National Operatic & Dramatic Association (London Region) Review

Pantomime is not an easy genre to report on.  Things that are to be deplored in a play, such as over the top acting and costumes, unrealistic set and too much make up, are all to be welcomed in a panto.  Bad or off-key singing, awful in a musical play, can be part and parcel of the fun of a pantomime.  However, having said all that, yours was the first pantomime of this season for me and it was an excellent one.  It was refreshing to see something new too in Ben Crocker’s Camelot which had all the traditional characters we expect to find in this genre, cross dressing dame, principal boy, a princess and personifications of good and evil, as well as new characters such as a silent, love struck teddy bear, cutely, and well, played by Tina Barclay, and an invisible knight, voiced by the equally invisible John Sharp.  This was well chosen and worked very well in your venue.

The two children who accompanied me voted this the best panto they had ever seen and were, like the rest of the young audience, mesmerized throughout.  Always a good sign!  Personally I don’t like the pantomimes which take classical stories, like Peter Pan or the Wizard of Oz, and turn them into pantos by bolting on chorus lines or cross dressed characters and I was concerned that this would turn into a bad mix of The Tales of King Arthur and Monty Python’s Spamalot.  I needn’t have worried as this version of Camelot fell completely into the traditional pantomime mould.

I liked the set designed by director Sarah Golding with its ‘medieval’ pavilions situated down stage left and right masking two of the entrances.  The extended stage, along with the use of an entrance from the foyer, brought the action close to the audience very effectively and all the cast made good use of the available space.

Your programme designed by Neil Goulder contained all the information we needed and the composite photo of some of the cast in costume on the cover was effective.   You even managed to squeeze in the NODA logo.

The stage manager, Alan Caesar-Gordon, organized his crew so well that changes were quiet, slick and unobtrusive.

Sound, Ollie Bentley, and lighting and effects, Les Brewer and James Pearce with India Maya Brewer on follow spot, were all very good.  The pyros worked well and on cue which does not always happen.

Joan Carr and Janeta Kling’s props were good and I loved the singing sock puppets.

Costumes and make up/masks, Ruth Corner and Suzie Q Demarco respectively, were almost right and completely OTT!   However, shouldn’t King Uther have looked older than his ‘son’ and not younger?  The face of the talking clock (Janeta Kling) might have been better had it had greater definition as I only realized that she had a clock face painted on when she took her bow at the end.

Morgana Le Fay, as played by Leanne O’Reilly, was a superb ‘baddie’.  Your evil laugh established your character from the start and you sang very well indeed.  Very good stage presence too.

Your counterparts, the three Merlins, two played by Haydn Davis and one by Alex Bree – a very clear voice came from behind that beard Alex – contrasted well with you especially in the duet.

The traditional dame, in your case Martin Sutton’s Nurse Connie, sported the usual variety of wigs and outfits but you paced up and down the stage as if you were on a route march; some movement is good but too much doesn’t work as well and distracts the audience – you were so quick at times that it was like watching a game of tennis!

I see from the programme notes that this is Katie Hatrick’s first Principal Boy role and you had a really good crack at it but you need to work on your manly thigh slapping, an absolute essential in a good P.B.  Yes, even if you hurt yourself!

Kirsten Stansfield, Guinevere, gave us a really feisty princess and you managed the difficult task of being pulled about by an invisible knight very well.

Sir Valerin The Vicious played by Neil Goulder – very different to your Captain Tempest earlier in the year Neil – was a would-be baddie rather than a really evil one!  Good stage presence – your height was used to excellent  effect.  You have a good sense of comedy as well and your facial expressions were very funny.

Camelot The PantoThe star of the show though has to be Liz Peskin as Valerin’s Mum.  You have a really good sense of timing when it comes to comedy and your routines with your ‘son’ and with Sir Marlon, Steve Cubbage, enabled both of them to make the most of their comedy moments.

Laughalot, Louis Stansfield, as the clown of the piece, was suitably pathetic and brave by turns but occasionally you addressed your remarks to an up stage character by turning your back to the audience.  I know it is difficult but it is better if you can manage a three quarter turn instead of a full one.

Steve Element gave King Uther’s character a believable amount of vanity but you played this as the young man you are.  Perhaps you could have developed a way of walking that made you look a little older than Prince Arthur?  You tended to gabble some of your words at times, slow down a little as it will give more point to what you are saying.

Nell the maid, Kate Patterson, maintained her dodgy West Country accent well and provided some fine comedy moments in the scenes with Laughalot.

The choice of songs was good.  I don’t know if they are suggested in the script or were the inspiration of your Director and/or MD Jenny Morton?  A good mix of traditional numbers with old and newer ‘pop’.  My two small guests appreciated the inclusion of Let it Go, the current smash from the film Frozen, given a new meaning in a form of lavatory humour which was not lost on any of the children in the audience.

This was what pantomime should be – hardly any innuendo to make parents feel uncomfortable when faced with awkward questions from their young.  Your young chorus were full of energy and enthusiasm all the time; you all knew all the words of the songs and sang, danced and acted your hearts out.  Well done all of you.  Your programme doesn’t say what your next production will be but I hope you will invite me along to anything you are doing in 2015.

Judith Watsham
Regional Rep NODA London 11A