfection throughout the show. The fact that the cast was performing on the flat and appearing from all sides of the studio space meant that there was an immediacy which was probably much appreciated by the younger audience, really making them feel involved.
There was real heart and warmth in this production which ticked all the boxes when it came to entertaining a predominantly youthful audience. The comical antics of Nora, Colin and the Myrrh - sorry, Mayor - coupled with the cheeky pranks of the Grinch and Pinchit made for a winning combination. The smiling cast and the energetic enthusiasm of the whole company buoyed the evening up to provide a happy evening’s entertainment. The standard fare of the typical pantomime was all here but the strong narrative with its episodic structure helped to bolster the production’s overall impact. ‘The Grinch’ was at its strongest when it invested care and attention in creating an ensemble feel, making us care about the characters’ fates. The happy ending with a moral dimension also provided a very a welcome finale to the fun too.
Given my extreme pantophobia, I’m really not the ideal candidate to enjoy a jolly old evening of panto entertainment, even one so very well disguised as this one. It has to be said however that this deceptively simple show had much to recommend it and in the final analysis, the host of happy smiling faces leaving the theatre told its own story of the success of this production. My thanks go to all at the Civic Arts for a very warm welcome and an evening of fun, music and laughter.