by Alan P Frayn
directed by Rob Brittles
Choreography: Cathryn Yates

Friends of the Art Theatre


I wonder if Daniel Defoe ever thought that his novel of Robinson Crusoe would see life on the stage? The answer, I suspect, is probably not, but here it was on stage at New Mills Theatre, a few months shy of its 300 anniversary of first being published in book form.


When one thinks of a traditional pantomime maybe this story is not the first title to be brought to mind, but it had everything that you would expect and want: great characters, goodies to cheer and baddies to boo, songs, jokes, slapstick and plenty of audience participation.


The opening scene got us off to a cracking start. The band, under the direction of Tim Walker, was bigger than last year and provided a great sound as the audience engaged and clapped along to a number of nautical themed tunes and sea shanties.


Alice Bowden commanded the stage from the very start, as the rhyme-talking, Coral, the Spirit. Alice appeared throughout the pantomime to aid the story and move it on effectively. There were nice touches of humour in some of her line delivery and expressions.


Anthony Lambe’s character of Davy Jones gave the audience someone to boo from the very beginning. He also spoke in rhyme, all delivered in a shiver-me-timbers accent that wasn’t too strong that he couldn’t be understood. The makeup for this character, by Jess Hipson, was excellent, as was that for other characters.


The opening scene with a full cast was very colourful and added a touch of tropical sunshine on a cold winter’s day as we were transported to a vibrant city in Brazil. This was a theme that carried on throughout the pantomime. The Wardrobe department, under guidance of Philippa Peatfield, Jenny Howe and Kay Seville, had obviously worked hard to co-ordinate the various scenes with Eve’s Costumes in this production, as the colours were spectacular and added a real bright feel to the show.


To have such a large company in pantomime was pleasure to see. There were players of all ages, from little children to big children. The director, Rob Brittles, and choreographer, Cathryn Yates, had done a stirling job of making the most out of the scenes the ensemble was in. Every member of the company on stage participated to the full and really got into the swing of the scene. The dance routines were well planned and executed and no-one was left out just to stand and dress the stage. The underwater scene was very effective, as was the slow-motion fight scene. The idea of bringing it into the audience was inspired, as it really got the audience engaged. This theatre is blessed to have a revolve and this was used effectively to aid scene changes.


Every pantomime needs a Dame character, and is more often than not played by a man, as we know. But here, Pauline Rowe took on the mantle and created a lovely character of Senorita Margarita Julicia. Pauline knew just how to manipulate the audience and encouraging “awws”. She had a twinkle in her eye and was very expressive throughout all her line delivery. A simple look to audience came to say so much without her having to utter a word.


Equally engaging was Stewart Bowden, as her son, Nutty Nick. He was very much the loveable, chirpy chappy that we expect in pantomime. He had great stage presence and carried the audience with him as the pantomime progressed. His connection with Seymour Bones (Fief’ the Dog) was adorable, even if he didn’t always do as he was told - the dog, that is, not Stewart! Both he and Pauline had a messy time in the galley scene with plenty of flour being squirted.


The two bumbling swash buckler,s Skull Duggery and Cross Bones, AKA Beverley Eaves and Graham Fletcher-Shaw, gave a touch of humour. Darren Cooper switched character this year from delightful Dame to dastardly Cut-Throat, the Pirate. He provided the audience with plenty of opportunity to boo a baddie, and he engaged right back at them without holding back the pace.


The title character of Robinson was superbly played by Lisa Quin who looked and acted every inch a traditional Principal Boy, right down to the thigh-slap (more of it). She was confident, commanded the stage and worked well opposite Grace Tildsley, as the love interest, Juanita.


Other characters helped chart the journey to Treasure Island: Keith Wright, as Captain Seasalt, the gullible love interest of Juicilita, and Angela Hulme was very colourful, thanks to the makeup team, as Mumbo Jumbo, the island natives’ leader.  Angela belted out a great rock tune. Gary Ward gave a very laid back and posh delivery of Robinson’s right-hand man, Friday.


It is always a pleasure to see so many young performers on stage, many experiencing this for the first time in pantomime. There were two super young principals in this production. Isabel Fletcher-Shaw was the colourful parrot, Poll – well the story is about pirates- and although she didn’t have much dialogue she had great timing for her squawks.


Jake Hornsey is a young performer to watch in the future. He made every moment on stage count. He is so confident and commanded the stage at every opportunity, especially as Hocus Pocus, a tribal witch-doctor. He sang with conviction and acted his socks off.  Earlier in the show he was a sailor in a dance routine and just drew the eye as he lived and breathed his character from the beginning to the end of the number. Excellent performance, young man!


Robinson Crusoe found his treasure, and this pantomime was pure gold. A superb fun-filled afternoon was had by us all.