written by Ben Crocker and directed by Barbara Harris
Players Youth Theatre
To enter a foyer of any theatre and hear the auditorium buzzing with excitement, immediately puts a smile on one’s face. It brings home the fact that Pantomime season is here and that the public want to be entertained, people of all ages want to smile and laugh and enjoy themselves.
I am sure that the noise from the packed auditorium, filled with uniformed organisations from Rainbows, Brownies and Cub Scouts, could be heard behind the curtain and made all those about to go on stage wonder what the next couple of hours would bring. As we all know, the expectation for pantomime is that a story is told and the audience are invited to not just sit and listen but engage and interact with the actors, to boo the baddies and cheer on the goodies. This is a skill that has to be learnt by those controlling the action from on stage and can be daunting for seasoned actors who have practiced their craft for years. The youth actors rose to this challenge admirably and did all that was expected of them with assured confidence. They had a belief in their production, obviously brought about through their rehearsals with their director Barbara Harris and confidently told the story of Aladdin.
The beauty of any pantomime is that there is an added thrill when things go awry but this only adds to the excitement and enjoyment for an audience. The thrill for a reviewer, such as I, is how these are dealt with by the actors themselves. My admiration for these young actors during the performance I watched grew. There were a few gremlins about on this Saturday matinee, a fire alarm and click track skips but these did not matter as those on stage coped fabulously. Well done!
The evil Abanazar, James Schilling, was great as the baddy that we could all boo and hiss and he actively encouraged us all to do this, sneering his way through his lines. His portrayal of the evil character was in no way what you could call small. He confidently exaggerated his moves and projected his voice, as did all those with dialogue, for all to hear and commanded the stage and captured the attention of the audience whenever he was on. What impressed me enormously was how he refocussed on the action and dialogue after the break of the fire alarm. Not everyone has the ability to take things back to a convenient point in the story and continue hold the audience’s attention.
For every baddie there is a goody and the Genie of the Ring, Chrissie Hurd, was very engaging and although not on for large parts of the pantomime she gave a confident and engaging performance. There was also Danielle Higson-Dibb as the Genie who granted all the wishes. I suspect that there were pyrotechnics involved in other performances to mask the entry of this character, which would help to create the magic.
Abby Walmsley, looked every bit of our hero and Principal Boy character - Aladdin. She was assertive and strong in the role and worked well with Izzy Ekgren, the demur Princess Jasmine. These two young actors also thought quickly on their feet and when a song track started to skip, they finished the verse looked and smiled at each other and carried on with the pantomime. To have self-confidence like this is commendable.
To be a pantomime dame is one of the hardest things in this genre to accomplish and takes time and practice to develop your own caricature, from signature moves, voice and preferred makeup – every dame has a look. I believe that this was Sam Higgs first role as a pantomime dame and did a good job of filling the shoes of Widow Twanky. He interacted well with the audience and encouraged them to take part at every opportunity. He handled the young ones coming on stage with confidence and compassion.
The son of Twanky is Wishee Washee, and has the job of making us laugh and engage with the silliness of panto. Li Chow knows how to command the stage and interacts superbly with the audience in this kind of role. To enhance this type of character portrayal, some “steps back in amazement” and bigger actions to audience responses would make a good performance even better.
His side kick of Nobby the Panda was funny and added to the silliness and the pratt falls really had the young members of the audience giggling away. Well done, Ana Chow, on the characterisation and moving confidently around the stage while wearing a Panda head. Slap stick is a staple of pantomime and a good double act really contributes to the mirth. Naomi and Phoebe Clase as Sergeant Ping and Constable Pong caused us to smile and laugh at their bungling antics.
A privilege for anyone who reviews youth productions on a regular basis, with the same society or group, is to see the development in any young actor. I have seen Liam Stuckley in a number of productions and have observed a self-confidence grow from within him: this is also true of all on stage. This is the beauty of the arts which gives an opportunity for expression and confidence building. Liam’s portrayal of the Emperor was strong, authoritative and commanding.
I look forward to seeing you all in the future and especially for next year’s pantomime. “Oh, yes I do!”