written by Barry Crossley

Hyde Little Theatre (Amateur)


It is such a lovely sight to walk up to any theatre and notice the words, SOLD OUT, emblazoned across the production poster, and that is what I saw as I approached Hyde Festival Theatre. In the recent past, people have decried the art of pantomime and said the it is now ‘old hat’, but in these times, I see it very much as an entertainment medium which leaves people happy. This society has built up a large following for its annual pantomime production, and long may it continue.


Before I had even entered the building it was evident that the society members had been very busy decorating the foyer with snowflakes and glitter. This really set the tone for the pantomime and got the audience captured in the theme.


Many pantomimes start out as traditional stories and, while this is not one you would consider immediately, it does offer a good story line with easily identifiable characters. “The Snow Queen” is an original fairy tale, written by the Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen. The tale was first published on 21st December 1844, and the story centres on the struggle between good and evil, as experienced by Gerda and her friend, Kai. The story has been used as inspiration for many films over the years, most notably in recent times of the Disney classic, “Frozen”.  This scripted pantomime is an original work by Barry Crossley, but has been adapted by the society’s direction team of Alison Bowers, Carla Stokes, Simon Sullivan and Steven Oliver-Grant to accommodate the large number of extra principals whom they wished to include.


This was indeed a large cast, and probably the biggest I have seen for the society’s productions, which included principals, chorus and dancers. Over the 2018-19 season the society established a Youth Theatre section, and some of the principals, the ravens, seasonal fairies, summer witch and flowers came from here, and stepped into the spotlight. I was most impressed with their line delivery, and especially projection of voice. Cora Bowers was a case in point as she expertly narrated the story. There was super rise and fall in her speaking voice and the dialogue was delivered with expression. It was evident that this must be something that has been worked on in their weekly sessions.


As the joint society chairman, Vanessa Rothwell, pointed out, “These are the future principals – bring them on!” Something which I wholeheartedly support and encourage. These young performers were supported very well on stage by many of the society regular adult performers.


Alison Bowers, played the title part of Snow Queen and instantly had the audience participating, booing and hissing within the first few minutes. Her dialogue, scheming and evil plans dripped with menace and left the audience in no doubt who was the baddy in this.


Her accomplice, Jack Frost, was the Silly Billy of the pantomime, and the role was handled superbly by Stephen Hague. This kind of part has to have energy and engage the audience through slap stick, tomfoolery, and usually a sob story to get the audience saying “aww”, which he achieved.


Adding to the evilness was the Queens slave, Tarquin, as short as Lord Farquaad from “Shrek”, Terry Doctor looked so funny as the vertically challenged, grumpy slave who looked after and befriended Harriet, the queen’s dragon, who had the ability to eliminate the effects of the Queen’s poisoned ice. Last year the society brought on a live horse: this year it was a red, angry dragon, voiced by Janice Haughton. I suspect this use of a six-foot model dragon posed its own challenges for the stage crew, who had to move it around the stage, and manipulate the controls to make the mouth and eye lids move, as well as blow smoke, but achieve it they did! A great surprise to all, especially when the dragon lifted its wings.


Kat Rawling was the demur, Gerda, who falls in love with her friend, Kai, played by Shelly Riddler. Kat sang beautifully and led us through the journey of seasons to rescue her beloved from the Snow Queen, meeting others on the way. There was the obligatory slap of the thigh at the start by Shelley that I think should be part of any pantomimes Principal Boy character – call me old fashioned. Although not on stage for a large amount of the pantomime, she did have impact and engaged well with Kat.


Every pantomime has to have a Dame character with catch phrases that the audience can respond to. Simon Sullivan has been dame for the past couple of years and this week was Grandma.  The dialogue contained the usual jokes, storytelling and double entendre that kept the adults on their toes, and Simon was super at this delivery. He supported others on stage with their dialogue and kept the show moving. The Busy Bee gag with Jack Frost was particularly engaging, as was the game show section, though I wasn’t sure if either this and the song sheet were both required, as both felt a bit rushed due to time constraints.


Helping Gerda was Sherlock Bones (Dan Oliver-Grant) and Doctor Whatsit (Kate Johnson). These two people worked well as a double act and were quite humorous in their portrayal of spoof Holmes and Watson characters trying to find the Snow Queen’s Lair. Dan’s rendition of “Pure Imagination” at the start of act two was of particular note. Maybe musical theatre beckons?


Steven Oliver-Grant was so funny as the flatulent reindeer, Hanky. He certainly had the younger members of the audience, and those with childish senses of humour, giggling. His character even spawned the doctored song sheet, “Hanky, the Smelly Reindeer” for an audience sing along.


The whole production contained many song and musical interludes. The sound was a mixture of backing tracks and live music, provided by Michael Holmes and Sam Hirst. The Crystals, Blizzards and Icicles – in other words dancers and tiny tots, were all well-schooled by their choreographers, Clare Pascoe and Sue Bradbury.


Throughout the various scenes there was excellent costuming, coordinated by Josie Kirby and sourced by members of the society.


Though not massively reliant on props this year, I thought the use of a constructed iceberg for the evil queen to climb as she sang “Let It Go” was inspired and brought the end of the first act to its conclusion.


All other technical elements added greatly to this production. The sound had been enhanced by the use of microphones in productions recently and was under the control of Adrian Webber. The lighting plot by Brian Smith, Luke Weir and Daniel Jones established the nature of characters, especially the evil Snow Queen in green light. The projection and glitter ball use gave a nice effect of swirling snow around the auditorium, and the use of a snow machine added to the wintery effect.


I thank you for your hospitality and look forward to watching next year’s pantomime, “Sleeping Beauty”.