Belly laughs for all as Theseus & the Minotaur hits the bullseye

27 November 2008

The story of Theseus and the Minotaur wouldn’t seem to lend itself well to a Christmas Panto. It starts with bestiality; the unholy union of Queen Pasiphae and a prize bull leads to the birth of the Minotaur. The first act centres around child sacrifice, the second the suicide of King Minos, and in the third act Daedalus, architect of the labyrinth attempts to escape from Crete on papier- mâché wings and we all remember how well that turned out for his nephew and flying partner Icarus, don’t we boys and girls? In the final reel, Theseus maroons his fiancée Ariadne on a rock and sails into the sunset without her. Heart-warming Christmas stuff.

It will not surprise you then to learn that the ADC Pantomime excises the less salubrious aspects of this story and opts for a plotline that is heavy on sweet-throwing and silly wigs and light on inter-species sex, suicide, genocide and fiery death. The play opens in Athens, where Mr and Mrs Theseus snr. receive a summons from Crete for the sacrifice of their eldest son. Theseus (Lucy Marks) is a gobby Essex boy with gambling debts and his parents are more than happy to see the back of him. So Theseus and his side-kick Little Nav (Liam Williams)

set sail for Crete, rescue Ariadne (Greer Dale-Foulkes) and slay the Minotaur. Theseus and Ariadne are a bit drippy but pantomime leads tend to be (see Gareth Gates in this year’s Christmas Panto in London for further evidence) and it is up to the cross-dressing pantomime dame Mnason (Rory Mullarkey) and, boo hiss, the evil King Minos (Alastair Roberts) to pick up the slack. And pick up the slack they do. Roberts is sublime as King Minos; a megalomaniac with the sanity of Caligula and the brain of a weevil. He strops about the stage in short shorts, hairy legs and knobbly knees gangling away and delivers his lines in a petulant nasal wine. From playing a perfect, vulnerable Romeo in last year’s ADC Romeo and Juliet, Roberts has here transformed himself into a preening coxcomb delivering his solo number ‘Because I’m Evil’ with great relish. He had only to enter stage left for the audience to collapse into fits of laughter.

Mullarky handled cross-dressing genii Mnason with aplomb, maintaining an excellent rapport with the audience and mincing for England in his strappy stilettos. Cameos by James Walker and Ellie Ross as a manic-depressive Daedalus and Icarus had the stalls in stitches. Walker as the alternately suicidal and hysterical Daedalus was a treat and there was just a touch of the Hugh Laurie to his hyperactive facial gymnastics and marvellously silly walk. The staples of the pantomimes were all present and correct: the cross-dressing hero, the dame, the sweets, the sing-a-long, the cries of ‘Oh no it isn’t it!’ ‘Oh yes it is!’ and ‘Look behind you!’ Despite all this stage busyness there were longeurs: a dance number at the carnival was interminable and Theseus and Ariadne’s duet fell flat. Two bizarre interludes: a backwards shopping trip enacted by Daran Johnson and the appearance of a French-accented mole (Tom Williams) after the interval were irrelevant to the plot but sweetly funny.

If there was one gripe, it would be this. The costumes and sets are unrelievedly hideous; the opening number set against a backdrop of yellow houses was particularly nasty. The chorus line wears a revolting succession of spangled waistcoats and The Minotaur’s Nike t-shirt was just sloppy. Naturally a pantomime calls for a degree of hammy ugliness; Mnason’s serpent dreadlocks were a nice touch, but a little charm in the set design would have gone a long way. I have been censured in the letters pages of this paper once before this term for praising a Grecian themed musical comedy.

But have I been chastised into silence for my low-brow, high-camp tastes, boys and girls? Oh no, I haven’t! The ADC’s Theseus and the Minotaur is great fun, with nicely timed topical jokes, groan-inducing puns and a star turn from the evil King Minos. And if the litmus test of a pantomime is the number of belly laughs, well, I laughed and laughed and laughed some more. A wonderful way to end a term.

ADC Theatre

25th Nov – 6th Dec