ADC Mainshow, 7.45pm (Thurs & Sat matinees 2.30pm) – Until Sat 3rd Dec
So I can scarcely believe it, but it’s panto season again (‘Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is!’ etc etc.) More specifically, it’s time for the Footlights Panto. With a reputation for being a highlight of the Michaelmas Term, the pressure is always on to deliver and the excitement was palpable as the audience took their seats in the ADC last night. It’s a challenge to live up to such expectations, but this year’s panto did more than that – it exceeded them. I really can’t praise it enough and I’m still grinning as I sit down to write this review. From the moment when the orchestra struck up their pirate march and the exuberant Billy Bones (the always hilarious Michael Campbell), burst out of an old sea chest, you could tell this was going to be a good one – and it just kept getting better from there.
Firstly, huge congratulations to writers Phil Wang, Adam Lawrence and Jonny Lenard, as the script was fantastic. Who else could have come up with the concept of a gluten-intolerant, ‘big-feathered’ (not fat…), emotionally-distant talking parrot who can’t fly, called Omelette? The magic of the Footlights Panto is in the balance between the good old pantomime traditions of puns and ‘He’s behind you!’ moments, intelligent witty comedy, and a dash of innuendo (or just plain smut – Eliza’s avowal that she’d be a good wife as she’d “always swallow” got one of the biggest laughs of the night). I refuse to use the word ‘metatheatricality’ in a panto review, but what adds a dash of extra charm and comedy is the way in which the show is so aware of itself as a pantomime, and the script and cast exploited this delightfully, playing off audience reactions and panto cliches.
Treasure Island’s dialogue swung between the sharp, the familiarly funny and the bizarre, such as Eliza’s wishes for a lover to arrive on “a unicorn made of diamonds” and “a carpet made of gold and commitment”. There was a barely a line when the audience weren’t laughing, and that includes the song lyrics. If I mentioned all my favourite moments I could probably fill half the paper, but it was ‘Evil’s Afoot’ that my plus-one and I went home singing: “I took candy from a baby, and gave it to a diabetic lady…” These lyrics were brought to life not just by perfect delivery and comic timing, and a cast who really can sing, but by a brilliant score by Jeff Carpenter and a superb band under the direction of Dan Smith. Kudos too to the designer of the superb (if occasionally worrying shaky) set and costumes: Nurse Penny’s fishing net overskirt was an especially exquisite touch.
The frankly adorable Lucie Shorthouse sparkled as our hero Jim Hawkins, confidently accompanied by companion Jason Forbes (Omelette the parrot) and love interest Rosa Robson (Eliza). The wonderful Theo Chester got many a laugh with his portrayal of the brilliantly schizophrenic Squire Trelawney, and Andrew Brock appeared to relish his role as the dame, exploiting every outrageous comic possibility in the role of Nurse Penny Cillin (Penny Cillin…penicillin…geddit? *groan*). However, hard as it is to single out one person in this almost sickeningly talented bunch, the stand-out star had to be George Potts in the part of evil villain Long John Silver. The part seemed to have been made for him as he cackled his way through the night with amazing stage presence in a perfectly-pitched performance, and deservedly stole the show.
At this point I’m running out of superlatives, but special mention must be made of Mateo Oxley for appearances as Pablo, and a marvellously camp flamingo. I can say nothing more except that whether you have to beg, steal or borrow a ticket, go and see this – it is not to be missed.